5 Reasons Why Agile Development Must Be Driven from the Top

This content is syndicated from by Kelly Waters. To view the original post in full, click here.

5 Reasons Why Agile Development Must Be Driven from the TopAgile development is often initiated by the development team itself. Whilst they may find some good advantages, the most profound benefits of agile software development will not be realised unless it is driven from the top.

Here's why:

1. Multi-disciplined teams

One of the key concepts of agile development is the idea of multi-disciplined teams - "one team". An agile development team needs all the skills necessary to complete its task from cradle to grave. From initial request to delivery to market, the team should be able to deliver without reference to another team.

Having multi-disciplined teams reduces coordination, creates clear ownership and responsibility, speeds up delivery, and empowers the team. As I said earlier, profound benefits, but benefits only possible to realise often by making changes to the organisational structure, which usually need to be driven from the top.

2. Co-location

Another key concept of agile software development is co-location. Ideally the whole team will all be located in the same place - not just the same office but literally sitting side by side in the same room or space.

Having co-located teams also reduces coordination, speeds up communication, fosters closer working relationships, creates the opportunity for continuous collaboration, enables face-to-face communication, means you can get better visibility of progress etc by putting things on the wall, and strenghtens team spirit.

These factors, over the course of a project, can make or break it. Co-location often requires management intervention, in order to move people around so they can all be together. Sometimes it may be even more fundamental than that - moving people from offices in different cities and physically reorganising the company. So again, it really needs to be driven from the top.

3. Product ownership

A common problem in large organisations is that there are many stakeholders for any given product. It is also common for development teams to be developing and maintaining multiple products. The effect of this is that many people make requests, and to each of the stakeholders, their request is naturally the most important.

With so many requests coming from so many directions, how does a development team prioritise and manage expectations. Usually, it's a case of who shouts loudest! This is not the best approach for the business, as it's sometimes those demanding the most attention that get priority and not those that drive the most business benefit. It also creates an unpleasant working environment, where the default system for getting things done is to moan, shout and escalate. It's not the most motivating way to work, and it's not the most effective.

A development team needs a clear Product Owner, at least for each product if not for the whole team. The Product Owner needs to be the one person who prioritises on behalf of the business, and needs to have real authority to make decisions and stand by them. The team need to know that this is the one person they should listen to the most.

Having clear and empowered Product Owners transforms a teams' performance by enabling them to work on the most important requests, cutting out a lot of noise, creating a more positive working environment, motivating the team, and strengthening business relationships.

The trouble is, in large businesses, there is often not one person who naturally holds this position and has this level of authority. The role of Product Owner needs to be explicitly assigned to someone and communicated clearly to all stakeholders. As this role often spans business units, this usually needs to come from the top.

4. Agile project management/Stakeholder expectations

With agile project management, stakeholder expectations need to change. Where they may be used to seeing a full requirements document and/or specification up-front, they shouldn't expect to see that in agile. Where they may be used to seeing a detailed project plan in the form of a gantt chart, they shouldn't expect to see that in agile. Unless they know that, understand why that is, and really believe in the benefits of agile and why there is a need for change, this will potentially cause you problems.

Since these stakeholders are often senior managers and directors of the organisation, these steps are an important part of selling agile and where the real change management challenge is. This needs to be carefully managed and the message needs to reach all key stakeholders, at all levels of the organisation. In order to secure real buy-in, this usually needs to be driven from the top.

5. Different values

Agile development has different values to traditional project management methodologies. Unless people understand what these values are, how they are different to previous way of working, they will struggle to adopt or embrace some key aspects of agile software development.

People need to understand that whilst they will have less predictability and won't be able to see a clearly defined fixed scope, instead they will get a high-performing team that can deliver software faster and to a higher quality, and that they'll get much more visibility and flexibility that's more likely to meet their changing expectations, and with less bureacracy.

Everyone needs to know that it's okay to lack that perceived clarity from the outset in favour of flexibility and the other benefits that come from adopting agile development. They need to know that agile principles and practices mitigate risk in a different way - not with detailed planning and analysis and strict control, but through visibility, transparency and frequent delivery of working software in small incremental iterations.

People need to know that these values are supported from the top; that it's not only okay to behave in line with these new principles, it's expected.


Adopting agile development will help with many issues. But without these things being led from the top, you will only be partially successful and you will only see a small fraction of the possible benefits.


Photo by lepiaf.geo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

1 + 3 =

There are 101 ways to do anything.
To find the best way, sometimes you need expert help

What People Say

“Kelly is an Agile heavy-weight. He came in to assess my multi-million $ Agile development program which wasn’t delivering the right throughput. He interviewed most of the team and made some key recommendations that, when implemented, showed immediate results. I couldn’t ask for more than that except he’s a really nice guy as well.”


“I worked with Kelly whilst at Thoughtworks and found him to be a most inspiring individual, his common-sense approach coupled with a deep understanding of Agile and business makes him an invaluable asset to any organisation. I can't recommend Kelly enough.”


“Kelly was a great colleague to work with - highly competent, trustworthy and generally a nice bloke.”


“Kelly came to the department and has really made a huge impact on how the department communicates, collaborates and generally gets things done. We were already developing in an agile way, but Kelly has brought us even more into alignment with agile and scrum best practices, being eager to share information and willing to work with us to change our processes rather than dictate how things must be done. He is highly knowledgable about agile development (as his active blog proves) but his blog won't show what a friendly and knowledgeable guy he is. I highly recommend Kelly to anyone looking for a CTO or a seminar on agile/scrum practices - you won't be disappointed!”


“Kelly and I worked together on a very large project trying to secure a new Insurer client. Kelly had fantastic commercial awareness as well as his technical expertise. Without him I would never had secured this client so I owe a lot to him. He is also a really great guy!”


“Kelly revolutionised the way our digital department operated. A true advocate of agile principles, he quickly improved internal communication within our teams and our internal clients by aligning our business and creating a much enhanced sense of transparency in the decisions the business was making. Kelly also introduced a higher sense of empowerment to the development teams...”


“Kelly is an extremely talented and visionary leader. As such he manages to inspire all around him to achieve their best. He is passionate about agile and has a wealth of experience to bring to bear in this area. If you're 'lucky' he might even tell you all about his agile blog. Above all this, Kelly is great fun to work with. He is always relaxed and never gets stressed - and trust me, he had plenty of opportunity here! If you get the chance to work with Kelly, don't pass it up.”


“I worked with Kelly on many projects at IPC and I was always impressed with his approach to all of them, always ensuring the most commercially viable route was taken. He is great at managing relationships and it was always a pleasure working with him.”


“Kelly was engaged as a Program Director on a complex business and technology transformation program for Suncorp Commercial Insurance. Kelly drew on his key capabilities and depth of experience to bring together disparate parties in a harmonised way, ensuring the initiate and concept phases of the program were understood and well formulated. Excellent outcome in a very short time frame. ”


“Kelly was a brilliant CTO and a great support to me in the time we worked together. I owe Kelly a great deal in terms of direction and how to get things done under sometimes difficult circumstances. Thanks Kelly.”


“Kelly’s a leading program director with the ability to take charge from day one and keep strong momentum at both a program and project level driving prioritisation, resourcing and budgeting agendas. Kelly operates with an easy-going style and possesses a strong facilitation skill set. From my 5 months experience working with Kelly, I would recommend Kelly to program manage large scale, complex, cross company change programs both from a business and IT perspective.”



To explore how we can help you, please get in touch