3 Biggest Challenges You Can Fix When Scaling Scrum Teams

Scaled Scrum occurs when many Scrum teams work on the same product or project. Scaling Scrum can present many challenges as more and more people are added to the mix and transparency and communication become harder to manage. Below are some common challenges that organizations frequently encounter when scaling Scrum.

Scaling Scrum Challenge #1: Geographic and time zone distribution

Communication becomes more difficult when team members are spread around regions, countries, or the world. You can’t just pop by someone’s desk to ask a question. You have to call, type, email, or video chat. Making this even harder are drastic time zone differences. If you’re 12 hours away from your coworkers, an email likely won’t be returned until the next business day…at a minimum. Scrum events become more difficult too. You’ll have to rely on phone calls or digital technologies to communicate in real time. If you don’t have a crystal clear connection or high-bandwidth internet connection, dropped calls and lack of fidelity impede efficient communication.

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What can I do?

Build co-located teams to get the highest bandwidth communication. When that isn’t possible, build geographically co-located teams using high bandwidth connections to get the highest fidelity conversations. As a last resort, build your teams distributed across time zones, but take every effort to keep the time zone differences to a minimum. It’s not that you can’t work if you don’t – just expect information flow to be slow. Slow communication drastically reduces a Scrum team’s ability to deliver.

Scaling Scrum Challenge #2: One Product Owner and Product Backlog per team, not per product

The intent of a single Scrum Product Owner and Product Backlog per product is to allow quick decisions on product direction and eliminate the dreaded decision by committee. If teams don’t understand how to properly scale up and work together on one product and have a Product Owner per team you’ll see conflicts of priority amongst the teams which can build an adversarial relationship internally.

What can I do?

In Scrum, there is only one Product Owner per product for good reasons: it streamlines decision making and keeps priorities aligned. This is true even when many teams are working on one product. Keep a single Product Owner structure and encourage the Product Owner to delegate all they can to the Scrum teams to support them. With one Product Backlog, you will need frequent refinement. Bring adequate representation from all Scrum teams to do this (you don’t need everyone). During Sprint Planning, have each team plan their Sprint at the same time with the Product Owner on stand-by. And since you’re producing one increment, there only needs to be one Sprint Review.

Scaling Scrum Challenge #3: A project focus, not a product focus

Projects often start with a defined scope, timeline, budget, and required skills to help. Once the team is assembled they can begin their work. When a project is over, the team members are given back to their functional groups to be reassigned to another project. When multiple projects roll up to the same product offering a high-degree of instability is created. Some people work on multiple projects, creating waste from large amounts of meetings and context-switching. Some people might be focused but only for the duration of the project. After the project is over, they often leave to go work on another project which drains domain knowledge on the product. This instability can significantly slow your development efforts.

What can I do?

Define the products you offer in the eyes of your customer. Organize your talent around these offerings and scale Scrum teams with care. Keep these teams product focused and create an environment of shared learning, shared goals, and a commitment to deliver one integrated increment which meets a single definition of done for the product. Learn about popular scaled Scrum frameworks like LeSS or Nexus to maximize what your teams can do with the same people working at a sustainable pace.

Have you had these challenges? How did you solve them? If you’re still looking for answers, please reach out! We’d love to chat, contact us.

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Robert Pieper

I like Metalcore, and cupcakes.
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