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I am organising and running sprints as the Scrum Master/Product manager, and a key component of my role are daily stand ups. Sometimes I feel as though my colleague in the Scrum team is undermining me. We are a start up, meaning that I have to wear multiple caps. Examples:

1) When I ask him to start a daily stand up, there have been occasions he just goes 'oh I need to do this first', or it is hard to get his attention.

2) Sometimes when I ask him a question about the tasks he is tackling since I need to relay this back to the stakeholder, he gets agitated and raises his voice.

Currently, the way I have been handling it is to not let things escalate and approach him after he has moaned, but it is starting to really annoy me since I don't feel like I have any control.

What is the best way to handle him, without rocking the boat too much?

  • What is the authority structure here? Who designated you as the sprint organizer? Please edit into your question. – Jan Doggen Nov 22 '16 at 12:16
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    Since you've already spoke to the colleague about it and nothing has changed, you need to speak to your and their manager about it. Bring a discussion to the table and force them and yourself to find the underlying problem. – Draken Nov 22 '16 at 12:16
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    Scrum master and product manager do not seem like two roles that go together. That's going to create a ton of issues. (Like this one) – Erik Nov 22 '16 at 12:54
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    How big is the Scrum team? What do the other team members say / think about this? Or is it only you two? – sleske Nov 22 '16 at 13:44
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    Honestly anytime I have seen someone acting like that, it turned out that they were trying to hide the fact that they were not making any progress on their tasks. – HLGEM Nov 22 '16 at 14:28
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Sometimes when I ask him a question about the tasks he is tackling since I need to relay this back to the stakeholder, he gets agitated and raises his voice.

The daily standup meeting in Scrum is not a status meeting for a project manager. You don't need to relay status updates to stakeholders, apart from "Done" at the sprint end.

However, this is no excuse for being late or raising their voice. You will need to talk to their manager about their behavior. It's not acceptable and they need to stop or be disciplined.

Please keep in mind that right now, you are still not doing Scrum. You are having a daily standup meeting and you are the project manager. If you want to do Scrum, you need to work on it. Scrum Master and Product owner are two distinct roles that need to be separated and you need to become a product owner, not a manager. Or you need to drop Scrum. But doing Scrum-but will always provoke reactions. Or it will be met with apathy, which is even worth because then your developers have already given up on you.

So when you discipline people, make sure it's for the right infractions. For example being late or raising their voice. Disciplining them for rightly criticizing you on your not-yet-perfect implementation of Scrum, would result in more problems than you have today.

  • I agree that it is not traditional scrum, but we are organising our work in weekly sprints based on the velocity of past sprints. My role in the whole process is to make sure impediments are dealt with as soon as they arise, and keeping everything in track. So I am probably more of a Scrum master than a product manager if anything since I do not dictate the overall vision of the product. The CEO does. – bobo2000 Nov 22 '16 at 17:12
  • @bobo2000 I guess I don't understand your example #2 then. What questions are you asking him? To me it sounds like you are asking him for his status so you can report to other people. – nvoigt Nov 22 '16 at 17:21
  • Sorry I should have been clearer. Right, every now and again my CEO asks me how a particular user story is going (if it is high priority). So I need to have some awareness of how the developer is coping with it. For the most part, my CEO does not care, and the stakeholder sees everything at the end of the sprint like in traditional Scrum. – bobo2000 Nov 22 '16 at 17:28
  • To build on that point, other times I ask him technical questions like right now we are doing infrastructure work, so that I myself am aware of what is going on so that I have a strong overview and can contribute when supporting him with problems. – bobo2000 Nov 22 '16 at 17:35
  • @bobo2000 "So I am probably more of a Scrum master than", a scrum master does not ask what people have done the day before. The team tells the team what they have done the day before. The scrum master can listen and only raise a question when something seems to be going wrong and it's not yet being picked up by the team. – Stephan Bijzitter Nov 23 '16 at 0:30
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This is where you put on your scrum-master hat, go into "protect the team" and "guide the process"-mode and have a talk with your colleague.

Ask him for a short meeting and talk to him. Your two questions are two different topics, so maybe even just do two meetings.

For the daily standup, ask him whether he understands the purpose of it. Is he the only person who gives you trouble over it? Do the other developers like hearing what's going on? Does he appreciate the update on the progress towards the sprint-goal?

Also, make sure you got the basics of a standup down: It's always at the same time. So if he says "but I'm busy", you can say "we have the standup at this time every day. You know you're supposed to make sure you have a few minutes to do it". And make sure it's valuable. If the standup is just "doing the motions", I can't blame your colleague for not caring about it. If it's actually worth attending, he'll probably stop complaining. If he doesn't, the rest of the team will start complaining because this guy is also taking up their time since they'll be waiting for him to attend.

Figure out why he isn't interested in gathering with the team to have a very short update on the most important thing of his job: making sure the sprint-goal can be met.

For the status updates explain him that the stakeholders want to be informed about his progress from time to time. Then ask what the best way to get these status updates is. Can he track task progress on a board somewhere? Does he prefer an email? IM somewhere? Whatever gives you the needed information without disturbing his progress.

Alternatively, also talk to the stakeholders. Is it really important to know right now? Is a daily update enough? Perhaps you can give them an update every day. Perhaps you can show them how to get the info they want directly from the sprint-backlog. Maybe they can join the standup (as long as they remember the rules: stakeholders stfu during standup) to get their update. Maybe they are just curious and they don't realize that their requests for updates are hurting productivity.

As a scrummaster, it's your job to talk to your team and find out what is bothering them and then deal with it. Sounds like step one is to find out what's bothering him. In this case, it's apparently something you do. Or maybe that's just a symptom and he's unhappy about something else. Find out what it is.

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When I ask him to start a daily stand up, there have been occasions he just goes 'oh I need to do this first', or it is hard to get his attention.

That's a simple communication problem. You're asking him to attend the mandatory meeting, in order to be friendly. He understands the asking as the meeting being optional. Drop the friendliness for this person and tell him to attend the meeting, as well as all future standups, on time.

Of course it could also be a silent protest against poorly run standups. Make sure the standups are short, to the point, helpful to everyone who attends them, and take place on schedule.

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    Dropping the friendliness has a pretty poor track record in terms of "improving attitudes towards me". – Erik Nov 22 '16 at 14:22
  • @erik There are employees who disrespect managers for being too friendly. – Peter Nov 22 '16 at 14:24
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    Are there any good employees who do that? That sounds like a pretty terrible trait. – Erik Nov 22 '16 at 14:25
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    @Peter I know some. The tipping point is usually when the friendliness leads to unnecessary ambiguity and impedes communication. As in the above answer, ask vs. tell. If a manager always asks, it can make it harder to tell which of the requests are optional and which ones aren't. – Peter Nov 22 '16 at 14:30

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