A Better Understanding of Scrum@Scale

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A Better Understanding of Scrum@Scale

My colleague Don MacIntyre invited me to attend and co-teach his Scrum @ Scale Certified Practitioner class in Raleigh, NC last week (September 10-11th, 2018). It was in my hometown so how could I refuse.

It was a 2-day class with ~20 attendees. There was a nice mix of agile and Scrum experience across a spectrum of well-known companies leveraging agile at scale. We even had one gentleman fly in from India for the class.

Don spent most of the time teaching, but I had a few opportunities to teach basic Scrum and contribute to our general coaching conversations. Overall, I think the class went very well.

Better Teaching

As an agile teacher myself, it’s always helpful for me to observe how others do things, which is one of the reasons I agreed to do it. Some of the things I was observing included:

  • How they facilitate the discussions

  • How they maintain focus on the core materials

  • What was the density of the slides vs. the discussions

  • What sorts of breakouts and exercises were used and how effective were they

  • Any games or other ice breakers?

  • Were they using Training from the Back of the Room techniques? Which ones and were they effective?

I’m always looking for adjustments to make in my teaching style and approach. While I’m aligned well with Don’s style, I picked up some things that I’ll try in my next few classes.

Don was using a core deck provided by the Scrum @ Scale folks. But at the same time, he trimmed it quite a bit and made the class his own.

I think he did an outstanding job of staying on point with the classes core materials and, at the same time, fostering and allowing for other conversations and learning. It’s a challenging balancing act in certification classes where the students have to be prepared for a certification exam. Don did a great job of maintaining that balance.

I particularly liked the Scrum@Scale focus areas heat-map that we constructed throughout the class to assess each person’s organizational maturity level when it came to the areas within S@S. It allowed for a reflection moment many times each day where the students reflected how they “staked up” against the Scrum@Scale recommendations. But more importantly, we reviewed the entire map at the end of the class when Don asked each student to plan for their adoption strategy. It proved to be a wonderful way to leverage strengths and mitigate weaknesses in the strategy planning.

I also liked the airplane game ;-) I hadn’t played it before…

SAFe Bashing

Surprisingly, and to Don’s credit, we took the high road with respect to other scaling frameworks. Of course, there was a little SAFe bashing from folks who’ve been using it and struggling, but that was limited.

We did compare techniques from various frameworks. One of the more popular discussions surrounded big room/wall and PI sorts of release planning techniques that everyone seemed to think had some value. But on the flip side, normalized relative estimates across teams was not thought very highly of. And Scrum @ Scale steered clear of it.

What did I like about it?

First of all, I really appreciate the approach of Nexus, Scrum of Scrums, LeSS and now, Scrum @ Scale to start with basic Scrum as the foundational building block of scaling. That is, we scale from the bottom up leveraging solid teams.

SAFe doesn’t necessarily take this approach and it’s a fundamental weakness IMHO.

Anyway, what did I like most about Scrum@Scale beyond the bottoms-up direction?

1.     Scrum of Scrums as a focal point: I’ve been talking about (and using) a simple Scrum of Scrums model for years and years. To scale up to ~30 teams. I’ve also coaching/consulted in organizations leveraging it to scale to ~120 teams. So, the model is (1) simple, (2) an extension of basic Scrum, and (3) it works. I was incredibly glad to see Jeff leverage Scrum of Scrums as the central scaling mechanism in Scrum@Scale.

2.     Execution dynamics - the ScrumMaster Cycle – Scrum of Scrums (SoS): Jeff sort of split the Scrum of Scrums into two feedback loops. One is for execution and is entitled the ScrumMaster Cycle. At its center is a daily Scrum of Scrums where team ScrumMaster gather to ensure integration of work across their teams. Scrum sizing rules apply, so that if you have more than 6-9 teams, you simply replicate the Scrum of Scrums and conduct a Scrum of Scrums of Scrums (SoSoS).

3.     Business dynamics – the Product Owner Cycle – Executive Meta Scrum: the corollary to the ScrumMaster Cycle is the Product Owner Cycle. Again, it’s a Scrum of Scrums format, but called the MetaScrum. It’s where the Product Owners and Stakeholders prepare “backlogs” for team execution. Of course, the teams are involved. But it’s also for road-mapping, prioritization, and release planning.

