Understanding Scrum and Scrum of Scrums
Before we explain Scrum of Scrums and how it’s used in project management, we need to define Scrum and the Scrum team. Scrum in its most basic form is an Agile project management methodology used for many software development projects because it is flexible (or agile) in its management. In order for Scrum to be effective, you need a Scrum team that consists of the following members:
- Scrum Product Owner: This person is responsible to work with the client/customer to gather requirements, set the vision, and manage a product requirement backlog, along with other client issues that may arise.
- Scrum Master: The Scrum Master is a servant leader who works to eliminate team member impediments (development roadblocks), facilitates scrum ceremonies, and more.
- Scrum Team: A Scrum Team is a self-managing group consisting of software developers, quality testers, and other product development roles. There are typically five to nine people on a Scrum team who work on the project full-time.
The goal of Scrum of Scrums is to ensure that the organization and individual Scrum teams are on the “same page” with respect to the impacts of their work on other teams.
According to Ken Schwaber’s Integration Scrum book on Enterprise Scrum, “A properly executed Scrum of Scrums is the minimum viable release team for products and product lines. It removes the waste introduced into many Scrum implementations by integration teams, release teams, and release management teams introduced by scaling frameworks that distort Scrum and make it less agile by increasing communication pathways.” In short, a Scrum of Scrums helps keep inefficiencies out of the Scrum process.
Scrum of Scrums is a scaling mechanism used to communicate critical project work to Scrum of Scrums team members (represented by one to two team members from each Scrum team) that may be impacted by another Scrum team’s sprint(s). A sprint is the time dedicated to accomplish a task typically in two to four week iterations. For example, if Scrum team #1 has any tasks that may involve dependencies, risks or mitigations, and issues or resolutions impacting another Scrum team they can be discussed and managed jointly.
There are many other types of scaling roles such as an Executive Action Team (EAT), a Scrum team consisting of top level executives. The product owner of this team should be the Chief Product Owner (CPO) for the entire organization.
Ideally, individual team members are from different organizational departments that help execute the vision of the organization as expressed by the CPO. The important point to understand is that Scrum of Scrums can be scaled in a variety of ways as demonstrated above.
The Importance of Project Management Soft Skills in Scrum of Scrums
In order to operate a Scrum of Scrums efficiently you need to make sure you have the necessary soft skills such as leadership, good communication, negotiation, expectations management, and problem solving. If an organization hopes to be fiscally responsible and use their limited resources efficiently and effectively, they need to seriously consider the soft skills in project management.
In my experience as a Scrum Master, many organizations where I’ve consulted haven’t focused on the soft skills of Scrum teams and Scrum of Scrum teams. Why should we expect a team to automatically form into a high-performing team if many of them have never worked together before? Diversity has been at the crux of every project I have ever been involved with. Soft skills need to be the focus in Project Management Offices (PMOs) and Agile organizations. Looking back at the PMI® - Agile Certified Practitioner® and Scrum Alliance® - Certified Scrum Master® and Certified Scrum Product Owner® training that I have completed, there has never been a mention of these elusive soft skills.
The makeup of the Scrum of Scrums team members usually consist of at least one representative of each respective Scrum team. However, depending on the organization, this representative from each Scrum team is likely to be a team member with the technical expertise to relay information effectively and respond to any questions, comments, or concerns of other team members.
In my experience, this is where things can go south and lead to an inefficient Scrum of Scrums meeting, which is typically 15-30 minutes in duration. It is vital that Scrum of Scrums meetings are effective and efficient in accomplishing its goals and providing ROI to the organization. The meeting cost can be quite expensive, so ensuring the ROI is vital. For example, gathering nine team members at an average hourly rate of $125 for 30 minutes costs the company $562.50. With this in mind, it seems only logical that an Agile organization would want to do everything possible to ensure that Scrum of Scrums meetings are valuable.
