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Follow the Money - How to Speak to Executives about Agile

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Follow the Money - How to Speak to Executives about Agile

When agile transformations fail, many agilists blame their executives for not caring about or understanding agile. However, few people focus on the different languages that IT and business people speak, and the different outcomes that both sides desire. Rather than blaming each other, what is needed is more empathy for the results that others care about and more understanding of the languages that others speak. Steven Granese will share his stories from working with executives while leading their agile transformations. He will describe how to explain agile using the language of executives: business outcomes and financial results. You will leave with a new appreciation for communicating with executives. Get ready to realize that you've been advocating for and evangelizing agile all wrong!

When agile transformations fail, many agilists blame their executives for not caring about or understanding agile. However, few people focus on the different languages that IT and business people speak, and the different outcomes that both sides desire. Rather than blaming each other, what is needed is more empathy for the results that others care about and more understanding of the languages that others speak. Steven Granese will share his stories from working with executives while leading their agile transformations. He will describe how to explain agile using the language of executives: business outcomes and financial results. You will leave with a new appreciation for communicating with executives. Get ready to realize that you've been advocating for and evangelizing agile all wrong!

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Follow the Money - How to Speak to Executives about Agile

  1. 1. P re s e n t e d b y Follow the Money: How to Talk to Executives about Agile Steven Granese Vice President, Transform Practice
  2. 2. By The Numbers 3 Office Locations Tampa Atlanta Orlando 400+ Professionals 10 Consecutive Years Inc. 5000 2004 Launch Date Training Coaching Consulting Enterprise IT Solutions TransformationsCustomSoftwareDevelopment Enterprise Application Development System Integration and digital implementation Data Analytics Solutions Cloud Solutions (including Cloud Factory) Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence User Interface and Experience Design Collaboration Development Studio
  3. 3. My Background Developer Dev Manager Dev Consultant Agile Coach Director, Agile Consulting Transformation Consultant VP, Transform Consulting Experience speaking to execs When I learned Scrum
  4. 4. Exercise: Elevator pitch
  5. 5. My Story of “Follow the Money”
  6. 6. Reality Check Executives don’t care about agile… … and they never will… … so stop trying.
  7. 7. Executives Care About Results
  8. 8. No Pain, No Change Follow the Money!
  9. 9. Develop Empathy for Executives Speak the Language of Business Use Agile to Solve Business Problems
  10. 10. Develop Empathy for Executives
  11. 11. Execs Just Don’t Get It!
  12. 12. What do you think Execs care about?
  13. 13. Top Motivators for Executives Advancement Shareholder Value Bonuses
  14. 14. When I Learned to Develop Empathy
  15. 15. Develop Empathy for Executives Speak the Language of Business Use Agile to Solve Business Problems • Ask Better Questions • “What else could be going on here?”
  16. 16. Speak the Language of Business
  17. 17. The EBIDTA Drinking Game
  18. 18. The Language of Business “R-C-R” REVENUE COST RISK
  19. 19. Sample Conversation – Developer to Executive "Agile is so awesome. When the customer changes their mind, we just update the backlog and they are so happy. Our team doesn't have to work extra hours because we know our velocity and we make sure our tech debt is reasonable. Everyone on the team is loving it!" Jargon Lack of numbers
  20. 20. Sample Conversation – Developer to Executive "We reduced our costs by 40% by getting more regular feedback from the customer, which allowed us to eliminate roughly 20% of the features that we never had to build. “You had me at reduced costs by 40%...”
  21. 21. Your Primary Challenge How can you explain the benefits of agile while speaking the language of business?
  22. 22. Capture REVENUE Faster Waterfall Agile Time Revenue Missed Revenue Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
  23. 23. Reduce COSTS by Reducing Waste
  24. 24. Reduce COSTS by Reducing Waste
  25. 25. Reduce RISK with Realtime Feedback RECALCULATING…
  26. 26. Develop Empathy for Executives Speak the Language of Business Use Agile to Solve Business Problems • Ask Better Questions • “What else could be going on here?” • Mirror language of Executives • Read business books
  27. 27. Use Agile to Solve Business Problems
  28. 28. What if you could keep your teams together?
  29. 29. What is Agile? FOCUS ITERATE DELIVERFEEDBACK IMPROVE LEARNING Measure Results
  30. 30. Example of Solving a Business Problem with Agile FOCUS ITERATE DELIVERFEEDBACK IMPROVE LEARNING Projects falling behind schedule Daily Standups Daily DashboardHighlight Risky Projects Two Daily Standups Measure Results
  31. 31. Example of Solving a Business Problem with Agile FOCUS ITERATE DELIVERFEEDBACK IMPROVE LEARNING Losing Sales Deals Pricing Options New Pricing SheetsAsk Friendly Customers Better Market Research Measure Results
  32. 32. Your goal is to build trust. And that will take patience.
  33. 33. Develop Empathy for Executives Speak the Language of Business Use Agile to Solve Business Problems • Ask Better Questions • “What else could be going on here?” • Mirror language of Executives • Read business books • Take ownership • Focus on measurable business results
  34. 34. Develop Empathy for Executives Speak the Language of Business Use Agile to Solve Business Problems Is there truly any pain? What is the business pain? How can agile relieve the pain?
  35. 35. “Follow the Money” Exercise 1. Review the scenario 2. Decide on the Exec’s primary motivation 3. Identify 3 reasons why this Exec may be resistant Advancement Shareholder Value Bonuses
  36. 36. “Follow the Money” Scenario Your organization is starting an agile transformation. The VP of IT has been named as head of the transformation team. She skips most preliminary team meetings, and is hesitant to make decisions. She seems to be stalling, despite her previous positive experience with agile. • Exec’s primary motivation • 3 reasons Exec may resist Advancement Shareholder Value Bonuses
  37. 37. Exercise: Let’s Discuss • Previous experience with agile was great for her teams, which led to her promotion • Part of that success was due to overhaul of reporting structures • Current bonus was based on headcount in her organization Advancement Shareholder Value Bonuses
  38. 38. Debrief – What are you taking away? Develop Empathy for Executives Speak the Language of Business Use Agile to Solve Business Problems
  39. 39. Steven.Granese@agilethought.com Thank you and stay in touch! @sgranese stevengranese

