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Meeting with my VP today...

Last post 09:22 am April 8, 2019 by Robert Shandley
12 replies
01:28 pm March 25, 2019

So, little bit of back story. 

I joined this company last July, first time being a scrum master officially, and it's been rough. I was placed in charge of setting up 7 scrum teams and getting them rolling / getting them to a self-managed spot. I did this successfully and the company was very pleased with what I was able to do.

Since then, we've had trouble getting the company to produce faster, something I've had a hard time understanding why faster was better, but it just seems to be the way it is around here, they just want stuff in prod yesterday, somewhat recklessly. 

What I've learned about the company over the last 9 months is that we're more of less screwed from an agile perspective. We have multiple organizations that feed us work, and we can't really say no to them. So, our time / cost / scope is pre-defined and we can all agree that's not agile, this is more waterfall. However, the company brought me in to help them transform into agile, and so far I've met a LOT of resistance from management.

I tried to get them to move away from metrics because they kept being dissatisfied with them, and I tried to get them to focus on customer satisfaction. However, we have so many deadlines and so few people working that it's basically impossible to make all our customers happy anyway. I have suggested that we stop trying to please everyone and focus on our top customers specifically. However, again, I've been told that's not possible.

I don't have a military background, but for whatever reason I really believe in chain of command, and I don't at all like going over anyone's head. My direct report and her peer are pretty adamant that we need to bubblegum and tape this to work for us and they're not interested in following a strict process.

I have a meeting with the VP today, I have reports from some of the scrum teams saying the managers are straight up telling the VP that stuff is in prod when it isn't, that stuff in prod is being used, when it isn't, although, I have no direct proof. I'm deeply concerned about how effective I can really be in an org that seems to be undermining itself to meet the "metrics" which our VP is obsessed with. 

This is a SD org and we have setup using ITIL. I'm not that familiar with that process, but it isn't being followed very well either. There's a lot of ticket / issue battles that are going on constantly, politics, and resource constraints that are just causing massive impediments to everyone which devolves into a blame game over why someones metrics look bad...

The thing is, I need this job, I need the experience, I like the work/life balance, and I have another 2 years before I can get vested anyway. So, I'm very leery of being frank about what I think or what I know. 

My initial idea was to just illicit feedback, ask if there were areas he'd like to see improvement from me or the org, and then try to make the numbers reflect that. But, that sticks me a bit because it doesn't seem right. I don't want to fall on my own sword here for principal but I don't want to really just play blind either... 

Any advice?

02:56 pm March 25, 2019

It's a question only you can answer really.  What do you want to do? If you want to keep your job and you're not worried about true agility and genuine transparency then game it and keep things in the green.  If you want to do the right thing as a Scrum Master then I think you know what to do.

I'm going steal Ian Mitchell's quote but he said courage is a value in Scrum because increasing transparency will get you halfway to being fired.

08:04 pm March 25, 2019

A good Scrum Master is not an intolerant sort of person. However, there is a slide in the PSM course which describes an SM as having a low tolerance for organizational impediments.

When I come to that slide, I advise students to think very carefully about what their own level of tolerance for organizational impediments ought to be. There is no reason to suppose that one person’s level will be the same as someone else’s, or that the level you have will not change over time.

06:24 pm March 27, 2019

I had a bit of a heart to heart with him, and he told me what he's wanting... They have a list of 60+ projects that must be completed this year, which hasn't even been released to the teams yet and we're already almost in April...

We don't have the resources or the skillsets to even do these projects, but he is convinced that scrum will get him faster delivery, which is leading to everyone just trying to rush anything they can out to production, which is actually encouraged... 

I think the VP is actually an impediment at this point, because he's disconnected from the teams, the managers are trying to make him happy while keep the lights on, and I am sitting in the middle going this is all wrong lol.

At this point I feel like I should just stay in my lane, try to make the teams as successful at what they do as I can, and just let the thing melt down because the VP didn't agree with me when I told him that list was not possible.

His comment and I quote "I have 88 engineers that are costing me a lot of money, I don't see why we can't produce 60 items from 88 people"... This is a very smart guy too, so I have no idea how he's this delusional... The time / cost are pre-defined which is fine, but we're not able to handle that much scope and we're not allowed to de-scope anything... 

09:11 pm March 27, 2019

They have a list of 60+ projects that must be completed this year

Just a few questions:

  • Does your organization have metrics around how many projects they typically complete in a given year?
  • Is your VP basing his goal of 60 projects this year on empirical evidence from past years, or is (s)he setting this goal solely based on their personal belief/wish?
  • Has there been any effort to form even high-level estimates from the ones doing the actual work?
  • Has the VP prioritized the list of 60 projects, so that the most critical ones can be worked on first, and the amount of project WIP can be somewhat managed?


06:09 pm March 28, 2019

They do not have metrics for projects completed, although we definitely didn't even come close to last years list.

It's his personal wish list, along with coming down from above, basically the entire place is on fire and we're doing our best to keep from being consumed by it.

We are trying to establish estimates based off scrum teams, but it's extremely slow going. Most of the metrics being driven are from JIRA where most people aren't updating, which is known and still not addressed, the review sessions are just what did you get in prod? So, no it's based off the assumption that we should be able to do it.

Yes, the list has been prioritized, but no the WIP can't be managed, we have constant requests that cannot be told no. We have a very reactionary business, instead of proactive. 

08:27 pm March 29, 2019

Two things Jon Joe:

  • "we definitely didn't even come close to last years list....  it's based off the assumption that we should be able to do it... we have constant requests that cannot be told no"

    If it were me, I would work to raise the understanding within the organization around the benefits and downsides of pull and push behavior (respectively) from a Systems Thinking perspective. 

