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Scaling Agile: Scrum at Scale

15 Jul 2019

Scrum at Scale is an approach to accomplishing business Agility. 

Scrum at Scale introduces many drastic changes to the business environment. 

It transforms all services, departments, products, and divisions within the organization. In this regard, the framework is much more ambitious in scope than some other scaled Agile approaches (like Nexus). 

A Complete Overhaul

Scrum at Scale involves a network of Scrum Teams working together and tackling complex adaptive problems and challenges. These can relate to hardware, software, processes, services, or integrated systems.  

Moreover, Scrum at Scale aims to ensure optimal productivity by eliminating cross-team dependencies and duplication of work. It has two prescription medicines for these problems: setting rules for coordinating multiple teams and promoting linear scalability.

The basic logic is that more people should be able to complete more user stories in less time. When we say more, we mean a potentially unlimited number of different teams. 

This sort of flexibility stems from simple, “scale-free” architecture of Scrum at Scale. Namely, the approach gives much freedom to organizations to customize implementation and exponential scaling. 

A Blend of Simplicity and Flexibility 

It’s clear that Scrum at Scale wants to avoid adding new complexities to the list of existing ones. There are just a handful of basic components you can organize as you see fit.  You don’t have to worry about following some pre-existing arbitrary rules. 

The organizations need to find their own sustainable pace of change, one that spurs organic growth.  This means Scrum at Scale streamlines the whole scaling endeavor.  

According to Jeff Sutherland, the optimal team size is four to five people. This guideline deviates from the common Scrum wisdom, which prescribes three to nine people in a single team.

The members come together regularly and discuss impediments and progress at Scaled Daily Scrum meetings.  These events emulate what we know as standard Daily Scrums. They usually last for up to an hour and are essential to synchronizing. 

Moving on, the lightweight nature of Scrum at Scale manifests in one more form— minimum viable bureaucracy

This principle, in combination with smaller teams, is expected to cut the time it takes to make decisions (it reduces latency). Of course, this benefit is dependent on the high level of coordination and uninterrupted flow of information. 

To be more precise, there should be fewer communication channels, but their saturation greater. 

Furthermore, the implementation process requires you to develop a new operating model and foster the right kind of value-driven culture. This culture mirrors the 5 Scrum values - openness, courage, focus, respect, and commitment. 

They foster transparency, adaptation, and inspection, while supporting rational decision-making at the same time. More often than not, they encourage you to explore innovative tactics and experiment with new day-to-day practices. 

Cycling Your Way to Implementation 

Scrum at Scale has somewhat of a dualistic view of the way teams work, focusing on “what” and “how”. Following this line of distinction, there are two cycles: the Scrum Master Cycle (the ‘how’) and the Product Owner Cycle (the ‘what’). 

The components of the first cycle are continuous improvement, cross-team coordination, impediment removal, and deployment. Beyond everything else, Scrum Master enforces best practices and finds collective solutions to the problems. 

The second cycle focuses on Backlog prioritization, strategic vision, backlog refinement, and release planning. Here, the Product Owner maintains product development, reacts to market changes, and preserves value.  

Together, these two cycles must work in synergy to deliver value (a shippable product) faster and under budget.  To make it happen, you need to pay close attention to two touch points between cycles. 

First off, we have a team-level process. 

It specifies all the work Scrum Teams need to take on, which you can review in a Scrum Guide. One novelty is the addition of a new team, Scrum of Scrums, as well as a new role, Scrum of Scrum Master (we wrote about Scrum of Scrums finding its way to other approaches to scaling Scrum). 

The second touch point is product & release feedback. Product feedback drives continuous improvement via altering Product Backlog. On the other hand, release feedback stimulates improvement by optimizing deployment mechanisms. 

Another thing to notice is that for both cycles, metrics and transparency are governing principles. When it comes to metrics, most organizations take into account productivity, quality, value delivery, and sustainability. 

They give you an answer to the dilemma of whether you’re on the right track. 

The Importance of Proceeding Step-by-Step

We know this is a lot to take in. 

The good news is you can rely make this easier on yourself if you are planning to try out Scrum at Scale.  

Bear in mind, for example, that it’s much easier to apply Scrum at Scale with solid groundwork in place. After all, the approach is a natural progression from Scrum.

This is to say you should assemble a few small teams already adept at Scrum delivery. Then, form an Executive Action Team (EAT) and put it in charge of the transformation strategy’s execution. Once that is sorted out, you can create the Transition Backlog. 

Doing this before diving in will help you destroy roadblocks and bottlenecks that slow you down.

You will minimize the amount of dark work, which is work on features that customers don’t want or need. Over time and based on insights, you should also be able to work out a viable operating model. All that is left after that is to gradually scale this model to the whole organization. 

Of course, feel free to optimize as you go. Reshuffle and re-task teams to respond to shifts in market demand better.

Do Your Homework and Take Action 

Scrum at Scale is an ambitious company-wide project. 

You might have to redesign and fine-tune your entire value stream. To do it right, you first need to get familiar with basic cycles, roles, and connecting mechanisms. Next, it’s a good idea to come up with a solid plan. 

Use this blueprint to trim the bureaucratic workings and lay the foundations for linear scaling. Put together smaller teams and empower them. Align them with one other and set them on a single path to success. 

Champion innovation and maximize cross-department collaboration. Tap into continuous learning and improvement. That’s the best way to take productivity to the next level and deliver true value to your customers.