The Importance of Management Buy-In
In May 2019, AgilePartnerShip, a group of people that we really like to work with, put us in contact with a company that would become our client. Abilis Solution Inc. were looking for an agile coach to help them with their transition to agile. They had hired a coach and he got them started but he could no longer continue. So in early May 2019, we went and presented ourselves and our approach.
From the look on their face, we weren’t sure whether or not we would get to work with them but true to ourselves, we were brutally honest about what we saw, how we would go about this transformation and what it would take to succeed. We use the words “brutally honest” because we find, many consultant “sugarcoat” the truth, at least the ones that usually come before us! Anyways, it must not have been that scary because the next day, they hired us.
"We are aligned but ..."
As for most of our mandates, we began by doing a short assessment of the current situation. We usually do this via workshops and interviews and always ask to interview senior management to know where they stand with regards to the project. In our experience, transformation projects like the one Abilis was about to embark on, cannot succeed without the buy-in from senior management. Sometimes, the idea comes from the people on the ground but unless management is aligned and chose to make it a priority, it rarely succeed.
Luckily, in the case of this transformation, the Abilis’ management was aligned and made it a priority. However, they were not totally convinced it would deliver the results they were looking for. They had been dabbling with agility for the past 2 years and even though some positive results came out of it, it was nowhere near what it could have been and it had not really move the needle in terms of performance (quality, timeline, etc.).
"Why is it going to work this time?"
Why after two years did they continue to invest time in this? In our opinion here our the two key reasons that allowed the transformation to continue. As part of our analysis phase, we were able to identify what did not work and provide strong recommendations that reassured management that this time, it would work. But more importantly, the sponsor of the project was very engaged. As part of the senior management team, she believed in it and was able to enrol the rest of the management team.
Together with her and a small group of people she assembled, we put together a solid plan and kept management informed every step of the way. We kept everything very lean and very simple. We took the time to visually map the changes and explain to management where we were heading. We organized information sessions and training with all employees. It took approximately two months to come up with the plan, present it to management, get it approved, train people and then launch.
So one could say that communication and transparency was also a key reason / factor of success here.
The day was July 29th, 2019 ...
The first sprint planning, for seven (7) newly formed scrum teams occurred on Monday July 29th, 2019 – approximately two months after we submitted our recommendations. On the morning of the 29th, when the executive walked the floor they saw and felt the difference immediately. As one of them commented to us: “The vibe is different!”
So why did it work this time and how come it worked so fast? We are good at what we do but without management’s buy-in, none of what we do works. In this particular case, management believed in the project since the beginning 2.5 years ago but not as strongly as they did the second time around. Maybe more importantly, they did not make it a priority. They were also not presented with a strong business case for change the first time around. Last but not least, the sponsor was not as convinced and as engaged the first time around. Someone else was championing the project.
We don’t want to minimize other important factors like the quality and dedication of the people working at Abilis but without strong management buy-in and a strong sponsor, transformation like these can be very painful and in some cases drag to the point of being abandoned.
It is our opinion that, as consultants, it is important to validate how strong the management buy-in is before starting a project. If the buy-in is weak or non-existant, then you need to ask yourself whether you want to undertake that project and if you can do anything to help increase the buy-in. There is nothing worst than trying to help someone who doesn’t think he/she needs help.
As a member of an organisation’s senior management team, you may be tempted to think that the problem lies outside of the management team. During our interviewes, we often hear things like; “our people don’t understand” or “we don’t have the right people” and while sometimes it does play a role in the success or failure of a transformation, in our experience , it is rarely the main reason or the most influential. In the case of Abilis, the management team was always “brutally honest” with themselves and they understood they were the key to make this transformation happen!