When Scrum Events Are Burdening

At the beginning of a Scrum implementation y, you usually find two main types of team behaviors. Those who embrace the scrum events (Planning, daily, etc.) and try to better understand them to represent one type. There are many issues and many required adjustments and the team is working on them with the coach. Other teams view Scrum events as a total waste of time. They do them reluctantly and don’t see any value in it. What do you do? We’ve had several such cases and we wanted to better understand what’s going on there. After a deeper look into the dynamics of these teams, we reached some conclusions that let us sleep better at night.

Reason One – Lack Of Understanding

The first obvious reason for a team not performing the scrum events would be that they didn’t get what we’re looking for. It may be they went through training, saw videos, and had pep talks with their managers but still, they didn’t get it. They think this is just another fad and it will go. We say culture follows practice but if you don’t understand where you’re aiming for you just won’t get there. Here is where one on one coaching and a lot of patience is in place.

Reason Two – The Double Star Syndrome

A good clue to what’s going on is the value of the scrum events. The events are there to help the team self-organize: to make sure everyone sees what’s going on so everyone can make decisions. Following the above clue, we understand that another possible explanation for what’s going on in these teams is that the command and control management style in these teams has reached some local optimum, meaning, quite frankly, that it works well. There is usually a talented team leader there, that works very hard, and a bunch of people doing what she says. The people around the leader usually admire her, which reinforces the same dynamics. “How can we decide anything without her in the loop?” The result is that the leader keeps working harder and harder and the other people of the team become smaller and smaller, but in some way, they are all happy about it. The team leader’s ego is well provided for in this situation, and the other team members are feeling blessed for having the opportunity of working with her. We call this the “Double Star Syndrome”: the team is working in a star formation (the leader in the middle) and the team leader becomes a star! In this situation, it is no surprise the entire team is against Scrum events. Who needs planning if the leader does it alone and very well anyway? Who needs the daily meeting if the leader goes around telling everyone what to do? No doubt the retrospective is redundant too – let the leader think about what should we do to improve But what’s wrong with this picture? Why should we change? Should we change? These are good questions (and we’re being quite objective here). We would like to say that in the long run, this management form is unsustainable – meaning, it will not hold for long. However, that would not be true. Many teams are working this way, spawning more managers using the same style. A team member looking admiringly at her manager would like to be in her place. Many people are looking for this kind of power and it is a great motivation for working hard and being promoted. This leads us to the ultimate reason, the mother of all reasons for the change:

The Ultimate Reason for Hating The Scrum Events – Everything’s Fine!

To make a change you need to have a compelling reason. If everything’s fine, don’t change anything. Yet, being in this situation, asking ourselves these questions, suggests something started a change process. It may be that the real reasons for change are hidden and you need to discover them. As a manager, as a coach, you must find the reason for the change. Many times we just get into the “implement the ceremonies” frenzy and forget why are we doing it for. That’s not good. We need to remind ourselves again and again why are we doing the change. The bottom line is that when people see the scrum roles as burdening, the solution would not be to enforce them. The solution would be to understand why are they seen this way. Does the team understand where we’re going? Is there something basic about how the team operates that is blocking the agile implementation? Is there really a reason to change?
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