Why C-Level Managers May Fear Scrum and Agile

Implementing Scrum techniques as a project methodology (or really a framework) represents a major culture change in a traditional organization. In the beginning, the change agent, Scrum Master or Scrum champion may encounter resistance from C-Level managers because they hear the words used to describe Scrum through a different filter than developers. This difference in perception becomes greater as the size of the organization and the distance from project execution increase.

Scrum Words

What C-Level Manager May Think

Self-directed team No management or controls
Daily Scrum meetings No work will get done if the team is constantly having meetings
Product and Sprint backlog priorities determine the next set of tasks There is no over-all plan, design or Gantt schedule – will they ever be done?
Scrum team members do not have job descriptions How can individual performance be evaluated (and raises distributed) if I do not know what each individual is expected to do and how well they do it?
The Scrum team decides how much work can be completed during a sprint We bill the customer based on completion of Contract Line Item Numbers accepted — how can I predict income?
Only the product owner can change the backlog Does that mean I cannot go to “good ‘ol Paul” and get him to add a little-bitty new feature over the weekend?

In my experience there are techniques to lessen C-Level concerns about Scrum. For example, I recommend scheduling an orientation meeting for senior managers with several objectives in mind:

  • Identify the problems and challenges that drive the decision to try Scrum
  • Use numbers — how many projects deliver on time, how many complaints from customers, how often requirements change after the original contract is signed.
  • Tie problems and challenges to the cost of maintaining and upgrading
  • Demystify Scrum terms by mapping them to more commonly used concepts such as (“Scrum as Project Management” Kevin Thompson from CPrime):
  • Schedule = Sprint (or Release)
  • Scope = Sprint Backlog
  • Work Breakdown Structure = Task Breakdown
  • Productivity = Velocity
  • Estimate to Complete = Burndown Chart
  • Explain the Scrum process and framework. Show how Scrum is designed to remove some of the conditions that lead to problems in traditional or waterfall developments.
  • Reassure them about the transparency of Scrum projects and the rapidity by which problems are identified or changes accommodated.
  • Have a game plan to implement Scrum that reduces perceived risks, such as starting with a small project or prototype.

Once permission to “try it” is given, setup conditions to maximize success including:

  • Select the team, product owner and Scrum master. Send the product owner and team to Scrum classes – Like Professional Scrum Master (PSM) training. This training needs to be more than reading a book or attending a one-hour seminar — although these are a good place to start. Follow up the introduction with a formal class — usually about two days of instruction from a Scrum Trainer.
  • Provide senior management with a brief report about the training. Your goals are to provide information, reassurance and keep the interest alive.
  • Ensure that business analysts, marketing or systems people work with the product owner in the beginning to establish the vision and the stories.
  • Engage a coach to assist in the first few weeks or months who is an experienced PSM or scrum practitioner.
  • When the team understands the vision and the product backlog, allow them to self-organize including setting up work space, planning sprints and conducting daily Scrums.
  • Use the Scrum master to facilitate interaction, ensure Scrum procedures are followed and remove barriers to performance.

Give them closure

This is not a task that needs to be done every time – just during the Scrum demystification and selling phase. Either in a report or preferably a short meeting:

      • Review the reasons Scrum was assessed as an approved framework and methodology.
      • Review the Scrum terminology and the framework (events, artifacts, and roles).
      • Describe the process used. Emphasize business value of the process and the deliverables.
      • Do a demo (we call this a Sprint Review).
      • (Here’s a key item) Provide two or three, articulate testimonials from the team and the product owner / customer. What did they like. How did they feel working under a Scrum framework?
      • Have a plan that shows a progressive increase in number of Scrum projects, gaining Scrum master status for knowledgeable professionals, and ongoing staff training.
      • Ask for questions and concerns: then address those immediately, either during the meeting or within 24 hours.

For those of you who have instituted Scrum in a tradition-based organization, your observations and suggestions are appreciated.

(On a personal note – several of you had asked me to report on my certification and I passed my Professional Scrum Master test this week!)



“How not to do Scrum”; New York City Scrum User’s Group


6 Responses to “Why C-Level Managers May Fear Scrum and Agile”

  1. Jordan Says:

    Many of these are valid criticicisms, such as as the lack of overall plan, the lack of titles and a reward structure…. Did you address that at all? Perhaps I missed it…


  2. Bruce McGraw Says:

    Good point- and no I didnt address those in this post. I think those are key issues in a C-Level manager’s mind though. Do you have any ideas on addressing them?


  3. Jordan Says:

    Yes — overall I think they should be addressed by not doing Scrum. I go into this more at: http://jordanbortz.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/scrum-as-the-new-command-and-control/


  4. Aly Says:

    Hi Bruce – I like your point about explaining specific terminology with a broader scope. Making sure that people understand by putting things in terms that they are familiar with can go a long way.

    Anyhow, thanks for sharing! – Aly

  5. Burning Down the Sprint | ReStreaming Says:

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  6. Burning Down the Sprint | ReStreaming Says:

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