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So I've been playing the role of Scrum Master for a grand total of 6 Sprints on 2 projects.  In that time I've come to two very distinct issues that make me question if what I am doing is really Scrum?  While I believe that you cannot adhere to any methodology 100% without some interpretation and customizing, I am wondering if the things I am doing are so profoundly out of bounds that it invalidates our approach as Scrum.

Scenario 1:  I as a "Scrum Master" dutifully play the role by limiting if not completely removing all impediments for my team.  However, I manage 3 concurrent application development efforts at the same time.  So while I am integrated into the design and development decisions of my teams, I am only there for each team 33%.  Is this okay for a Scrum Master?  Let's take it one step further.  While I do make the ultimate design decisions I am not actually writing the code with my team.  Does this negate my effectiveness as a Scrum Master?

Scenario 2: Some of my projects use a blend of on-shore and off-shore staff.  Does this violate the pure intent of Scrum?  There is not very much cohesion among the two groups of developers.  This doesn't feel like a very Agile setup.

So what do my projects do that is Scrum?

1. We have a pre-sprint planning meeting every sprint.
2. We manage a product backlog and a sprint backlog.
3. We manage our progress in burn-down charts.
4. We run 30 day sprints.
5. We have a daily scrum that lasts no more than 15 minutes (usually).
6. Each developer chooses the tasks to work on and determines their own estimated effort.
7. We conduct a post-sprint review with the product owner.
8. We conduct a post-sprint retrospective.

Our daily scrum meetings are conference calls.  The team communicates by e-mail and phone throughout the day as needed.

So my questions are simple.  Can Scrum scale?  Can a single Scrum Master effectively run multiple scrums?  And can a team truly follow Scrum if they are an on-shore/off-shore mix?


Posted on Sunday, October 19, 2008 8:35 PM Management , Scrum , Agile , Alt.Net | Back to top

Comments on this post: The scalability of Scrum

# re: The scalability of Scrum
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Hey Chip!

From what I've seen of scrum (and I'm no expert), it's become a silver bullet. You can't depend on a predefined answer; you have to be constantly calculating the answer. Scrum (and a lot of other methodologies) is a good source of ideas, which you can form into answers, but it isn't an answer.

I think your questions are misdirected. I'd ask "How can I make 3 development projects with geographically disperse resources effective?".
Left by David Douglass on Oct 20, 2008 10:10 PM

# re: The scalability of Scrum
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David's right, Scrum is a means, not an end. Still, given that Scrum has worked well for many teams, it's worth thinking carefully when you make a change that takes you away from what Scrum recommends. Ask, "How will this adaptation help me achieve my goals better than the standard Scrum approach?"

To answer your questions specifically...

Yes, Scrum can scale. Ken Schwaber's book, _The Enterprise and Scrum_, gives some proven patterns for scaling Scrum. Alan Shalloway is working on another book on using Lean techniques to scale Scrum. Organizations are using Scrum on a much larger scale than 3 teams.

Yes, a ScrumMaster can serve more than one theory. You have to look at whether you're doing the ScrumMaster job effectively for each of the teams. Are you able to respond to and remove impediments fast enough to keep the teams productive. In practice, being ScrumMaster for one team is a full-time job in most organizations. Splitting yourself across three teams likely means each team is getting less of the ScrumMaster role than they need.

And, yes, distributed teams can still do Scrum. Scrum is just a framework for how to plan, track, and deliver your work and to adapt your process to do those things better. I've coached Scrum teams in three organizations with an onshore/offshore mix. While I believe those teams were less productive than an on-site team of equivalent cost would have been, they still worked better with distributed Scrum than the distributed waterfall they used to do.

Keep your focus on the goal, and use your retrospectives to adapt your process to help you better achieve that goal.

Richard Lawrence
Certified Scrum Coach
Founder and Principal Consultant, Humanizing Work, LLC
Left by Richard Lawrence on Oct 21, 2008 1:51 PM

# re: The scalability of Scrum
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Forget Scrum. Use the word "Agile". It's deliberately more vague and it covers a lot more ground.

Sounds like you're doing fine. Why do I say that? Because you're asking yourself how to keep getting better.

As an agile coach, I'm not interested in holding a set of rules up to my teams in some kind of pass/fail scenario. I want to know if they are continuously improving. What most folks don't realize about agile techniques is that they represent an ideal, not reality. In the ideal world, you're there all the time with your team. In the real world, they make you split between 2 or more teams. In an ideal world, the team is completely co-located. In the real world, you got a lot of offshoring. etc.

So as long as you're asking "how can I get better" and not "Am I really X?" I'm with you. Focus on results and not on buzz words. I'm currently coaching a dozen or more teams (and closely watcing another 50 or so) that are set up all kinds of ways. I've got CSMs that work on 4 teams. I've got teams completely co-located, 100% dedicated, and with each team member having a CSM certification. I've got teams split by offshoring. I've got teams on 2-week sprints that are creating documentation as a product. The real world throws you all kinds of unusual situations.

Scrum is a framework. Agile is an ideal and a marketing term. Work on using the framework and the ideal to continuously adapt. Don't use them as just another set of rules you're supposed to follow. We've had enough of that kind of thinking for a while, right?

Daniel Markham
Agile Coach
Left by Daniel Markham on Oct 22, 2008 7:46 AM

# re: The scalability of Scrum
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Definitely, Scrum can scale. Just treat it like a process and not magic. I've been using it successfully for 3 years - ranging from "personal" scrum ( to managing multiple teams and project like in your situation.
Left by Babu on Oct 22, 2008 12:48 PM

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