"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change!" - Charles Darwin

Friday, 22 August 2014

How to teach Scrum to your boss (and why)

One of the biggest challenges I usually faced in my experience as Scrum coach is not really related to Scrum as such, but more to the consequences that Scrum creates in the organization by exposing the real problems.

So it often happens that some people (especially among managers and senior technical experts), afraid of losing their position, start to get alarmed by the serious challenge of the status quo and do their best to slow down the change.
Ever seen that? I'm sure you have. 
And if you want to have any probability of success with Scrum, you'd better do something to address the natural resistance of middle management to move away from a command and control leadership style.
Where to start? Don't look too far: Start with your boss
Help her become a professional 21st century manager capable to build a trust environment where people can develop and team can flourish at their best potential. If she becomes knowledgeable enough, she will understand and consequently start dismissing traditional management practices, which make no sense and are even detrimental in a knowledge working environment.
That's what I normally do with the managers I work with.
Bingo! If you want your boss to support your company Agile transformation and introduction of Scrum, you just have to teach her... Agile and Scrum.
How can you do that?

1. Training and self-education

I dedicate a consistent amount of time in delivering training to managers, in individual coaching as well as in team coaching with the Leadership team. 
The Management learning program I propose has the following structure:
- Kick-off with 2-days Scrum training
- 2-days Lean and Agile Leadership training
- Individual and team assessment to identify strengths, improvement areas and further learning needs (I described a bit the content of the assessment tool in a previous blog post).
- Training program (monthly sessions) based on assessment outcomes, which is usually self-led by managers pairing up with a coach and leveraging on a Learning by Teaching approach
- Weekly self-learning activities (Lunch and learn or Lunch and share, Book club)

2. Gemba

Respect is one of five Scrum core values. Getting bit deeper than its generic surface, it means giving people the environment and support they need to do a great job and trust they will do their best to accomplish their goal. It’s about staying close to the teams, where "real" things happen and you can identify ways to improve the system .
Gemba is the Japanese word which means "the real place" (for instance Japanese detectives call the crime scene gemba). So if you want to help your boss to learn Scrum, encourage her to walk where work happens and Scrum actually comes to life.
In all teams I coach, I try to introduce managers into this “go and see” culture, not only with the goal of getting them to understand teams’ problems and ready to support, but also for making them learn Scrum by interacting with a real Scrum team.
Advertise Sprint reviews (maybe posting catchy flipcharts) or encourage your team to forward invitation even to top managers: for some of them it might be a culture hack, because they might think it is a development team’s stuff.
Pass by your boss' desk and invite her to join for the Daily Scrum. She might claim that she does not want to disturb the team: challenge her to stop asking weekly reports and join the Daily standup instead.

3. Deliberate Practice

Scrum is founded on an empirical process control: the biggest amount of knowledge is created by experience and feedback.
I usually coach the Leadership Team to use Scrum for their work, so that they can learn Scrum by actually practicing it.

Have your boss feel the pain as well as the excitement of working in short iterations.

Additional suggestion  

Have a look at the book Teaching smart people how to learn by professor Chris Argyris, Harvard Business School
He talks about avoidance of learning and how discrepancy between espoused and actual theories of action harms people’s learning: these are actually the biggest problems I found with people and especially with managers which you would not classify as innovators or ealry adopters in the Rogers’ Bell curve on diffusion of innovation.

So try to keep an empiricist approach: you will lower down your boss' defends and have her more open to new things, because she would feel less in danger.

Address concrete and painful problems and show how Scrum can help her with them. Avoid to fall into the trap of: "this is Scrum, this is not Scrum", or "this is right, this is wrong". Escape discussions based on personal opinions, but try to build a we-are-together- against-the-problem atmosphere. At least you will save a lot of talks and useless discussions.


I learned not to waste too much time with laggards and cynics. So if you classify your boss like that, just spend enough time to make sure she does not pull others and the organization to old behavioral patterns. 
Or better, quit your job!