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Want to Engage Managers in Agile? Stop Using Agile Jargon

If you want to engage managers and executives in Agile, avoid using agile jargon from existing agile frameworks and models such as: sprint (Scrum), servant-leader, release train (SAFe), or made-up words such as anticipaction (Agile Profile).

Not only do managers and executives not have common understanding of agile terminology, but more importantly they do not necessarily have interest for "becoming agile" in the first place and therefore are not receptive to being "taught" agile. At first this might seem like an intractable obstacle but it's actually quite refreshing. Indeed it forces talking in terms of real business and management challenges instead of focusing on agile concepts and methodology. And guess what? Agile values and practices can be expressed quite well in common management language.

Agile values and practices can be expressed quite well in common management language

Actually, the broader and higher my interventions for agile transformation, the less I talk about agile.

In my opinion, promoters of agile methods, tools and frameworks have packaged agile commercially, creating a layer of opacity that backfires when we address management and organizational agility.

The higher my level of intervention for agile transformation, the less I talk about agile

Agile jargon originated from two broad sources that have shaped the general (mis)understanding of agile today. First the software development grassroots becoming popular more than a decade ago with frameworks such as Scrum and Extreme Programming (XP), now going more enterprise-level with SAFe and many other siblings. And second, strategy management firms and business schools such as Gartner and Harvard, as well as leading management authors such as Steve Denning (Radical Management) and Jurgen Appelo (Management 3.0) who joined the trend a few years ago and developed their own agile terminology.

Let's have a look at a list of agile wordings that have created confusion in many, many discussions (I've been there…) and find an equivalent in common management language.

  • VUCA = volatile (leave UCA for long-form explanation)

  • Bimodal = organized both for efficiency and innovation (or for predictability and exploration)

  • Velocity = speed of value delivery

  • User story, epic = product feature

  • Sprint = x-week iteration (where x is a number)

  • MVP, minimum viable product = first partial solution

  • Increment, release = new features delivered to users

  • Product owner = client representative

  • Scrum Master = team facilitator

  • Synchronize = fast decision-making across hierarchy and functions

  • Servant-leader = coach-style manager

  • Product backlog = prioritized list of features

  • Whole team, squad = end-to-end team

  • Budget-boxed = fixed budget

  • Time-boxed = fixed delivery date

  • Variable scope = dynamic prioritized list of features

  • Delivered value = must refer to context-specific metrics (that's a tricky one - unexplained, many see it as ROI which it's not)

Purists will find that these are not entirely equivalent. I can live with that. The goal is to get a message through, not to write a glossary.

So, every time you talk or write about agile, ask yourself how you can express your thoughts in your audience's words (because you will not have the luxury to explain!). It seems common sense but I feel that agile professionals often overlook this simple advice.

Disclaimer: trademarks used in this article are used for illustrative purpose only. The article is not sponsored by, or associated with, the trademark owners.

Bruno Collet advises and coaches leaders to develop the individual and organizational capability to anticipate and react to changes better and faster. In one word: Agility. His approach relies on action-learning with concrete practices, skills and behaviors. Bruno Collet executed top-level missions with several organizations internationally. He is also a recognized speaker, author and is accredited ICAgile instructor. Bruno Collet holds an MBA, MSc., as well as several certifications such as PMP, PMI-ACP, ICP-LEA (Leading with Agility), ICP-ORG (Adaptive Organization), ICP-ENT (Enterprise Coaching) and ICP-AHR (Agile Human Resources).

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