How to Focus Stakeholders on the Benefits of Agile Planning and Experimenting

Do you have a partnership with business colleagues and stakeholders aligned to agile practices, culture, and mindset?

This question comes up a lot when speaking to product management, IT, and data leaders who deliver innovations through agile releases. The teams may be agile and running scrum but leaders must also manage stakeholder expectations fixated on meeting a prescribed scope and timelines.

5 Steps to Focus Business Stakeholders on Agile Planning - Isaac Sacolick

This perspective, a carryover from waterfall projects, and having a "business-led IT" mindset can be unpacked and realigned. But transforming the collaboration between stakeholders, product owners, and agile teams requires backing up several steps and explaining agile through a stakeholder's lens.

Define agile through a business stakeholder's mindset

In my latest 5 Minutes with @NYIke episode, I share two tools for explaining agile to stakeholders. The first explains agile from a roadmap and release perspective, how agile helps break the big boulders down to short release cycles, and why feedback loops are important to stakeholders. The second tool is a set of building blocks to help leaders bring stakeholders onto the agile bus. 

You can find the video at the end of this post. I also recommend my Everyone can be Agile course, which can be transformative to agile streams struggling to collaborate with stakeholders. The StarCIO vision template and our agile planning programs enable a more continuous planning process with stakeholders, and these are key tools to changing to an agile, collaborative culture. You'll also read many of my best agile stories in my new book, Digital Trailblazer.

Understand and address the source of detraction

As an agile leader, you will have to invest significant time and energy to bring stakeholders on board with agile practices. Some may be agile detractors, which I covered in a previous post and video, but most stakeholders haven't been sufficiently engaged in transforming their mindset. 

Here are five steps to engage stakeholders:

  1. Understand their objectives - because agile is a means to get to address their goals
  2. Discuss unknowns and risks - because this is the door for explaining iterative releases and how how capturing early and frequent feedback can address unknowns and risks with new information
  3. Devise experiments - because you can align agile releases to delivering them
  4. Ensure engagement - by requiring stakeholder participation in prioritization and sprint reviews - you want them to see demos and provide feedback
  5. Require force-ranked priorities - Because everyone's time must start with what to plan first, provide feedback to stakeholders on the implementation, and discusses minimally viable feature implementation

From an agile leadership perspective, getting stakeholders on board with steps 4 and 5 is non-negotiable. Stakeholders that want to be non-participants in the process are a major red flag, and I advise not taking on or halting initiatives when stakeholders refuse or find excuses to collaborate.

I didn't say this was easy, and it can require organizing workshops with stakeholders to shift the mindset. I'm here to help.

Start with the 5 Minutes with @NYIke episode below. Hint, I provide access to a valuable coupon for the course, Everyone can be Agile.

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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.