How do I salvage this, or should I just move on?

Last post 06:14 pm September 12, 2019
by Daniel Wilhite
6 replies
01:41 pm September 12, 2019

I'm going to try and sum this up as best I can...


Started working at a new company last year, I was hired as the only scrum master in the company for a specific team, but also to help all of their teams adopt scrum, 7 in total.

After spending the first 6 months setting up all the teams and getting them to a somewhat self-reliant state, my boss received a promotion and I was transferred to a new boss.

This is where things went down hill rapidly. Teams consistently experienced the same issues, impediments were brought up to management consistently and management did very little to address any of them.

Teams were instructed to "do their best" but were also held to an impossible standard, expecting us to deliver well and above what we were capable of doing.

Moral began to tank, people began to quit, and then most of our IT got outsourced to an MSP. During this transition, I basically got paid to do nothing...

I informed my boss on more than one occasion that I was not being utilized and was concerned, but I was reassured that when the dust settled there were many many plans in the works.

I was completely disconnected from the teams, receiving updates from their managers telling me how the teams were performing, which was always... "great".

During this time I attempted to form a couple of volunteer only teams that turned into nightmares as people would volunteer and then just not show up or not do the work due to other priorities, consistently causing these teams to look bad.

Managers began to want to go back to waterfall in some instances, and in others wanted to try kanban, and I was basically told to just work with whatever and do my best...

Now, there's very little scrum actually happening, most of the teams are functioning in a weird combination of agile and waterfall and it's a complete cluster.

I had a 1 on 1 with my boss recently and I was tasked with increasing productivity on the teams, to which I replied that until the bottlenecks / impediments that have existed for a year were dealt with, it really didn't matter what process we enacted as they were hamstringing the teams. To which I was told those weren't going away, and I needed to "do my best and just deliver"...

Now I'm in a position where I may have to justify my job, and I feel like I have been setup. The only time I was ever fully dedicated to a scrum team that was also fully dedicated, it was a glorious success, that was when I first started under my original boss, since then I've not been allowed to work directly with any of the teams as they are all "self-managing" and no one needs my input or wants it... 

I tried holding scrum lunch and learns and invited over 60 engineers to which only 2 or 3 would show up. I tried meeting with the VP to explain all of this and while he agreed with me, my now boss basically told me not to do that again as we needed to control what the VP was told and I needed to just work directly with my boss on issues. In other words, they're hiding the truth to protect themselves for some reason...

I setup an entire bi-weekly meeting at the end of our cadence for our VP to get a snapshot of what happened in the last 2 weeks, and he almost never shows up, my boss is the only one who does, occasionally, and these meetings are just the managers reading off the stories that were completed to the manager...

We have 0 Product owners... 0... We have 0 customer relationships... We have no demos, we have no feedback loop... We have external projects that make up over half of our yearly goals that are managed entirely outside of our org, then we're just told we need to do the work by x date... So over half of our work doesn't even fit into scrum imo... 

Now the VP who is a metric slave is demanding a dashboard that will show him all of the teams velocity / cycle time / burndown / along with a snapshot of their backlogs, which I am building, and the teams are about to be driven by these metrics... I already know this is going to lead to people just doctoring JIRA and nothing will change...


If you're me... What would you do? I'm not really worried about getting let go as no one has been fired in over 5 years, except 1 guy that literally took down our entire data center for 24 hours... But, my boss is now wanting to "reconsider" my role at the end of the year and re-brand me... I have a feeling I'm about to become a manager/pm that basically just holds meetings and takes notes...


Send help?

02:51 pm September 12, 2019

One of the biggest factors in companies successfully adopting the difficult changes it often requires to become a more agile company is top down sponsorship. It doesn't sound like you have that as management is not willing to change their behavior in order to break down barriers and create an environment where the teams can thrive. 

There's a coaching exercise on personal values and searching for fulfillment that may help you shed more light on your current situation. The goal is to choose five values that are very important to you out of a selection of around 50. You can score yourself on how well you're enacting those values in your day to day work / life. Consider when you feel most fulfilled versus not. What were you doing? What were the outcomes? Are there things you can control in your day to day to allow  you to live these values and feel fulfilled? 

Geoff Watt's actually did a video on this from his book 'A Coach's Casebook' if you're interested in learning more.


