Overcoming Internal Resistance to Agile Development

May 8, 2012 Manny Segarra

This advice comes with a disclaimer… I am a warrior, so my message will be harsh.

Resistance to agile development is futile. I say this to show the ‘Trekkie’ in me and to set the framework for destroying resistance to agile.

Personal Resistance: When faced with, “I don’t see the value of agile,” I remind the troops that management has hired me, the ScrumMaster/Coach, to help them transition to a different way of working. Whether the label for that change is agile, Kanban, whatever, my presence is a signal from management that something was wrong. The strongest resistor to change is my first and favorite target. I take them aside and challenge them respectfully and directly with, “Please don’t tell me that you are resistant to agile; please let me come with you to speak to the agile champion who sits three levels above your manager. I want to hear you tell him you will resist, or bring me a note from the agile champion, excusing you from changing your mind.” That is truly the last resistance I hear from that person. Resistors who turn into ‘Saboteurs’ or ‘Feet Draggers’ are eventually rooted out by the team.

Political Resistance: I gather managers in a room and I ask the following question:  “Who is onboard with this transition to agile, RAISE YOUR HAND?”  I then instruct every manager to look around and see who has not raised their hand. I then say, “I’m going to leave the room now and let you handle this amongst yourselves… I will call this meeting again and I expect every hand to go up next time.” Once the resistance is out in the open, it’s easier to deal with.  I do not interrupt the managers as they deal with each other on a peer-to-peer level.

Cultural Resistance: I gather any managers, team leads and executives I can and expose them to the Schneider Model — Command & Control, Competence, Collaboration and Cultivation. I ask them questions based on the readings right out of the book (Use the Appendix for Strengths and Weaknesses of each culture to create your list) and tell them, “We are marching toward Collaboration, with a dash of Competence.” By forcing executives and managers to discuss, debate and fight about who they are now and what they want to be in the future, is the exact conversation that must take place before ANY transition to ANY process, has ANY chance of taking root or being successful.

As a ScrumMaster, I use persuasion, influence, wisdom, experience, empathy and sympathy to lead and grow my teams. But sometimes I must tap into the strengths of being a New Yorker who was raised by a strict code of ethics, topped off with a dash of service in the military.

Please remember this one thing:  If you speak the truth and you do it with respect, you should be allowed to say anything to anyone.

Questions? I’d like to hear from you at msegarra3@msn.com.


Guest blogger, Manny Segarra is a ScrumMaster at Intel Corporation in the Greater Denver area. As a Lean/agile coach and developer, Manny is dedicated to the development of teams, individuals and organizations. He is disciplined and compassionate in leading, learning and coaching, and has experience with TDD, paired programming, OO design and continuous integration. Manny’s 10+ years of experience as a developer, tester, UI designer, analyst, trainer and technical support has given him multi-faceted perspectives on the user experience of software.


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