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Making Culture Change Easier

The people you need to make a Scrum implementation quick and painless

4 June 2015

Garren Heye

Many issues arise when a company begins its transformation to Scrum. Entire articles have been written on this very topic. The biggest challenge, however, is the cultural shift that happens when people are required to change from one very comfortable way of thinking and working to another less comfortable mind-set. There are many things you can do to make this cultural and mind-set shift smoother, but we will focus on one strategy that has been proven to be extremely effective.

Identify authority figures

Start by identifying a member from each of the following groups. You'll want buy-in from both.

  1. Formal Authority: Someone with "Manager" in his or her title.
  2. Informal Authority: Someone who doesn't have "Manager" in his or her title but is a natural leader among his or her peers.
Members with Formal Authority are the people with the organizational approval to make team- or department-level decisions, such as managers, directors, VPs, or C-levels. Keep in mind, however, that in anything other than a start-up, these higher positions may be too far removed from the frontlines to have a truly measurable impact on culture change. They may direct that there be a culture change, but there's tremendous value in focusing on the people in the trenches. They are the ones who will have far more impact on culture change.

Members with Informal Authority are the employees whom everyone respects, looks up to, and goes to for advice. Generally, there's one on each team or a couple in each department. These are the people everyone is happy to listen to and work with. In most Waterfall organizations, these are the people who don't drink the corporate Kool-Aid just to get ahead. They are the people who really run your corporate culture. They have the social influence to dictate what decisions other employees do and do not support just by virtue of their own opinions.

If you want to streamline your implementation, you'll need advocacy from both Formal and Informal Authority. You can certainly do it without, but it will be a long and arduous process, and the check-writers will likely give up on it before Scrum has the chance to prove its value.

But why is it valuable to have both?

Formal Authority value

The value of having a Formal Authority advocate is to prevent impediments and distractions. If you don't have buy-in from one of the managers, directors, VPs, or C-level personnel, then they won't understand the process and will constantly pull the Scrum team back toward traditional methods and thinking. They will be adding projects and tasks here and there, or pushing for a hard deadline while measuring the wrong things. That's manageable if you have a great ScrumMaster acting as buffer between that manager and the Scrum team. If you don't have this person, then you run the risk of being completely ineffective.

Keep in mind that we're starting from scratch here, so you will have pushback from different levels of the organization that don't immediately buy in. If you have a Formal Authority manager in addition to the ScrumMaster advocating for Scrum, then you'll find exponentially more success in your transformation.

Informal Authority value

If you don't have an advocate with Informal Authority, you run the risk of perpetuating the misconception that Scrum is "just another new corporate process." Your delivery team will view this as yet another time waster. They won't be motivated, they won't be organized, and they will be less productive than before. This is especially true if that person with the Informal Authority is actually a critic of Scrum and not just uninterested. If the cool kid on the block doesn't like Scrum, no one is going to take it seriously, at least not initially.

However, if you do have buy-in from this person, you will quickly obtain buy-in from the rest of the team. They will be motivated and excited to try out Scrum. You will convince each goose that Scrum is good for the gander. Motivation and buy-in are great, but the value that both of these deliver is participation. Scrum lives and dies on collaboration and participation. Having an Informal Authority holder is the easiest and fastest route to getting both.


Identify the holders of Formal and Informal Authority within your organization. Get their buy-in and make them Scrum advocates -- or risk a long and arduous process that likely ends with a failed Scrum implementation. How you get that buy-in is up to you, but soliciting their advice is a good place to start. (Giving them some responsibility during the implementation is another tactic, but they need to actually want the extra work.)

Precisely how to obtain this buy-in is a different discussion, one on leadership and facilitation techniques. For now, knowing whose help you need is half the battle in obtaining their support.

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: 4.8 (6 ratings)


Amudhan D P, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 6/11/2015 9:20:17 PM
Great Article, well articulated. In my experience, Getting the buy in of formal authorities to implement scrum in its true intent has been the most difficult task. As most formal approvals were signed off with concealed intentions, thus diluting the idea and resulting in scrum buts most of the times....
Garren Heye, CSP,CSM, 11/16/2015 10:57:57 PM
Absolutely! Very well put Amudhan. Most organizations and Formal Authorities have a very difficult time abandoning their old ways because they either don't understand or don't believe in Agile or Scrum.

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