Managing Conflicts in Agile


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Moving to Agile or Scrum introduces a lot of change and that can lead to conflicts in an organization.  There are a number of key factors to consider when managing those conflicts so that they are resolved quickly and collaboratively.

1. Level Set on the Goals

Here is a common scenario that we see in Agile.  The development team is frustrated because the Product Owner doesn’t have all of the answers and the Product Owner is frustrated that the developers ask for everything before they will work on anything.  Does this sound familiar?  In this scenario, we need to get back to basics and remember our main goal.  We want to deliver working software that adds business value as quickly as possible.  Both the development teams and the Product Owner share this goal and we need to remember that.  No product owner is knowingly going to withhold information about the marketplace or the product and no development team ever plans to write crummy code.  We all want the same thing, we just have different roles in how to achieve that.  So if you find yourself at a stalemate, think back to the original goal and realign on that.  It can really help to get everyone back on the same page.

2. Figure out perspective

Stephen Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, called this ‘Seek First to Understand.’  If you are struggling with someone’s words or behaviors, try to put yourself in their shoes and understand what is going on.  The most common misconception about Agile is that it is going to make my job go away.  This fear is shared by IT Managers, Project Managers, Business Analysts and many others.  And let’s be honest, losing your job is a scary prospect.  If someone believes that moving to Agile will marginalize them, then they might put up resistance.  The best way to move past this is to help them see their new role in an Agile Organization.  If you don’t have the authority to give those assurances, help them see that being a contributing employee who is open to change can be the best protection against lay-offs. But maybe it isn’t job security.  Perhaps there is some other fear or concern that is weighing on the mind of the person you are dealing with.  Try to understand their viewpoint and see if you can work towards a common solution together.  Most people do not really want an Agile transformation to fail – they just have some reservations that are coloring their opinions and actions.

3. Accentuate the Positives

Change is hard. This is true for all of us but some move through the adoption curve much more quickly than others.  Those that struggle with change need encouragement and they need to see the positives.  There are a couple of ways to focus on the good things that are happening.  Sometimes people need to hear that their individual behavior or efforts are good and worthy of recognition.  Others might need to see positives in the Agile implementation itself, like a successful sprint or a really clear and well-run product backlog grooming meeting.  By actively pointing out the good things that are happening, the slower-to-come-around folks might get a kick-start.  And this needs to be an ongoing effort.  We need to consistently praise the good as we are transforming the organization because everyone is subject to a down day.  Agile can make organizations much more productive and fun – and we need to celebrate that often so we don’t forget.

Conflict is a natural part of any transformation but especially one as far reaching as Agile.  Know that conflict is okay.  How it is addressed can make a big difference so remember to level-set on goals, figure out the different perspectives and accentuate the positives.  The extra effort applied towards conflict management can accelerate the whole transformation process and get us to the fun part much faster!

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