Organizations across the globe are embracing agility using different methodologies and frameworks to meet customer demands and improve time to market. Scrum is one of the most popular frameworks within which people can solve complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of highest possible value. Scrum was developed to work best within a team size of 5 to 10 members and has to be cross functional to be effective and efficient. It becomes easy for the Scrum team to achieve synergy and resonate with each other if the team is collocated further. The Product Owner, Scrum Master and Development team work in tandem with fewer problems to deal with however and can release most valuable features quickly. The challenges and impediments increases with the addition of every Scrum team. There is also a general myth that Scrum may not be suitable for large scale projects or programs and people recommend or prefer other methodologies like LeSS or SAFe.
Challenges with Scrum in Large Program/Product Development
Can Scrum be used for large programs (involving more than 5-6+ scrum teams) and still address top priorities like fulfilling customer needs, improving time to market and reducing cycle time?
The answer is "YES"
Nevertheless, some of the questions that comes to our mind quickly when we think of scaling delivery using Scrum are below,
- What challenges would arise when the team becomes distributed globally?
- State of Scrum Report 2015 says 33% of 5000 people responded have distributed teams and this number should have gone higher YOY.
- How can engineering practices be standardized across team for optimal throughput?
- What happens when there is one product backlog that is shared by multiple teams and one product owner who is influencing all teams? How does prioritization work for different teams?
- How can Scrum Masters motivate and help the team to maintain the focus and deliver one product increment every sprint?
- As there is One Product Backlog and One Product Increment, how do the Scrum Ceremonies like Sprint Planning, Backlog Grooming, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review & Sprint Retrospective happens with multiple teams and structure in place?
- How does definition of done work for multiple teams?
Let’s look at how the roles and artifacts are scaled when it comes to large scale product or program development using Scrum
Scrum Master and Development Team
Scrum guide mandates a small and cross functional team of 6-9 members for effective delivery. When the program demands more features to be developed in shorter time frame, one of the easiest way to achieve this to scale the team members to multiple scrum teams. This allows the scrum teams to pick up independent features from the product backlog for quick turnaround. Similarly, the scrum master could also be scaled to take care of the individual teams. However, it is up to the organizational maturity in agile adoption and execution as how many scrum masters are needed for a particular program setup and sets of teams. The scaling of the development team and the scrum masters will certainly help in development of features to meet the vision of the product.
In paper, Product Owner is just one person who is responsible for the product vision and maximizing the ROI. But in real world with complex product development, it’s often a shared effort and ownership. There needs to be an understanding on how to develop the product without hassles and inconsistencies through shared ownership between the Product Owners.
In general, when the product is new (in early stage) and hasn’t reached product-market fit—or is close to achieving it—one product owner will be the best person in charge of the product. This is due to the level of experimentation it requires during this stage and effective decision making is of paramount importance. Having multiple product owners during this stage would dilute and elongate the decision making process leading to ineffectiveness. At this stage, the single PO could help in making decisions quickly without wasting time in the process. When the product growth starts after entering the market stage, more features will be needed and it would become difficult to manage the product with single product owner. In that case, it would be good to have couple of product owners to manage the product. During this maturity stage, changes would be needed less frequently allowing the product owners to prioritize the changes and share the responsibilities easily.
Product Backlog is prioritized list of items or requirements needed to fulfill the product vision. Product Owner owns the product backlog and ensures that the Product Backlog Items are stacked in the order of priority to maximize the return on investment. In the Fig 1.1 shown below, during the initial stages of the product development (entering market fit stage), it is imperative that only one product backlog exists for the teams to work on. The product discovery stage is a separate journey altogether which involves user interviews, impact mapping, what and how to develop and prioritization techniques. When the product evolves over period of time (as mentioned above) or enters maturity, the product backlog can be owned by multiple product owners for managing and prioritizing features effectively.
Sprint Backlog will have prioritized list of features needed for development for that sprint towards achieving the product vision. The prioritized list of items will be picked up by the individual teams for development of the product features during the sprint planning meeting. Individual teams can have sprint planning meeting separately (to save time) along with Product Owner & Scrum Master to prioritize what is needed for the sprint.
One Product Increment is always recommended during the initial stages of the development of the product to ensure the minimum viable features are integrated well. This helps the product owner to quickly validate the assumptions about the product. Having single product increment hashes out all the issues with dependencies and integrations and enables users to validate the functionality end to end.
The Scrum ceremonies like planning, refinement, retrospectives, reviews can be done separately by the individual team along with PO and other stakeholders. You might wonder how the dependencies across the teams will be resolved as there is no common meeting to discuss those? Well, Scrum of Scrum can help the development teams to sort of internal dependencies where the Scrum Masters from individual team’s members represent to discuss about the dependencies and work towards resolving them.
There is also no doubt that Scrum would definitely be an ideal fit when it comes to large scale product development with some considerations listed above. The Scrum Framework is very light weight and has lots of process built within for a great product development. Although other scaling methods exists like SAFe, Less, [email protected] etc. the organization need to carefully consider the options to better suit their culture and the nature of the product being developed.