What to Do When the Team Complains About Agile Processes

What to Do When the Team Complains About Agile Processes

I recently attended a Lean Coffee event at a Denver-area agile meetup. The group was asked to come up with issues they were struggling with and then, after a vote, we had time-boxed discussions on those topics that generated the most interest.

The topic that I found the most interesting was: What do you do when the team complains about agile processes?

As with most things related to agile, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. What one team may find cumbersome, another team may like.

Almost everyone seemed to have examples, however, of times during which they were on teams that were unhappy about at least some agile processes.


The first thing a Scrum Master, coach or agile servant leader should do when they have an unhappy team is to listen to the team and understand the root cause of the issues they're experiencing.

“Try to get them to understand the why behind the processes,” someone advised. If the team can come up with another way to satisfy the end goal, then maybe it should be explored.

Not only do you want them to understand why processes are in place, but you also want to understand the team’s concerns with the processes.

“Ask several ‘whys’ and get to the root of their fundamental fears,” advised someone from the group.

Examples of root causes seemed to fall into two categories ...

1. Issues with the Tools

In many of the examples that were given, the issues seemed to be related to the tools being used rather than the fundamental agile principles. If tools are slow or filled with heavy processes that take a lot of the team’s time, they aren’t going to like them.

Though we all know that agile promotes individuals and interactions over processes and tools, the reality is that in large organizations, teams often don’t have much control over the processes and tools that are being used. If every team used their own favorite tools and processes, the lack of consistency would cause chaos.

That being said, if tools and processes are creating unnecessary waste, the team might be able to suggest ideas to reduce that waste. The teams may not be able to change which tools they’re using, but perhaps they can work together to come up with some organizational suggestions that could lighten up the processes.

2. Teams Are Not Getting Enough Support

The other category of issues that people brought up related to lack of management support. Stories included teams who were uncomfortable with estimates.

“It took a year for them not to be scared to commit,” said one Scrum Master of a team he’d coached. “As a Scrum Master, you need to help them.”

But how to help them? Again, start by understanding the root cause of why they’re scared to commit. What happens if they miss their commitments? Who holds them accountable and how?

Though agile promotes self-directed teams, the reality is that many organizations are still operating in command-and-control cultures.

The Scrum Master may need to not only coach the team, but also coach management.

There are no easy answers, but start by listening and truly understanding the issues. Then, elicit the help from the team, making sure everyone’s voice is heard.

In the end, you want to empower the team to help solve the problems they’re experiencing.


Yvette Francino has more than 30 years in the software development industry, and is an independent consultant, experienced agile leader, coach, author and trainer in various methodologies including SAFe, Scrum, Kanban and large-scale custom methodologies.

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