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What Do I Do if the Big Boss Doesn't Like Scrum?

10 December 2013

Let's face it, it's much harder to implement Scrum (or conduct any other form of change) without the support of senior management. If they are not just skeptical but even reluctant, then, yes, you're going to struggle.

This being said, I would like to share the following pieces of advice with you.

#1: Just do it.

Your boss probably trusts you to some extent. How much exactly he trusts you can vary from 1 to 10. But I doubt it is ever at zero -- otherwise you'd be gone by now.

Use this little bit of trust to take initiative. There are many things in Scrum and Agile development that are "low-hanging fruit" and for which I've never seen a big boss get mad at teams:
  • Planning the team activity on a daily basis (whether you decide to call that a "daily Scrum meeting" does not matter)
  • Monitoring what remains to be done, who's doing what, and what's been done on a board (whether you decide to call that a "Scrum Task Board" does not matter)
  • Planning work in short iterations (whether you decide to call that a "sprint" does not matter)
  • Automating the build process
  • Etc.

#2: Give your boss what he wants.

Your boss might ask you for things you believe to be useless, inadequate, or redundant as per your experience as a software development professional and your understanding of Agile development.

But he is your boss. So at first, I would recommend you just give him those things!
  • He believes a project is not a project without a Gantt chart?
    Give him a Gantt Chart.
  • He believes a project is not a project without a Beta testing phase?
    Give him a Beta testing phase.
  • He wants man-days?
    Give him man-days.
Only you and your team will know that:
  • You have better tools than the Gantt chart for planning your work.
  • You care about quality throughout the whole project, not only at the end.
  • You measure effort in a different way.

#3: Be patient.

The good news, if you're trying to use Scrum and implement Agile development practices, is that basically . . . it works!

It's good news because, as you put those new practices in place, you'll see some results. All you have to do is make sure the rest of your colleagues also see them.
  • Show the product to everyone at the end of each iteration.
  • Show your boss some quality metrics.
  • Celebrate success.
It could take one or two years to change your boss's opinion from reluctant to skeptical. And another one or two years to make him a supporter. So be patient.

#4: Run away.

My fourth and final recommendation only applies if you've tried the first three and still aren't happy with how many Scrum and Agile development practices you are allowed to put in place.

In this case, I strongly recommend you just go and find yourself a better boss and a better place to work.

There's a lot for us software development professionals to learn out there, so let's not waste our time in companies that do not deserve our dedication.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.7 (9 ratings)


Zhang Zhiwu, CSM, 12/10/2013 8:13:13 PM
I would suggest not to run agile until we convince our boss that agile is applicable for us.
Nice idea. At times it becomes difficult to handle a crying baby, if you give him a toy, he will look at it and throw away and then cry for another toy :)

The best part of your suggestion is - Instead of directly saying "NO" give him what he want and keep him educating on Agile.

His cry for - I want this status report, that status reports, RCA blaw blaw blaw will stop once he is educated on agile.
Bonnie Hart, CSPO, 12/11/2013 1:31:56 PM
You have written an excellent article on influencing change by example. Who could argue with the results of iterative development, especially with Product Demos at the end of the iterations. I've made a few notes for my back pocket. Thank you.
Terry Floyd, CSP,CSM, 12/12/2013 1:17:31 PM
Thank you for providing practical ideas that are easy to apply. Changing a culture takes years and this is a good way to get value without getting proper buy-in from senior management.
David Lowe, CSP,CSM, 12/17/2013 4:00:26 AM
Nice one Grégory. I remember a discussion about this at our discussion group where there were many different approaches that people had used (notes from the meetup are here:

Something that stuck was someone's suggestion to implement Scrum by stealth - which is, in effect, what you are saying here. One thing I would add is that, if your boss is not on board with being agile, I'd certainly try to have at least one of the team on-board before you head into the transformation. Otherwise, option 4 is probably a wiser approach!
Very Pragmatic ways of doing Scrum @ uninvited environments!!
Andreea TOMOIAGA, CSM, 1/17/2014 4:19:15 AM
Excellent article in my opinion, written in a structured and concise manner. What I would add as an idea to accelerate adoption is to spread the word of agile practices laterally in the company too, with this meaning to colleagues from other departments or teams. Important influencers in the company even if they do not hold positions in the formal hierarchy are key to win on your side because they have informal power to influence other colleagues.

This would help spread agile practices leading to results in different company areas quicker and this would certainly increase the visibility of agile practices and subsequently raise the attention of the top/upper middle management.

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