The Agile Executive

Making Agile Work

The View From the Executive Suite

with 4 comments

A few days ago I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours with Bob Rockwell. Bob is the managing partner of AdviSoar, a Lewisville, TX consulting company specializing in coaching and developing executives, and teaching people the skills to develop executive relationships. “Helping Good People Do Great Things!” is AdviSoar’s mantra.

Business Risks Agile Addresses

Bob’s view of Agile, like any corporate executive, is business oriented. Important as the benefits to R&D are, Bob believes Agile is all about mitigating business risks. He specifically highlights the following as risks that Agile may be well suited to address:

  • Monetary risk: the level of investment it takes till one can have a meaningful “sniff test”.
  • Market risk: changes in the market in the window of time between concept and delivery. In particular, Bob is concerned about the risk of missing a market opportunity due to a too-constraining design document or a too-long development time. Additionally, Agile would seem to offer the potential of new discovery that could have market value.
  • Competitive risk: a rival in the market starts delivering faster or “better” by adopting Agile methods.
  • Execution risk: will the software be on-time? Will the business executive in charge get early warning signs in case the software project is in trouble?
  • Brand risk: tarnishing of image due to poor quality or miss-met expectations.
  • Innovation risks: shipping mediocre software (based) product due to insufficient experimentation and insufficient or ineffective “user” input through the process.

In other words, Agile for Bob is about running and growing the business, not about running R&D.

Laws of Software Engineering


Our discussion of the risks Agile mitigates led to highlighting a few “cheat sheet” points an executive should keep in mind with respect to doing or utilizing software:

  • The investment in software development is typically less than half the overall life-cycle investment in software.
  • The longer you take to address technical debt, the higher you pay.
  • The accrual of business value in well run Agile projects is exponential (see chart above); in contrast, the investment is linear in traditional waterfall processes. In the graph above, taken fromJim Highsmith’s Agile 2006 presentation “How to be an Agile Leader”, 90% value is captured upon delivering 50% of features.

We ran out of time before we could discuss the classical laws of software evolution established by Lehman and Belady. I have no doubt we will get into them next time Bob and I meet. In particular, the question how applicable these classical rules are to Agile software projects is a topic I plan to discuss with Bob in length and depth. Also, a social contract for Agile is on the “agenda”…

Stay tuned….

Written by israelgat

January 14, 2009 at 2:34 pm

4 Responses

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  1. […] Agile in the business context: Discussion are usually focused on $$. Most Agilists do not seem to be well equipped to discuss Agile in the contexts of  risk mitigation and compliance. […]

  2. […] Brand risk […]

  3. […] go hand-in-hand with an assessment of the risks (plural!) associated with the Agile expansion. See A View from the Executive Suite for details of the recommended […]

  4. […] addition to monetizing the technical debt, evaluate the various kinds of risks indicated in The View From The Executive Suite. A sense of how devastating those might be is given by Toyota’s own experience: Just as […]

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