I have been hired by an org to improve how they do agile as a Scrum Master

Majority of the team respect my opinion but there is two individuals who are negative and long serving employees.

I have started the process of creating an environment where there is a higher level of transparency resulting in the team having more of a say with ways of working.

Both individuals do not seem to like this and are complaining to management. Where one of them wants to review roles and responsibilities - I assume from the change I’m driving.

Previously the environment was one where these two individuals had a huge say in the way the team work to the point it’s command and control and not agile.

I have spoken to my manager and his attitude is that I should focus on being really liked by accommodating their needs which is a problem since by doing that will prevent the team from doing agile properly.

I am now in two minds, should I take a step back and not do my job at the expense of keeping them happy or should I just do my job at the risk of job security?

  • So I imagine you were hired as an agile coach? Or what is your role? Do you have actual leadership over the team, or is your position strictly advisory, and if so, to whom? Who is the team leader? – Tymoteusz Paul Nov 19 '19 at 19:10
  • If you’re given a guaranteed outcome of you getting fired for the choice that you’ve made, which choice can you live with? Now go and make that choice and do your best to succeed. – Goose Nov 19 '19 at 19:17
  • @Goose which is basically to not do agile, even though that was what I was hired to do? – bobo2000 Nov 19 '19 at 19:46
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    You should add their roles to the question. Dealing with the PO is an art in itself. When I had a PO resisting closed sprints, I convinced her that it saves her a lot of time, if she only had to attend team meetings twice a sprint and then didn't have to worry about everything getting done in the end. All I had to do was making sure that the things she needed to get done were definitely done at the end of the sprint. – Helena Nov 19 '19 at 22:54
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    "that I am trying to create a fairer process" Agile isn't about fairness. It's about mitigating the bus-factor, plus a number of other things. Perhaps, you didn't frame Agile the right way with your manager. Or maybe, you're just not implementing Agile correctly. – Stephan Branczyk Nov 20 '19 at 0:19

I have spoken to my manager and his attitude is that I should focus on being really liked by accommodating their needs

Then you have your answer - it's just not the answer you want to hear. You need to find the best compromise between making the necessary changes and keeping these employees happy.

It's also a sensible call from your boss in many ways. If these employees are long-serving, valuable, understand the current code better than anyone else, and are respected and well-liked within the team, keeping them on side is very valuable. More valuable, it could be argued, than following agile practices to the letter.

However, that's not saying there's nothing you can do. In particular:

Both individuals do not seem to like this and are complaining to management. Where one of them wants to review roles and responsibilities - I assume from the change I’m driving.

...this is all very "third person". They're complaining to management (not to you). You've heard they're requesting some changes, and you're making assumptions about what those changes are. In addition, if they just want to review roles and responsibilities - that's certainly not the end of the world as far as agile goes.

Given the above, I'd really advise sitting down and talking with them. You could possibly reach a very sensible compromise, and find out some of their concerns are valid. Perhaps you've said that junior employees can sign off on code reviews on their own, and they know in reality that's going to result in unreliable reviews. Perhaps you've said any changes have to go through a scheduled code review, and they know that's unrealistic because of hotfix scenarios. Perhaps they think your changes are going to create needless bureaucracy and red tape, and they "haven't got time for that crap".

Either way, you're never going to find out if you just assume they're in it to undermine you, and take an attitude of "it's me or them." Talk to them, find some common ground, and you may be able to do your job with far fewer compromises to the "ideal" than you think.

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    I'd really advise sitting down and talking with them - this should be bold and gigantic font. Just hear them out. Show that they have value to add, and that you respect their value. Focus first on earning their trust, and then the three of you can chat about what your teams motivations are for being "more scrum" and what steps you can (or can't) take to get there. Concentrate on winning the person before you concentrate on winning the argument. – dwizum Nov 19 '19 at 19:32
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    Yeah, will do that with the agile coach. The problem I have is that the team are pretending to do agile in a command and control way. I am quite experienced doing agile, and can see it but these two individuals seem to think they know best. – bobo2000 Nov 19 '19 at 19:49
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    "I'd really advise sitting down and talking with them" - why can't more answers on this site suggest this?! – Jimmy Breck-McKye Nov 20 '19 at 11:56

I am now in two minds, should I take a step back and not do my job at the expense of keeping them happy or should I just do my job at the risk of job security?

Your boss expects from you that you do both, and that is also what I would expect from a scrum master. Unfortunately you can't just come to a new team, tell everyone how they have to work and they will just do it.

As a scrum master you are not the boss of the team, you are the servant leader.

I have spoken to my manager and his attitude is that I should focus on being really liked by accommodating their needs which is a problem since by doing that will prevent the team from doing agile properly.

Have a conversation with the two team members and be open about what you want to achieve and that you need their help. Ask them what parts of the process they are objecting to and what they can agree to.

Explain why you want to change the process and what you are hoping to see from the change. As management brought you in they were clearly looking for something here, make sure that you know what this something is and your approach solves this. This can go like this: "What I am trying to achieve here is to get more predictable results. Management thinks that this needs to be improved and I believe by breaking bigger tasks down and assign story points, can have more accurate estimates." If the individuals don't agree that there is a problem, I would schedule a meeting with management to make sure everyone is on the same page here.

When you agree about what the problem is try to figure out why the team members are resisting your solution and what alternatives they propose. Could these alternatives work too? Why not give it a try, there isn't only one way to do agile properly, agile is doing what works. If trying their way doesn't work, (make sure you have a clear success criteria) you can propose doing it your way.

Don't try to introduce all your changes at the same time, start with the most impactful one and after the team gets used to it and trusts the process more reflect back and suggest more changes.