4.     Finally, the EAT – Executive Action Team: it’s sort of funny. To the best of my knowledge, every scaling framework to-date has not integrated organizational leadership (team, roles, responsibilities, activities, etc) in the framework. Scrum@Scale is the first one to make the EAT a fundamental aspect of the transformation. Finally! I’ve been implementing Agile Transformation Teams as a part of all of my at-scale agile work of late. My ATT is very similar to Jeff’s EAT and something that is critical for organizational change.

5.     Finally, CoP related to the EAT – called the Agile Practice: while it’s not really called out in the Scrum@Scale big picture (as of September 2018), there is mention of a Community of Practice like function that is connected to the EAT. It’s where coaching, standards, examples, model, etc. lie in the framework. Again, I think it’s an important missing component in agile at scale. The notion of providing guidance, but not in a prescriptive way. And connecting it to the leadership teams’ agile transformation strategy.

These 5 keys are my essential take-aways from Scrum@Scale. If you’re interested in learning more, I’d recommend starting by reading the overview.

Wrapping Up

First, I want to thank Don for inviting me to be part of this opportunity. It was a real joy and privilege to work with him and the class attendees.

Second, I’m really liking the strategy and approach of Scrum@Scale. Jeff Sutherland has done a masterful job of blending core Scrum with “just enough” thoughtful scaling extensions to make it work at scale.

Based on my historical experience (and success) with Scrum of Scrums, I finally see a framework that I think I can fully stand behind in my agile coaching. I’ve been scaling agnostic for quite some time. Or at least I’ve tried to be. Taking the best from each framework and helping my clients craft their own frameworks.

That being said, I think I can leverage Scrum@Scale in total as the framework to start with in most of my larger-scale clients.

Now there will be a challenge in “displacing” their ongoing scaling frameworks, but I think the elegance and simplicity of Scrum@Scale will be compelling for many of them. And, of course, the learning and adaptation loops will help them make it their own.

Anyway, look for more news & commentary on this front in the future.

Finally, would I recommend Don’s Scrum@Scale Practitioner class to others? YES! 

Stay agile my friends!

Bob.

 

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The Scrum Guide says…

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The Scrum Guide says…

Hi everyone.

I have a confession to make. I’ve fallen into a trap and I need to get out of it.

Gosh, Bob, what’s wrong? What is it you might ask?

I’ve been saying: “The Scrum Guide says” way too frequently. It’s almost a daily mantra and I suddenly realized that I need to stop it.

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Book & Video Recommendations – ScrumMaster

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Book & Video Recommendations – ScrumMaster

The ScrumMaster role is one of those that is simple and complex at the same time. I often speak in terms of doing agile and being agile, and the ScrumMaster role strongly influences their teams in both of those dimensions. Of course, the latter being much more difficult to manage and get right.

The good news in this space is that there are a few really solid books that explore this important role within Scrum.

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Faultless Facilitation – Make a FIST

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Faultless Facilitation – Make a FIST

It’s funny really. One of the key points of the agile methodologies and the manifesto is heavy collaboration, with the best being face-to-face collaboration. But one of the things I see happening in teams all of the time is, how can I say this delicately, over collaboration.

In other words, the teams, ahem, talk too much. There, I said it  And I’m referring to open-ended discussion that takes too long if ever to narrow down towards a decision. Folks seem to be talking to hear themselves talk. Often it’s not everyone, with a few heavy talkers dominating discussions and the rest seemingly along for the ride. So it can be quite unbalanced.

In facilitation terms, there are two types of discussions going on when a team is trying to make a decision. There are divergent conversations, where options and ideas are getting put on the table. This is the brainstorming side of the discussion. And then there are convergent discussions, where the team is narrowing down options in order to make a decision. 

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The Art (and Responsibility) of Truth-Telling

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The Art (and Responsibility) of Truth-Telling

A ScrumMaster asked me the other day how they should handle the situation where half their team doesn’t seem to care about the work. They don’t seem to be motivated. They seem to be slacking…a lot. And where two individuals seem to be doing all the work. And they seem to be burning out.

A senior leader in an organization that I’m coaching asked me the following when he found out I would be meeting with his boss. He asked me to tell him that they have too much work to do. That they are being stretched over capacity and that it’s causing delivery, quality and morale problems. In fact, the house of cards is about to fall.

I was training a class at a client the other day and three individuals, not at the same time, asked me to escalate their impediments. One impediment was that their leaders were excessively interrupting the sprints. Creating chaos. Another was that the priorities changed constantly. And the final, small problem, was that the leadership team expected the team to exceed their capacity by 350%. They wanted me to address these (fix it) with their organizational leaders. And, believe it or not, they were all serious.

