7 Tips for Running an Impactful Scrum of Scrums

7 Tips for Running an Impactful Scrum of Scrums

So your company has multiple scrum teams hard at work on delivering a large, complex product or solution to your customers. Every day, individual teams gather to share what they've done to move their own sprint goals forward, coordinate work, and discuss anything that is getting in the way of delivery. But what happens when work among the teams must be coordinated to deliver full value? What is a good mechanism for sharing information and cross-team dependencies? Moreover, what are some tips for ensuring teams are communicating effectively?

Enter the Scrum of Scrums

The Scrum of Scrums is a regularly scheduled meeting among team representatives whose purpose is to coordinate dependencies among teams, synchronize delivery efforts, and provide a heads-up for any changes that might be introduced that would impede others' success.

The Scrum of Scrums is held at a frequency determined by your organization; some find that a daily Scrum of Scrums is needed, while others hold the session once or twice a week. The Scrum of Scrums is timeboxed according to your teams' needs. A common timeframe is 30 minutes.

Tips for an Effective Scrum of Scrums

In a recent conversation, one of the questions asked was: "What advice do you have for running a successful Scrum of Scrums to assist with scaling agile across multiple teams/multiple product lines?" Here are the top things I would keep in mind.

1. Make clear to teams the information that they need to share

Sharing information about dependencies, synchronizing efforts, exposing risks, and looking for ways to improve are the central topics in a Scrum of Scrums. Publish an agenda that poses questions that teams must answer to drive out this type of information. The general format recommended is:

  1. What has your team done since we last met?
  2. What will your team do before we meet again?
  3. Is anything slowing your team down or getting in their way?
  4. Are you about to put something in another team's way?

You may find that other pertinent questions are appropriate in your situation. Feel free to apply them.

2. Send the right people to the Scrum of Scrums

It is a common misconception that the Scrum of Scrums is the exclusive domain of Scrum Masters. However, questions may arise that a Scrum Master may not be able to answer. You may find that it is best to send your Scrum Master and a technical resource from each team to the Scrum of Scrums so that direct conversation can happen among the people who are closest to the work. This type of direct communication accelerates problem-solving and avoids any possible information degradation that may occur if not directly communicated. Keep an eye open for the need to rotate Scrum of Scrum attendance based on the typical issues that are arising.

3. Establish a frequency and timebox based on your needs

There is no mandated frequency or timebox for the Scrum of Scrums. Your organization will need to set the cadence and length of the session according to the representatives' commitments and availability. It is okay to change the frequency and timebox, keeping in mind that the Scrum principles of inspection and adaption apply to the timing and length of Scrum of Scrums, just like they apply to the product or solution you are creating.

Periodically ask: do we need to do this more frequently or less frequently? Are we allowing for enough time for problem-solving? Is our timebox allowing us to get too deeply into issues that should be discussed in another forum?

4. Allow for problem-solving to occur

The first part of Scrum of Scrums allows all teams an opportunity to answer the questions posed by the Scrum of Scrums. Then it's on to problem-solving. Unlike a regular daily stand-up where finding solutions is deferred until after the session, Scrum of Scrum allows time for collaborative, concentrated problem-solving while all necessary parties are present. Teams are encouraged to self-organize around addressing issues.

There's always a chance that a larger discussion needs to take place outside of the Scrum of Scrums. If that's the case, ensure ownership of the issue is assigned and that there's a follow-up deadline set. Some teams elect to keep a Scrum of Scrums backlog that is visible to all to track ownership and completion of items.

5. Avoid making Scrum of Scrum a status meeting

You remember the status meeting from the old waterfall days: everyone takes their turn reporting on their activities and their progress to a project manager. The focus is on individuals and individual task completion activity is monitored.

When the Scrum of Scrums becomes just a discussion of tasks that have been completed without a connection to valuable outcomes, the point of the session is lost. If you notice this pattern begin to emerge, examine if you are asking the right questions of your Scrum of Scrum participants. Ultimately, we gather to determine how to work together to provide something of value to our customers. Remind team members to connect what they are working on to the larger purpose.

6. Remind Scrum of Scrum participants that information and decisions from the session should be brought back to the teams

If you find that decisions made in the Scrum of Scrums are not radiated out to teams, you may have a communication vacuum. Scrum of Scrum representatives may need to be reminded that teams must be kept informed of inter-team decisions.

7. Create an environment where it is okay to share information

Do you find that the Scrum of Scrums is a relatively quiet affair with not a lot of participation? Then, soon after, dependencies are missed and changes are introduced that block all teams. If teams are not being transparent, this could be a sign of deeper issues of lack of trust and fear. Investigate if the teams feel comfortable sharing or asking for help.

Inspect and Adapt Your Scrum of Scrums

Holding an effective Scrum of Scrums may depend on your culture, the value you are delivering, and the situation of your teams, among many factors. Ultimately, the key to a useful Scrum of Scrums is to continually ask what is working and what is not, and what you might need to tweak to achieve a favorable outcome.

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