Sponsors and Stakeholders Are Not Enough; You Need a Champion

Is your software development team using an agile approach like Scrum, XP or Kanban? Are the business sponsors and stakeholders active participants? If not, it may be because you don’t have a champion on the business side.

A champion is someone outside of IT or software engineering who supports and fights for your software team. The champion must be respected in the organization. He does not need to be a senior executive (though it helps) but must be someone that people listen to and accept direction from.

The reality is that most non-technical people don’t care about the software development process, the tools used to construct the software, or the many artifacts that go into the final product. They care about doing their jobs. They care about the company’s financial health.

Preaching agile development to them is largely a waste of time. The message must be framed in terms that relate to them, the company, and their jobs. That’s where the champion comes in.

Someone must bridge the gap between technical and business operations.

The champion is eager to listen and learn about agile approaches to software development. He will draw analogies to business operations and customer needs. He will recognize that agile development is not just about constructing software; it’s a collaborative approach to creating business solutions that offer customer value.

Once the champion ‘gets it’, he’ll be able to help spread the message to the other business stakeholders.

You might be thinking that the champion is or should be the Product Owner (PO) — not necessarily. The PO has a specific role to play regarding the software, the end users and the supporting business processes. Her expertise is often narrow and deep.

The champion’s expertise must be broad but not necessarily deep. An in-depth understanding of what the software does and how it does it isn’t needed. People skills and business acumen are far more important than knowledge of the software project specifics.

Nurture a business champion and your chances of agile success will greatly improve. Does your project have a champion?

Updated: May 9, 2011 — 9:35 pm

1 Comment

  1. In my experience, the champion needs to be someone moderately technically savvy. This requirement usually excludes senior leadership. We’ve had champions that were simply power users of the application, not necessarily someone who wields a lot of power within the business.

    It’s amazing how as soon as a non-IT person speaks clearly about the application and its needs, senior leadership really takes notice.

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