Encourage Executives To Encourage Experimentation


Your executives are the “always on”, constant emitters of extremely important signals, whether they believe this is true or not. Every little signal gets scrutinized and interpreted. Every little signal, intended or not. Welcome to leadership.

The “higher-ups” are higher-ups because they have more formal authority than others in the group. Anyone with substantial formal authority must pay attention to the signals they are sending. Those signals get received. And quick.

The higher-ups can make good use of this delicate situation. They can convert it from a “bug” to a “feature.”. How? By signaling intentionally.

By signaling that “experiments are good.”

By encouraging experimentation.

Enterprise agility is about learning fast…and of course that means conducting frequent experiments. Perhaps your executives need to experiment with sending strong and clear signals about agile.

If the higher-ups are doing experiments of an agile nature, the signal is clear: agile experiments are important. There is no better way for the executives to encourage frequent experiments, than for them to be doing some experimentation with agile practices as an executive team.

Repeat: experimentation with agile practices as an executive team.

And so I challenge you… to challenge them to do some agile practices… as an experiment, for 6 months or so. How about working with the leadership team to set up and execute their work in an agile way? They might for example:

  • Work from a prioritized backlog
  • Work in timeboxes
  • Arrange and execute a short daily meeting that uses a protocol
  • Depict work visually
  • Limit work in progress

Invite sincerely. See what they do. If they balk, stop right there and reduce “the ask” by half.

Here is how you do it: Start by asking them to experiment with some agile practices for 6 months. If the executives are unwilling to try 6 months, stop right there and invite them to try 3 months. Three months too long? Invite them to try some agile practices for 6 weeks then. Six too long? This is getting comical. How about 3 weeks? How about 3 days? How about THREE HOURS?

If your executives are unwilling to experiment with agile practices, the signals are very clear:

  • Experiments with agile practices are for other folks– not for the higher-ups. They have better things to do
  • Agile is important here, but not to the people with lots of authority in this company

Ideally the executives will try some agile practices and then expose the results of their work to the rest of the people in the company– in the form of a monthly, all-hands demo. What kind of effect do you think this would have on your agile teams, if the executive team demonstrated each and every month exactly how they were also struggling with the transition to agile practices?


Your job as a coach is, in part, to experiment with encouraging executives to encourage experiments.


Question: What are you doing about that?



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