May 24th, 2011

The One With Five Teams


Karina, a RE-TRAINED project manager, had recently come back from her Certified ScrumMaster training which had been organised just before the STING project was due to commence. She was aware that Serena, her boss, was keen for this project to be agile but was very nervous about it as this was a big project for one of their major customers. Before she went on the training she had looked at the original budget for 3,500 man days of effort over the next 12 months and thought this would be a big risk for her first Scrum implementation.

Karina had a de-brief with Serena on her return to the office with the idea of setting up the necessary structure for Scrum on the STING project. She mentioned that Scrum teams are generally optimal when in sizes of 7, plus or minus 2 and these teams should be self-contained, cross-functional units that could deliver pieces of work on their own.

“So we will need 5 Scrum team then” Serena said “Let’s look at who we have got and how we could organise them into cross-functional teams”

“We’ll also need more ScrumMasters” Karina added

“Who do you think we should have?” Serena asked “You can pick anyone from the project management pool”

“I don’t know really. I guess it kind of depends on the team composition doesn't it?”

“We haven’t really got much time to sort this out. The project kicks off next week. Why don’t you grab all the project managers and give them an overview of Scrum and see who picks up on it the quickest?” Serena suggested

“We will also need to train the teams and I’m not sure if I have the time to do all that. I have only had two days training and still have plenty of questions about Scrum myself.” Karina said “I really think this is a bit risky for us”

“Well we haven’t got a choice now. We’ve said we are going to use agile and the project has already been agreed. We’ll do the best we can. You’re bright, I’ve got confidence in you” Serena said. “We will get everyone on the project together for a pre kick-off training session where you can recap what you have learned and then explain how it will apply to the STING project. Lay it out clearly for them and they will be fine.”

“From what I remember from the course, we are going to need at least a day with the teams to come up with the plan, and planning with 5 teams could be messy” Karina said, looking worried

“Well we can do the plan to start with and then, when the teams start to understand Scrum, we can get them more involved”


It is always a tough decision to make on where to start with Scrum in your organisation. On the one hand, it’s great to start with a simple project for people and teams to get used to Scrum quickly and easily. But on the other hand, you learn very little from those types of projects; you gain more from applying Scrum to your riskiest, most complex and most important projects. But that is scary.

Whichever project you decide to choose it is very important how you go about starting things off and, in this situation, it is clear that things are still being pushed very much in a top down manner. Serena has decided that Scrum will be used and sent her trusted project manager to get trained and then roll it out. The teams themselves will get little formal training or preparation for what, as Karina quite rightly senses, is such an important project making it very risky.

It is much better to get the teams involved in the planning as soon as possible but, especially in a multi-team environment such as this, most teams will probably need experienced coaches to help and, even better, some formal training in the process that they will be following.

Another thing that I would recommend bearing in mind is that teams, in their very first sprint, will find Scrum both enjoyable and challenging. The vast majority or teams will under-deliver in their very first sprint (a common statistic that I see mirrored in many organisations is that a team will only be about 60% effective in their first sprint). This, multiplied by 5 if there are 5 teams starting simultaneously, is a big cost for an organisation. Perhaps it would be better for one team to start, learn a lot about Scrum in their environment and meanwhile prepare for the addition of extra teams by building enough necessary infrastructure. The team composition often needs to evolve as the project evolves, otherwise you are left with a big risk of needing to produce a very big plan up front if 5 teams start at once.


By far and away the most successful large projects that I have seen, start small and manage the complexity incrementally based on the pulls and demands of the project. Trying to anticipate them and manage out the dependencies immediately is very difficult and often costs more time than starting slowly and working up to a full compliment.


Scrum / ScrumMaster Stories


Multiple Teams / Planning / Project Manager / Re-trained / Scaling / Scrummaster / The One With

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