Scrum of Scrums: How to succeed in 4 simple steps

Everything is going swimmingly with Scrum and then one day, it is time to scale.  Know here how to succeed when you start adding Scrum of Scrums meetings to the schedule. Understanding their purpose is the first step.

Scrum of Scrums: How to succeed in 4 simple steps

So you are a reasonably Agile company and your Scrum teams are busy delivering great solutions or products. They diligently attend their Daily Scrum, staying true to the Agile principles that guide their work process.

Everything is going swimmingly and then one day, it is time to scale. Bigger, more complex products and solutions trigger the need for a slightly more evolved level of agility – enter the Scrum of Scrums (SoS).

Here is a – quick and complete – how to succeed when you start adding Scrum of Scrums meetings to the weekly schedule. Understanding their purpose is the first step.

1. Make sure everyone agrees on the purpose of the Scrum of Scrums

When products become complex or large enough that they depend on the output of multiple teams – each with its own Scrum Master, Daily Stand-ups, Sprint goals, and product owners, etc. – most experts agree that it is time to switch things up when it comes to how the whole project is coordinated.

Ideally, the solution is to add an extra layer of synchronization without complicating things. In the language of Agile development, this layer is called the Scrum of Scrums.

The Scrum of Scrums has a chief purpose: to synchronize the work coming from different teams who are working on various parts of the same project.    

Scrum of Scrums: How to succeed in 4 simple steps

It is important because often, when an organization first starts to show signs of growth, new teams are created to manage the product release process or to delivery more functionalities. But these new teams can increase the number of communication pathways, which often creates chaos and waste. The result: a process that’s far from Agile.

As a scaling mechanism, the purpose of the Scrum of Scrums is essentially to avoid this type of waste by optimizing coordination efforts and simplifying communication across individual teams.

Everyone involved – all the different team members from all the different teams – should know this.

2. Avoid SoS mistakes by keeping an Agile mindset

Once everyone agrees on the purpose of Scrum of Scrums and what it is supposed to accomplish, they will be successful with every Scrum of Scrum session they attend. They will be able to keep an Agile mindset, even when things are scaling and changing.

That means avoiding the following mistakes:

  • Arriving at the SoS and presenting a checklist of team accomplishments without relating them back to valuable outcomes for the project as a whole
  • Forgetting that the goal is to make sure individual teams make their Sprint goals

So for instance, imagine a team rep says her team is having trouble with a how a particular button behaves on mobile devices. The discussion can follow either of two paths:

  1. They could focus on static events… how long that team spent trying to solve this problem, what each failure looked like, what the negative feedback looked like, and who is to blame.

Or…

  1. They could discuss inter-team dependencies… focusing instead on how this setback may affect another team (the design team) because they too will have their part to play with how that button integrates into a complex feature. When the work of one team interferes with the work of another, it is good to know about it.

When everyone at the Scrum of Scrums agrees on what the purpose of their gathering is, it will be clear in which direction the conversation above should go. So if you chose #2, then you are partly ready to be part of a Scrum of Scrums.

3. Make sure the right questions are being asked

Scrum of Scrums: How to succeed in 4 simple steps

When there are multiple teams working on the same project, the Scrum of Scrums serves the same purpose as a Daily Stand-up: to meet regularly with the purpose of uncovering issues and obstacles that have been hampering success (or might do so in the future). So naturally, Scrum of Scrums questions follow the same pattern as the boilerplate Daily Scrum questions that you may already be familiar with.

The difference is, in a Scrum of Scrums, the meeting takes place with an overarching sense of inter-team collaboration in mind. Individuals come to the table as representatives for their team. So when it is time to discuss slow-downs and obstacles, for instance, it is a Senate meeting, not a Town Hall. The questions that get asked (and their answers) must reflect collective knowledge from entire teams, not individuals.

The “boilerplate” questions for a Scrum of Scrums are:

  1. What has your team accomplished since our last meeting?
  2. What problems occurred, if any, that negatively affected your team?
  3. What does your team want to accomplish before we meet again?
  4. What output from your team in future Sprints, do you see as possibly interfering with the work of other teams?
  5. Does your team see any interference problems coming from the work of other teams?

How to answer these questions leads us to the next tip… how to choose who gets to attend the Scrum of Scrums.

4. Choose your Scrum of Scrums representatives wisely

Who should attend? There are at least two important criteria:

  1. Technical knowledge. The team member you choose to send to the Scrum of Scrums must be able to answer for their team. Surprisingly, this is not necessarily the Scrum Master, as this person may not be the one who is closest to the work that is being done. In order to answer the questions listed above, it must be someone with both team knowledge and knowledge of some of the more technical aspects of the work they are doing.
  2. A bird’s eye view. With an integrated project, when one team does not make their goals, they can prevent others from doing so, too. So when it comes to choosing the SoS ambassador, it should be someone who has a Big-Picture view of the overall project goal. That way, they will be better equipped to help make sure all the teams succeed in making their sprint goals.
  3. Cross-Organizational awareness. Organizational knowledge can be important, too. Sometimes the project involves teams from across two or more organizations. This is often the case when businesses collaborate with development agencies to product proprietary software and apps. The Scrum of Scrums is even more essential because members are not only representing their team but their organization as well. It provides a forum where teams can share information and explore inter-team dependencies – a forum they might not otherwise have access to, given the lack of watercooler discussions and other opportunities to cross paths and share information.

Conclusion

Products that require work from multiple teams (from multiple organizations, in some cases), are certainly the kind of scaled work that development agencies look forward to producing. In an Agile environment, the Scrum of Scrums is one of the best scaling techniques that teams can adopt.

Successful Scrum of Scrums (SoS) are not a given, but we hope these four steps have helped you understand a little better how to stay Agile, and keep Scrumming on!

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