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


Improving Productivity – Suggestions from PMI

If you have not wandered through the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) knowledge center, you have missed an excellent source of best-practice thinking on a variety of issues relevant to project and corporate management. Recently I reviewed an article by Pradeep Patra, PMP and Sunitha Bartaki, PMP of Tata Consultancy Services Limited that I thought was interesting. The article titled, “Productivity Improvement Using Ten Process Commandments” can be found in its entirety here.

At the beginning of their article, they note that productivity improvement is never ending, as discussed in writings on Kaizen and the philosophy of continuous improvement. Productivity improvement initiatives can also be costly. Therefore, their first recommendation is to develop and use a cost of quality (CoQ) to evaluate the impact of changes designed to improve productivity.

Their productivity commandments are:

  1. Leadership commitment
  2. Manage change — Absolutely, I agree. Productivity improvement requires change and to succeed at managing change requires the active support of visionary leaders. (see previous posts on change management: Change Management Strategies, Role of Project Managers in Change Management, and Planning Your Organizational Change.
  3. Organize and plan — can I say, “duh.” However, they continue the “organize and plan” discussion by recommending that the organization create a prioritization of changes — just like ranking software change requests — and that individuals create and monitor early warning signs of problems as part of risk management. OK, that is a very good thing for all organizations to do.
  4. Reward people for contributing to the productivity improvement process.  You have to incentivize people if you want them to change and try new things.
  5. Train the leadership team, participants, customers and clients. The better stakeholders understand the productivity improvement process, the more valuable will be their support and contribution.
  6. Create a process improvement framework for project managers, engineers, process managers and support personnel. If the cultural change required is significant or the suggested improvement costly, complete pilot studies or small implementations before spreading across the entire organization.
  7. Measure key variables –  this goes without saying for any initiative you try to implement.
  8. Assess and evaluate — “evaluate what you want because what gets measured gets produced.”
  9. Improve communication – I have written several posts on the importance of communication.
  10. Focus on benefits — measure cost savings following these do’s and don’t’s:
    1. Do: assign representatives from finance to validate the initiative and remember to include soft benefits that indirectly affect profit, like customer and employee satisfaction.
    2. Don’t: make productivity improvement another name for cutting costs, nor set unrealistic targets that doom the initiative to failure.

Although the recommendations seem simplistic — and you have heard it all before — the suggestions for a successful productivity improvement initiative are valid.

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