Author: Venkatesh Rajamani

When a Scrum Master Encounters Resistance? | Top 10 challenges of a Scrum Master

The portrayal of a Scrum Master on a Scrum team is barely the same as the role of the traditional Project Manager. A project manager generally has to go through a hierarchy of a pyramidical system. Scrum Masters have their own ways of not being an overlord in the traditional sense and are more focused on being the facilitator at the same level as others on their team.

The role of a Scrum Master can be indubitably challenging; at times, the pressure of the position may exceed all limits making it difficult for most experienced Scrum Masters too. So today, this is our question. What happens when a Scrum Master encounters resistance? And How do they overcome them?

Our team of Coaches from tryScrum tried to put across a few recommended antidotes through all the problems they faced themselves. To give you insights and make you learn from our experiences. Please be informed; these are our recommendations. There is no methodology when it comes to “Scrum Mastery”.

When  Scrum Masters encounter resistance, it may come from inside the team or outside his team.

Let’s see, What do the scrum masters do when offered with resistance?

So without wasting any more time, let’s dive into the topic.

1. Difficulty in sustaining the Time-Box

The Scrum Master is always the one to keep a keen watch on sustaining the timebox activities. Time-Box is defined as the upper limit of spans provided for events. If the teams cannot contemplate, they cannot focus on the goal. Lack of focus will always hinder the purpose of events, and if the Scrum Masters do not withhold the direction of the team, excessive delays will lead to more distractions.

Recommended Antidote :

Always sustain clarity on each event’s agenda, explain the importance of timeboxing to everyone on the team. More so, if someone tries to go off-topic, clarify that their issues can be dealt with separately as the team’s time is invaluable. Leverage your Facilitation skills to deal with these challenges.

2. Scrum Master’s role is an Overhead

Get this straight. The Scrum Master is not an overlord or the authoritative high chair. They are just contributing members who facilitate and unleash the team’s intelligence and remove all hitches that hinder the smooth progress of the team.

Recommended Antidote :

In my view, Scrum Masters must build their credibility from day one. But, of course, when I say credibility, I dont mean they need to have a high ego. Instead of telling people what they need to do, allow people to solve their problems. As part of the team, you look for opportunities to build rapport with people. Do not burden yourself from day one that I need to smoothen the journey for the team and ensure that the processes and principles are followed.

3. Lack of Buy-in from Senior Management 

Agile is a mindset that needs to be realised by the team and everyone in the company. But in most cases, Senior Management doesn’t come on board with the paradigm shift, which causes challenges for all.

Recommended Antidote :

Instead of advising the Senior Management members about why they should embrace the Agile Approach, help them understand how it can benefit, and solve their pain points. Soon enough, they will step in line too and becomes the advocates of Agile themselves. Typically surveys, retrospectives and large group facilitation techniques are helpful to educate the Management.

4. Lack of Training

Though the Scrum Framework is easy to understand, it’s challenging to master. Unless everyone knows the values behind it and the underlying reasons for following them, they will not be invested in it enough to follow it closely. Thus, formal fundamental training is a must for everyone on the team to be on the same page. 

Recommended Antidote :

Scrum is all about self-managing teams creating value. Scrum Masters do this by leveraging facilitation, coaching and mentoring skills. If the group is not well versed with the why’s behind the approach, then it is the job of the Scrum Master to get them upto speed and train them thoroughly.

5. Lack of Understanding between Agile Teams and Stakeholders

When agile teams might be having all skills and proficiency to follow all Agile Methods, to the last letter, however, others who are not involved, such as stakeholders and suppliers, might seem not worthy. But, again, that may happen due to the lack of grasp over Agile methods.

Recommended Antidote :

To get suppliers and stakeholders aligned to your new ways of working, they must understand how an iterative approach works and be tuned in it to give feedback at regular intervals. The best way to solve impediments outside the Scrum team is to invite them to the appropriate events to keep them aware of their stakes in those events. Sometimes, establishing suitable contractual models might work.

6. Unhealthy Relationship with the Product Owner

While they are supposed to be the two sides of the same coin, they put efforts towards the goal of the Product. They often have personalities that will clash, which affects the communications and the company’s progress in the long run. 

Recommended Antidote :

Fully blown misunderstandings put hindrances over the Product’s progress. Thus a Scrum Master and the Product Owner should solve more minor conflicts with ease and understanding towards each other. A supportive relationship that facilitates give and take is necessary for the team’s budding as a whole.

7. Scrum Master Taking on Admin Tasks

Often, we see Scrum Masters find themselves instantly as they have to book meeting rooms, schedule events, and do follow-ups for events. It is the responsibility of the teams to manage these activities. While the Scrum Master may help the team to get started, it should not distract them from their core accountabilities.

Recommended Antidote : 

The primary function of the Scrum Master is to facilitate when needed, and any additional responsibilities shouldn’t deflect you from fulfilling your core accountabilities. Try to avoid these responsibilities and let the team manage them independently.

8. Team Vs Individual Performances

The Scrum Team must function as one and work towards achieving the team goals rather than building a person’s value. When Scrum Masters come across such people who try to create unrest in Agile Approaches by forcing individual success and not gel with other Scrum Team members cohesively, this leads to unintended repercussions. Furthermore,  the team values may toss if the company culture rewards the individual over the team. 

Recommended Antidote :

A Scrum Master should make the HR understand that on an agile team, it is teamwork that matters, and individual appraisals should be factored down from this approach. Moreover, suppose someone is trying to create an uproar among the Scrum Team by orating personal success. In that case, it is the job of the Scrum Master to help people understand the value of paradigm shift and deal with the individual in the later part.

9. Getting Speedy Resolution to Problems 

Whenever an obstacle arises, it is the Scrum Master’s responsibility to hinder it from its team’s path as soon as it is possible. However, there might be instances where the number of obstacles makes it difficult for the Scrum Master to reach collective decisions quickly. 

Recommended Antidote :

By budding up cultures of shared responsibilities within the team, gives rise to mutual respect, trust and communication between the Scrum Team members.

Thus it becomes easy for you to crush a series of obstacles on your way because of the support from your team. Good Scrum Masters know the craft of building the problem-solving abilities in every team member they encounter.

10. Working on Multiple Teams 

Companies that employ part-time Scrum Masters or require a sole Scrum Master to work on several teams simultaneously. In this way, the team loses dedicated support and accessibility to the Scrum Master as they are busy stretching themselves on several teams. As a result, the Scrum Masters cannot serve to their full potential in such cases.

Recommended Antidote :

Suppose you are a Scrum Master, stretched in a time frame to work with multiple  Scrum Teams. Then you should help the organisation understand and partner with the leadership to create a full-time employment plan. Or, instead of working with various teams, you should try to focus your energy on critical things that need your attention in one team and help aspiring Scrum Master in your team fulfil your responsibilities.  

Concluding Thoughts 

The role of a Scrum Master is challenging and complex. However, it is pivotal to the Scrum Team. Scrum Master should blend soft skills, knowledge and capabilities to overcome obstacles and achieve the set goals. These abilities come from experience, the proper training, practices, and experiences that help you in various walks of life. 

As a Scrum Master, have you faced any other challenges not listed here? Do let us know on our forum.

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