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I'm the Scrum Master of a 7-person team. I've proposed and leaded Scrum implementation with open management support. One of the reasons for proposing Scrum, was also to address the attitude of the "Project Manager".

He has a very bossy attitude with "inferiors", he is very shy, fearful and flattering with the CEO, and he's used to get his own way through hiding information, insults, arrogance, machinations, and harming reputations. I'm being kind.

From what I write, you could probably think that I'm not the right person for the Scrum Master role... but I'm really the proposer of Scrum. At the moment, I'm the only person available to fill the role and I really believe in many values contained in the Scrum guide.

So the question is:

  • given the situation described,

  • considering that my point of view is shared by other members of the team (but also that I am directly affected by this kind of behaviour),

  • considering that, however, the person in question is very good at his job (outside of the team with customers) and proposing his removal would not be acceptable,

    how should I, as a Scrum Master, deal with this situation?

Should I say nothing in particular and trying to address "real concrete problems" occurring during our work?

Should I try to address the problem personally in a one-to-one conversations? Wouldn't it be too difficult to control my emotions, avoiding myself being "bossy" and imposing rules?

Should I speak with him in general about respect, transparency, openness, etc? Or should I be very hard-line about unacceptable behaviour?

Should I speak with the CEO or senior management? Maybe in general terms, asking for support without being specific? I'm afraid that a one-to-one conversation in the above terms will lead to my destruction ("who are you to teach me that" kind of things).

I've no experience in psychology or conflict management.

  • 2
    There is no "project manager" in Scrum. Did you mean PO? Will he be the PO and does he understand what that means? – nvoigt Dec 12 '16 at 11:53
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    I'm having trouble reconciling "very good at his job" and "hiding information". If 90% of the job of a PM is communication and this individuals communications skills are so harmful, how can he be good at his job? – Mark C. Wallace Dec 12 '16 at 13:29
  • @nvoigt, I mean "the person former known as PM"...Even if the organisation want to embrace agile, such things cannot be changed overnight – mmele Dec 12 '16 at 18:48
  • @wallace he has good technical knowledge and is able to manage customers relationship and management, but he is working mainly for "his" customers and "his" vision, not the company vision. Or at least he doesn't want to discuss openly how his vision is different from the company vision – mmele Dec 12 '16 at 18:51
  • If you can't fire him you can always quit. – Matthew Whited Dec 12 '16 at 19:32
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This has nothing to do with Scrum or PM or projects really. This is a political issue. Confronting this PM will lead to your eventual demise. Going around him to the CEO will lead to your eventual demise. You have three alternatives: 1) get in the sandbox and learn how to play with him, get him to trust you, and work to make him look good to the CEO; 2) look for a way out from underneath this guy; 3) do a combination of the first two.

In all cases, stay silent. Keep your emotions to yourself. Stay factual. Offer up the best advice you can. Stay super positive and can do.

  • I do really like your point of view, specially "get him to trust you". Actually I used to trust him and believe that he trusted me, but something went astray. Probably he started to see me as a danger for him. And yes, it looks like a political issue. It's not easy to deal with this at the same time with a transition to Agile and with being myself the Scrum Master. Plus for the concise answer and to the point. Even if I find inspiration in other answers too – mmele Dec 13 '16 at 22:41
  • I am dealing with this right now, as well, as a matter of fact. I am trying to implement my option 2 but it doesn't look like that will work so I am trying to figure out how to do #1. Not easy, not easy at all. Good luck to you. – David Espina Dec 14 '16 at 10:40
  • Just to add, if the person is good with customers, find a way to diplomatically get the person to spend more time with the customer? Perhaps a Product Owner role will be more suitable? Nevertheless, I agree, no point in finding a way to confront or get involved in politics. – Muhammad Aug 28 '17 at 20:15
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I hope I'm not too late with this answer ... or hopefully things have improved.

But reviewing the question ... I'm sure Scrum can help...

He has a very bossy attitude with "inferiors", he is very shy, fearful and flattering with the CEO, and he's used to get his own way through hiding information, insults, arrogance, machinations, and harming reputations. I'm being kind.

OK ... at the start of the scrum the PO / PM has to give his vision on what your team is going to do for the next 2 weeks. once that's locked in he can't change it without canceling the scrum (too many canceled scrums are hard to hide to management)

Having a pre-defined definition of ready might help force him to have his prep work done in advance if he wants the stories accepted by the team (With scrum the team has the power to refuse to take on work that's not fit to be worked on.

once past planning the PO/PM will only have access to the team via the daily stand-up, i.e. public meetings where his every word is overheard ... less chance of being bossy.

If he's interfering with the team outside of the set meetings then its up to you to manage or curtail these additional discussions. (and sit in on them if possible to again force communication out in the open)

Lastly via the retrospective he's open to feedback from the team (which should be limited to events during the recently closed sprint) if your team has the appropriate tact, you can suggest minor adjustments that over time may lead to more professional behavior.

