Custom Software Development

How to Sell Agile Methodology to Sceptical Clients

Author : Jorge Campos
June 10, 2019

Content Credit: Kayleigh Alexandra from


If you own or work for a B2B business, then you’ll have attended your fair share of project meetings, pre-project checks, pitches, and general networking sessions. Throughout that time, you’ll likely have come to understand that there are plenty of companies out there clinging to old methods for fear of anything new.

That’s alright when you’re not dealing with them, but what about when that massive client you just landed turns out to be one such company? What if they arch their eyebrows at your suggestions and firmly suggest that you do things their way or not at all?

And what if that’s their attitude to project management, something that can make or break a big-budget campaign? You’re committed to agile methodology, knowing its countless benefits, but your client just wants a classic configuration. You need to be quick in convincing client to move from waterfall to agile.

Here’s how you can do that:

Break it down into the basics

Firstly, it’s really important to make sure everyone involved actually understands the terms being used because the project management world has a habit of generating terms that most people won’t recognize. If you start talking about scrums and sprints in your presentations, you’ll end up seeing a lot of blank faces — and many of them might think you’re talking in empty buzzwords.

They don’t stubbornly cling to old project management methods because they’re greatly in favor of the waterfall approach. There’s an excellent chance they won’t know what “waterfall” has to do with anything managerial. They’ll just want to carry on doing what they’ve done before, because it will have worked adequately well for them, and will seem safer than something that comes across as experimental and thus risky.

Break the notion of “agile” methodology into really simple concepts and you’ll make it seem much less intimidating. It’s about making work faster, easier, more digestible, and more open to creativity and innovation through collaboration. You still have a plan — and certainly a scope — but you can viably cancel a project that isn’t going in the right direction and still get a worthwhile result. The simpler you make the description, the more willing they’ll be to hear more.

Explain the hazards of the waterfall method

When you believe that there’s only one viable way of managing a project, you don’t really consider the negatives. What would be the point? Instead, you just work your way past them, doing your best to mitigate the damage. Once you’ve made it clear that there are various viable ways to handle a project, you can identify those drawbacks and get them thinking about what they’re risking by not changing their methods and use methods listed for convincing client to move from waterfall to agile.

For instance, get them thinking about how much the goals and parameters of a project can change while it’s in progress, and how creating and rigidly sticking to an all-encompassing project plan doesn’t allow the flexibility to take those changes into account. It also postpones any practical feedback until final delivery. If the result isn’t what they anticipated, then it’s too late to do much about it.

Where possible, draw comparisons to the various areas of business in which adaptability is unavoidable. Your clients are likely to have changed their businesses significantly since first launching (the best businesses in the world move with the times), so ask them what might have happened had they stuck rigidly to their initial plans and refused to shift. Here are just some of the ways in which growing businesses change:

  • They pivot their core operations. Sometimes, while getting a business off the ground, you discover that your initial idea wasn’t quite as strong as you thought — but you have the option of pivoting, adopting a new purpose that better suits your strengths.
  • They undergo CMS migrations. Committing to a CMS often sounds like a non-entity, but over time it becomes clear how important it is to have a strong foundation. For instance, a business starting out with something like Wix would benefit from migrating to Shopify for enterprise ecommerce, or even WooCommerce for open-source freedom.
  • They revamp their products. Perhaps a competitor releases a similar product to yours, or public tastes shift — either way, you can find that your early lineup simply won’t work, leading you to go back to the design stage post-launch.

Do an adequate job of running through the perils of inflexible project management, placing a particular emphasis on how every business must change, and you’ll invariably touch upon their pain points. Explain this part thoroughly, and by the time you move onto the benefits of agile methodology, they’ll be sold on the idea of switching to an alternative.

Flesh out the major benefits of the agile approach

In bringing up the issues with waterfall management, you’ll have touched upon the basic advantages of agile management, but now’s the time to get into some more detail about how exactly you intend to work. This is all about taking the concepts that sound great and giving them practical form so they can see what your process actually involves.

Tell them that they’ll have frequent opportunities to test out functional pieces of work and provide their feedback. Have you met their expectations? If not, you can make some tweaks in the next sprint. They’ll have extensive control over what happens with the project. Instead of having to just trust a traditional project manager when they say “Everything is proceeding as planned”, they’ll actually have the first-hand experience to prove it.

There’s a good chance that they’ll already be taking advantage of the flexibility of digital technology to get work done outside of traditional hours and from different locations, so it makes for a good point of comparison. Relate waterfall management to the old model of working 9-to-5 from the same desk every day — if they’ve already learned that they can run their business from anywhere with internet access, they should understand that trying new things is a positive. Instead of burdening them, agile management will set them free: more flexibility, less stress.

And tell them that all the exhausting paperwork that goes into setting up a fully-formed project plan can be greatly stripped down for an agile project. Instead of an extended negotiation period, you can bring them in for an afternoon and establish the terms for a set of sprints, then get started the following week. It will be so much easier for them to handle.

Ask them to try a few sprints

By now, you’ll have achieved some major steps. You’ll have shown them that agile methodology isn’t just a set of buzzwords (being both practical and popular), caused them to rethink their attachment to their old ways, and built up their interest in using agile management. But they might still have reservations. After all, even upper-level managers report to others: unless you’re dealing directly with the company head, you’ll be dealing with a risk-averse audience.

To overcome this reluctance, explain that the nature of agile methodology means that they don’t need to commit to it long-term. Instead of getting their sign-off on a painstakingly-costed 12-month project, you can convince them to run a few sprints over a few weeks. Tell them that they’ll come away with something useful after each sprint (and can keep it regardless of what happens in subsequent sprints), and they’ll have obvious financial justification to proceed.

Wrapping up, even if you’re dealing with a client that seems very doubtful of agile project management, there’s an excellent chance that you’ll be able to convince them if you follow these steps. Break everything down very simply, and they’ll struggle to find a reason to turn you down.