Business Value vs. Politics

Any good Agile initiative aims to get better at delivering business value. One might say that ultimately, that is what it’s all about. So when we were well on our way to getting the nitty gritty details of software development under control, we knew we needed to get the business closer in the loop.

Politics

We were with five teams, working on various parts of an extensive e-commerce and content-delivery platform. We had over twenty different stakeholders. None of them were satisfied. And rightly so: none of them were getting what they wanted from us. So a colleague of mine, the one with the smarts, came up with a cunning plan. The plan was simple, effective, and once in motion completely obvious.

Every sprint we had a one hour meeting to which all our stakeholders were invited. As preparation for the meeting, we put up on the wall the top stories from our combined backlog. We drew a line at the point where, roughly knowing our velocity, we thought we might get everything to the left of the line done. We said: “This is the priority as we know it, please discuss…” And then we sat back and enjoyed the show.

The beauty of this was seeing how discussions between stakeholders put their priorities in perspective. One would say: “This feature will save us $20k a month in support costs! Let’s do that first!”. Then the next would answer: “Ehm, but this new product will earn us half a million a month, so…” A third would put in the face that we risked a legal issue if we didn’t fix the messaging around a product only to be asked what the fines would be, and promptly deprioritized his own story. In short, the type of business value discussion one would have hoped was already happening.

It worked brilliantly. There was complete transparency, and since the priorities were openly discussed no one was blaming development anymore if certain items never got done. We thought we were really clever.

Then we started hearing, mostly indirectly through our management, that people were unhappy about this process. And, in fact, were a bit unhappy about all that Agile stuff in general. There was talk of changes in the management of our department even. And after a while those changes happened. The new management wasn’t very Agile minded. In fact, they were quite fired up about moving development to India.

What had happened? Well, our beautiful, transparent, value-driven prioritization was precisely what the company needed. It made sure that the overall needs of the company were met in the most effective way we could. It also meant that the previous way things got prioritized didn’t work anymore. You know, the traditional way. The “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine” way. Politics. So what we’d done was, in a very public and open way, put a big barrier up (neatly marked with the label “Agile Process”) against getting anything done for the people with the most political power in the company.

As I said: brilliant.

26 thoughts on “Business Value vs. Politics

  1. Thank you. What a painfully true analysis. Indeed, we hit the ceiling of introducing agile bottom up.

    • Thanks Dion!

      If it’s any comfort, I’m realising this is certainly not uncommon… Changing the way we decide what’s important is bound to also cause some stakeholders to get less of what they want/need/get rewarded for. That is one reason why there’s often particular resistance from project managers.

      Hindsight is wonderful:-)

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