Project Management

Overcoming the Executive Barrier to Agile

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

I recently had a conversation with someone who would probably be described as an “old school” executive—lengthy career in the same industry, consistent progression through the ranks, MBA from a good school, suit and tie. You know the kind of person. He was trying to explain to me why Agile is terrible for organizations.

At the heart of his argument was the idea that agile removes accountability because it focuses on collaboration and elaboration. In his mind you need to have a single individual accountable for every aspect of work because that creates an environment where there is positive pressure to succeed. As he put it, “I need a single throat to choke.” Wow. The implication being that if things go wrong, there is someone who can be identified as responsible and who suffers the consequences.

It's easy to dismiss this attitude as outdated and out of touch with reality, but we have to recognize that it is a perspective that is still fairly common—especially in more traditional industries and large organizations. Not only are there still a lot of people with this mindset in the workplace, many of them are in positions of considerable authority. If agile as an approach, and agility as a mindset, are to become the way that a business operates from top to bottom, then this sentiment has to be overcome, and that means changing the culture of the organization.

Agile …

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"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

- Thomas Edison