It's Time for Companies to Add Agile to C-Level

larry apke agile doctor chief agile officer

The more companies, teams and C-level employees that I work with (and I have had the good fortune to work with many), the more I am convinced that implementing Agile can only go as far as the highest knowledgeable company officer who is supporting it.

What we need are some Chief Agile Officers – CAOs.

As an example, I had one consulting job to implement Agile within a team using Scrum framework after numerous internal attempts had failed. While I was able to move them closer to agility, it did not take long (as happens during an Agile transformation) to have it dawn on me what, or who, the problem was. It just so happened that this particular team had a Vice President that played the role of Product Owner.

So, in short, this VP had limited understanding and buy in for the scrum process, therefore we hit the ceiling at the VP level. Bringing a team into the Agile methodology is not that simple, so yes, there will be problems if someone does not thoroughly understand the process.

On another transition we had a Director and VP of Software Development who had different viewpoints on Agility (both correct on some points and incorrect on others by my calculation) and continually undermined each other in that no lasting tactical decisions could be made. To add to the confusion was a strong operations department that did not want to play with others in the Agile world. While the Chief Technology Officer gave verbal support to Agile processes, he proved unable to referee his immediate subordinates successfully and the Agile implementation languished.

And what both of these experiences have taught me is that Agile is about a great deal of things, but is primarily about organizational change around a philosophy. In order for it to work, there needs to not only be support from the highest levels, but a deep understanding of what it takes to be Agile. This means that someone needs to be at the C-level to make sure there are sufficient resources and that conflicts can be resolved.

Essentially, everyone needs to be on the Agile train. Otherwise, they are getting left at the station.

Also one of the reasons that Agile works so well with small companies is that the people in power know Agile and how to harness it for effective change. Decisions that need to be made to change systems are done efficiently.

One of the reasons that Agile has floundered at many large organizations is that it runs into resistance at some level in the organization. Once it hits this “glass ceiling” it needs the proper support from the next level of the organization to clear impediments. In many cases some Agility can be achieved but for the most effective change, impediments must be removed for the entire organization. The only folks with that kind of clout are at the C-level.

Therefore, it is my contention that you will begin to see a new position emerge – that of Chief Agile Officer – along with all the power this position needs to ensure better Agile implementations.

And for those organizations ready for this radical change, I am ready to report for duty.

Larry Apke

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