Discussing agile with Executives/CxOs


I have been interfacing a lot with various groups, in various cities, in various different cultures. And at each event, there are a few questions that are almost always asked. One being “How do you discuss agile with the executive level people?”. I know there are some folks on the board that are here after hearing my answers to this, but I am curious what others are saying when asked this question, or perhaps even better, how do you discuss lean and agile thinking with your executive or leadership level if they are not well versed in the mindset?


Part of this discussion might also include questions from managers like: If we do go agile what is my role/job in an Agile environment? I got a question like that the other day. I gave the standard answer, but I know they will need a bunch of coaching.


Start with the “why.” Why has Agile become so popular? I typically highlight the digital age and disruption. Next, given executives are responsible for outcomes, I stress the end game of Agile is improved time to market, customer satisfaction, reliability, responsiveness, and innovative products.These are all desired results they want to see from their operations. I then take the opportunity to map these outcomes back to what I refer to elements of Agility. These include collaboration, flow, technical excellence, continuous improvement, and fast feedback loops.


Hopefully this one will get some feedback:


I suggest you refrain from talking to executives “about agile.”

My experiences are just a tiny sample size, but I’ve found they don’t care. And why should they? The Agile Manifesto is about writing code (at least, as an executive understandably sees it).

You need a new language that respects the working environment of an executive. They are highly intelligent, highly stressed individuals that have daily conversations where most “agile conversations” appear completely useless. Truly.

They speak in realms of proxy voting, say on pay, analyst forecasts, and organizational performance. They have whirlwind schedules that balance the needs of board politics, social corporate responsibility, and strategic management workshops. They are exhausted, too. And they all care deeply about their company, so much so, that when we start talking “mindset change” and such, they rightfully tell us to go F ourselves.

The Agile mindset has simple, meaningful elements and @mccallam2 is correct that we might talk about the “why,” instead… but that phrase is also something we Agile-folk overuse. It’s like a wet blanket we throw over the hard stuff.

Don’t say the word (Agile) and, for the love, don’t ask executives to “play a game” to illustrate.

Instead, work on creating a new language for Agile that resonates with the executive mindset. Speak to them about organizational behavior with business-heavy overtones, yet also speak to the core of Agile (without saying it).

Start with the work of Dan Greening - the five “Agile Base Patterns”. I was fortunate to collaborate with him on this topic, but truly, he deserves 100% of the credit… and it is fantastic stuff.

The below link provides an overview, plus embedded links to deep, thorough discussion on each of the five principles. I believe work of this nature helps us understand how to bring Agile to executives in a considerate, empathetic (and effective) way.



Love this topic. I will have to post more when I have some more time to write. But for me you have to change the vernacular you use. Less process less framework. More appetite for change. quicker feedback loops, better quality and faster cycle times and less waste. Which all usually helps with the most important. The financial impact. Seems like most Execs are sold agile from an internal resource or a new hire cause something is broken. We all know that utilizing Scrum or some other Agile Framework will AMPLIFY an orgs issues and not solve them. But through that you will be able to pin point where your issues are and actually develop plans to solve them. So when I speak to Sr level management I tend to focus on what they are having issues with. What are the problems… Do they even know? maybe this will be a good way for them to get a clear understanding of challenges and also shine the spot light on things that are working well. Again it can AMPLIFY good and bad… But if you are not willing to have an open mind it will be a tough sell No matter what framework you decide to use. Lets focus on Business Value and define what that means. then I can show you how to deliver based on Business value and continuously deliver and be able to change quickly when someone throws a crowbar in your bike spokes.


It depends…. Not all CxOs are created equal. You really have to listen to the person and gear the conversation to what is most important to them.

The president of the largest division of a Fortune 100 company is probably concerned with holding or improving their place in the market and pleasing the Board/shareholders, so I may talk about the rapid pace of change, organizational agility, leadership agility, and the impact of a happy/empowered workforce.

The technical founder of a late stage startup might be more interested in why all his teams can’t deliver every sprint, so we may wind up talking about practices.

In either case, I never try to ‘sell’ agile. I listen and respond to how I feel being more agile could potentially help achieve the desired outcomes – or not.