Scaling Me, Scaling You

I just scheduled our next meetup and threw these two questions out:

  • How many teams is too many for one roving scrummaster?
  • How many members before a team is too large?

What’s great is that the group can discuss / debate the question. Despite being in Scrum environments for over six years, I don’t have THE answer, but I DO have some opinions based on solid experiences.

Without playing too much of my hand prior to the actual meet-up, here’s what I’m thinking:

Roving ScrumMaster

I was hired here at SendGrid as an Agile Coach tasked with leading the transformation and maintaining the learning and culture that goes along with that. One year into my job here, we had nine teams located between Anaheim (five), Boulder (three) and Romania (one); and for most of that year, each dev team provided its own scrum master. I and another coach (Stuart joined us in January, 2012) would coach the teams, paying much attention to the nine scrum masters.

Since then, however, we’ve taken over the role of scrummaster for each team, allowing the devs to focus more fully on the design / development / testing work of the sprint. As you can imagine, Stu and I became busier than ever trying to juggle multiple teams and all the communications and dependencies that go along with this.

Good to Great

It’s been said that a good scrummaster can handle 3-4 teams, but a great scrummaster will insist on working with only one. I’m a firm believer in this model, but that wasn’t currently possible in the time frame I describe. Back then (early spring 2012) we were told that the organization would work to hire more scrummasters (and they did by mid-summer), but that in the meantime it was up to Stu and I to handle the responsibilities. The teams woul no longer provide their own scrummaster.

Results varied. It started with both Stu and I taking four apiece. (The Romanian team was being “managed” by their own “scrum master”.) But Stu and I each had at least one team in Boulder (we’re in Anaheim), and that added complexity.

Part of my role as Coach has been to spread Agile learnings throughout the organization, including up through management / leadership. I’ve worked with our VPs of Engineering (we’re on our third in two years) to understand the business situation and share my teams’ concerns. It comes down to values on both sides: commitment and focus for the teams and delivery and growth goals from business folks. These values are not contradictory, but neither are they perfectly aligned.

Pizza Teams?

Okay, dear readers, time for a pop quiz. What is the ideal size of a scrum team? If you answered “seven, plus or minus two”, congrats – that’s the magic number, also supported by the Scum Alliance and other leading Agile voices. The “two-pizza rule”, attributed to Jeff Bezos, states that no team should be so big that it cannot be fed with two pizzas. In my experiences, this jives with our successes.

But can a team of only two devs make it work? (Lots of leftover pepperoni and cheese slices.) What about teams larger than nine? Can their scaffolding support them? We’ve hadt tw0 2-person teams, plus another (in Romania) that now brims with ten. I don’t even know what goes on a Romanian pizza.

Anyway, these are some topics I hope to work through next week. In the meantime, I’m craving pepperoni.

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