Scrum master for 25 people

I started 8 weeks ago as a Scrum Master in my current team to find out they were conducting one massive daily standup covering 25 people. The various JIRA boards and physical boards were not used in the ceremony, so it was a verbal round robin of what people were up to.

On a daily basis, the delivery manager would verbally make adjustments and change to what the team were working on (effectively one sentence stories), resulting in tasks often being stopped in an incomplete state. The team had come together through an amalgamation of several teams previously, and had two main products under development, in a dual track agile setup ie. user researchers and BAs work with a product owner to develop a high-fidelity prototype, the developers build pixel perfect to this “spec” after certain major versions of the prototype are signed off (meaning that development does not get started on a feature until about 3 – 6 months after it first was worked into the prototype).

Basically for the last 8 weeks, I have been retiring their stale physical boards and cleaning up their single, shard JIRA repository which had about 550 tickets, 98% of them either sat in blocked or backlog with a last updated date about 6 months ago. Once I managed to get 4x new Scrum boards (2x products, each with a UX team and a development team) clean enough to be used at a standup, we ran one 2 week sprint with retrospective and planning and the team morale was really high.

When the sprint drew to an end and the To Do and In Progress columns became empty, the team deferred and then cancelled backlog refinements and planning sessions as the impending release was deemed “more important”. Just before Christmas, I asked both the delivery manager and the tech lead if they really wanted a Scrum Master, as their behaviour didn’t seem to indicate so, and if they did, they needed to back me in running the ceremonies.

The answer was “we still need a Scrum Master, but not in the way you understand it – see how you can help out with the current team”. I sometimes call myself an Agile Coach not because I coach enterprises in transformational change, but often I need to coach and train teams in embedding Scrum. However, in this case I’m stumped what the best course of action is. eg. stay and help out in achieving some kind of measurable, continuous improvement, in any way possible? Focus on one of the small development teams at the exclusion of the other people, and get Scrum up and working their properly as a show case? Become a pure team coach agnostic of anything and participate in the better facilitation of their current way of working?. 

Any thoughts at all as to possible ways forward would be greatly appreciated.


Frank Ray

Did you know successful projects depend upon healthy relationships between the people involved? Trust, honesty and openness are required so that problems and issues can be frankly discussed and nipped in the bud. This is how we conduct business at Frank Ray & Associates, a software engineering consultancy I founded. You can also reach me directly at info@frankray.net

2 Comments

Murray 9 July 2019 Reply

The major problems I see are that you cant have an effective standup or team with 25 people, the delivery manager is directing the team instead of the teams being self managed, it sounds like the work isn’t prioritised by the product owners, the ux, dev and product teams run separately, there is a 3 to 6 months lag between design prototyping and build.

I would start by reorganising into 3 or 4 cross functional teams made up of product, design and dev. Each team should be colocated and focused on a different aspect of the client experience. Priorities set by product owners not the delivery manager. Each team manages their own process and way of working with a scrum master. Teams scale by working off one product backlog with one roadmap defined by the product owners and other functional cross team groups on architecture and other issues meeting weekly to coordinate. Scaling through scrum of scrums. Design team should develop prototypes no more than 2 weeks ahead of the dev team and should work together with the dev team during the sprint to flesh out the designs.

With this many problems you need to spend a lot of time coaching the delivery manager and the product owners and the teams. This is more than a full time gig.

Rajesh 9 July 2019 Reply

Frank, as an outsider it is hard to understand your context completely. However, based on what you have mentioned and what little understanding I have gained from it, below is my opinion:

– Get clarity on your role first: Are you an Agile coach or a scrum master? It also appears to me that your stakeholders do not understand the Scrum master role. (Well, do they understand Agile mindset?).

– Get into social contracts with your stakeholder and the team. Come to an agreement on objectives and expectations. The delivery manager seems to be running the team in a command & control manner. A social contract with him might help you to get him to focus on strategic stuff then interfere with team’s functioning.

– Understand the mission: Why is your client running that project? What is their end goal? Do everyone in the team have a shared understanding?
Arrange for workshops or brainstorming sessions to build a shared understanding and get them to prioritise what is needed first. Help them build a roadmap. Experiment!

– Confirm whether the Scrum team is indeed a Scrum team: From your description, it does not sound like a Scrum environment. Having a Delivery manager role and a 25 people team raises the red flag. If stakeholders and business teams do not have good enough understanding of Agile and of Scrum, it might be worthwhile educating them.

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