A cold war is all about bluff, threats, posturing, propaganda and one-upmanship. The purpose is to leverage one's influence, especially in the mind of public opinion, but always stopping short of engaged warfare. However, even if we don't use the heavy bombs, and instead use slings and arrows, the damage to the project can still end in a death by a 1000 cuts.
Quite often in organizations, we have several of these cold wars between colleagues, managers and subordinates, and between departments. In Scrum projects, if the team is not in harmony, then a cold war can brew to the surface between the two most notable protagonists within the Scrum Team; the Product Owner and the Scrum Master.
Product Owners have a tough job. They are usually the face of the Scrum project and exposed to stakeholders more than anyone else on the Scrum Team. Therefore, in addition to their role of maximizing the product value by managing the Product Backlog, they also have to play a political game with stakeholders who have their own agendas. Sometimes this dynamic can produce pressure for the Product Owner to perform at a higher than optimal rate, and that pressure invariably trickles down the Development Team, often in the form of pushing extra work onto the team, or in some way compromising Scrum values and principles.
This is a common way for conflict between the Product Owner and Scrum Master to occur. The Scrum Master's role is to protect the team from obstacles and also the integrity of the Scrum framework. Obstacles could be a technology the team needs but doesn't have yet, other departments fulfilling their requirements before the team can proceed, training requirements, protection from stakeholders who distract the team unnecessarily, and also the Product Owner who tries and buck the system by slipping in some extra work or some other form of anti-Scrum pattern, since after all, they (like customers) value results over following Scrum protocols.
The Scrum Master is also not immune from starting the initial fire to a cold war. Conversely to a Product Owner, sometimes the Scrum Master is so obsessed with the Scrum framework, that they often lose sight of the purpose of the project, which is to continually produce value, in the minds of the customer and the Product Owner, after each Sprint. The Scrum Master is also supposed to assist the Product Owner with the Product Backlog and convey the project vision and goals to the Development team. Ultimately, although the Scrum Master's role is more inward looking, it is also responsible for ensuring that the organization effectively adopts Scrum in the most beneficial manner. This can only occur if the Scrum Master works hand-in-hand with the Product Owner, since as I stated earlier, the latter has such an influence within the organization, especially with the stakeholders and customer of the project.
A practice that I always try and promote is for the Product Owner and Scrum Master to sit down at the start of the project and delineate the boundaries of their roles and responsibilities. Further, and very importantly, they should achieve agreement on the right balance between ensuring the value of the project is maximized, and adhering to the values and principles of the Scrum framework.
Conflict in business is often necessary, but war is never so. Neither is the threat of war, nor a death by 1000 cuts that a cold war invariably brings. Healthy conflict between people and philosophies can strengthen the team, project and organization, provided it is handled in a mature and non-destructive manner.
"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." - Winston Churchill.
Thank you for your interest in the Scrumptious blog. If you have any ideas for Scrum topics, please message me here. Until next time, remember, projects can be Scrumptious!