Getting the C-Suite on Board with Agile Transformation

HBR is proving they understand Digital Innovation with two recent posts, one on Embracing Agile co-written by Jeff Sutherland one of the Agile Manifesto's signers and the other, You Don't Have to Be a Software Company to Think Like One.

Anyone who has led an agile transformation in their organization knows that getting people, teams, departments, and organizations on board takes time and energy. It often starts with the agile leader's own group, often the technology department if the transformation is led by the CTO or CIO, but sometimes by the product management team that has been chartered to innovate new products. Agile leaders start with practice issues to get their team executing but then often face larger cultural issues ones when they extend the practice beyond their own teams.

Bringing Agile Principles to the C-Suite

The C-Suite is often the last on board with agile. Some may be hands off with underlying business processes and elect to observe from the stadium seats while others compartmentalize agile leaving their own organization walled off from its changes or impacts. Confronted with these challenges, here's one reason agile leaders can use to explain why agile is key to transformation and growth

Recognize [there is] a fundamental shift in the sources of value creation and competitive advantage toward software. Companies face major risks if they fail to recognize this new platform-driven context and the different economic rules that govern it.

Your business may not drive revenue from creating or selling software, but all businesses can develop strategic advantages by how it leverages software to reach customers, data to drive decision making, and algorithms to deliver new value or efficiencies. Your leaders need to understand the digital transformation urgency and also what happens to businesses that lag behind digital competitors.
But here is one underlying problem

When we ask executives what they know about agile, the response is usually an uneasy smile and a quip such as “Just enough to be dangerous.”

How can this be? Is this good enough? Executives read P/Ls, sales plans and operational reports, but they can get away with only rudimentary knowledge of underlying processes that drive digital transformation, product innovation, process improvement? What's worse is when they do get involved, they fall back to command and control tactics

These executives launch countless initiatives with urgent deadlines rather than assign the highest priority to two or three. They talk more than listen. They promote marginal ideas that a team has previously considered and back-burnered. They routinely overturn team decisions and add review layers and controls to ensure that mistakes aren’t repeated. With the best of intentions, they erode the benefits that agile innovation can deliver.

Develop a C-Suite Agile Program

The two articles go on to give sound advice about why businesses need technology innovation to be more competitive and how leaders can be supporters of agile practices. My top three -

  • Codify proprietary know how and use digital platforms to scale and monetize your offerings.
  • Learn How Agile Really Works
  • Destroy the Barriers to Agile Behaviors

And then remind your executives -

Innovation is what agile is all about.  Companies that create an environment in which agile flourishes find that teams can churn out innovations faster

Further Reading on Agile and Digital Transformation

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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld,, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.