5 Common Problems with Scrum adoption and What to Do About Them

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In the recent past, it has been a rat race that many organizations wanted to go the agile way of working, irrespective of their ability to change and work towards being agile. Often, organizations try to adapt to Scrum (since it is one the most popular framework in agile), but fail miserably due to several reasons. Some of the common problems are listed below.

No support from Senior Leadership

Often, senior leaders may be willing to support the transition, but turn negative after they fully understand the effort it takes for an organization to become truly agile. Leadership must be willing to “lead from the front” by providing necessary support and spearheading the organizational change and communication.

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Existing Organizational Structures and Hierarchies

Existing structures can hinder successful adoption. The biggest pit fall is the organization leadership tries to tweak Scrum to force-fit into the existing organization structure and hierarchy. Some of the tweaks that are like to happen are;

  • Managers jumping to role of Scrum Master still using a command and control style of leadership,
  • Individuals working in silos without a team concept,
  • Product Owners being pushed into the job without knowing the roles, responsibilities, and time commitments.
  • Scrum Master being unduly influenced by managers.
The existing process overhead in the organization may be too much for the team to carry on every sprint. No one really bothers to simplify the existing processes to the extent that the team starts self-organizing and delivers working software. The teams selectively apply scrum principles and eliminate the ones which are difficult to adapt given the circumstances. The Product owners often don’t have the seniority and decision making power they need to be successful.

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Distributed teams

Scrum works well for co-located teams, distributed teams present a different set of challenges. Senior leadership face a stiff resistance in breaking the distributed team culture, since managers do not trust the remote teams completely. In addition, the distributed portion of the team is often under the control of a 3rd party vendor with a completely different management chain.

The biggest challenge with distributed team is that they don’t behave as ONE team.

It is very much important that frequent contact among the team members, may be very effective, even though it is electronic. To make scrum adoption successful, it is a prerequisite that organizations must invest in high fidelity communication equipment infrastructure to enable smooth communication between the distributed teams. Added to that, organizations may also understand the necessity of tools for continuous integration, code reviews, unit testing and automation. Scrum may not work well if tools that improve the quality of the product are not in place. The desired results may be disappointing until the necessary tools in place to helps the teams to become distributed teams hyper productive.

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Regional Organizational culture

Regional culture always plays a dominating role deciding the Scrum adoption. Asian cultures like India, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, China, Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore struggle to adapt Scrum as per Scrum guide. These cultures are particularly inclined towards hierarchy status and titles. When promoting agile methods, which warrant high transparency and honesty, it is very difficult to make the changes in culture necessary. In some Asian cultures the word “Servant Leader” has a negative meaning of lesser social status. Added to the chaos, imposing performance appraisal bell curves also make people to show case their individual heroism than the team work.

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Unavailability of human skills

There is a dearth of agile skills in the open job market. Experienced and high functioning product owners, scrum masters, technical leads, and team members are in short supply.  Agile methods also embrace the need for specialized technical skills like test automation, build automation, devops and continuous delivery. These skills are very much in demand in the marketplace, and so every organization is competing to attract people with these skills.

Suggestions to overcome common problems:

  • Executive management need to understand that, being Agile is not a goal unto itself, Agile should be used as an enabler to accomplish business goals.
  • Engage enterprise Agile Coaches with significant experience in facilitating the right outcomes. Fully leveraging these coaches will make a huge difference to organizations rather than trying to solve these issues with internal staff.
  • Executive management need to understand that Agile transformation is a major organizational change and not merely project level coaching. So every support functions in an organization need to support agile transformation.
  • Lot of executive support and direction may be required for agile adoption, to push the change top down the layers and they have to continuously monitor the progress and remove organizations impediments that surface time-to-time.
  • The past transformation approaches show that, some organizations take a top-down approach while others take bottom-up, however, the results show that no single approach works perfectly, it largely depends on how organizations absorbs the change within its culture.
  • There needs to localized strategies made for every country culture, given the regional cultural differences, to make the agile transformation successful, while keeping the end goal same.
  • Not having the right human skills in an organization will impact the agile transformation significantly. It is important that organizations keep their skilled people on standby, before they start the transformation.
  • Do not force-fit agile into the existing organization structure and hierarchy, in fact there are many organizations out there, who tweak agile frameworks that fit into their existing structure and hierarchy, which is the biggest pit fall.
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