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What to do when a scrum master encounters resistance & 8 ways to overcome it

While Agile places responsibility on the entire team, someone has to take charge to make sure the project runs smoothly. In the world of Scrum, this falls to the Scrum Master.

The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring the team sticks to the Scrum framework. They are Scrum experts, but unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they’re free from pushback, especially from higher-ups outside the development team.

It’s important to stand your ground when you encounter resistance. Keeping the team working within the Scrum framework is crucial to maintaining product quality. So, let’s check out some ways to counter any pushback and keep the project on track.

Actions to take when a scrum master encounters resistance

The key to resolving any resistance is to avoid escalating the situation. Simply telling someone they’re wrong can lead to conflict, which could derail the entire project. As a Scrum Master, it’s your job to explain why their suggestion would not work and why the team needs to work in a particular way.

A Scrum Master should look to introduce and implement Scrum throughout the business. This will help those outside the development team understand the why and the how. To do this, you should work with the other Scrum Masters within your business to help increase the effectiveness of Scrum throughout the organization, not just the development teams.

Switching an entire organization to a Scrum framework is a challenging and lengthy process. You may still receive pushback from some who don’t quite understand how Scrum works during that process. In that situation, you should look to methodically break down why they object and why they prefer their solution.

Identify the type of resistance you’re facing

There are many different ways someone could push back on how you need the team to work. To resolve the situation and convince them to come to your side, you must understand why the person is pushing back. This process is similar to how you would identify the root cause of a customer’s issue, even when they don’t know what that is!

One of the most common forms of resistance comes from someone who has “already tried this, and it didn’t work.” While this is a frustrating attitude, it is a perfectly valid response based on previous experience.

Personal experiences and anecdotal evidence create a strong connection that can be tough to combat. Someone has put a fair share of effort into the idea and come up short, making them unwilling to try the same idea again. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results.

The thing is, the project they had and the project you currently have could be entirely different. You’re not trying to achieve the same goals as they were, so there are plenty of reasons to work the way you want to, the Scrum way.

Some resistance can come from senior management who don’t fully understand how Agile and Scrum works. They think working Agile means training your development team to trim the fat and improve efficiency. As Scrum Master, it’s down to you to convince them otherwise. You need to help them understand that Agile isn’t about working a certain way. It’s a methodology that can benefit the entire organization if implemented correctly.

Ask questions

Once you identify someone’s objection, you should probe and find out why they feel this way.

If their objection is due to previous experience, ask them why it didn’t work last time. Look at the steps that led to the failure, and you can understand why the project fell apart. The real answer may have nothing to do with working with Scrum!

If they simply don’t believe in Agile and Scrum or are hesitant to make the change, have an open discussion about why they feel this way. It may be that they don’t fully understand the methodology. Use this resistance to your advantage by turning it into an opportunity to educate.

Other issues scrum masters face and how to overcome them

Convincing people to embrace Scrum and Agile isn’t the only issue a Scrum Master will have. As the de facto leader of your Scrum team, you will face a range of issues that need to be tackled so you can keep projects on track.

Scope creep

The project scope refers to all work items that need to be completed to create a new product. Scope creep occurs when people make changes to a project without considering the time and effort those changes will take. This leads to overworked staff, increased resource use, and often means a project goes over budget.

To avoid scope creep, a Scrum Master should work closely with the Product Owner to collect daily feedback and keep track of the team.

Scrum Master resistance

Trouble managing timebox activities

While working Agile, we tend not to focus on specific deadlines. But it’s still important to respect timeboxed activities. When working with timeboxed activities, you should create daily agendas and ensure they are clear enough for everyone on the team to understand.

Try to keep the off-topic discussion to a minimum while working with timeboxed activities. These things can be discussed another time, like lunch or after work.

Scrum Master takes on too many admin tasks

Even though you’re the Scrum Master, you shouldn’t be responsible for every administration task. You’re not a team leader, and you’re not management. You’re a member of the team, and teams work together. If you start to feel overwhelmed with the number of tasks you’re performing, it doesn’t hurt to remind the team they’re responsible for managing things like booking meetings and scheduling events. Help facilitate, but don’t take over.

Lack of training for team members

Making the change from traditional methodologies to Scrum and Agile can be difficult, especially for tenured workers who will have spent their entire career using something like Waterfall. Many Agile concepts can be easy to grasp but tricky to follow, especially without training.

Take the time to coach your team and fully understand the framework. As Scrum Master, you need to ensure your team understands how Agile works and why you’re using it.

You don’t need to coddle them or overload them with all the information at once. Just gently guide your team and give everyone what they need to succeed.

Senior management is skeptical about Agile

Senior management is often made up of stalwarts. They’ve been with the company a long time and have likely worked the same way for longer than they can remember. This can understandably lead to skepticism regarding new ways of working. They’ve probably seen many other fads that have claimed to be the “new way of working” and ultimately offered no extra value to the company.

The best way to convince the skeptics is to demonstrate how Agile and Scrum actually work. Look for problems they want to solve and solve them using Agile methods. Once they see how Agile works and the value it can bring, they’ll soon change their tune.

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