August 6, 2020


News for Agilists

7 Reasons Why Your Manager Wishes to See Your Scrum Adoption Fail | by Willem-Jan Ageling | Serious Scrum | Jul, 2020

Your manager still meddles with what your team does and how they do it. Your team doesn’t feel empowered to stand up against it, to say no to your manager. The same is true for the other Scrum Teams under this manager. This all happens even though the CEO promotes Scrum and all that it entails.

Many factors can be a reason why your manager doesn’t support Scrum. Often a combination of the following factors determine his or her stance:

1. The manager can’t switch to servant-leadership

A manager who used to work top-down as this was how the company demanded it, can’t simply transform into a servant-leader. At the minimum, this is a process that takes time. Middle-management needs to unlearn top-down behaviour and learn to adopt servant-leadership. Not everyone will be able to do this.

2. The manager is used to calling the shots

She/he doesn’t want to let go of this decision making authority. This is likely the reason why she/he was promoted in the first place. Typically, people don’t become a manager based on their ability to help others make the right decision.

3. As soon as things get rough, the manager returns to the top-down management style

While these are the times where self-organisation should blossom, it is often when the charade disappears and the true colours emerge. The old behaviour is comforting and easy to turn to in tough times.

4. The manager is afraid to lose power or control

She/he accepted this managerial role because she/he could drive change, incorporate ideas. When teams start to work with Scrum, this is no longer the case. All of a sudden teams do this. With that, the manager has no direct control anymore, but indirect control at best.

5. The manager is afraid to lose her/his job

When teams can do everything themselves, what is left of the management role? Working yourself out of a job is not very motivating if there is no other job to go to.

6. A traditional manager has better career opportunities than a coach

As a manager, you could grow towards CEO level. A coach will get no further than something like Senior Agile Coach. As a result, it makes sense to continue showing traditional management behaviour.

7. A manager has a lack of understanding of Scrum

On top of that, she/he doesn’t get incentives to increase understanding. There is also limited guidance for managers in the Agile / Scrum space. As a result, she/he is oblivious about her/his role in a Scrum world.

C-level can have all kinds of great plans, but without the support from middle management, the Scrum implementation will fail. Being the management layer that interacts with Scrum Teams daily, these people are the prime example for the teams of what the company wants to establish.

But when middle managers are uninformed or unwilling to change, this can have a disastrous impact on Scrum adoption. Left uncoached, middle managers can lead the organisations towards half-hearted Agile like a terrible version of SAFe or zombie Scrum.

To get middle management on board of the Scrum adoption, here are five key takeaways:

1. Give guidance to your middle managers

It’s of the utmost importance that everyone in the organisation understands what the company wants to achieve and why. You wish to have everyone on board, supporting the Scrum adoption. This can only work when they are bought into the change and understand what the organisation intends to achieve working with Scrum.

2. Keep investing in training and coaching

The adoption of Scrum is often a drastic departure from the previous way of delivering products. Everyone needs constant training and coaching to embrace this change. This can’t be a one-off, only at the start. Training and coaching remain relevant all the time.

“Training and coaching keep the garden bearing fruit. Without it, the soil loses nutrients, weeds take over, and the garden does not flourish” — Todd Lankford

3. Give your middle manager a meaningful role

Middle management can have an important role in an organisation that adopted Scrum. They can help their people to grow in their job and can work on removing impediments for the teams.

Most importantly, middle managers can play a pivotal role in the Scrum journey. As an example, our organisation has been working with a . This team can help transparently establish the companies’ vision, serving the teams.

Middle managers could also assume the role of the Scrum Master. Being servant leaders to the teams already, many of the would fit them like a glove, as long as they can stay away from traditional leadership behaviour.

4. Give your middle manager growth opportunities

The lack of prospect as a servant-leader could be taken away by stipulating that servant-leadership and facilitation of self-organisation are key traits for higher management too. With that, middle-management has the perspective of moving up the ladder while displaying the desired behaviour.

5. Don’t tolerate undesired behaviour

If middle managers don’t act according to the company policy, then it is important to address this. The worst thing that can happen is to ignore or justify bad behaviour.

Instead, the middle manager should get guidance on what would be a better way to interact with her/his teams. As an example, the middle manager could partner with a Scrum Master as a way to guide the middle manager to new patterns of behaviour.

There’s another side of this coin too. Whenever a middle manager approaches a team in an undesired way, it is up to the team to rise up. They should have the courage to inform this individual that they do not tolerate this and suggest how they wish to be treated instead.

Self-organisation comes with a responsibility to step out of your shadow sometimes, addressing tough topics. This includes seeking confrontation with your manager if needed. Higher management can enable this by providing a safe environment, emphasising again and again that they value openness and courage, showing that they are serious when a team brings forward middle-management leadership issues.

A Scrum Master specifically needs to be aware of his/her responsibility in this, to coach stakeholders how best approach the Scrum Team.

Whenever a conversation with the manager doesn’t work out, seek guidance and help from higher management. After all, they set this train in motion. They need to have an eye for the teams that embrace self-organisation.

When you wish to embrace Scrum — as with any organisational change — the role of middle management is key. They largely determine if a change succeeds or fails.

If you don’t address middle-management needs and concerns, you are set up for failure. You will not be able to create the fertile ground that you need to be successful with Scrum.

Guide your middle-managers, coach them and give them a meaningful role. And don’t forget to address undesired management behaviour when it occurs.

Everyone needs to be on board, else the Scrum journey will end in certain failure.

Thanks to Todd Lankford and Maarten Dalmijn for their enormous help.

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