Don't let conversation wander, or the participants will lose focus (and maybe take a nap).

Don’t let conversation wander, or the participants will lose focus (and maybe take a nap).

In the long run it probably would be possible deliver all projects or releases with a single Agile team. Unfortunately “the long run” and the dynamic business environment are archenemies. Some degree of speed is required to bring the functionality that stakeholders require to market. For larger projects or releases, speed generally requires more than one team and coordination to deliver. Cadence and synchronization are the goals. One of the techniques used to affect synchronization is the Scrum of Scrums.

A Scrum of Scrum is very similar to the daily Scrum (also known as daily stand-up). At a very basic level a representative from each Scrum team gathers and reviews what each team accomplished, what will be done in the next time period and impediments or blockers. At this level the focus tends to be on coordinating challenges between teams. A backlog of the impediments and challenges is generally kept.

The concept of a Scrum of Scrums in theory is simple and to the point. In practice there are generally a few questions that have to ironed out. Questions typically include:

  1. Different frameworks recommend different frequencies. For example, SAFe recommends twice a week, however the Agile Alliance suggests daily. Scrum of Scrums in practice are generally held on a less frequent basis than the daily stand-up. I use attributes such as project criticality, complexity and Agile maturity to help guide frequency decisions. The more critical, complexity or the less mature, the more frequent the Scrum of Scrums.
  2. The Scrum of Scrums is typically attended by each of the Scrum masters from the teams. Alternate practices include having a technical lead attend when group share Scrum masters, having product owners attend as participants or having all team members attend (this last one is a horrible idea). A warning: the larger the number of active participants, the longer the meeting will be and the less likely the participants will stay focused. Remember, just like the daily stand-up, anyone can attend and listen.
  3. Each framework has a role that chairs the Scrum of Scrums. In SAFe, the Release Train Engineer facilitates the meeting, in other frameworks a program manager or lead Scrum master can fill the role. Alternate practices I have observed include rotating facilitation between Scrum masters (tends to lack consistency), having the lead product owner facilitate (they usually have a too much on their plate) or having an IT manager chair (can curtails discussion). While all of these alternatives can work, rotating is the best of a bad lot.
  4. The classic three questions typically dominate any stand-up like meetings: what did I do, what am I going to do and what is in my way. The Scrum of Scrum generally spins the questions towards information that other teams need to know. Alternative meeting content additions I have observed include adding a question about risks, maintaining a team event calendar (business, environment and social) and overall confidence polling. Every addition increases the possibility of increasing the time spent in meetings and content that is not relevant to everyone involved.

The Scrum of Scrums is sort like a league meeting, or as Mike Cohen calls it, “a team of teams.” The technique is a tried and true mechanism for coordinating multiple Agile teams. Like any meeting, conversation can wander away from the goal of coordination. Push any side discussion not on the agenda to “meet afters” (meetings held after the Scrum of Scrums) or other venues. Mentally recite the mantra, “coordination, coordination, coordination” and stay focused on the agenda.

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