An Evolution of the Scrum of Scrums

This is the story of how the Scrum of Scrums has evolved for a large program I’m helping out with at one of our clients.

Scrum of Scrum photo

In the beginning, the Scrum of Scrums consisted of representatives from two teams that were sharing a Product Backlog, which quickly expanded to include two other teams working in other areas that needed to be integrated. They started with a very simple Kanban board with three columns: “Issues to Resolve”, “Resolving” and “Resolved”. They agreed to meet a couple of times per week to share what they were working on and allow issues to become exposed and transparent through the process. Very early on, a number of issues had been identified that the teams themselves were tracking on the Scrum of Scrums board and resolving themselves. Because of the effectiveness of the Scrum of Scrums, the Chief Product Owner and Program Manager soon realized that they no longer required regular status meetings with functional managers and these meetings were discontinued.

As the program moved closer to an initial release, more areas of the business needed to be integrated. Consequently, more teams have joined the Scrum of Scrums as they have become more involved in the work of the release. More recently, infrastructure teams have become involved as well as the implementation team. For the latter, the Scrum of Scrums is their primary source of information for understanding the overall health of the program. There are now over 10 teams represented at the Scrum of Scrums.

Everyone is used to the format now. At first, people were giving a lot of general updates about what they were working on. This was an important stage of development because initially this was how issues became known and transparent – be transparent about everything and the things that need attention will become known. Now that the practice of creating transparency has developed, everyone gets straight to the issues that need to be resolved. Having the right people attending is important for this. The names of people resolving issues are written on cards, those people attend in person and then go and work together or with others to remove program-level blockers and resolve issues.

As they have gotten closer to launch, the teams have identified a need to meet more frequently. At first it was 2-3 times per week, then daily and now twice per day. Now that the program is days away from launch, all blockers must be removed immediately. If there is anything that is blocking the launch, it’s raised and addressed. There is more transparency around what the blockers are and what is blocked. Sometimes people don’t see what they are or will be blocked by until they are at the Scrum of Scrums; when they hear someone else raising a blocker, they realize that they are blocked as well.

For auditing purposes, notes are taken as a record of any decisions resulting from the Scrum of Scrums. Another addition has been that Scrum Masters rotate facilitation. One Scrum Master per day takes ownership of ensuring that the meeting takes place and that all needed people attend.

It’s not always the same individuals that attend the Scrum of Scrums, but each team is always represented. If something is not clear for someone attending, they know who to bring in from their team for clarification.

Most importantly, the Scrum of Scrums is for the people doing the work to have an opportunity to discuss and resolve issues across their teams. It is not a status meeting for managers. And it is far from a program level status update provided by managers who aren’t doing the work. When supported by management and allowed to function in this way, the kinds of impediments and blockers that had previously lingered unresolved for months are now resolved in a matter of minutes, hours and at most days because the right people are paying attention and are empowered to take action together. In short, the Scrum of Scrums is a key mechanism for the successful delivery of this large program.

The next step may be to split up this rather large Scrum of Scrums into smaller sets and have these sets represented at a third level of Scrum. Whatever the future holds, the most important factor is that it is enabled to continue to evolve organically.

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