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By Pavel Kukhnavets

Scrum of Scrums

How to work together with multiple Scrum teams. The secrets of Scrum of Scrums

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One of the essential features of Scrum is the suggested size of the team. If you want your Scrum team to collaborate efficiently, it is better to have up to 9-10 people working together. However, there are many cases when an organization is large and it has multiple cross-functional departments that work on product development.

They may have even 50 or 100 employees working together who are distributed over offices, cities, or even countries. Is it easy to establish proper communication between the multiple teams? When a Scrum team becomes too large, the most appropriate solution is to form more teams. These teams may work with their own sprint backlogs and hold their own daily meetings. In order to keep everybody on the same page, a Scrum of Scrum meeting takes place between these teams.

Scrum of Scrums

How does Scrum of Scrums work? What are the secrets of running an effective Scrum of Scrums meeting? In this post, we are trying to figure it out.

What is Scrum of Scrums?

Scrum of Scrums is an approach proposed by the Agile methodology aimed to connect multiple teams that need to work together to deliver complex solutions. With the help of this technique, Agile teams can develop and deliver products through inspection, transparency, and adaptation, at scale.

Scrum of Scrums looks especially successful when all high-performing Scrum team members perform towards a common goal, have respect and trust. Meta-Scrum is another name of this technique.

Team sizing is critical here. It is recommended to have 4-6 people in a team. Too small or too large groups of people might struggle with the delivery of complex products.

Splitting a large team into smaller ones will help you to develop personal relationships and maintain desired outcomes. However, be careful when splitting teams, as it is rather important to balance skills across the teams and thoroughly break down work duties.

New bottlenecks and unexpected dependencies may always occur that will lead to the slowing down of delivery. Professional prioritization of improvement stories and a strong focus on retrospective meetings will help you to overcome these challenges.

When you are striving to create multiple teams to deliver a common objective, you will definitely need strong coordination. This is where the Scrum of Scrums concept comes to the rescue.

Scrum of Scrums: What are the Origins?

The Scrum of Scrums conception was first introduced by IDX Systems (GE Healthcare now). The authors, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber implemented this technique to scale individual Scrum teams to the enterprise level (in 8 business units, each with multiple product lines).

Every product line had its own Scrum of Scrums, some products had multiple Scrum of Scrums. All products had to be delivered to the market, having a release cycle of three months or less and had to be integrated and deployed every six months to support regional healthcare providers.

Then the technique was used at the patient keeper to support the multiple enterprise releases to both hospital systems and partners every sprint. A typical Scrum of Scrums meeting lasted about 15 minutes every day.

What is the Purpose of the Scrum of Scrums Concept?

A Scrum of Scrums is a virtual team that includes delegates with embedded links to the originating teams. In comparison with any typical organizational hierarchy, these interlinking team structures can significantly reduce communication paths. The main purpose is to coordinate small and independent teams.

Teams that performing accordance with the Scrum of Scrums concept not only coordinate delivery but ensure a fully integrated product at the end of each Sprint. So, Scrum of Scrums works as a release team that delivers value to clients. Companies usually apply this approach as an initial step to scale Agile and practice the delivery of more complex products.

What is the Usual Agenda of a Scrum of Scrums Meeting?

The following questions should be covered during the event:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What will you do today?
  • What obstacles are in your way?

The Scaled Structure of a Meta-Scrum

Meta-Scrum meeting

A group of beginners forms a Scrum of Scrums team and applies nearly the same practices, has the same roles, and participates in the same Scrum ceremonies,  as a regular Scrum team. In order to deliver a potentially shippable product at the end of every Sprint, they may require some additional roles (for example, quality assurance leaders or architects).

There is a Chief Product Owner who is responsible for overseeing the PO team and helping to guide the product vision. This role typically has the same responsibilities as a regular PO, just at scale.

Ther is also a Scrum of Scrum Master, who mainly focuses on progress and impediment backlogs visible to other teams. He/she facilitates prioritization or removal of impediments and improves the effectiveness of the Meta-Scrum.

These Scrum roles initiate a 15-minute scaled Daily Scrum as a key meet-up aimed to improve and tackle impediments.

The Product Owner or each team’s representative should discuss the risks to achieving the Sprint goal, or dependencies on other teams followed by discovered improvements.

Scrum of Scrums in large Companies

The Meta-Scrum framework can be effective even in larger organizations that contain multiple teams, provided the Scrum of Scrum meetings are properly arranged. The main accent here is on the coordination of different teams and solving their impediments.

The meeting should not be a status report of Scrum Masters. The goal should be related to making sure the individual teams make their Sprint goals, and that the overall project goal is met.

When is the Scrum of Scrums Useful?

The event is typically carried out to support Agile teams, as well as collaborate effectively and coordinate their work with other teams.

Who Should Participate?

The participation of certain attendees in the Scrum of Scrums meeting is not specified. It only depends on the theme, so teams can send certain experts.