03:40 pm September 12, 2019

If you're me... What would you do?

PSM assessments, if time is available. Put the company in the position of having to either deal with or fire a qualified Scrum Master.

03:59 pm September 12, 2019

Jon Joe, you are definitely in a difficult position.   Tony made a good observation that adopting and practicing Scrum requires sponsorship and engagement from Senior Management.

Too much to comment on in your summary, but there are a few items that stood out to me:

  • You had an old boss when Scrum seemed to be promoted, but then you were transferred to a different boss.   Have you had any conversations with your previous boss about how things have deteriorated since he was promoted?   If so, what feedback/advice has he given to you?

Teams were instructed to "do their best" but were also held to an impossible standard, expecting us to deliver well and above what we were capable of doing.

  • When faced with similar situations, I often ask those setting target dates what they are basing them on.   An effective fallback for any Scrum Master is Empiricism, and I use it often to question old PM practices that represent more "wishful thinking" than anything based on reality.  Decisions should be based on evidence whenever possible
    Also, a critical teaching moment is to educate others about estimates - they are only the best guesses based on the current information on hand, and they are truly only valid if they come from those who will be doing the work
  • From reading your situation, it no longer seems like a Scrum environment, and I believe your observation that you'll be asked to conform to a more PM-based role is accurate.   
    So what should you do?   Only you can answer that.   You seem to be trying to fight the good fight, but if I were in a similar situation, I may think about moving on and trying to find a situation where I can practice Scrum more freely

Good luck to you.


04:29 pm September 12, 2019

Wow Jon, that sounds like a tough situation!

The deeper rooted issue here is there is still a struggle with Traditional mindset vs Agile mindset, which lives a level above Waterfall vs Scrum vs Kanban vs whatever else. 

I would start with the Values. Sounds like you already have a good handle on what Management wants and is comfortable with, so look to the teams (especially since there are 0 PO's). As a Scrum Master who is the servant leader for the Team, your purpose is to utilize your authority for the sake of bettering their success. You need that authority or else you can't support the changes they need to meet their demands.

If they have needs that are too embedded to anti-patterns and it's unrealistic that people will stay and be satisfied, find ways to include HR. They are basically Leaderships proxy at times. 

If at that time you aren't feeling satisfied or that you aren't able to further contribute, then I would be looking to leave unless you want to do the work they will be asking of you to do instead.

At the end of the day I would encourage you to do what fills you up and brings you joy.

05:49 pm September 12, 2019

It seems you've done all you can do, I'd be looking for a company that will utilize my skills and passion; your current company clearly does not want to do that. They are the typical company that wants to go Agile because it's the new, cool, and sexy thing to do but in reality they don't want to change anything. Companies look at Agile as a methodology and process of doing work rather than what it is, a mindset. We encourage people to BE agile instead of DOING agile because unless they are BEING agile, any change implemented will only be temporary. 

It's the same reason why so many people try to lose weight by a fad diet; I've been there and done that. I changed my eating habits so I could lose weight and I lost 50 pounds a couple years ago. The problem? I gained 35 pounds back because I didn't change my lifestyle, just my eating habits. I didn't exercise much, I didn't change my eating habits so I could be healthy, I changed them so I could lose weight and once I lost weight; I went back to my normal self. Now I'm changing my lifestyle with the goal of being healthy, not losing weight. The people who do it this way see lasting effects, those that don't see short term effects and too often reverting back to their unhealthy habits. 

Companies need to change their lifestyle but too many don't want to put the work into what is necessary. All this to say, go somewhere else. Leave this place because I don't see there being any real change based off all the other stuff you've tried.

06:14 pm September 12, 2019

I am going to agree with @Ian Mitchell and @Curtis Slough.  You seem to be in a no win situation and your talents could be extremely valuable to other companies. I remember your posts here over the last year and they have all been leading to something like this.  Just because a company says they are agile doesn't mean they are. 

If you're me... What would you do?

I'd use the time I have available at your current job to find another job and prepare to be more attractive to other employers. It is easier to find a job when you don't have to worry about how to pay your bills.  I know that sounds really crass but life isn't always nice. Find another job, learn as much about agile and various practices, frameworks, methods as you can. Good luck!