I’ve just read an interesting article called Why Scrum can not scale and Scrum of Scrums can not work. It’s been written by a former colleague of mine.
Basically, the thesis of the article is that (Roman: if you read this, please feel free to correct me):
1) for Scrum to work you need a team, empathy and a common goal.
2) Scrums of Scrums fail to create this team dynamic.
Though I feel Scrum can scale further than the 7 team members Jeff Sutherland recommends, I do also feel that Scrums of Scrums are actually defeating the very nature of Scrums and I feel is responsible for the success of a project using Scrum.
Let’s consider a few important Scrum values (it’s the way I understand Scrum, so feel free to comment on it).
What actually makes commitment very important is that it’s a team commitment. Not each team members individually committing on a part of the job but a commitment of the team with each team member:
- Commits to do his best so that the team can reach the goal.
- Believes that the team will reach the goal.
- Believes other team members will also do their best to reach the goal.
The first aspect of the commitment scales better than the two others. But this commitment only has value if you are not forced to give your best but readily do it. It’s a matter of motivation. It’s also a matter of identification with the task, the project and the people involved. This last one is actually the issue. Yes, we are expected to do our best in whatever project we’re working on, that’s what we’re getting paid for after all. But let’s be honest, I will probably rather go the extra mile when working with people I know and trust and when working on something which scope is not so huge that I can’t fully see it or grasp it. So individuals will give their commitment to do their best in both smaller projects and larger distributed projects but I do feel it’s not the same quality of commitment.
The second aspect of the commitment does not scale so good. I can assume that team or teams will reach the goal. I can even think that knowing that we have good people in all teams it should be possible. But this neither involves faith in people you personally know and trust nor an objective analysis of the situation which requires knowing the people in the team well enough to be able to estimate how much we can really achieve together.
The second aspect is a question of trust. And except if you have actually worked will all the persons in the other Scrum teams, I think achieving this level of trust over team boundaries is very difficult.
Openness in the communication is a prerequisite for an efficient communication and reduces unnecessary overhead and waste. For this, you also need a certain level of trust. I firmly believe this level of trust doesn’t scale that well. I do trust people I know well, people I work with on a daily basis. I can also kind of trust other people but we will never reach the same level of openness.
That’s from my point of view the main issue with Scrums of scrum. The persons involved in a Scrum of Scrums are only representative of the different Scrum teams. So it’s some kind of indirect communication which makes the communication less effective and I believe affects the openness of the communication.
Focus on reaching a goal together is a major success factor in any endeavour. And having all team member focusing in the exact same direction is what makes a real team different from a group of people just working on the same project or product. The more you scale, the more you will notice that the different teams involved so have a common goal but focus on it a little differently.
Making a commitment requires courage. It’s easier to just say “let’s see what we achieve”. Showing courage also requires trust in the people sharing the commitment. Showing courage somehow also leaves a weak spot open. I do believe it’s easier to show courage in a small scale team than to show courage in a multi-team environment.
Mutual respect of all team members is required for achieving the kind of goal a team accepts in Scrum. Since open communication is encouraged and required by Scrum, this also requires a great deal of mutual respect. I just do not think this level of mutual respect can be achieved in a Scrum of Scrums environment.
I also still have to see a Scrum of Scrums work. I can imagine it could work if the members of the different Scrum teams already know each other from previous projects. But I strongly believe a lot of what makes Scrum successful gets lost in such a larger scale project.