If you encounter a lot of resistance, document what you have tried and why it didn't work. This is your last resort, as it might be that the team members in question are completely unreasonable. Then, and only then, you can take this evidence and bring it up with your common managers.

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  • Did all that, and I am not telling the team what to do , a lot of my actions were based on their pain points and getting them to solutionize in a workshop setting which I informed the team ahead of time I was going to do. They are basically doing scrum with key fundamentals missing, based on the Scrum guide. The problem these two individuals have is that where they dislike relinquishing control to the rest of the team - they want to command and control. I am documenting all of my work. – bobo2000 Nov 19 '19 at 19:51
  • @bobo2000 Do they agree on the pain points? What is their proposal to solve them? – Helena Nov 19 '19 at 22:14
  • Some great suggestions in this answer. I've found I get way more buy-in if I enable others to contribute to new ways of working and open up a dialog as to the benefits. – ChrisFNZ Nov 20 '19 at 1:22
  • @ChrisFNZ just ran an iteration 0 workshop for exactly that reason. Everybody except these 2 individuals displayed a positive attitude. – bobo2000 Nov 21 '19 at 1:14
  • @Helena as mentioned whole team except these 2 influential individuals see value in the work I am doing, where decisions are being made in open forums. What these 2 individuals want is a version of agile where they tell the team what to do - that is not agile, but waterfall. I feel like I am between a rock and hard place. – bobo2000 Nov 21 '19 at 1:18

It is important to understand people who have had leadership\authority\freedom of choice for decades, will not freely or voluntarily turnover the freedom for a set of rule, no matter how much the rules make sense.

It may be a mix of timely accountability that they do not like. Developers who have been at it for decades have good days and they have days they struggle - the aging process - even if they don't want to admit it. Having a structured system in place to assess every task takes away their ability to make up for today's short fall, tomorrow when they are sharper.

You may also be facing the "I have done it this way for 20 years, never had a problem, I don't need this" type of person.

You may also be facing people who feel like they are losing face among junior developers if they give in.

One thing I have learned about people: If you talk to them and let them get out their rant about whatever it is there are protesting, afterwards they are more likely to try to accept some of it. Not discussing but trying to force day by day may just result in resistance day by day like a dog backed into a corner.

My recommendation: have an open 1:1 with said individuals in an informal setting, let them express their complaints with Agile, agree on the pain points - there are pain points - not everyone naturally clicks into process. Your managers recommendation makes a lot of sense. They will slowly come over.

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Who hired you to implement agile?

If this same manager who is telling you to accommodate them was the one who hired you, then you need to tell him straight-up that the two objectives are not compatible, and that he needs to choose one. If he chooses accommodation, then you have to decide if you want to participate any further. If he chooses implementation, then you have to put it to him to deal with the recalcitrant duo.

If you were hired by someone above the manager, then you need to go to this person and explain the dilemma, and be prepared for any fallout from this manager.

To try to appease both positions puts you in a very bad position where either "side" may throw you under the bus without any warning.

If the organization can't pick one of the two mutually exclusive directions, or if you can't be on board with the one that is chosen, you need to seek employment elsewhere.

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    This is my dilemma, at worse case scienario could be reduced to just 'facilitating' scrum events where I am a de-facto delivery manager and thats it, which is not what the role of a Scrum Master is. – bobo2000 Nov 21 '19 at 1:16

Consider doing a more structured Agile Methodology like DSDM as a compromise.

Your boss told you to keep these two team members happy while simultaneously transitioning the team more towards an Agile development approach. It sounds like the two team members in question really want to work in a more Waterfall fashion. Fortunately, there are Agile methodologies that might meet their desires better than Scrum does, like DSDM, which combines an Agile workflow with a much more structured documentation of project governance.

Of course, before changing the methodology, you'll need to get buy-in from the people involved in it, including your bosses as well as your team-mates. Simply unilaterally deciding to change the methodology you're implementing is unlikely to be received well!

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    Hm, I don't think OP should choose a diffferent methodology on their own. This needs to be discussed with the boss and the team at the least. – sleske Nov 20 '19 at 11:10
  • @sleske Oh, definitely. I was just suggesting a potential method of compromising between the team-mates's desire for more structure/control, and the goal of making things more Agile. In fact, I think I'll edit my Answer to make that explicit. – nick012000 Nov 20 '19 at 11:17

Engineers/developers are split on scrum. Some love it and some like me hate it.

Realistically, the only resolution is going to be that someone leaves the company. Scrum/Agile is just that polarizing. My last job introduced Scrum mid project and I used it as a way to write garbage code that could get into prod and spent the rest of the time job searching. So did the other dev who had been there from the start.

A friend was at a company where they eliminated Scrum and a lot of developers couldn’t handle the larger chunks of work and we needed a new business analyst with the ability to push back against the non-technical moron product owner.

The only time where I haven’t seen people leave after a transition towards/away from Scrum is when I was an intern a few years back. Management imposed Scrum on an autonomous team. The team didn’t change, just lied and threw together demo code and a fake task list for the meeting every third week and then just did the work.

You can’t radically change operational strategies without losses of people who joined under other conditions.

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    "You can’t radically change operational strategies without losses of people who joined under other conditions." -- or you hire professionals who can adapt to change – Helena Nov 19 '19 at 22:49
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    Your username makes me think you're biased. – berry120 Nov 19 '19 at 22:58
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    @berry120 I am biased. But I would be like the two people OP has an issue with as well. – ScrumSucks Nov 19 '19 at 23:25
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    @Helena it is not unreasonable to leave when the terms of your employment dramatically change. – ScrumSucks Nov 19 '19 at 23:26
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    @Battle I could live with the busywork. It’s the replacement of specifications with one sentence on functionality and the attitude that the devs should just build whatever and fix it later which frustrates me. – ScrumSucks Nov 20 '19 at 14:33

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