The Scaled Scrum™ Difference

At the team level, Scaled Scrum™ techniques are not unusual. Each generally is well known among Scrum teams, though the combination we use is not common. The real difference is the way we translate team-level techniques to the multi-team level. The successes and relative ease of the system defy claims on the Web and at Agile conferences that “scaling Agile is hard.” Buying into that belief may be the reason other methods for scaling Agile are so complex that an entire industry of certifications and consultants have built up around it. In contrast, the Scaled Scrum Network is a nonprofit organization that freely shares all of the content you need to implement the system.

Other differences between Scaled Scrum™ and the alternatives include:

  • No “big room” planning. The release planners meet regularly in short spurts to understand and detail multi-sprint requirements (“epics”) while the teams keep developing products.
  • No sizing. Teams and release planners attain high predictability without wasting time on story points or tee-shirt sizes.
  • No lies and no surprises. Instead of claiming we can predict the future by promising future deliveries and falling short, we provide high levels of transparency and keep customer expectations realistic. As system creator Jim Morgan says, “People can handle bad news; what they can’t handle are bad surprises.”
  • Real empowerment. We don’t pay lip service to individual and team empowerment like most supposedly Agile organizations. Although required to follow all of the system’s processes until meeting a set of Agile Performance Standards, after that only a relatively small set remain required so long as the standards are met. Meanwhile managers learn the value of telling the teams what is needed, and leaving the rest to them.
  • Holistic Agile. The Scaled Scrum system is specifically designed to enhance any group of workers, not just software engineers. Hardware, finance, executive, manufacturing, customer support, human resources… the list of teams that can improve productivity through Agile is endless.

Scientific Management

The Scaled Scrum™ system is proven to improve performance in a wide variety of teams over 20 years. It is based on hard evidence that rejects doing things merely because they are popular, considered “common sense,” or taught by successful people. My reading of more than 600 mostly scientific sources on teamwork found many instances of practices managers have been taught that are simply false or of limited effectiveness. Meanwhile, there are a number of techniques that have proven reliable over decades in raising team productivity or lowering costs and stress, yet few managers I have encountered know of them. I think the reason they are not as popular is because they are hard to do. People are attracted to the “quick-fix” solutions too many consultants are eager to sell.

Hence my dedication to what I call “scientific management”:

  • At the strategic level, “servant leadership” plus techniques based on the scientific facts about how people behave in groups.
  • At the tactical level, data-driven decision-making using cost-benefit analysis, performance metrics,  SMART goals, measurable acceptance criteria, etc.

Key Elements of the System

Team Structure

The clear message from 60 years of research by scientists into teamwork is that a formal team structure including specific elements creates higher productivity with lower costs and conflict. Managing the environment this way has a greater impact on member behaviors than personality or day to day leader actions, the science shows. These elements include:

  • A team charter listing at least:
    • Purpose
    • Team Rules with a self-enforcement method
    • Role descriptions
    • Team-defined written procedures (limited to a low level of detail)
  • A program/project charter for each project, two pages covering:
    • Goal
    • Measurable objectives
    • Stakeholders
    • Assumptions
    • Risks
    • Budget or run rate (if required)

Agile System

The “open source,” nonproprietary Scaled Scrum™ method has allowed dozens of teams in six companies to achieve 100% delivery of their committed stories in most sprints, with zero escaped bugs, within four sprints of adopting it. At the release cycle level, it has led to delivery of 90% of requirements while requiring fewer planning hours that other scaled Agile methods. The system includes:

  • Introduction to Agile class to ensure a common understanding of Agile philosophy.
  • Team-level Scrum with science-backed techniques, with performance standards of 100% delivery of planned stories most sprints with zero escaped bugs :
    • Product Backlog, listing business and technical requirements as user stories rank-ordered by business value
    • One Product Owner as a full team member with the final say over the backlog
    • Scrum Master as facilitatorprotector of team-chosen processes
    • Full-team grooming and estimating of stories
    • Task lists with volunteer assignees and labor-hour estimates
    • Capacity planning to prevent over-commitment
    • Disciplined facilitation of sprint ceremonies to limit meeting time
    • Team self-organization after the initial training period
  • Scaling of those practices to Scrum-style release planning for more complex, multiple-team efforts at lower time costs than alternative scaled Agile approaches
The term "Scaled Scrum" is a trademark of Jim Morgan.