Editor's Notes

  • Show pivot in career where I focused on learning the lessons of this talk, and where I started to have more success (starting with promotion to Concerto)
  • Image of two people on an elevator

    Let’s conduct a quick exercise to get us warmed up a bit.
    Here’s the scenario. You firmly believe that your software department should switch from the tired, old waterfall ways and switch to adopting Scrum.
    It’s first thing in the morning, and you are entering your building on your way to your desk.
    You walk into the elevator, and your CTO walks in at the same time.
    You will be alone with your CTO for the 30 second elevator ride to the top floor.

    What do you say to your CTO?

    I will give you 2 minutes. Prepare your elevator pitch.

    Work by yourself and write down your thoughts.

    Debrief – ask people to share

    On a flipchart, write down the answers
    Focus on the answers that are agile-oriented, not business oriented
  • Anecdote about call with Availity

    Describe the story of ”follow the money”

    BACKSTORY
    My very first agile consulting client….
    About three months in, things were going better.
    A lot of issues were coming to light. There was more transparency than ever.
    We had an issue with one product that happened to be outsourced.
    The vendor was not delivering, and because of Scrum we had lots of data and information radiators to show this.
    We had a big retro that included one of our execs, and everyone was aligned in our message: the vendor was not producing, our internal teams could produce twice as fast, and we recommend dropping them.

    WHAT EXEC DID
    So guess what our executive decided?
    Not only did he not drop them, he renewed their contract for six months.
    Everyone was shocked and devastated.
    The executive came to me and instructed me to alter some of the teams reports to show this vendor team not doing so bad, and show how our teams share some of the blame.

    HOW I FOUND OUT
    Fast forward a few months later and I was no longer working with this client.
    I checked in with someone that I knew and he gave me the real scoop.
    It turns out that the executive in question had been accepting gifts from the vendor.
    It was shown that he received $10k for every month that this vendor was renewed.
    Naturally he was fired.

    My friend said to me, before he got off the phone, “Never forget to follow the money”.