5 Stages of Group Process Theory and Scrum of Scrums
Anytime we devote a group of Scrum team members to work toward a common goal it is necessary to follow the Group Development Process. In 1965, Bruce Tuckman developed the first four stages (Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing) of this process, and the fifth stage (Adjourning) was introduced in 1977. See the illustration below:
Caption: Image is from Schermerhorn, Hunt, Osborn, a. (2008), Organizational Behavior, 10th Edition [VitalSource Bookshelf version].
It is vital to get the Scrum of Scrums team off to a successful start. During this stage, team members get to know one another and find some commonalities. Skipping this step will make it difficult for the team to move through the later steps of the process.
To help break the ice, I like to do an exercise in which the individual team members share some personal information with the other group members. This provides each team member with information about each other. For example, a team member may mention they are working toward a professional certification and this may be of interest to another team member. Now they have something in common.
Conflict tends to arise during this stage. Group members tend to ally with other group members in which they have previously established relationships. Further, cliques may form, which will likely lead to a splintered Scrum of Scrums. During this part of the process it’s important to examine obstacles (for example, different working styles) that are standing in the way of completing the group goal.
It is essential to the group’s success to ensure that all conflicts are resolved via a collaborative and problem-solving based approach. This approach is the only win-win outcome and leads to group members unifying into a team versus a group.
The Scrum of Scrums group needs to become a team if they are to fulfill their role successfully. However, keep in mind that many experienced teams can skip this stage and move immediately to stage three – Norming.
The Scrum of Scrums group starts to become a team. In the Storming stage, the group worked out personal issues and problems. The team is now ready to discuss the establishment of norms or ground rules that will provide a framework for how the Scrum of Scrums team operates in each meeting. For example, they will discuss meeting logistics, such as location, duration, and time. They will also decide how the Scrum of Scrums meeting will flow and how conflicts will be resolved.
It is critical that the Scrum of Scrums team promotes a culture of inclusion. All group members need to feel a sense of belonging so they will actively participating in all related activities. The goal is to agree and then abide by a collaboratively developed set of ground rules in which the group will operate and flourish.
At this stage, the group has truly forged into a team that trusts one another and is ready to perform tasks in a highly efficient and effective manner. According to Schermerhorn, “group members should be able to adapt successfully as opportunities and demands change over time.”
Scrum of Scrums demands can change as development efforts, bugs, and other implementation issues arise, so it’s vital that the team is adaptable. Also, the team should ensure that they follow the ground rules prescribed during the Norming stage. Ground rules will prove essential if the Scrum of Scrums team has any personnel conflicts. If that situation occurs, the team would need to review the rules and enforce all agreements.
Mutually created by Bruce Tuckman and Mary Ann Jenson in 1977, the Adjourning stage is the last of Tuckman’s Group Process Theory. However, just because it is the last stage does not mean that it is not equally important as the previous four stages. At this point, the Scrum of Scrums team has in most cases fulfilled the project vision, and met or exceeded their expected ROI.
Before the Scrum of Scrums team disbands it is important that they take time to reflect on how the team worked together and determine improvements they can make if future opportunities bring them back together. I suggest they discuss the processes and methodologies that were successful and those that failed, as well as the ones that can be salvaged with a little revision. After this retrospective is completed, managers of Scrum of Scrums team members may need to gather information about their contributions for performance evaluation.
The Importance of Building an Effective Scrum of Scrums Team
I hope you have a better idea of how Scrum, Scrum team members, Scrum of Scrums, and Scaling all work together. As noted, soft skills are indispensable to the success of a Scrum of Scrums team and their ability to meet goals and provide the expected ROI.
Further, the fostering of Tuckman’s Group Process Theory can and usually does lead to enhanced maturity and a highly efficient Scrum of Scrums team. Unfortunately, many organizations are more concerned with immediately jumping into tasks without the consideration of team building. A premature rush to complete Scrum of Scrums tasks is a mistake and will likely negatively impact the ROI and the team’s ultimate success.
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