    And I would openly question why management believes certain goals can be achieved when they have "not even come close" in previous years

  • You may be dealing with a lot of dysfunction from a Scrum point of view, and maybe you feel a bit trapped

    "I need this job, I need the experience, I like the work/life balance, and I have another 2 years before I can get vested anyway. So, I'm very leery of being frank about what I think or what I know."

    Please keep in mind that this is invaluable experience as a Scrum Master.   A Scrum Master grows and learns when they are faced with difficult situations like you've explained, as opposed to a smoothly-running Scrum shop.

    To use an analogy, do you think a doctor becomes better by providing wellness care to a healthy group of clients, or by providing medical care in less-than-ideal conditions, such as Doctors Without Borders (for example)?

    You are in an enviable position to grow as a Scrum Master.   Remain true to your craft, even in the face of organizational opposition.   Always provide visibility to the organization around practices that are unhealthy and anti-Agile.   In the end, as with most things, you want to be on the right side of history.   Good luck to you!

01:44 pm April 1, 2019

I am very grateful to be where I am for sure. The problem I face is that this is my first job as a Scrum Master, and if I were to be terminated I would have no job history to leverage for a new position. So, I am trying to be very careful about that.

I've been told several times to just shut up or let it go type stuff, management thinks of me more of their executor instead of adviser. I'll tell them that we need to let the teams become self managed, and they'll tell me they don't trust their employees because they've proven to be lazy or incapable of staying focused. 

I'll tell them we need to leverage JIRA for transparency and they'll tell me they want me to make a report for them because they don't have time to look through stories... 

I'll tell them we need to focus on high priority projects, have dedicated teams, and they'll tell me we have 60+ projects that need to all be completed and we can't possible dedicate teams 100% to any one project. Along with the fact that half of our "talent" are specialized and use that as an excuse to not cross train. For example, we have a Postgres Database resource who told my most recent team he couldn't help us with anything Oracle or MySQL related, we'd need to contact other people for that... When I tried to educate the management that this is a great opportunity for cross training, they said we don't have time for him to learn...

There is a STRONG presence of command and control, managers telling people what to do, employee's only doing the bare minimum of what they have to do and hiding as much as possible.

I literally get ignored in emails. I've asked the managers to give me a report on their teams performance in terms of a few very simple categories, and for 3 weeks they have not replied to me... 

I'm the last one to know when someone is OOO, and I'm also expected to enter all of the teams stories into JIRA and document their DoD... 

This place is a catastrophe, and I literally got told not to bring up the idea of no metrics again as a way of helping reduce overhead on the dev team.

We have 1 product owner in the whole company, and we have 9 teams... Management hasn't even released their priorities for this year and it's already April, teams are literally getting random requests and just doing it... 

Some of the teams are infrastructure teams that have long term deliverable's that are the same from sprint to sprint and they have nothing to demo for 6 months so to speak, and even then, it's just a schematic of the network infrastructure... 

We have teams that get bombarded with maintenance and support tickets constantly that take up 60% of their workload. Managements response is for them to provide training to other teams to help them reduce this, but still demand they meet their deliverable's... 

Our non-engineering teams are woefully under staffed and everyone plays the not my problem / blame game. People auto-closing tickets and then forgetting to do the work so their metrics look good, people transferring tickets to the wrong groups to increase the time they're allowed to do the work. 

A LOT of corruption is going on, and on top of that, I hear the managers are lying to the VP about their actual results. We reported stuff in production that while is physically there it's completely unusable... 

I honestly have no the hell idea how I'm suppose to fix any of that, when the directors say they're aware and just tell me to do my best, or worse they tell me I shouldn't be worried about any of that, just keep the scrum teams doing the ceremonies, let us worry about those things...

I want to pull my hair out honestly.


05:12 pm April 1, 2019

That is definitely a LOT of dysfunction, Jon Joe.   My advice is not to put too much pressure on yourself to become the change agent that this company desperately seems to need.   Just like we don't advocate "superhero" behavior within our Development Teams, we shouldn't expect it from our Scrum Masters either.

There is one item that did jump out at me, that you may be able to create some visibility around:

they'll tell me we have 60+ projects that need to all be completed and we can't possible dedicate teams 100% to any one project. 

If I were told this by my management, I would inquire why they insist on going slower when they have so much to accomplish?   The science is already well-proven that context-switching (i.e. - multi-allocation, lack of focus) causes individuals and teams to go slower than focused efforts around single initiatives.   In a nutshell, you will finish faster by doing A, then B, and then C, than you will by trying to make progress on A, B, and C at the same time.

The links below are good references for this:………


05:43 pm April 1, 2019

Oh, trust me, I get it. It's a matter of unrealistic expectations from our VP. I will definitely check out those articles though, thanks! :)

10:19 am April 2, 2019

Please keep us posted on what's going on, because I think this is a case of which a lot of people can learn.

08:56 am April 8, 2019

Hi Jon Doe,

For example, we have a Postgres Database resource who told my most recent team he couldn't help us with anything Oracle or MySQL related, we'd need to contact other people for that...

One thing we need to remember as Scrum Masters or other agilists, is that people are not resources, even if we can't get that kind of thinking through the thick skulls of managers. That was one part of my PSM training that really stuck with me. And it's something I always admonish, when I hear people talking about resources.

It sounds to me like your VP and the rest of management haven't caught on to this concept and they are acting accordingly. 


09:22 am April 8, 2019

Sorry Jon Joe, I misspelled your name in my post.  Chalk it up to developers dyslexia;-)