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Is Your Leadership Ready for Agile?

16 January 2014

Deema Dajani
Rally Software

Executive leadership often advocates going Agile, but do they really understand what it means? Sure, Agile increases collaboration, transparency, and responsiveness to change. What's not to love? What your C-level needs to understand is that Agile can be transformative, with change impacts reaching beyond just the Scrum teams. So listen up, this is what Agile means to your organization:

Chief Information Officer

The traditional resource model is impacted. Scrum teams require resource dedication, for building a high-performing dynamic and reliable pace (velocity). To sustain them, you need to ensure a steady pipeline of valuable work. This requires true collaboration with the business.

Infrastructure needs to support continuous integration and frequent releases. If you are considering dev ops, you are well on your way.

The Agile journey could take a few years, so the biggest challenge to Scrum teams in the interim will be Waterfall interfaces. Scrum teams are fast moving and deliver with a greater degree of uncertainty in requirements, which means unfamiliar territory for Waterfall groups. A good deal of interface coordination needs to happen.

Human Resources

New roles and career paths will need to be defined: ScrumMasters, product owners, coaches, and Agile adoption enablers.

The performance review process is impacted as well, to reward team success instead of individual achievement.

Some organizations opt to trigger the cultural shift to agility by reorganizing or thinning the middle management layer, to enable team empowerment. HR needs to be very much a part of the Agile transformation.

Chief Financial Officer

When setting up teams for Agile, funding shifts from project to team funding. Budgeting in this case is simplified. What finance leadership needs to get used to is a level of scope uncertainty. This requires trust that the team and the product owner will make the right trade-off decisions.

Organizations start to experience a shift toward business value and away from cost savings. You don't hear Google bragging about how much money they saved on people; you hear about their innovations and superior talent pool.

Next, don't forget to budget for Agile overhead: training, coaches, tools, and employee dedication.

Last thought to the finance leader: You need to have some leeway for R&D or innovation lab-type work, where the team acquires seed funding to test out an idea. This is perhaps not appropriate for every team, but certainly for your emerging products. Finance's agility will help drive Agile adoption.

Chief Operating Officer/Chief Marketing Officer/Chief Executive Officer

Business engagement level is significantly higher with Agile. Not only will the product owner need to dedicate enough time, they also need to be knowledgeable and empowered to make on-the-spot product decisions. In other words, the business role shifts from a project manager profile to true product ownership. The enterprise needs to support the product owner with a clear vision and a push to innovate. Our most successful product owners do two things really well: alignment and trade-offs. Assigning the "right" product owner will make the difference to your project success.

Your project management office or central compliance groups will experience a cultural shift to team empowerment, impacting audit processes. Metrics tracked for Agile are different, focused on value rather than on productivity or cost. New standards and organizations structures will emerge, such as Scrum of Scrums. The PMO will typically feel the impact after you start to scale.

Your facilities will also be hit with demand for team co-location space. If you don't solve it by configuring sufficient collaboration spaces, the Scrum teams will commandeer your conference rooms!

You see, it goes beyond launching a few Agile teams. Executives who have gone through a successful Agile journey will tell you: Agile is about a true transformation in the way you operate.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.8 (8 ratings)


Daratha Galkissa, CSM, 1/17/2014 6:59:24 AM
Thanks for the great article in different perspective agile leadership...
For "Agile Overhead" I would rather say "Agile Investment", the amount you spend on training, coaches, tools and employee dedication will give you much bigger benefits in return.....
Deema Dajani, CSM,CSPO, 1/17/2014 7:05:43 AM
good point Daratha, it's all about how you position it.
Alexander Kanaan, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 1/17/2014 9:17:22 AM
Great article Deema, I especially appreciate how well rounded your coverage is on who to engage and on what to engage them. So many times people overlook one or the other so having them all here is a good checklist.

As a follow-up suggestion to you and others commenting, how has your experience been in dealing with all the above. What challenges face each group and what is the best way to approach them and bring them to your side?

I know this is more of a change management question so I am looking forward to hearing everyone's stories.
Bill Rinko-Gay, CSM, 1/17/2014 12:02:43 PM
Excellent review, Deema. I think you did a good job describing the move from management control to project trust and transparency. You might consider an article directly addressing this cultural shift. From what I've seen, it makes managers very uncomfortable until they experience it.
Maria Elena Rodriguez, CSM, 1/17/2014 5:56:21 PM
Great points! Deema, your article touches on key success factors that are often overlooked by organizations in the initial transformation to Agile. These are important areas of concerns by new teams and if address correctly, it can facilitate the change management process and a smooth transition. I look forward to future articles that will address best practices to increase leadership awareness to these transformational points.
Maria Poviones-Bishop, CSM, 1/18/2014 1:37:05 PM
Great crystalized summary of all the important areas Deema! Your short one-pager should be required reading for top leadership interested in agility. For more reading on org impacts, my favorite resource is Mike Cohn's book "Succeeding with Agile."
Bob Jiang, CST,CSP,CSM,CSPO,REP, 1/19/2014 7:03:54 PM
Good points! Deema. And I have one question according with your article. Do you have any suggestion or experience about HR transformation to Agile, in special related with employees' career path. (E.g some scrummasters don't have clear path in their career, and then no one would like to take ScM role.)
Krithong Panmunin, CSM,CSPO, 1/19/2014 7:08:15 PM
This is a good read! You hit every challenge organizations will face in this transformation. I'm sure there are many other challenges that future articles will discuss.
Deema Dajani, CSM,CSPO, 1/20/2014 7:26:47 AM
Bob your observation on HR and the Scrum Master career path is valid. We've observed that in a flatter organization, the Scrum Master role is quite fulfilling and desired. However, this flat structure is not possible for many organizations. Here are some tips you can apply: The scrum master's role needs to have a component of building the Scrum culture, in addition to their team responsibilities (credit to Peter Borsella for this analysis). Basically the Scrum Master becomes part of part of something bigger. They can run Scrum of Scrums, mentor new Scrum Masters, and help with the promotion efforts to increase scrum adoption through the organization. Another idea, is having a formal “Coach” role, as a career progression for experienced scrum masters that qualify. Not only will this raise their profile in your organization, but also makes them more marketable. Finally you should consider having a Scrum “community of practice” in your organization. Scrum Masters have an opportunity to contribute and share their experiences across the org.
Veronica Stewart, CSP,CSM, 1/29/2014 12:42:12 PM
Great article Deema! I also find it important on changing the interview process to be more geared towards agile teams. Johanna Rothman has a 5 part blog series on this topic that I recommend (
Not only do you interview the candidate with the team, but there are particular questions asked to help determine if the candidate can work within an agile team/environment. A lot of times they still only focus on skill sets versus behavior/social skills.
Deema Dajani, CSM,CSPO, 1/29/2014 8:42:06 PM
Thanks Veronica, interesting blog!

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