Scrum for Small Teams with Multiple Stakeholders and Projects
In recent months I have worked with several clients who are challenged to implement Scrum when they have a small team that is juggling multiple projects for various customers/stakeholders, each with competing priorities and timeframes. In these conversations, I returned to some of the core concepts of business and leadership agility, namely not losing sight of the primary role of an agile team, to quickly assess and adapt to the changing needs of their customers and stakeholders to maximize value, and minimize risk.
Scrum offers an excellent framework to practice team agility. Experienced practitioners prefer to call it a framework rather than a methodology because at its best it helps frame the insight, expertise, and innovation of the team. When Scrum, or any approach, becomes overly prescriptive, it can actually constrain, rather than unleash the talent and productivity of the team.
Jorgen Hesselberg, the author of Unlocking Agility, co-founded and continues to evolve his enterprise, Comparative Agility, the world’s largest agility assessment platform, using just such a customized version of Scrum. When I brought my clients’ conundrum to Jorgen, he was more than happy to share how he and his team practice Scrum in a small team, in a highly complex environment, with multiple projects and stakeholders.
Before sharing the cadence of a typical week, Jorgen highlighted a few critical ways that his team has adapted Scrum to fit their givens:
- Rather than forming a separate Scrum for each project, the team convenes as a single Scrum to discuss all projects, priorities, and available capacity. This eliminates the unwieldy and overly time-consuming process of juggling multiple Scrums for each project, which would inevitably involve many of the same people.
- The team leader or other appropriate available person acts as the Product
Owner, who also largely acts as the Scrum Master. Of course, in a perfect world, these are separate roles, and if the choice is to use an effective framework or not, many small teams combine these roles out of necessity.
The Product Owner creates a Backlog of requirements for each project in
collaboration with the key stakeholder/customer.
- It is essential that the Product Owner, in collaboration and communication with her customers and the team, agree on each project’s priorities based on those that deliver the highest value. This communication must be current and transparent. When the customer has new requests or shifts priorities, it must be made clear to the customer that there will be a trade-off with other requests being delayed or de-prioritized altogether based on a finite team capacity.
Below is an overview of how the team at Comparative Agility uses Scrum each week:
MONDAY: Sprint Planning Meeting with all team members to prioritize that week’s (or other agreed-upon timeframes) Sprint. Each team member agrees to the specific items they have the capacity to complete within the Sprint.
DAILY STAND-UPS: Each morning, all team members gather for a 15 minute or less Stand-Up meeting to share:
• What I completed yesterday and what is going well
• What I plan to complete today
• What is standing in my way, and what obstacles do I need help removing, or other support do I need?
NOTE: Product Owner, and other team members, listen for obstacles they can help remove or resources they can provide, as well as any changes that need to be communicated or clarified with the customers and/or amongst team members.
WEDNESDAY: Design Meeting to discuss things coming up on the horizon mid-term. These may include big-picture projects or initiatives. The purpose of this meeting is to ensure the team has the resources and capability to take on new projects and is collaborating and prioritizing in a Responsive (not reactive) way.
THURSDAY: Backlog Grooming Meeting to prepare for projects and tasks coming up in the short term.
FRIDAY: Sprint Review and prepare for Monday deployment of any new launches.
Note: Stand-alone tasks, work that arrives in a random patter, such as trouble-ticket-type requests should not be included in sprint planning. Be sure to allot 10–20% of team member capacity for such time-sensitive, emergent requests. For this type of work, Kanban is an excellent framework.
Additional Notes and Resources:
- Retrospectives: Typically set aside as a separate session to reflect on lessons learned that can guide the team’s success going forward, this team tends to weave this reflection into their various meetings, other weekly meetings, and Daily Stand-Ups.
- Trello is a very clean, accessible way to set up a Kanban board to keep track of the status of your various projects.
- Essential Scrum, by Kenny Rubin, is an excellent book to refresh yourselves on specific aspects, rituals, and roles of Scrum.
About the Author
Pamela Meyer, Ph.D. is the author of The Agility Shift: Creating Agile and Effective Leaders, Teams and Organizations, the creator of the Agility Shift Inventory™, and the President of Meyer Agile Innovation, helping organizations that need to be more agile and innovative through customized leadership development.