One of the first hurdles that an organization runs into when scaling beyond a single Scrum team is how to keep those teams in sync. Luckily there's a solution: the Scrum of Scrums.
On the surface, the Scrum of Scrums looks a lot like a regular team Scrum. In fact, it's even still focused on the same three questions…
- What did I do yesterday?
- What am I doing today?
- What's in my way?
Similarities aside, however, if you want to get the most out of your Scrum of Scrums you'll need a few simple tricks.
Improving the Scrum of Scrums
While a regular team Scrum is intended to coordinate the work that individuals on a single team will tackle for the day, a Scrum of Scrums is intended to coordinate the work for a group of teams. This difference leads us to a few slight differences in how we can best conduct our Scrum of Scrums.
One Person per Team
As mentioned before, a Scrum of Scrums is intended to be held between groups of teams rather than individuals on a single team. But rather than ask entire teams to attend this meeting, we instead ask only one individual from each team to attend the Scrum of Scrums on their team's behalf.
Typically this person is the Scrum Master as they tend to have the best overarching view of the team's work. Also, since Scrum of Scrums are more likely to veer into process-related discussions the Scrum Master is best suited to handle those topics.
Keep Them High Level
Since Scrum of Scrums are actually held between teams rather than individuals the focus of the meeting is much more on the direction of each team as a whole and how it relates to other teams. As a result, the updates given by each team's representative tend to be at a much higher level than you may hear in an individual team's Scrum.
A good rule of thumb to know if your updates are occurring at the right level is listen for a good mix of “we” language. Put another way, are the Scrum of Scrums representatives focusing mainly on the work of each individual on the team or are they rolling up these updates into a broader updates. Ideally you should hear updates similar to “We're just wrapping up the UI for the new security questions screen and will be moving on to incorporating the security questions in the password reset workflow tomorrow“. If, instead, the updates sound more like “Jimmy is putting the finishing touches on the security question screen and Joseph is tying it to the backend code so Sarah can finish testing it. Then, Jimmy will move on to integrating it into the password reset screenflow so Joseph can incorporate it in the backend” then your updates are too detailed for the Scrum of Scrums venue.
Keeping the updates at a high level will make it easier for the other attendees to follow as well as to understand how this work fits with the work of their own team.
Hold Less Frequently
Since Scrum of Scrums updates tend to be at a higher level than an individual team's Scrum you'll probably find that you need to hold them much less frequently than the daily rhythm of the team Scrum. This is because, at this level of detail, the information may not change often enough to warrant getting everyone together on a daily basis. However, this may not always be the case. For example, you may find benefit in holding this meeting daily shortly after a project has kicked off or as it nears a major milestone and the pace of change quickens. As with everything else in Scrum, you'll need to experiment to find out what works best for your team…and then expect that to change as time goes on.
As a result of this, expect the Scrum of Scrums meetings to run a bit longer than a team Scrum. While there is no set timebox, as there is with a team Scrum, expect these meetings to regularly last 30 minutes if not a bit more depending on the number of teams involved. This is a result of the difficulty of coordinating the work of entire teams who are often working in different areas of the codebase as compared to individuals on the same team who often work on related features and code. However, just as with a team Scrum, you should still strive to make these meetings as efficient as possible.
The Most Powerful Tool
The Scrum of Scrums is the most powerful tool in your toolbox when it comes time to scale Scrum to multiple teams. However, much like the team Scrum, the simple structure of the meeting can be deceptive. While it's easy to begin holding the Scrum of Scrums meetings, only by keeping the previous points in mind will you and your teams get the most benefit from this powerful practice.
Want to see more about how to make textbook agile work on real teams? Check out my course, Agile in the Real World, for tips and techniques for making agile really work in your organization.
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