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Scrum is not Peanut Butter

Over 10 years ago I saw a presentation by my friend Jennifer Fox on Usability. In this presentation Jen displayed a slide of a giant jar of peanut butter with a red line through it. “Usability is not peanut butter,” Jen said with a smile.

I remember thinking, “What on earth is she talking about?” It seemed like a very strange and rather strained metaphor, but I listened intently, interested in where she was going to go with it.

Given that I remember Jen’s slide 10 years later, I have come to appreciate her brilliance. Strained metaphors can really stick, like… well, you know.  I have decided to steal the idea and apply it to Scrum.

Scrum is not Peanut Butter.

You cannot just spread Scrum on top of whatever you were doing and expect it to taste yummy, and somehow work.

I told you it was a strained metaphor, but it does work.

I know from personal experience it can be really easy to scale agile to a large number of people. But you have to start out with the goal of scaling in mind. You cannot just spread Scrum on top of your existing organization like peanut butter.

Fortunately, I have an alternative to the peanut butter method. It you are trying to roll out Scrum to a large number of people, and you want it to be smooth and effective, follow this simple formula:

  1. Get a core group of employees who are willing to commit to giving Scrum a try, about thirteen people. Train them all in Scrum.
  2. Select 9 to be the Scrum Team. One to be the Scrum Master. One to be the assistant Scrum Master. One to be the Product Owner. One to be the Assistant Product Owner.
  3. Train the Scrum Master folks to be Scrum Masters. Train the Product Owner folks to be Product Owners.
  4. Start doing Sprints.
  5. Get good at Scrum. Use outside coaching to help.
  6. Do some more Sprints.
  7. Do not grow beyond this core team until they are having repeated successes across multiple sprints.
  8. When this team can be successful, split the team into two teams, add additional members to each team to get back to the staffing levels at step 1.
  9. Repeat steps 2 through 6.  Run at least two months before splitting teams again.

Mature Scrum teams grow through cell division. If you follow the mathematics of doubling, this pattern scales to even very large organizations very quickly. Lets check:

  1. Team Size 13 – 2 Months
  2. Team Size 26 – 4 Months
  3. Team Size 52 – 6 Months
  4. Team Size 104 – 8 Months
  5. Team Size 208 – 10 Months
  6. Team Size 416 – 12 Months
  7. Team Size 832 – 14 Months
  8. Team Size 1664 – 16 Months
  9. Team Size 3328 – 18 Months
  10. Team Size 6656 – 20 Months

In less than 2 years you can effectively scale full mature scrum teams to over 10,000 people, one step at a time, one division at a time–carefully, methodically, predictably, and reliably.

If you run a very large development organization you should be quite happy with a two year adoption timeline, this is very fast change for a large organization. A lot will have to be put in place to make this work but it can be done. And, by growing your scrum abilities in this way, the entire process of changing core behaviors of the organization becomes much less painful.

It really really works.

Scrum is not peanut butter.

You cannot just spread it on top of an existing organization and expect it to taste good. But, with a little planning, you can divide and conquer.

-Tom

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