What is the Scrum of Scrums?

By 21st April 2020 Requirements

IDX Systems, now GE Healthcare, first implemented the Scrum of Scrums methodology in 1996. The two pioneers of the Scrum framework, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, realized it as a method to scale individual scrum teams to an enterprise level.

This article gives you insights on the Scrum of Scrums methodology, its purpose, how it works, and the different roles that are required for its smooth functioning.

A project can expand in one of two ways: you can either add more people to the same problem, which only makes the problem more challenging to solve or you can become more productive. In achieving the latter, the key lies in finding a way to optimize the use of extra labor to become more effective as you grow. This is known as scaling.

Organizations have used the Scrum Guide for many years as a way to help address scaling. Scaling Scrum beyond individual teams, however, requires a more integrative approach. As a result, the Scrum of Scrums (SoS) method was developed.

Both pioneers needed a way to coordinate eight business units, each with multiple product lines, and to synchronize scrum teams. To achieve this, they sought out to discover a new way of scaling scrums. This ultimately led them to Scrum of Scrums.

Sutherland published an article in 2001 titled “Agile Can Scale: Inventing and Reinventing SCRUM in Five Companies“. This was the first time the term ‘Scrum of Scrums’ had been publicly mentioned.

The Scrum of Scrums technique has sky-rocketed in popularity since then as a practice closely associated with agile scaling. It is referenced in the Scrum@Scale Guide as well as other agile scaling frameworks, to provide a structure to assist teams in scaling effectively.

What Is Scrum Of Scrums Exactly?

Scrum of Scrums is a scaled agile technique that offers a way to integrate the work of multiple teams (usually five to nine members per team) to yield complex solutions within a single project.

It allows teams to communicate with each other better to ensure streamlined integration between the outputs of each team through transparency, observation, and adaptation. The technique is especially crucial when there is an overlap of events or when the sequence of activities is important.

The most successful runs of Scrum of Scrums have been when all well-performing scrum teams focus on the achievement of a common goal, have trust and respect within and between teams, enforce good boundaries and are well-aligned.

To adequately achieve these levels of success, team sizing is critical. According to research performed by Hackman and Vidmar, the perfect theoretical team size is about 4.6 people.

Teams that are smaller than 4.6 people might lack the resources to deliver complex products within specific time constraints. On the other hand, larger teams with numbers greater than 4.6 people have increased lines of communication within and between teams, which can make trust and respect more difficult. As a result, this could be detrimental to the overall progress of the product.

When multiple teams are created to work on a specific project, it is crucial to have a high level of coordination and communication. The Scrum of Scrums was birthed to directly address this need.

The Purpose 

The “SoS” functions by way of the team delegates having direct links to the main delivery team. In comparison to characteristic project-based teams or organizational hierarchies, the interlinking team structures of the Scrum of Scrums reduce communication paths.

The aim is to create smaller, and more coordinated independent teams. These teams ensure coordinated delivery as well as a fully integrated product after each run. Scrum of Scrums thereby acts as a team responsible to deliver value to the customer. This approach is typically used to scale agile projects and organize the delivery of larger and more complex products.

How It Works

The Scrum of Scrums is also known as a “Meta Scrum”. The method scales Scrum by dividing large groups (consisting of over a dozen people) into smaller agile delivery teams of 5 to 10 people.

An appointed delegate or ambassador of each delivery team is designated to participate in a daily meeting with delegates from other teams. This daily meeting is known as the Scrum of Scrums.

The delegates, depending on the context may include managers, technical contributors, or the Scrum Master of each team.

The Scrum of Scrums functions otherwise like a normal daily meeting, with delegates reporting completions, obstructions, and the way forward on behalf of the teams they represent.

The main objective of teams is to streamline the coordination to achieve a successful resolution of specific obstructions. This may include implementing appropriate responsibility boundaries and the formation of team alliances or interfaces.

Roles In Scrum Of Scrums

A recently formed SoS team has similar roles and responsibilities and participates in the same events as a Scrum team. To render an integrated and ready-for-use deliverable at the end of every sprint, additional team member roles might be required, such as architects or quality assurance leaders.

A common role that might be considered is the Chief Product Owner role. The role of the Chief Product Owner is to oversee the product owner team and to help maintain the broader product vision.

This role doesn’t necessarily need to be performed by a particular designated member, but the role should have the same responsibilities as a product owner, at the correct scale.

The Scrum of Scrum Master is a new role, in which the delegate should focus on progress and impediment backlogs. They should facilitate the prioritization and/or the removal of obstructions and in doing so, regularly improve the effectiveness of the process.

The coordination of the overseer roles is exercised during a daily scrum meeting. The concise meeting serves to regroup all the scrum teams to re-align, improve, and spearhead obstructions. The ambassadors of each team discuss the team obstructions and risks to achieving the sprint goal and the specific dependencies on other teams to achieve their objectives.

Scrum of Scrums meetings

Sos meetings can be held daily, twice a week, or at a minimum, once a week. Each Scrum team has its Scrum Master or a designated team member to attend the meeting as its representative. If the material a particular team wants to raise is highly technical, both the Scrum Master and the relevant technically qualified team member may attend.

The Scrum of Scrums meeting runs similarly to the Daily Scrum meeting each team holds daily but is not constrained to the fifteen-minute time limit. At the Scrum of Scrums meeting, the Scrum Master of each team should address the following points:

  • What their team accomplished since the last meeting
  • If any problems occurred, and if so, how that impacted their team
  • What their team wants to accomplish before the next meeting
  • Troubleshoot the outputs from their team in future sprints, which may potentially interfere with the work of other teams
  • Troubleshoot any interference problems coming from the work of other teams

The primary focus of the SoS meeting is to ensure streamlined coordination and integration of output from the various teams by eradicating all obstructions. This may involve multiple teams working together, re-negotiating areas of responsibility, and so forth.

To monitor all of this, each of the meeting solutions is tracked via its backlog, where each item contributes to improving inter-team coordination. The Chief Scrum Master maintains this.

Sos In Large Organizations

A Scrum of Scrums framework can be effective in larger organizations with many teams, provided that the meetings are properly conducted. The emphasis should be on the coordination of the various teams and solving their impediments.

An important point to note is that the SoS meeting should avoid being used as a status report when Scrum Masters provide feedback to management about the progress of the Development teams. The aim of the meeting should be to ensure that the individual teams make their sprint goals and that the overall deliverables of all the teams are met.

Final Conclusions and Considerations

Scrum of Scrums is a well-known and effective way to scale Scrum. Before scaling, it is essential to get the correct team composition and provide the team with enough time and space to progress through the phases of the group development model: forming, storming, norming, and performing.

Once the teams are developed, the following pointers may be useful:

  • Limit your team daily scrum and scaled daily scrum meeting to 15 minutes
  • Conduct the scaled daily scrum after the team daily scrum
  • Establish a single working agreement for the SoS meetings
  • Agree on the individual and collective definition of “completed”, and other important terms
  • Establish an agenda to keep the scaled daily scrum concise
  • Regularly track the progress of the project
  • Focus first on areas dependencies first to activate dependent teams

In reality, there isn’t a specific correct method to scale agile. However, countless organizations have had great success evolving their processes, teams, and cultures using SoS, which has earned it the reputation of one of the top agile scaling frameworks.

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