Encourge Your Scrum Team During An Agile Transformation

Adopting scrum is hard. When organizations decide to take on an agile transformation, the scrum team needs coaching and encouragement.

Steve Rideout | Group Hug | Flickr

Steve Rideout | Group Hug | Flickr

In the midst of an agile transformation, a project manager asked to join me for lunch. We sat down and I immediately sensed that she had some questions about scrum. I was the only Scrum Master at the company and she needed help.

She asked about hybrid models and if scrum and waterfall can co-exist. Rather than use these questions as an opportunity to understand her worries and fears about the move to scrum, I went on a rant against waterfall. Why would anyone want to keep waterfall practices, they’re what lead to failure, right?

My colleague smiled, finished her lunch and politely left the room. I blew it. Later I realized that she wasn’t defending waterfall. The idea of moving to scrum terrified her. She was very successful as a traditional PM and was uneasy about the upcoming change.

I did nothing to help her.

I wasn’t kind.

I talked to this project manager a few days later and we ended up having a great discussion about agile. But my initial mistake stayed with me. I think there is more here than just a mishandled discussion.

I realized that agile transformations scare people…a lot.

Scrum Adoption Personas

When a scrum team talks about story cards, they sometimes use personas. A persona is an example of the type of person or role that would use an application. Personas are also at play when an organization decides to adopt scrum.

  • Brian the manager is still a number of years away from retirement, but is now worried that self-organizing teams means that his role as a leader will be diminished.
  • Bob the programmer loves being the hero coder, but realized that due to team ownership of tasks and code that his style will no longer fit well on a scrum team.
  • Lenny the tester has heard that scrum and extreme programming (XP) incorporates testing in to the development process and now worries that he is out of a job.
  • Bruce the business director loves Gantt charts and project plans during status meetings, but has heard that he won’t get these project artifacts anymore. He’s worried about how the team will deliver without a documented plan.
  • Jenny the project manager who went to a scrum master class and was told by the teacher that there is not a project manager role on a scrum team and that PM’s don’t typically make it through agile transformations.

Depending on your team size, there are many more of these personas in your organization. And they are acting against your agile transformation.

Once we know the personas at play, we – as agile coaches – must be encouraging. What does that look like? Let’s go back to the story that I opened with.

Instead of trying to correct my co-worker, I should have been more encouraging. Listening to her concerns should have been my priority. This is a far better approach than lecturing someone.

I also should have helped her see how her PM skills and knowledge of the organization could translate to a Scrum Master role with a change in mindset and practices. That is encouragement. It’s a boost to a person who is afraid of what’s coming.

To me this approach encapsulates the agile value of individuals and interactions over process and tools.

Question: Which persona do you run in to the most when adopting scrum? How have you approached that type of person? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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  • I have run into Bob the programmer who likes to be the hero coder. Some organizations celebrate these people, but then Bob gets bored and leaves the organization. Then everyone is scared and we go looking for the next hero programmer. Not a great model to run on!

    How do you deal with “Ed the Executive” who wants estimates for everything? Before learning Agile we would estimate completion dates (and usually be way off) and with Agile the estimates are unclear.

    • I would start by asking “Ed the Executive” which he wants more: Accurate Estimates or Valuable Software. I’ve asked this question a few times and the answer is always Valuable Software.

      Estimates are not supposed to be “clear”. On an agile/scrum team we estimate effort in order to plan a sprint. The PO uses the estimates to do release planning/forecasting, however, the estimates are not for meant for use outside of the team because they not clear.

      The main point here is that “Ed the Executive” does not trust the team. But what “Ed the Executive” gets from agile is transparency…which breeds trust. Once that is established, the need to for estimates should diminish.