Monday 19 November 2007

XPDay 2007: Mr Agile Goes to Washington: The Impact of Politics on Agile Projects - Panel Discussion


Sallyann Freudenberg — internal agile coach (permanently employed)

  • previously did PhD in collaborative software development
  • approach: gently let things bubble up and then deal with them

James Davison — head of PM at Razorfish (previously at ThoughtWorks)

  • has come across a lot of politics
  • don’t think you can stay out of it — perception is very important
  • try get everyone into the same space by socialising

Stuart Blair — investment bank

Mike Feathers — object mentor in US

  • travelling coach

Rachel Davies — independent coach

  • often working with several companies at one time
  • facilitating retrospectives: ensure voices are heard in a neutral way before jumping to solutions


The focus of the group seemed to be of within large corporations rather than smaller companies working with other companies.


  • covert action to get what you want from scarce resources
  • decision making process not clear — individual roles not well defined

Good politics:

  • Aligning projects with high-ups objectives
  • Finding right person to present the case on your behalf
    • Externally, this would be called sales; but internally called politics…
  • Try reframing their goals in a more positive way
    • At least lets you work with them
    • When you catch yourself saying bad things about another, it’s time to stop and step back
  • Having a strong manager who can recognise political games and call people on it
  • We often assume intentions
  • Selling the success of the project within the organisation
    • We find it hard to celebrate success

Bringing politics into our practices:

  • We don’t really have a lexicon for political behaviour…
    • Need a rudimentary politics for software developers
  • Getting to Yes — by Roger Fisher (from Harvard Law School)
    • also others in series (Getting Past No, etc)
  • Can we have a patterns book for politics…?
  • De-politicising a situation:
    • Listening
    • System thinking — showing how things all fit together

In any group have a tension between wanting to belong to a group and wanting to be an individual

Dealing with customers who play games?

  • Build a relationship with them
    • Delivering to 11 countries
    • Turned up in Austria — greeted on front door of building: you’re here to implement a system that means the office will be run from London; go away
    • Had to do a sales job; had to get sponsor on phone to convince him
  • Very difficult to build a relationship with someone when hiding something
  • Can bank integrity in relationship
  • Ask questions of everybody in the company
    • Find different points of view
    • Understand perspective of lots of different people

How do we get recognition within hero-based culture?

  • Always have to sell success (even if not being massively successful)
    • what we are delivering is useful, provides value, ready on time
  • some clients have culture of celebration when a project is completed
  • agile projects release often and regularly
    • need to celebrate that
    • tie in to business successes
  • hold an end of year retrospective
    • show off all that has been achieved
    • lots of issues overcome, just not by panicking
  • hero culture can cause problems — expose the problems and compare with smooth delivery
  • make time to be seen to be doing a good job — and build that in to project planning
    • regular show and tell

What to do when gantt chart and burn down chart start to disagree?

  • agile bubble in a non-agile company
  • often pressure for report comes from middle management: just query with higher management
  • use extra features and benefits of agile methods to sell
  • if the agile project is the first to report that it’s running late…?
    • be honest — hard conversation early on (risk of getting fired)
    • speak their language (e.g. use gantt chart)
    • that’s the project manager’s job
    • it’s going to be late or you can have this instead
    • saying “no” in a way that can be accepted

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