Top-Down Agile Adoption Strategies

This article covers the challenges that organizations may face and also recommends possible "top down" solutions that could help in quickly adopting agile.

Many software companies are adopting Agile methods at an exponential rate - whether the adopting company is a software service or a product development firm or whether the work is on retail domain or avionics. This article covers the challenges that organizations may face and also recommends possible solutions that could help in quickly adopting Agile. The article is based on my experiences while adopting Agile at Valtech India. I've also had the privilege of working with one of the important thought leaders in this field, Craig Larman, Chief scientist at Valtech. Without his constant guidance and coaching, we could never have come so far on the pathway of Agile.

Introducing Agile in an Organization
A typical software services company can be viewed to be made of three layers of people with a varying degree of authority (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Stakeholders in a typical organization


Over the past five years, I have personally conducted more than fifteen training programs about Agile - both at Valtech and other companies where I have been invited. Developers and project managers form the majority of attendees. During my interactions with them I've realized that it is these people who:

    • Subscribe to Agile blogs;
    • Actively pore through many popular Agile mailing lists; and
    • Have the most passion in implementing Agile.

These people are {sidebar id=1} eager to learn Agile and look forward to implementing it in their projects. This kind of strategy is known as quot;bottom-upquot; Agile adoption.
While this strategy may work in the short run, this is a non-sustainable model of Agile implementation. I am not saying that the developers do a lousy job in implementation - it is simply that they lack active support from the sponsors.

In a top-down Agile adoption strategy, the sponsors take the initiative and encourage (not push) the teams to adopt Agile methods. Some of the Agile practices need investment for procuring tools, changing the physical environment, organizing training for the developers, having a coach, etc. Such decisions are typically taken by the sponsors.
Some of the advantages of top-down adoption include:

    1. Higher visibility - everybody observe the changes happening in the work place and culture.
    2. Confidence - teams can experiment with new practices and tools since they have the firm backing of the sponsors.
    3. Transparency - teams have the opportunity to correct mistakes during initial stages.
    4. Consistency - the practices have a higher chance of being consistent with the company vision.

The Need for Top-down Agile Adoption
Agile is all about people, trust, communication, flexibility, and feedback. These values need a lot of nurturing at all levels in the organization. First and foremost, the sponsors must believe in these values for effective Agile adoption.

In a bottom-up Agile adoption strategy, many of these values cannot bubble up easily when compared to the top-down strategy. The challenges are:

    • Lack of buy-in when ideas come internally (versus given by an external neutral party).
    • Generally more difficult and time consuming to convince sponsors by the developers.
    • Requires lots of sponsor time and good communication skills by the developer passionate about implementing Agile.

Categories of Changes
Figure 2 shows the changes needed during Agile adoption. Each type of change is discussed in detail below.

Changes needed


Requirement from sponsors


Change in thinking patterns and culture

Encouragement, motivation

Investment in new tools


Sustained support for Agility

Encouragement, motivation and commitment

Figure 2: Agile Adoption Changes

Change in Thinking Patterns and Culture
This is one of the most difficult things to achieve. We, as human beings, resist change and hold on to our old beliefs and


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