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Scaling Scrum: Scrum of Scrums

29 Jul 2019

The Scrum of Scrums is one of the most popular scaling methodologies in the Agile realm. 

Also known as “meta Scrum”, it was devised back in 2003 by Jeff Sutherland. The original idea was simple: to scale individual Scrum teams to the enterprise environment. 

This approach revolves around short (15-minutes) daily meeting of representatives from different Scrum, where they discuss everything relevant to the development process. Over the years, however, Scrum of Scrum has evolved to accommodate multiple enterprise releases and other use cases. 

Today, you can employ it to complete large projects with different teams. Here is how to make it happen for your company. 

Basic Workings 

Modern development sometimes calls for more people than what the founding fathers of Scrum prescribed. Enlarging or forming multiple teams is a necessity more than anything else. Nevertheless, it introduces new complexities. 

As a result of scaling up, the framework starts to falter and the benefits of Scrum start to be less and less obvious— unless you utilize an effective scaling method, that is. 

Well, Scrum of Scrums is definitely an approach you need to consider. In a nutshell, it revamps the team-level Daily Scrum. Namely, it plays out as regular meetings with team members working hand in hand to bring a Sprint to a close, only this time, it is the representatives of individual teams that get together. 

The focus is on areas of overlap, integration, and dependency between teams. 

The difference from other models is a division of large groups into sub-teams that are 5-9 people strong. This is the optimal number that allows tight communication to take place. So, if teams are larger than this, you need to break them down into smaller units. 

Being lightweight, Scrum of Scrums also limits the number of communication channels and adheres to the principles of fractal organizational development. It does away with cumbersome elements of the conventional Scrum scaling process. 

Likewise, notice that the minimum approach to Scrum entails a concept of minimum viable release teams. This means the framework aims to eliminate the waste associated with implementation. For instance, there is no need to meet every day. 

By the Power of Teamwork 

Many organizations have successfully applied Scrum of Scrums as a coordination mechanism to manage teams working on different projects. 

The Scrum of Scrums team is a key piece of the puzzle. It’s composed of representatives from different Scrum Teams.  These individuals are also known as “ambassadors”. They can be technical contributors, Scrum Masters, or team managers. 

Depending on project specifics, other experts (testers, for instance) can also attend meetings. There are no hard rules when it comes to who should attend. What should be emphasized is the close collaboration geared toward delivering a shippable product. 

To be more precise, members discuss major points such as prior completions, team status, Definition of Done, impediment removal, progress, and next steps. 

Operational impediments are a particularly important aspect of successful delivery. They tend to be related to challenges of coordination and communication between teams.

Anything that hampers release and deployment process can qualify as an impediment. So, you should see to it that what one team works on doesn’t pose a hindrance to the other teams. 

The anchor of this organizational structure is a central Backlog, which is used to track these items, problems, and themes of interest. It contains all the requirements (features) for the product and arranges them in an order of priority. 

At the same time, Scrum teams work with their own Backlogs and have their own face-to-face daily meetings. 

The major challenge here is avoiding work overlap. In other words, teams mustn’t accidentally work on the same user stories. Open communication, distribution of responsibilities, and regular backlog updates should help you with this task. Also, bear in mind that cross-team dependencies affect the prioritization in separate team Backlogs. 

Covering all the Bases 

So, as we have seen, Scrum of Scrum meeting is the focal point of scaling Scrum. It’s an additional event on top of the standard Scrum setup. The next section covers it in a bit more detail. 

First off, the frequency of this meeting depends on a specific business case. In general, the higher the level of representatives is, the lower the incidence can be. Although 15 minutes can be enough for discussion, it’s not uncommon for the meetings to stretch on for up to an hour. 

This happens whenever representatives want to dive into details. And if it’s not possible to do it on a face-to-face basis, organizations must take advantage of virtual communication channels. 

Fundamental principles that govern regular daily Scrums apply here as well.  In fact, one can integrate other events such as Sprint retrospectives with the Scrum of Scrum system of meetings. 

Another crucial point is that management plays a crucial role. 

The Scrum of Scrum Master is the individual held accountable for smooth and timely delivery of value to customers. He/she also has to take on problems that impact all teams. Usually, organizations appoint a senior manager or director of engineering to this position. 

New demands are put before other roles as well. Product Owner is faced with a bigger workload and has to be present at more meetings. On the other hand, a development team works in a way that is a less self-organized. It’s larger and more distributed, yet has to maintain communication despite these hurdles. 

Taking all of this into account, we should underline Scrum of Scrum implementation isn’t simple. You have to rethink some of your entrenched practices, roles, and tools. In the process, you’re also tasked with reaching your overarching objectives: refining user stories, Backlogs, and products. 

Ultimately, it all comes down to each Scrum team delivering a part of the increment by the end of the Sprint. The development process is driven by the synergy of these individual contributions toward the end goal. 

Time to Think and Act Meta

Scrum of Scrum is a tried and tested method for tackling large initiatives. 

In its essence, it revolves around occasional meetings between disparate teams. The main goal is to coordinate and steer them in the direction of shared objectives. Thus, when done right, the approach ensures optimal team collaboration and keeps everyone on the same page.  

Before you jump in, however, make sure you understand not only “how” but also “why” behind Scrum of Scrums. Figure out who should meet, for how long, and how often. Open the channels of communication and let each team select a representative. 

This operational overhaul should empower you to demolish impediments and supercharge progress. You will be able to create market-ready products and delight your target audience.