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Selling Scrum to Your Manager?

by Mark Levison on Oct 07, 2010 |

You’ve just taken a 2 day CSM course, you’re bursting full of new ideas and want to take over the world. Your company has both delivery and quality issues in the recent past, so the time is ripe for change. Yet you walk into your managers office, explain Scrum he’s not interested. What do you do? This is exactly the problem one recently minted Scrum Master faced.

Rafael Fuchs has faced just this problem, he wanted to introduce Agile but didn’t have management support. So he and his team did an end run. Instead of saying they were changing to Agile, they just started making small changes. Whenever management asked questions they: “said it's something new to improve our work. We never said it was related to Agile.” After a a few months they pulled back the curtains revealed it was Agile and said see how much better things are going now. In Rafeal’s opinion, some managers are change averse. In those cases he thinks you’re better off making the change and talking about it when you have results to show.

Steve Ropa warns that managers who’re unwilling to try Agile have much bigger problems and they may subvert adoptions like Rafael’s.

In the case where management is not responsible for the day to day activities of the, Roy Morien, suggests just starting to use Agile: “Is it possible for you to change the way you develop, and then just present them with the outcomes, on a regular and frequent basis. I am sure that they would be a little surprised and puzzled at your change of tactics, but my experience is that the 'users' start to appreciate the early and frequent delivery.”

Alan Dayley reminds us that most managers rarely care about the methodology. They care far more about delivering value and not having the delivery disrupted. He recommends reframing the problem from how to introduce Scrum to how to solve the problems the manager already faces.

Along the same line as Alan, Brian Lawlor, found his Ace was: “asking management if they would like to see elements of the completed project faster, like every month”. By being able to demonstrate ROI every month he was able win their confidence.

This reporter noted:

Management couldn't care less about change. They want quality software delivered on a regular basis. This is a frequent problem in the community. My mantra: Selling Agile? Don't Sell Listen. Your manager has problems and pain, the question is what are they? You don’t tell someone in position of power (or anyone for that matter) what you want, find out what they need. It nearly always boils down to "Better Quality", "Faster Time to Market". If you're lucky its both. Instead promoting a full blown methodology change offer something small to help make either one of these marginally better. We're not looking for solving the whole problem here, just a small win. You and your team need to demonstrate over the course of a few weeks that you can make things a bit better. Every time you do this you will build a bit more trust and the freedom to do more the next time. Eventually you will gain the freedom to make a more complete transition.


The key: Ask your manager what they care about, Listen, Listen, Listen. Focus on delivering what they value. Eventually your values will line up.

Don MacIntyre recommends a blog post from Mike Cohn: How Do You Get from Here to Agile? Iterate. Mike suggests that to become Agile you should create a backlog of improvements/changes and iterate. Effectively using Scrum to implement itself.

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Scrum with no management support & no support from other departments by Rainer Eschen

Is it really worth to fight for Scrum in an environment where even the management is not interested in Scrum? There are still the other departments not adopting Scrum.

Re: Scrum with no management support & no support from other department by Mark Levison

Fighting is an odd word. If the manager says flat out no, I'm not willing to give you enough space to make small improvements (as I and others suggested above). Then there is a much deeper problem going on either with the manager or organization. At this stage I couldn't imagine working for a manager like that and would do my best to change jobs quickly.

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