My Manager won't let me be Agile

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What to do when your manager doesn’t support Agile

“My manager won’t let me use Agile”.  “My manager is letting me be Agile, as long as I don’t change how I report status to them”.  It breaks my heart when I see people who are enthusiastic and completely shut down by their managers. Unfortunately, in Corporate America, your manager is the single point of failure for whether an idea lives or dies.  

Max Planck once said “Scientific advancement comes one funeral at a time”.  He was referring to the old guard blocking new ideas, in the name of experience.  This statement holds in business if altered to “Productivity advancements come one retirement at a time.”  

So what do you do?

Ask your Agile coach to go brainwash your manager?  Yeah, that could work.  And it’s definitely one avenue to explore, but how can you take responsibility in helping your manager see the light?

The key here is Education.  Not training, but education.  The difference, as Dr. Ahmed Sidky explains, is that “In training you learn to DO, with Education you are learning to THINK.”  

Here are some things that worked for me.

  • Put yourself in your manager’s shoes
    You’re going to need to do a little sleuthing here.  Go find out what specifically your manager doesn’t like about Agile.  Put your sales hat on.  A good salesperson doesn’t assume the motives of their prospect, they go ask.  Don’t even try to convince them of anything, simply collect the objections.
    Once you have the list of objections you can think about them at your leisure and figure out how to overcome them.  

  • Tackle the objections one at a time
    Don’t handle their objections all at once. This is a "multiple-interaction sale".  Take on one objection today, and maybe another one next week.  Give them time to chew on the new ideas.
    Here are some common objectives I’ve heard and suggestions for overcoming them.

    • If they are afraid they won’t have visibility into the progress of the work?  Great, we can show them the sprint board, the sprint and release burndown charts and they can come to the sprint reviews.

    • They don’t like the idea of dedicating people to a single team.  Great, we can all work from a single backlog that the manager can prioritize for us.  Dear Agile purists who are cringing right now, I know it’s not perfect, but it’s transitional, it moves you along the journey.   

    • They are afraid Agile will put managers out of a job.  Well Mrs. Manager, ignoring it won’t help.  You might point out that the jobs on the market today require some agile knowledge.  This is a great opportunity for them to expand their skills and keep themselves marketable.

  • Be patient
    It may take several interactions before they start to open up to the idea.  Oh and if they shut you down, and refuse to talk about it, chances are they won’t be around much longer anyway.

That's what worked for me.  We'd love to hear what worked for you!