How many people should be sent to the meeting is also not set. However, the number of participants can even be more than nine people.

Usually, the list of the Scrum of Scrums participants includes:

  • A Scrum Master
  • An Agile coach (optionally)
  • A Product Owner
  • A team or a group that is responsible for a deliverable as part of the release plan

Other people may also attend the Scrum of Scrums as a means of sharing information with the other teams.

What about the Frequency of Meta-Scrums?

Teams themselves usually define the frequency of Scrum of Scrums. One of the authors of the initial Meta-Scrum concept, Ken Schwaber suggests arranging the meetings daily, just like a regular Stand Up or Daily Scrum. He also recommended limiting the meetings’ time (not more than 15 minutes). It is better to run longer meetings less frequently.

What are the Benefits of Scrum of Scrums?

Meta-Scrum is also a way to scale Scrum up to larger groups (more than 12 people), where the smaller teams will be divided into Agile groups of 5-10 members.

Scrum of Scrums ensures cross-coordination and communication while different individual teams are able to focus on their work.

How to Conduct a Meta-Scrum?

All team representatives that participate in the Scrum of Scrums may be technical contributors, Scrum Master,s or Product Owners. It is better to alternate teams’ representatives over the course of the project.

Scrum Masters often attend the meeting with an alternating team member to ensure they are able to resolve issues that come up during the session.

During the session, all attendees should answer the questions:

  • What has a team done since the last meeting?
  • What will the team do before we meet again?
  • Is anything slowing the team down?
  • Are you going to put something in another team’s way?

The frequency of the meeting should be determined by the teams and scheduled as it will add the most value.

Seven Tips on How to Run an Effective Scrum of Scrums

Sprint events

1. Сlearly Communicate the Info the Teams Need to Share

Key topics in a Scrum of Scrums relate to sharing info about synchronizing efforts, dependencies, exposing risks, and looking for improvements.

Share the agenda that cover questions that teams must answer. If your situation requires adding some extra questions, feel free to apply them.

2. Define Frequency

There is no ideal or required timebox or frequency for the Scrum of Scrums. You should set the cadence and length of the ceremony according to the representatives’ commitments and availability. It is a good idea to periodically ask all attendees whether you need to do this more frequently or less frequently.

3. Send the Right People to the Meeting

Many think that the Meta-Scrum is the exclusive domain of Scrum Masters. This is not true. The Scrum Master will not be able to answer all possible questions that may occur during the event.

It’s better to send the Scrum Master and a technical resource from each team to let the direct conversation happen among the people who are closest to the work.

4. Allow Problem-Solving

After answering the relevant questions, all teams turn to problem-solving. Meta-Scrum allows time for collaborative and concentrated problem solving while all necessary parties are present.

There are teams that prefer to keep a meeting backlog that is visible to all to monitor ownership and completion of items.

5. Do not Make Scrum of Scrums a Regular Status Meeting

A status meeting is a relic from the Waterfall times, when everyone takes their turn reporting on their activities and progress to a project manager. When the Meta-Scrum becomes just a discussion of tasks without a connection to valuable outcomes, the point of the meeting is lost.

Make sure you ask the right questions of your Scrum of Scrum participants and remind them to connect what they are working on to the larger purpose.

6. Remind all Participants that all Decisions from the Meeting Should be Brought Back to the Teams

When decisions made during the Scrum of Scrums are not transmitted to teams, there will be a communication vacuum. All attendees may need to be reminded that teams must be kept informed about all important decisions.

7. Create an Environment for Sharing Information

When teams are not transparent, this could be a sign of deeper issues of lack of trust and fear. Make sure all the teams feel comfortable sharing or asking for help.

explaining Agile

The Expected Outcome of a Scrum of Scrums

Scrum of Scrums gives a clear picture and offers the path that the team can use towards the end goal. It becomes clear how to identify possible impediments that destruct in achieving a Sprint goal.

After the meeting, the entire team can work on the impediments in more detail. Everyone can find solutions to boost productivity and a get healthy environment throughout the project.

Conclusion

Remember that while the Scrum of Scrums technique can be invaluable for scaling Scrum in large companies, it’s far from sufficient in and of itself. Some other frameworks for scaling Scrum might need to be employed (or even incorporating elements of XP).

There is no ideal way of how to implement the Scrum of Scrum framework and facilitate Meta-Scrum Standups, you just have to find out what works for you and your team. And the best way to find that out is to try.

Let’s summarize some essential points from the post above:

  • Scrum of Scrums implies a meeting between members of individual Scrum teams.
  • It should be conducted daily or with longer time intervals.
  • There is no specification of who meets each other from the teams.
  • The Meta-Scrum meeting can last about fifteen minutes to one hour.
  • All participants should answer four questions that concern the state of the team.
  • The meeting can be carried out at higher levels (Scrum of Scrum of Scrums).

How do you manage Scrum of Scrums? Who usually represents the Meta-Scrum meeting in your team? Which statement best describes this event in your company? Feel free to share your experience with us!