In a recent Overall Retrospective that I facilitated, the team decided to nix the Scrum of Scrums. When the representatives that attended the session reported back, more than a few people seemed nervous. “What?!” they said in shock. “Aren’t we eliminating our product’s main avenue for cross-team collaboration?”
“No!” I replied. “We’re eliminating the product’s main bottleneck for cross-team collaboration!”
Decentralized & Informal Collaboration
If you decide to scale, Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) prescribes relatively little detail on how teams should work together during a sprint. In fact, there is only one rule regarding coordination across teams:
Cross-team coordination is decided by the teams. Prefer decentralized and informal coordination over centralized coordination. Each team has their own Daily Scrum.
But why is this? Through the many experiments behind the LeSS framework, a common observation was that as collaboration becomes more formalized and centralized, bottlenecks form and collaboration decreases. This is exactly what we were seeing with our Scrum of Scrums. Instead of collaborating organically throughout the day, team members were waiting until the “correct time” to talk to each other. Often it was too late.
LeSS does not mandate a Scrum of Scrums. It may be very useful for your product, and if so, do it! However, considering the lone LeSS rule about coordination, it may be worth experimenting with dropping the meeting for a few sprints to encourage more emergent behavior. After removing our Scrum of Scrums, we found the LeSS guidance that follows was integral to decentralizing and deformalizing our coordination, leading to more frequent, more timely, and more creative ways to collaborate across our teams.
It’s the first day without a Scrum of Scrums, and you realize you have a question for another team working on a similar Product Backlog Item. How should you go about asking this question when there’s no longer a designated meeting for the conversation? Easy! Get up, walk over, and just talk to that team. With this mentality in place, teams will no longer wait to collaborate at specified times, and instead will just talk to each whenever they realize there is a need for collaboration.
Talking becomes much easier when the environment supports that as the default behavior. Ideally, each team should be as close together as possible. Teams that are located right next to each other on the same floor of the same building are much more likely to get up and just talk than if they need to walk down multiple halls or take an elevator ride.
To further collaboration between teams, each team’s space should be set up to invite visitors. If the team room has everything needed for an impromptu meeting (whiteboards, big screens for sharing, and lots of chairs), a team is more likely to immediately walk to another team’s room to solve a problem. If the team room is too cramped and has no way to share information or sketch out ideas, then teams may fall back to centralizing—and delaying—collaboration by scheduling meetings based on conference room availability.
When creating collaboration-friendly environments, think about how information radiators can invite conversation. Consider abandoning electronic task boards in favor of physical ones in each team room. When one team has a question about what another team is working on, instead of opening up some electronic tool, teams will walk into the other team’s room to find the answer, often triggering a valuable conversation.
One way to encourage teams to just talk with each other is to send a scout as a silent observer to another team’s activities, such as the Daily Standup. The scout will learn about what the other team is doing and bring that information back to his or her team. Based on what the scout reports, new opportunities for coordination are likely to emerge. Make sure to rotate who serves as a scout, in order to prevent a knowledge bottleneck from forming.
Continue to Experiment
After decentralizing our daily self-organization by eliminating the Scrum of Scrums, we decided to experiment with eliminating our bi-weekly product-wide Code Show and Tell. This also fostered more effective collaboration. Teams realized when there was a need for cross-team learning by just talking throughout the day, visiting another team’s room, checking out another team’s task board, or hearing something from a scout. Instead of waiting for a regularly scheduled session—which the Code Show and Tell had been—teams began getting together as soon as possible to share the cool things they were working on. This allowed information to be shared with the entire product much more rapidly.
You can encourage this same style of experimentation across your teams. Instead of dictating how to collaborate, LeSS provides useful guidance on fostering a more collaborative environment. The lack of prescribed coordination activities means you need to experiment continuously to discover what is best for your product. A great first experiment would be seeing what behaviors emerge by skipping the Scrum of Scrums!