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Real world Agile: Gaining internal acceptance of Agile methodologies

Gaining buy-in for an Agile transition can be a challenge. People are naturally resistant to change. Without a united team, Scrum Masters have difficulty maintaining the discipline needed for a successful project. Learn about some of the challenges teams face when there is resistance to Agile, and learn ways to help promote and gain acceptance of Agile in your organization.

It seems like everyone is “going Agile” these days, with industry survey results showing continued Agile adoption trends. Although there seem to be more and more organizations switching to Agile, there are still internal naysayers who want nothing to do with Agile methodologies. The topic of this week’s Boulder Agile Software Meetup Group (BASMG) was “Promoting Agile Internally.” If you’re a Scrum Master on a team with members who aren’t entirely on board, what can you do? Read on for a peek into the challenges of internal Agile acceptance and suggestions about how to deal with them.

The need for buy-in

The members of the BASMG are Agile enthusiasts who get together each month to discuss real world experiences of doing software development using Agile methodologies, specifically Scrum. Needless to say, those who aren’t fans of Scrum or Agile do not attend such meetings. However, despite all the positive buzz, not everyone is willing to jump onto the Agile bandwagon.

Scrum enthusiasts, particularly Scrum Masters, are tasked with gaining buy-in, not just from management, but from team members. In order for Scrum to be effective, the team needs to be united. If there are people on the team who do not believe in it, you may end up spending more time addressing conflict rather than the important work of making progress on your project.

The undisciplined self-managing team

Andrew describes his situation. The team is supposedly using Scrum. “We don't know the velocity.  We don't have a burndown chart. We don't estimate from one iteration to the next. There’s no product owner,” he says despondently. “In order to get results, we have to be disciplined, but if the team doesn’t believe in it, how will we get there?”

Eric nods in understanding mimicking what he’s heard from those who don’t take Scrum seriously, “But we are a self-managing team! Can’t we decide not to meet every day?”

The group gives advice. Some suggest sharing success stories to help promote buy-in. Others suggest having the team specifically address the problems they are encountering rather than forcing a solution upon them.

“The skeptics were the ones who were asking the right questions and came up with some really great ideas.”

Matt Weir, Meetup Participant


Try it, you’ll like it

Andrew said his team acts like a bunch of cooks who all have their own ideas of how to make a dish, but no one wants to use a recipe. He’d like them to at least start with the recipe prescribed by Scrum, feeling if they just tried it, following the disciplined Scrum procedures would bring the needed structure to the team.

Others agreed with the “try it, you’ll like it” approach. Carolyn says, “We're still having trouble with buy-in. But the team agreed to try this for a few iterations. We’ll follow the ‘recipe’ and then inspect and adapt.”  

Carolyn said there were people who felt Agile, with its emphasis on transparency, would lead to more micromanagement. She also had a team member who had a “cowboy mentality” and didn’t like the new methodology because requests needed to be prioritized. He was used to taking calls directly from customers and “playing the hero,” but now there is more process that must be followed.

The group suggested that Carolyn work with those who had concerns to help them see how in the long-run they can still be “heroes” in Agile environments and that the processes can be adjusted to ensure high-priority requests get handled. But without process, a high-priority request might be ignored because team members are working on a low-priority request for the person who is going around the process.

The organizational terrorists

Some people go beyond simply voicing their doubts about the methodology. Eric, the group’s lead, told of the guy who did jumping jacks during the stand-up meetings. We all chuckled at the image, though if someone is purposely mocking a meeting, it’s difficult to get the attention of the group. It’s one thing if the act is just a one-time playful jab, but another if it was sabotaging the effort. Eric had a talk with the offender’s manager, letting him know that the disruptive behavior could not continue.

Eric has known of some who simply refuse to come to meetings or have been known to walk out with no explanation. The group agreed that this type of behavior is blatant disrespect and shouldn’t be tolerated. Though the team members may not be completely on board, everyone should be expected to behave as respectful adults.

Eric says, “You probably have a mix of both types of people. Some are going to be a barrier. The others will change. Identify those people who are willing to give it a try. There will be skeptics.”

Learn from your skeptics

Matt felt he learned the most from the skeptics when his organization was transitioning to Scrum. He appreciated their input more than those who just willingly accepted the methodology, not questioning why things were done, but just blindly following along. “The skeptics were the ones who were asking the right questions and came up with some really great ideas.” Matt said he learned a lot from them and that in the end, they became his biggest allies in the transition.

Final words of wisdom

Change acceptance is never easy, but there are things an Agile leader can do to gain buy-in. The group felt that promoting Agile successes via word of mouth works wonders. Using lunch-and-learns and other means to help educate people and make sure everyone is talking the same language is important. Make sure the team has a voice. Listen to concerns. Hold retrospectives and learn from mistakes. Enlist help from management and stakeholders.

In the end, the group felt success would speak for itself. Todd said amongst nods of agreement, “Progress is motivating.”

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