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Confessions of a De-Scaler

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Confessions of a De-Scaler

This is a bit uncomfortable for me to admit, but I have some confessions to make…

  • I’m a SAFe SPC;

  • I’ve attended a 2-day Nexus training;

  • I plan on attending / co-teaching Scrum @ Scale with Don MacIntyre in September;

  • I’ve studied (I mean studied!) and contrasted DAD and LeSS;

  • I’ve actively coached SAFe organizations;

  • I’ve been leveraging simple scaling techniques (Scrum of Scrums, bits of SAFe) for well over a decade.

So, it’s fair to say that “agile scaling” is in my bones, in my DNA, and that I’m fairly experienced. And it’s incredibly easy for me to meet a larger scale client and begin discussing scaling aspects quite early in our coaching relationship.

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The first rule of agile coaching…BE coachable!

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The first rule of agile coaching…BE coachable!

I have some coaching acquaintances who’ve joined a relatively large firm. They’re tasked with being the internal agile coaches and leading the organization’s agile transformation.

Several times members of the organization’s leadership team have reached out to me to come in and discuss various aspects of high-performance agility. Topics like culture, scaling, and leadership agility was of heavy interest. I think they were simply looking to get an outside, experienced coach to come in and provide insights. Not undermine the internal coaches.

But each time the internal coaching team squashed the inquiry and insisted that they do the session. In fact, in other cases of invitation, they wanted to go over my “talking points” to ensure that I wouldn’t say something that differed with their guidance or perspective. Given that level of scrutiny, I respectfully withdrew any interest.

This is an actual example. But I’ve seen and heard it repeated many times in my own agile journey.

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Book & Video Recommendations – Starting out

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Book & Video Recommendations – Starting out

I’ve been blogging for quite a while, but I just realized that I have rarely (never) made recommendations for agile books to read as part of your learning journey. And as an author, I’m surprised at myself for this gap. A gap that I intend to start closing with this post.

My inspiration for starting to share on great books comes from Jeff Payne, who shared a similar post here - https://www.techwell.com/techwell-insights/2018/03/3-must-read-books-good-agile-foundation

Thanks, Jeff!

And this isn’t the end, but only the beginning. Look for the occasional post about learning advice for various aspects of your journey. Starting with this one…from the beginning.

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100% PowerPoint Free

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100% PowerPoint Free

I see Scrum Alliance certification classes advertised this way all of the time. Declaring minimal to no, to 100% no PowerPoints in the classes. And it’s not only the Scrum Alliance classes, but many other organizations and trainers proudly declare it.

One of the trends that have influenced this is the work of Sharon Bowman and her Training from the Back of the Room approach to adult learning. I attended the training a few years ago and it definitely changed the way I approach constructing classes, the learning, and the medium/mechanisms I used to foster the learning.

That being said, I don’t have a class today that is 100% PowerPoint-free. I just don’t feel that PowerPoint is inherently bad in its use for training. I view it as simply a tool, one of many, that I leverage. But clearly, I’m a Dinosaur in my thinking, as not many others view things the same way.

Death by PowerPoint

I think one of the reactions driving these statements is the scar tissue that poorly constructed and delivered PowerPoint classes has done to people. You can see it in their eyes of countless students who have been forced to sit through such training.

The other part of the problem is we all learn in different ways. Some of us prefer PowerPoints done well and learn quite effectively that way. Others of us want a more experiential and collaborated approach, where the learning emerges instead of us being told it. Information density is also a challenge. Especially when we’re trying to convey complex information or problems.

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The Sounds of Silence

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The Sounds of Silence

I was never a huge Simon and Garfunkel fan but there are a few songs of theirs that really stood out for me as I was growing up.

One of them is The Sounds of Silence.

It’s a haunting vision of the future.

And it swirled in my head as I read an article by Chris Murman. Chris is a friend and colleague that I find incredibly thoughtful about his (and others) agile journeys. But the article I found was published in September 2017, so nearly a year ago. And unfortunately, I missed it.

The article is entitled – What Can You Do About Organizational Silence?

And it focuses on a common corporate cultural phenomenon where the following occurs:

  • Leaders drive most of the “thinking”

  • Alternate ideas are not brought up

  • Discussion and debate are not realized

  • Disagreement with the status quo is discouraged

  • Creative ideas aren’t even suggested

And where silence, connoting tacit agreement, is the norm.

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