CHOW #295: Splitting hair over splitting team

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Priyanka is the coach for a team making firmware and software for ECUs (electronic control units) and app layers above. Due to the number of fragmented technologies in the solution and the workload, the manager Jaspreet Kaur has felt it necessary to form a team of 15+ people. She had selected Scrum for her team as part of an Agile adoption initiative in the organization. Priyanka, a newly-assigned team coach brings up the team size with Jaspreet and advises her to please divide the team into two 7 +/- 2 as that is the norm. Jaspreet felt that the coach did not at all understand the rationale behind constituting a 15+ member team and just throwing the rule book at her. An aggressive Jaspreet conveyed her displeasure to Priyanka in no uncertain terms. Priyanka backed off in haste and is now seeking your advice as her mentor. How would you help Priyanka?

Suggested solution

Nothing erodes the credibility of an agile coach more than being seen as too rule-bound – in direct conflict with empiricism. No doubt, there are time-tested practices and there is no need to re-invent the wheel for everything. But the coach should always be aware and ready to explain the why of certain “rules” – bearing in mind that, as a general rule, there are always exceptions to the rule!

I would help Priyanka to understand the why’s of the 7 +/- 2 norm; ask her to look up the latest Scrum Guide and the original research quoted by Jeff Sutherland; “small enough to be nimble and large enough to be able to produce a meaningful product increment” is the spirit and intent of forming a Scrum team.

Priyanka should also back her recommendations with observations and data – such as how difficult it is to time-box Scrum events with 15+ people, patchy team participation, low overall effectiveness and most importantly, how the team itself is feeling about the team size and impact on self-organizing, communication etc. Priyanka should convey the message that continuing as is, the team would only become less and less responsive with further growth. Adaptation would become slower and slower over time.

Equipped with the above, Priyanka needs to revive the conversation with Jaspreet – find the right moment for it; or influence Jaspreet to re-think via the Scrum Master perhaps!

With the right questions from Priyanka, the team and Jaspreet may well find their own way of splitting the team and try it out for a few sprints.

That said, Priyanka should be prepared for a surprise ending – the team may well switch over to Scrumban, retaining the single team as is, if the bulk of the backlog items turn out to be more un-related than related – such as defect fixes, small enhancements, tasks and such.

What do you think?

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