Tuesday, 8:30am – Scrum Training

You see it on your calendar – “Tuesday, 8:30am – Scrum Training” and you get pangs in your stomach.

You have been creating software for a few years now and things have been going OK.  Your team has been able to deliver what the customer wants (to an extent), and so what if you had to burn the midnight oil once a month to make it all happen.  After all, doesn’t everyone put in a little extra effort to hit a goal now and then?  The team was performing well and everyone understands the Change Control process by now.  You work closely with the Business Analyst making sure he had all of your questions presented to the Business owner in his weekly check-in meeting.  Now management wants to switch things up and they think Scrum is the answer?  Yeah, right…

Change is a pretty powerful thing

Whether it is a situation as described above, a new job, house, marriage or child, we have all experienced changes in our lives.  What is critical is how we react to these changes and how we learn to become better people by what we learn from these events.  In each Scrum training class we deliver, we perform an exercise to help the class focus on the things which are going to cause the biggest obstacles to implementing Scrum.  The exercise has been performed countless times and yet each class comes to the same top obstacle:  Change it self.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross was a doctor in Switzerland who was very unhappy about how doctors were treating their terminally ill patients.  She began studying these patients and wrote a book called “On Death and Dying” which documented a cycle of emotional status that is often referred to as the Grief Cycle.

As years passed, people noticed that the emotional cycle was not just applicable to the terminally ill, but to others where we affected by bad news (Implementing Scrum, to some).  The key take away was not that the change was good or bad, but that they perceived it as a significantly negative event.

The Extended Grief Cycle

The Extended Grief Cycle can be shown as in the chart below, indicating the roller-coaster ride of activity and passivity as the person wriggles and turns in their desperate efforts to avoid the change.


The important factor is not that the change is good or bad, but that they perceive it as a significantly negative event.

What can we learn from the Extended Grief Cycle today when discussing organizational change, like adopting Scrum? How can you work with your team or company when they first hear about a change and show classic change resistance symptoms?  Let’s look at the details of the Grief Cycle and how they apply to change in an Organization.


Your first reaction on hearing about the Scrum adoption can be closely associated to classic shock.  You may hear the news and have no reaction at all, or appear to accept the news without showing any sign of trouble.  Internally, you may not have fully processed the news just yet and you may need to be told several times.

People react differently to news in many ways and it is important to show them sympathy and acceptance.


Once the initial Shock has worn off and taken its course, the next step in the cycle is Denial where a person can often pretend that the news has not even been given.  Some people will ignore the news and pretend as if nothing has happened and will try to continue with their jobs as before.

To help these people move out of denial, it often takes a deliberate action to provoke them into Anger.  The change announced is going to happen and they need to understand that there is no way around it.  You can tell them that it’s not fair and that you have concerns of your own, but there can be no illusions as to what is coming down the road next.


The next step in the cycle is Anger, which can often occur in an explosion of emotion.  In this stage, the blame game begins and people start to ask “Why me?” or “Why do we have to do this?”.

At this point in the cycle, it is best to give people space and allow them to process the change.  It is OK to let people direct their anger at you and you should support their anger and accept it.  Clearly, change is not easy and the sooner you can help people move past being angry, the sooner we can get back to being productive.


After Anger has dissipated, the next stage in the cycle is Bargaining.  People will start to look for ways our of the change and will hope that this is a short term situation and that the change can be undone.

It is critical at this stage to not offer any false hope.  The change is going to occur and while there are some areas for bargaining, it is critical that any deal created results in a win-win situation.  Everyone should know that things will be different and that the quicker we move ahead, the faster we will see results.


After Denial, Anger and Bargaining, the inevitable sets in:  This is really happening.  In the workplace, people may be more prone to being absent or accepting of just OK work results.  In this stage of the cycle, people can also start to blame themselves for things that have gone wrong, where previously they had been blaming other people for the change event.

In this critical stage of the cycle, it is important to help people understand that you accept their un-happiness and that it is very common.  It is important to remind people that they have your support and even coaching available to them and to remind them of the positive road that lays ahead.  They need to know that the longer they stay in this phase of the cycle, the harder it is to break out into the positive areas.


In the Testing phase, while not completely out of the Depression phase, people start to realize the reality that the change is going to take place and that they can’t remain in the Depression phase for ever.  People start to “test” the situation and see if there are areas where they can participate, but still hold back.

While testing the “change”, it is important to continue to convey the positive outcomes that will be gained from the change event.   As Chip and Dan Health convey in their book, “Made to Stick”, “A sticky idea is understood, it’s remembered, and it changes something.”

What can you do to show your team why they should adopt this change?  Is there a success story you can share?  Is there something you are able to do today that you weren’t able to do before because of the change?  Are your competitors doing it?  Think about how you can make this change understood, memorable and why the change is worth the risk.


The final phase in the Grief Cycle is Acceptance.  The change is now adopted into the culture of your team and people are ready and focused on moving forward in a new way.  People show excitement for their work and the new process and they will appear happier and more content as time moves forward.

To keep the positive attitude in the fabric of the company, you need to show off your success and reiterate that this is the New way forward.  Breaking through to this stage should be celebrated!  It is only now that you can begin to refine and improve upon the change and increase productivity.

“Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster.” Elon Musk

As you navigate your own implementation of Scrum, I encourage you to keep the Grief Cycle in mind to determine where your team is today to better understand how to move your team into Acceptance.