Help: My Teams Are Agile But My Execs Are Waterfall!

Posted by Steve Elliott on Oct 29, 2015 12:53:29 PM

execs are waterfallWhether you run a PMO, Agile Release Train, or any number of projects tied to the execution and delivery of software in today’s IT organization, you’ve most likely found yourself caught in between two competing modalities: your delivery teams may be building software using Agile, but the executives you report to think in a “waterfall” mindset.

As Agile has gone mainstream in many organizations, we’ve seen this scenario play out dozens of times.

Individual teams may have been agile for years, and with the advent of frameworks for scaling agile like SAFe, DaD, and LeSS, program level adoption is accelerating. However, when organizations scale beyond the program to the portfolio and enterprise levels, executives typically want to know what they’re going to get and when they’re going to get it. They want the assurances that the PMO understands at a detailed level that the capacity exists to execute against the planned roadmap, and that other competing priorities are accounted for in the plan.

We’ve found it’s a natural step in the evolution of companies that are scaling agile.

Since the core construct of agile is that time and resources are fixed and scope varies as deadlines loom, how can a project manager, who is responsible for making a commitment to an executive well in advance of execution, properly plan and track a funded project in terms of milestones and dependencies?

You may be asking yourself questions like:

  • How do I translate my waterfall-style strategic planning cycles into Agile execution?
  • How do I resource waterfall “projects” into an agile delivery organization?
  • How do I report against funded projects when all my teams are working in story points
  • How do I evolve my strategic planning to be more agile?

These are exactly the types of problems we’re working with large enterprises to solve at AgileCraft.

Even when executives intellectually understand both modes and fully buy into Agile concepts, this issue looms large and often causes them to resist a full mandate to go agile from top to bottom. The big issue is during the transformation that could last for 5 to 10 years, the executive fears losing visibility and predictability across the entire enterprise because the two modes of planning are difficult to blend in real time. It really is that simple in many cases. If we can give the executives a way to plan in both modes, manage the progress of all teams centrally, roll up all programs and portfolios regardless of development methods used and regardless of the tools being used to track team level progress, then executives have visibility and air cover to be more aggressive in supporting agility horizontally for teams and vertically up to the enterprise.

The one thing that cannot happen is a visibility blackout during the transformation process. Think about it.  Would you put your executive level job on the line in good faith hoping that the transformation goes well so that somewhere down the road you would get back to an enterprise view of your organization?  If you can give the executive an enterprise bi-modal view of the world then the dam breaks for most executives who want to “wait and see on Agile”.