The Danger of Steamrolling Emotional State

A manager who is considering implementing Scrum might say, “I’m concerned about the loss of predictability in Scrum. Right now I can predict what the team is going to be doing six months from now because I have a Gantt chart that tells me what they are going to be doing. But once the team becomes self organizing, I lose this predictability.”

A Scrum coach might respond, “Actually, you can’t predict what the team is going to be doing six months from now. How often have you been surprised in the past? How often do you have to change the Gantt chart? You don’t have predictability; you just have the illusion of predictability. Scrum is more honest about how much you can predict. You should feel more comfortable when you convert to Scrum.”

This is an answer that I have given in the past. I’m rethinking it. I now think it’s wrong.

First, my answer denies the current emotional state of the manager. The manager is telling me that he’s comfortable. But I am telling him that he should not be comfortable.

Second, it also contradicts the manager’s feelings about working with Scrum. The manager says that he is concerned, and I am saying that he should not be concerned.

Third, it fails to really respond to the manager’s implicit request to address his concern. What do men or women want when they describe an emotional state?

In the absence of a specific statement to the contrary, I believe that he or she wants acknowledgment and acceptance. He or she does not want to be corrected or educated or argued with. If I steamroll the manager by telling him that there is no logical reason for concern, his negative emotional state remains. This is akin to telling Joe, who is afraid of flying, that he should not be afraid because planes are safer than cars. His fear of planes does not dissipate, no matter how illogical it might be.

I believe that one of the major reasons why Scrum implementations fail is that, feeling smart and righteous, we often steamroll expressions of emotional state. But these emotions remain. Their persistence creates hard-to-parse impediments to the success of Scrum.


  1. says

    Love this. But I’m left wondering what comes next. After acceptance (“I hear that you’re concerned about losing predictibility”) what do you say to these objections? Anything you’d like to add?

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