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Don't Worry About Scaling Scrum

One of the first questions asked when Agile is introduced to an organization is about scaling. Tobias Mayers put his thoughts in his blog post where he suggested that organizations should not worry too much about scaling Scrum. If they have built a strong foundation with the correct set of Scrum practices then Scrum will scale on its own. Adopters tend to focus on quick solutions to complex problems without understanding the basics. People seem to focus too much on scaling right from the start; they should instead embrace the principles and practices of scrum to gain a deep understanding of the methodology first.

Tobias mentioned:
I believe Scrum to be self-scaling. By that, I mean that Scrum contains all the elements required for handling complexity: self-organization, empiricism, prioritization and timeboxing.
He suggested that, once everyone on the team understands the principles then, Scrum Masters can take a back seat and let the self organizing teams manage the scaling.

He draws an analogy with the movement now known as Alcoholics Anonymous where it started with a small group of people trying to recover from the obsession of Alcoholism and grew into a world-wide movement, comprised simply of members who worked together, who did not have therapists, counselors or leaders.

He suggested that these groups were formed on the basis of common need, they worked together till the need was satisfied, and then they dissolved. The suggestion points to the fact that, in a similar way, Scrum teams would get formed when there is a need, work in a self organizing way and dissolve when the need is fulfilled. When there is a need for it, the group would decide to split into separate scrum teams, where they would be self-organizing and work towards the project goal. The role of a Scrum Master would be gently guide the group to team needs rather than influence the group with his own perceptions.

Tobias compares a few core principles of AA which can apply to the scaling of Scrum
Among the guiding principles in these “traditions” are the following:
  • Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern
  • Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole
  • Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers
It will easily be seen how such principles can apply to the scaling of Scrum:
  • Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern (no change there)
  • Each Team should be autonomous except in matters affecting other Teams or the organization as a whole.
  • Each Team has but one primary purpose — to build an increment every iteration and deliver it to the Product Owner (who is possibly suffering!)
He concluded by suggesting that instead of ignoring the analogy and dismissing it as non-relevant, agile teams should try to learn from the similarities. The main point is that instead of worrying about scaling upfront, adopters should take care in laying a solid foundation in terms of principles and practices of Scrum. Once that is done the self organizing Scrum teams will take care of scaling on their own.

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