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Lessons From Michelangelo - How To Crack Tough Nuts & Get Buy-In For Scrum Training

August 16, 2021
Lessons from Michelangelo - How To Crack Tough Nuts & Get Buy-In For Scrum Training

Around 14  years ago, my Coach - Peggy Reed changed my life by sending me to Scrum Training. I fell in love with Scrum and chose to become a Professional Scrum Trainer with the support of Ken Schwaber. Since then, I have trained thousands of students in Scrum and completed hundreds of hours of coaching. I have been a Scrum Coach for companies from ten people to ten thousand people.


No matter who I coach, one of the most common questions I get from Scrum Evangelists inside organizations is this - "Ravi, I have some people in my organization team who could really benefit from Scrum Training. But they don't see it.  they are digging in and resisting. They are really tough nuts to crack. I have budget to send them to your training, but they don't want to attend. They are not bought in. How can I crack these tough nuts and get them to buy-in to Scrum Training?"


I found a step-by-step answer to this question from Michelangelo and thought I would share it with you. Here it is...

Step 1: Don't!

Well, that might not have gone the way you thought it would. Why, you might ask? Let me explain...


When people who are not bought-in and are forced / voluntold to attend Scrum Training, they destroy the learning experience for everyone else. Their intent in the training is not to be curious. It is not to learn more about the what, why and how of Scrum. Their intent is not to learn as a stepping stone to making an informed decision about whether Scrum might or might not be helpful in their context. Instead, their intent is to argue with the trainer and everyone else about why Scrum sucks, why Scrum is not the right answer and to weaponize everything they see and hear to prove their point. This is not the mindset of a learner. It is a waste of time to get them to attend training.


So what might you try instead, you might ask. I think I learned this in a book by Jeffrey Gittomer - "You can't sell a solution if you haven't sold the problem." So let's start from the beginning - answer these questions about the problem you have bought that they may or may not have bought just yet...

  1. What is the problem that you have bought into? What the heck do you see going on? Why is it not acceptable?
  2. Who is accountable for this problem? Where do your tough nuts fit in?
  3. How do you feel this problem will get solved if your tough nuts crack, buy-in to Scrum Training, attend training, learn and get converted?
  4. How will the tough nuts shift their knowing, being and doing once they come back from training?
  5. What outcomes will be created as a result of the tough nuts shifting?
  6. Who will benefit from these outcomes?
  7. How will you know that they are benefiting?


Enter Michelangelo - "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."

Instead of trying to get your tough nuts to buy-in to Scrum Training, ask them - what is the Angel you seen in the marble? The Angel of our Customer and User Experience? The Angel of our Company? The Angel of our Product? The Angel of our Culture? Ask them how are they carving to set this Angel free? How effective are they? How delighted are they? How delighted would they like to be? Is anything getting in the way? Who should do what by when to set the Angel free?

Now be open, courageous, respectful, focused, committed and vulnerable. Share the Angel you see in the marble and how you would like to everyone to work together to carve and set it free. Share your answers to the questions from the previous section.


Now listen. Is there an alignment? Are you carving to liberate the same Angel? If not, sending your tough nuts to Scrum Training won't help. Scrum Training might help curious and open learners discover how Scrum can help organizations liberate the shared Angel, achieve shared goals - Business Goals (Product Goal), Quality Goals (Definition of Done), Cultural Goals (Empiricism, Self-Management, Servant Leadership). If the goals of the members of the organization are misaligned or incompatible with the goals of Scrum, forcing combative, belligerent, argumentative students to Scrum Training is one of the most unprofessional and disrespectful things you can do to the Trainer and other learners.


Let's imagine, that there is alignment of purpose - you are aligned in the Angel you want to set free. Now explore if there is alignment in efficacy. How do you both perceive the effectiveness with which the organization is carving the Angel? How are things going? Are we progressing as well as we could? Why / Why not?

If you feel the Angel is being destroyed and they feel the Angel is being liberated, sending them to Scrum training won't help. Get aligned on the disconnect between the target reality and the actual reality. If you can't align on the delta, don't waste time by sending them to Scrum training. You are dodging your responsibility and setting up the Scrum trainer for failure.


Imaging you both are aligned on purpose and the fact that you are not making acceptable progress towards the purpose. Not explore who is accountable to make adjustments? Maybe there is some learning here. Maybe you have a blind spot and the growth opportunity is with you. Maybe you are the tough nut they are trying to crack and buy-in to some training. If that's the case, go and improve yourself. Don't send them to Scrum training.

On the other hand, if you feel that the growth opportunity is with them, have the courage to talk about what you see and explore if you both can align on accountability. If you are unable to get their buy-in to the possibility that they are failing in their accountability, don't send them to Scrum training. It is not the Scrum Trainer's job to convince them that they are failing and letting the organization down. That's your job.


Imagine that you are aligned on purpose, efficacy and accountability. You helped them discover that they are accountable to do a better job. Don't push your solution onto them. Let them own the outcome and find the best path to the outcome.

Let them choose within a bounded container of constraints. Ask them how will they get better? By when? How will they know they are getting better? What are the non-negotiable organizational constraints within which they must improve? What support do they need from you? How can you help them keep their promise to themselves and to the rest of the organization?


Co-create an agreement on the time by which they will achieve the outcome, the lead and lag indicators that will be used to measure efficacy, what you both need from each other and how you both will hold each other accountable and adjust your relationship in pursuit of the shared goal. That is true self-management. Not you pushing them to attend Scrum Training.

Consider these ideas as you navigate these conversations...


If the support that they ask for is to be sent to Scrum Training, then by all means, do so. Support them in going to Scrum Training. Notice that you did not get their buy-in to Scrum Training. They got their buy-in to Scrum Training.

However, make sure you both have skin in the game before you waste precious time and money on Scrum Training. Design a working agreement to maximize the ROI of Scrum Training by considering these ideas...

Good luck!


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