Heads up!

Heads up!

A Scum of Scrums (SoS) is a mechanism to coordinate a group of teams so that they act as a team of teams.  SoS is a powerful tool. As with any powerful tool, if you use it wrong, problems will ensue. Six problematic implementations, called anti-patterns, are fairly common. We’ll discuss three in part 1 and finish the rest in part 2.

  1. The Soapbox. A SoS can easily become a platform for individuals to pontificate on topics or to broker debates on issues. When a SoS has become a place where the speakers is just trying to win an argument rather than to facilitate coordination or problem solving, there is a real problem. The concept of the stand-up, with its three or four question format, is shoved aside to embrace the common corporate meeting format that is more about office politics.
    One of the myriad possible solutions is brutal time-boxing.

    • The 15 minute time box is a great way to ensure that run-on meetings don’t occur. In this solution the meeting runs for 15 minutes then BOOM the meeting is over. The 15 minutes rule needs to be coupled with a standard framework of questions to ensure that the meeting stays on track.
  2. The Blame Game. The blame game is a variant of the soapbox; however the impact is even more virulent. It therefore needs to be addressed separately. When a SoS is used to apportion blame for problems, the goal of the meeting shifts away from coordination and problem solving to rationalization or worse, infighting.  Either outcome destroys effectiveness and team building.
    One possible solutions is Cohn’s “no name rule”.

    • Cohn’s “no name rule” is a nice mechanism to dampen the possibility of rants or apportioning blame during the SoS.  The rule prohibits the use of names during an attendee’s report, therefore lessening the chance remarks will become personal and require a response from someone else. Avoiding names is useful for defusing the emotions of interactions during the session.  The rule, while useful, does not necessarily address the root cause of the issue. The blame game is typically a reflection of teaming issues. Having a common goal helps establish an environment for establishing a good environment for team formation. As a coach I always ensure that all SoS participants have and understand that they share a common overall goal and that they have to work together to deliver that goal.
  3. The Surrogate Project Manager. In Agile, project management at the team level is distributed across the team. Guidance and planning at higher levels is generally facilitated between product owners and product management groups. When the SoS becomes a surrogate project manager, it stops being a mechanism for coordination between groups, spreading information and facilitating technical decisions and begins to direct activity. When the SoS directs activity, it disrupts the teams’ ability to self-organize and self-manage, core Agile principles. Remember the SoS is not is a replacement project manager to direct personnel or teams, to collect status or deliver administrative services.
    One possible solutions is to change the composition.

    • Banning Scrum Masters and team leads from attending the SoS, and substituting more technical individuals is one technique to defuse a SoS that has become a surrogate project manager. This typically pushes the SoS to focus on coordinating technical work because that is what the participants are more comfortable with. In the long run continuously rotating membership will ensure that single group thinking does not develop, which could ignore the needs of other stakeholder groups.

The Soapbox, Blame Game and Surrogate Project Manager are three anti-patterns that often plague Scrum of Scrums. We will discuss the Three Bears and Pyramid anti-patterns in the next blog entry. All of these problems are not insurmountable. They first require teams to recognize they have a problem and then be willing to take action that might feel uncomfortable. Coaching one of the best tools to generate change.

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