So you've a lot of tools there to force open, public communication and set a bar for work product taken on by the team. So from the teams POV the'll get work, do work and deliver work, and not be dragged into politics.

  • +1 for making the question relevant to Scrum – Muhammad Aug 28 '17 at 20:17
1

There's a lot going on here, I'll do my best to keep my answer concise.

Regarding the reasons for implementing Scrum and the CEO in the first three paragraphs of your question:

  1. Make sure management is really, fully on board with implementing Scrum and making a culture shift towards Agile values. Without this, you have no grip, no solid ground to stand on. You need a 'mandate' to act.

You can do this by giving a small presentation or workshop, having a positive informal talk with the CEO on scrum adoption progress... there are many ways, search on SO and the web for many great ways to do this in a positive constructive way. Once you get that in motion:

  1. Help the company adopt Scrum. Help the team to openly address the issues.

Now that you have a foothold, help the team to learn what is and isn't Agile or Scrum practice. Use the retrospectives. Be respectful and constructive, but don't be afraid to address the elephants in the room as well. If the projectmanager is being destructive to the process, address these actions and the negative impact they're having. Make small steps, and tackle something obvious / simple first. Your team will learn to not be afraid to bring up the difficult issues.

If this yields no result at all:

  1. Try to get a more individual method for gathering feedback.

Retrospectives and scrum events really focus on the team. This does not prohibit addressing individuals behavior, but this can get messed. The focus on teams, being constructive, improving, can make teams to polite. There are other methods for getting and giving one-on-one feedback. For instance: 360 performance feedback. If that's not possible or doesn't change the behavior.

  1. Involve HR or someone in a similar role when nothing helps.

Scrum is built upon teams and team-members wanting to get better, deliver the best work and maximize value. In a few cases, individuals have a really hard time with this. They can't let go of old roles, ways of thinking, existing dogma's or have really incompatible 'characteristics'. In that case, you get in the area of one-on-one talks, involving HR people. Choose the most lightweight method that exists in your company and build up from there.

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Scrum or any other process won't help you solve a people problem.

The way I read your question at the moment leaves me with the impression that you are expecting conflict and are fearful of that conflict. It's better to come from a place of open-mindedness and neutrality.

I'd recommend taking a step back and understanding the PM's position and what their take on Scrum is and if he/she see's it being valuable. You want to understand the PM's "what's in it for me" position and what pain points the PM sees that are driving their current behavior.

Some questions that might help start the conversation with the PM:

What do you think of the Scrum process? What do you think of the R&R on a Scrum team? What benefits do you think us trying Scrum could provide for our Customers? What's the worst thing that could happen if we try? What makes trying Scrum challenging in your mind? What's in it for you if we try Scrum?

Keep the conversation focused on how Scrum can help provide more value for the customer. Educate on the process and underlying concepts but don't force it on anyone, that will lead to failed adoption and resistance. Only the PM can by-in and decide to try it. Otherwise the PM needs to be removed, but that doesn't sound like an option.

If your management is really in support, then ask them to set expectations around trying the change as a way of improving value delivered to customers. And if they are unwilling to, you know right away that they are just playing games.

Don't make it a personal/political thing like many of the other's posts point out.

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IMO, you cannot come head-on with this PM considering his practice and patience with internal politics. He also seems to be a favorite among top management, thus it will take really long to show his true face to the stakeholders. Thus for now the best course of action is to make piece with him (at least on face value).

I am assuming he is directly involved in your project, hence you are so concerned to discuss it on this platform. Here are few things that you can do, even if they may go against your nature.

  • Keep cordial relationship with him. He should feel that your and his goals are same. Actually, they are truly same, as he cannot consider harming the project.
  • Yet, keep all your communications formal so that he doesn't get any chance to eat your pie, or play games with you.
  • Never come in his line, he should never feel threatened by you. Keep your paths separate as much as possible. Try to segregate your roles/responsibilities from him.
  • At times even try to share your success with him. You'd never want to become enemy with him. If he sees you taking the complete pie he may plan out something against you and then your energy will be wasted in cleaning up the mess, rather than focusing on your project.
  • Slowly and gradually come in good books of management (may be use him as an ally) and when you have gained confidence of the management then try to expose him with enough and proper proofs. But this one is a really long and bumpy road.
  • I suppose there is nothing like exposing him to the Management, he is a fair person with clear goals. Though, he has a different vision & values. The same no longer holds good in an Agile environment. The best thing that could be done here is with his confidence in you as a Scrum Master, he should slowly be explained the benefits of Scrum. The scrum values should be inculcated in him, thus he would automatically be happy to Support this once he see the benefits of Scrum. – Anurudh Singh Dec 13 '16 at 4:50
  • "feeling threatened" is probably behind his whole behaviour. I agree with "never come in his line". – mmele Dec 13 '16 at 22:49

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