There’s been a little bit of discussion in the blog-o-sphere lately about how to “sell” agile, or how to convince senior managers to “adopt” agile, how to get buy-in and so on.

I pushed back against this; couldn’t you just do it? Does Senior Management even know what the software team is doing, anyway?

The answer to that was that Agile is an investment; a typical team might take six to eight months to build infrastructure (CI, Test Driven Development, deployment tools, etc) and culture — eight months before the team is again productive. (Reference)

Now there are a couple of different ways to transition to Agile; a team might, for example, make a series of small, incremental changes, each of which pays for itself quickly. But I thought it might be nice to share my favorite “sell the CFO” transition to Agile Story:

A long time ago …

Senior Manager: “We need you to be the technical project manager on the Super-wiz ERP upgrade, Dave, so we can sell (new product) by (date). If we aren’t int he market by (date) (competitor) will eat our lunch. Due to government regulation, we need to file a plan by (date1) and start selling on (date2), or we miss a ONE YEAR market window, by which competitor will have sewn up the market. Dave, you are the man. Only you can do it.”

Dave: “I need a war room and for the entire team to be physically co-located, 100% of the time.”

Senior Manager: “Well, I don’t know about that.”

Dave: “If you want me to have a chance to hit your date, I need a war room.”

Senior Manager: “I’m sure you can do it. We have confidence in you.”

Dave: “If you want me to have a chance to hit your date, I need a war room.”

Senior Manager: “Dave, politically speaking, it’s impossible. I could probably get you all the technical folks in one room, but then we’d have to find the room. No, you’ll have to make it work.

Dave: “If you can’t find a war room, then I’m not the person to manage this project. Perhaps you can find someone else willing to take that problem on. I am not.”

Senior Manager: “But you’re the best! There is no one else who can do this.”

Dave: “I need a war room.”

Dave got his war room.

The Moral of the Story

One time that organizations are willing to drop “the way we always do it” and try something new is immediately before an oncoming crisis. If you step into the void and offer to take responsibility given certain reasonable changes, you’ve got a real shot at impacting long-term change.

Another way to get chance is to deal with an organization that is profitable enough that they can experiment.

The classic example of the intersection of those two problems is the creation of the IBM Personal Computer.

The Scrum literature is full of examples of this sort of game-changing project; the classic example is probably in “Wicked Programs, Righteous Solutions” by DeGrace and Stahl.