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The "Agile Message" in Organizations

September 24, 2014



In a recent Scrum training class, I had a group of skilled and experienced software Product Managers (from a few different companies) who had, earlier in their careers, worked as sales professionals in the field – so they had a deep understanding of the traditional sales professional “mindset”.  In class, the group learned about the aspects of Agile Product Management, Scrum and the culture of Agility.  All of this was good stuff in training and powerful new skills were taught around metrics, creating value in software Products, managing a Scrum Product Backlog, etc.

But with all of that newfound knowledge in hand, there was a bigger challenge facing this group as they headed back into their respective organizations – how can they start changing the message between their VP of Sales and the rest of the Product organization?

As we see with many sales organizations, they have hard-working professionals “pounding the pavement” to generate leads and close deals for their Products.  However, a common theme we see in traditional software development is this – sales often makes unrealistic promises in an effort to close a deal, then the VP of Sales looks to Product delivery to “make it happen”.

But we know how this story often ends – the deal gets won on unrealistic promises, then those promises are unable to be kept, which results in unhappy customers and damaged internal relationships.  Sales blames delivery for missing the promised features/timeline, and delivery blames sales for promising something that cannot be delivered.  Now what?


Enter the New Message - An Agile Message

Learning an Agile message is difficult and it takes time, practice and persistence in an organization.  It often has to start in the midst of an already-challenged situation; for example, in the middle of a difficult, delayed waterfall software development effort.  But for the pursuit of organizational Agility to actually start and gain some momentum, eventually the new messaging has to start.

This class was put into a difficult, “real” situation and had to prepare a message for an agitated VP of Sales, who recently finished meeting with a group of dissatisfied customers who purchased software Product that lacked some of the features that they had expected.  How do you think that meeting went?

Here are some of the things that were discussed in the meeting between the VP of Sales and Product Delivery – look for themes of a more Agile message:


“Clearly, the way we are working together isn’t helping us, or our customers – here’s why.  Are you open to exploring a better way of working together that can result in a better outcome?”


“We understand that sales is under pressure to make their quotas, and we want to help them do that.  But making impossible promises isn’t going to help anyone, especially our customers.”


“Here is a new kind of Product Roadmap we can use internally to start managing expectations with our customers and prospects.  What would you think about making this available as a tool for your sales team?”


“This Product Roadmap can and will change.  Here are some of the risks we see with the technology, etc. that could impact the Roadmap.  We want to be fully transparent with sales so they are informed and having better conversations with our customers.”


“We would like to try a different way of working that can get Product to customers more frequently, and we commit to doing our best to make this happen.  But in return, we need to be more flexible on the features that ship within a more frequent Product release cycle.  What does this mean to your sales team?”


“The people aren’t the problem right now.  It’s how we are working together - here's why.  If we respectfully point a finger at the problems and not the people, then we’ll be able to make progress.”

I have purposely left out statements and reactions from the VP of Sales - food for thought for my readers.  How do you think the VP of Sales was responding in this conversation?

Remember, this is a group of people learning about the new message and what it feels like.  But transitioning to this message takes time, practice and persistence in the organization.  Framing and working on an Agile message will vary depending on your organization’s current culture and leadership's willingness to consider change.

In closing:

  • Do you have an Agile message in your organization now? Does it promote the values above?

  • What can be learned from this example to help in your pursuit of organizational Agility?

  • Who are the key stakeholders that you need to engage in these types of conversations?  VP of Sales?  The CIO?  The CFO?  The CEO?  Others?


As we often say - Agile is a journey, not a destination.




I really appreciate you taking time to read this post. If you learned something new or were inspired in any way, please consider sharing with your colleagues so we can collectively make a difference in organizations of all shapes and sizes. Scrum On!

I also teach, mentor and coach People, Teams and Organizations to high levels of performance in an Agile environment. Want to experience some of my teachings in person? I would be privileged to collaborate with you at one of my upcoming events.

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