    That lesson always stayed with me.
  • I have seen too many agilists think that the answer is to get executives excited about agile.
    They want to teach and educate executives about all the wonderful things about agile.
    But they are going about it the wrong way.
  • Execs don't care about agile. They care about delivering business outcomes.
    Your objective is to convince them that agile will help them deliver business outcomes better than any other method

    Agilists want to convince everyone why it’s so great to be agile.
    Execs do not care if they are agile.
    They care about getting results.
    They care about making a profit.
    And this is a good thing!

    Did you ever stop and really think about where you paycheck comes from.
    Who at your company wakes up in the middle of the night worried about payroll?


  • Agile is about organizational change.  Just because you, in your role, believe that change is good, doesn’t mean that your executives desire change.  Change only comes when people are feeling pain, and desire a solution to that pain.  If someone is not feeling pain, then why would they change.  Follow the money.  If cash is flowing in, and either the business is financially sound, or an exec personally are doing well financially, then why would they want to change?

    https://stock.adobe.com/images/crying-businessman-wipe-eyes-young-man-in-formal-wear-in-full-desperate-crying-and-suffering-deep-inner-troubles-and-emotions/171961859?prev_url=detail
  • Become a trusted business advisor
    Don’t think of yourself as an agilsits.
    Think of agile as a tool on your toolbelt that helps you effective solve business problems.
    You need to build trust throughout your organization.

    How?
    Develop Empathy
    Speak their language (money)
    Start solving business problems with agile thinking
  • What’s a common phrase that we hear at agile conferences or meetups…
    Man, Execs just don’t get it.
    If they would just transform the entire company to agile, everything would be better.
    I used to think this way.
    All I had to do was explain and educate leaders about agile.
    I learned that most execs do get it, but they get different things.
    So first, we must find out what they care about.
  • Startup: Cash flow (eg Making Payroll); Paying return to investors, Exit Strategy
    Corporate: Bonuses, Personal Advancement, Shareholder value

    Meaning, they care about other things, but not at the risk of these things.

    Will they adopt agile if their bonuses will get negatively impacted?
    Will agile teams inhibit their ability to get promoted?
    Will an agile transformation actually reduce shareholder value?

    These are the questions you have to think about
  • I worked at a company many years ago and was involved in a leadership development program.
    Myself and others got to spend one day per month with various executives at our firm to shadow an learn from them.
    This was the first session for either one of us in this program.
    We quickly realized that neither one of us knew what we were supposed to do.
    I was tempted to talk about agile.
    But I bit my tongue and asked ”so, what keeps you up at night?”
    He sat back and thought about my question.
    He looked very stressed and visibly upset.
    Clearly I had walked in at a bad time.
    He decided to open up.
    He said our customers are quickly losing faith in us. It’s not showing up in the numbers yet, but he knows there is a big problem.

    I saw him as a human being.
    I had a ton of respect for this guy and help him up on a pedestal.
    But in my first interaction with him, I could feel his stress.
    So I just kept asking more questions.

    I walked into the room with some ideas on how I could help him.
    I had no idea the size and scope of his world and what he was concerned about.

    Customers used to be overwhelmingly happy with us. They are still happy, but not as much as they use to be. I can't put my finger on it, but something is wrong.

    I asked him to tell me more.

    He said, when we put a project team together" (remember this is not agile. these are project teams that would come together for 6-12 months) "they do a great job. They deliver on time, within budget, and the customer loves it. But in the last couple of years, the customers are coming back to use faster with requests for new features, small features. Time is of the essence more than ever before. And we are not good at responding to them. our project team has been broken apart and are working with other clients. It takes us 3-4 months just to get a person or two from that project team to peel off and help them, and often a few more months to build and deliver the new work. It's too slow and customers are getting frustrated. It (the frustration) is not showing up in our customer sat numbers, but I know it's there.

    I knew this was an insidious problem in the organization. One that could fundamentally bring them down.
    Their customer service model had to evolve.






  • I worked at an organization awhile back that had regular townhall meetings.
    They started as weekly, then grow ton monthly and eventually quarterly as the company grew.
    For a while, someone on the leadership team would give a quick overview of the financials, which amounted to how many customers were signed and how we were trending against our revenue plan.
    After a big acquisition, a new CFO joined the team and he was very experienced and very good.
    He had a financials update every meeting and he always talked about EBITDA and would mention it about 12-13 times in his update.
    Well, a little drinking game started up organically and eventually grew to the leadership team and the CFO himself, who took it in good stride.
    Every time the CFO said EBITDA, everyone in the company had to take a metaphorical drink.
    It was all in good fun.

