Six Focus Points To Help Start Your Agile Movement

So you're an executive that's bought in to the whole agile change idea for your organisation. You've already seen that some teams have been working in an agile way. You've seen them be more successful than other teams. You decide you want to actively encourage other teams to join the agile journey.

You sit and craft the killer email communicating the new guidance around continuous improvement of the product and the process. You describe the need to move to continuous frequent release of sustainable value. You stress the need to innovate by experimenting and learning through frequent feedback. Done. Then you reread it twice. Smiling at the crispness of the message, you press send. Then wait for the change to start. 

Of course, disappointment quickly follows. But why?

Amongst the many reasons the organisation doesn't just become agile is that your organisation is made up of people who receive this email with a different mindset. 

The Mindset of Receivers

It helps to categorise the recipients in to four different types based on a combination of their levels of motivation and their knowledge of the topic (Making the Connection, Bill Quirk).  

Making the Connection, Bill Quirke

Making the Connection, Bill Quirke


These are the people who are highly motivated and are also knowledgable in agile. They're your most vocal advocates and will be pushing ahead doing the right things and achieving success. They'll be talking to others about how agile is working for them and helping others to adopt the change. They're likely to be attending and speaking at external agile meetups. They've built up an internal network of agile supporters already, which could form the start of your agile community.

 Slow Burners

Let's wait and see if this agile thing is really going to stick. If it is I'll join in, otherwise I'll wait it out and not waste any energy. That's the mindset of the Slow Burner. They're not out to directly undermine your effort and they understand what it's all about but don't expect them to go out of their way to help push the change out for you. 

 Unguided Missiles

Let's get on with it, whatever it is - even if I don't understand it, is where these people are. Unguided missiles are highly motivated and want to get things moving but are unconsciously incompetent in the agile direction of travel you want to take the organisation in. They'll be creating momentum but missing the point. This creates confusion at best and at worst conflicts with the outcomes you're looking for. An example may be that they talk about agile as finally allowing teams to "just get on with coding", which to them may seem exactly what is required. However, it isn't correct and may lead doubters to see agile as a move to "hack and hope"; an approach they won't support. Therefore their messages and actions can be unknowlingly destructive.


These people understand exactly what agile will bring to the organisation but see no benefit to having the change to agile succeed. They will resist. They'll push their own messages using their informal network on why the move to agile isn't a good idea. They may passively resist the change in their area. In an agile transformation your saboteurs are highly likely to exist in the mid-level managers or in the coding heroes. Both of these   characters can suffer from "loss aversion". They have certainty about what they'll lose in the change to agile. They've been successful in the old culture. Their gains in the change to agile are uncertain. They see definite loss and only possible gain.

Who Do You Spend Time With?

So to make the most difference in your change which group should you spend most time with?

The hotshots are already all up and running. They'll need some support from you but very little. Don't waste all of you're time  with this crowd. They'll be the people who organise your agile communities and keep them running even if you left. You should make sure you're seen to support and reward them for successes. In times of change actions speaking louder than words. Because they're your greatest supporters it's tempting to spend a lot of your time here. I've fallen in to this trap, it's a classic. But when you need to recharge your batteries do go and spend some time with these people, to realise you're not on your own. 

The slow burners will just wait it out until enough of the organisation makes the move to agile and they see it's here to stay. Then they'll join in. They know what agile is about. In terms of getting the agile change to happen they're neutral. There's little point spending time here. They'll read the agile change program emails and website, they'll watch whose being recognised as successful. They'll do enough to stay informed. 

Saboteurs or refusenicks, as Quirke also describes them, will use any information they can find and twist it to their ends in order to subvert the move to agile. Whilst you can't ignore this group, they're unlikely to be a good return on investment in terms of time spent with them. Spend just enough time with them to gain intelligence. Knowing who the high powered saboteurs are is very worthwhile. For these high powered individuals you can try giving them credit for high profile successes brought about by agile, even though they had little to do with it. Having them feel part of the success may flip them, but don't count on it.

That only leaves the unguided missiles. Spend as much time as you can with these people. Being highly motivated means they'll spread ideas, beliefs and results quickly around the organisation. Therefore they're excellent at getting your message to the critical mass you'll need to make the cultural change occur. Focus attention on having frequent conversations with this group. Time spent with the unguided missiles explaining why the move to agile is necessary will make a significant difference in your success.

All mankind is divided into three classes: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move. Benjamin Franklin

Having these movers going in the right direction creates the momentum you need to create an agile movement. Movements can achieve things that are otherwise impossible. Like scaling agile.

Having the unguided missiles coming "on message", may mean giving your message to them so that they can internalise it and make it their message. Some people are far more passionate about spreading their own idea than someone elses. Time to put your own ego aside for the greater good and let them own it.

Act Congruently - Always

Finally and critically when communicating to these groups make sure you and other leaders act 100% congruently. Only compliment those who demonstrate the values and culture around agile that you want to create. Never reward or compliment those acting in conflict to agile. Even if they have positive achievements but didn't follow the spirit of agile, play down the success. Remember actions speak louder than words. News of saboteurs being rewarded will travel faster than any official positive recognition of someone or a team succeeding by being agile. Don't weaken.


So spend your time wisely when you're communicating as part of your agile transformation:

  1. Don't waste time on the saboteurs and the slow burners
  2. Create a movement of your hotshots and unguided missiles, by having them make the message theirs
  3. Build powerful two way communication lines between you and these two groups
  4. Spend most of your time with the unguided missiles
  5. Be seen to compliment those who are motivated and on message
  6. Never reward or compliment those off message - even if you think people won't know. They will, fast