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!