    But I had been learning about some of these techniques that I am sharing today and I wondered if this was an opportunity for me to learn WHY the CFO always talked about EBITDA.

    First, I had to learn what EBITDA was. Essentially, it is a tool that measures the company’s performance. It’s a specific measurement of profit. It was the single most important financial metrics for our company.
    Armed with this knowledge, the next opportunity I had at a social function, I walked up to our CFO, introduced myself and my role and asked him a question: “What is the best way that my team can positively impact EBITDA?”
    He looked at me skeptically, like I was going to take a drink if I got him to say EBITDA.
    But once he realized I was serious, he relaxed and seemed genuinely appreciative that I took the time to understand his work and speak his language.

    This one conversation started a new relationship, that I would eventually leverage later when I wanted approval of a new business plan.
  • Let’s keep this simple. With every interaction you have with executives, use this as your frame the conversation from one of these perspectives.

    More Revenue - I want other people’s money
    Less Cost - I don’t other people to have my money.
    Less Risk - What could happen that would stop people from giving me their money and make me have to give them my money?

    Results! Outcomes! Numbers!

    Example: I helped HR streamline the onboarding process. We estimated a 15% faster onboarding and less risk that the employee will leave within the first 90 days
  • Here’s an example conversation that I overheard at a client last year:

    Exec to Dev Manager: Why should be bother to adopt agile?

    Dev Manager:
    "Agile is so awesome. When the customer changes their mind, we just update the backlog and they are so happy. Our team doesn't have to work extra hours because we know our velocity and we make sure our tech debt doesn't grow too high. Everyone on the team is loving it!"

    Analysis
    No numbers - I highly recommend numbers when talking to execs
    Agile lingo - the exec doesn't understand (circle backlog, velocity, tech debt)
    Not speaking execs language or solving an exec problem
  • Dev Manager after I coached him
    We reduced our costs by 40% by getting more regular feedback from the customer, which allowed us to eliminate wasted features that we never had to build.

    Analysis
    "You had me at reduced costs by 40%"
  • You don’t have to propose a transformation to agile to solve a problem. Use your skills as an agilest and your agile mindset to solve a problem.
  • Remember Robert and his biggest problems is that customer satisfaction is dropping especially for second phase engagements.

    My agile senses went off. He knew the world was changing, but didn't know what to do.

    I said, "so the customers are not happy with how fast we are able to respond when they need something new?

    I asked "Have you ever considered keeping your project teams together project to project...

    I knew the response that was coming... "That can't work because he project has different skills and team sizes...

    I said, "true. But perhaps the system we created (specialty teams fore each client) 15 years ago no longer works. Maybe the problem is our us and our inability to change

    I wonder if we can find a way to keep teams together, which is what the customer wants.

    Notice what I did - I gave him a challenge to let him solve it

    The next day when he arrived at the office, there was a copy of the book Team of Teams on his desk.

    I wrote a note that said "Dear Robert, I thought this book may help you figure out how to keep your teams together and make your customers happy again!"



    He later asked me to sit in on a management meeting that he had whose theme was “break down silos and keep teams together”.
  • Trust is built by having a reputation for solving problems
    Don’t want to the reputation as the “agile person” or the “agile purist”. They want to solve everything with agile.

    The real trick here is to FOLLOW UP with results.

    Demonstrate how the standup meeting, the retrospective, or a good scrummaster are driving results.

    Warning: you will often need to be patient. It takes time for minds to change, big organizations to shift, and trust to be established.
  • Become a trusted business advisor
    Don’t think of yourself as an agilsits.
    Think of agile as a tool on your toolbelt that helps you effective solve business problems.
    You need to build trust throughout your organization.

    How?
    Develop Empathy
    Speak their language (money)
    Start solving business problems with agile thinking
  • Challenge the audience to follow the money
  • Overview points – financial motivators
    3 sections
    What you can do to get started

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