Different Sized Organizations Have Different Dynamics

September 27, 2014 — Posted by Al Shalloway

Note: this blog is part of the Series of Blogs on Scaled Agile, Lean and SAFeTM 

Over the past 16 years I have worked with scores of companies and talked to literally hundreds more.  Different size organizations have differing dynamics.  This might appear obvious (it actually does to any systems thinkers) but it continues to surprise me the number of folks denying or just ignoring this reality. 

Scrum is a good team framework for independent teams working by themselves. The team dynamics of Scrum – cross-functional, time-boxed, more coach than leader – enables an independent team to work well.  Scrum grew out of the idea that a product development team should be given its own reins, so to speak.   But the dynamic on which Scrum as based – peer to peer – doesn’t hold up for long. 

Our experience with software development organizations is that they are molded by several factors:

  • Size (number of people)
  • Geographic location
  • Managerial organization
  • Whether they are cross-functional
  • Number of business stakeholders for which they are working
  • Whether developer and tester are separate roles

The bottom line is that peer-to-peer relationship that works so well in Scrum teams is not the same relationship in so many other organizations.  The social dynamics are quite different from teams in the <10, 10-25, 25-50, 50-100, 100-200, 200-400 and on up.  The idea of 2-pizza teams should make this clear.  But Dunbar’s number, a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships (about 125) also suggests this. 

Social dynamics are different at different levels of an organization and is that way due to the social dynamics of people – something not easily changed.   Scrum’s attitude that Scrum of Scrum’s across all levels works is no less idealistic than LKU’s ignoring the issue by saying teams are orthogonal to the Kanban Method.

On closer examination of  the few Scrum of Scrums I’ve seen successful for making decisions are actually not the peer to peer approach that Scrum of Scrums is defined to be.  Rather it is a Scrum of the product owners of the Scrum teams.  Something ironically we created almost 10 years ago and documented in Lean-Agile Software Development: Achieving Enterprise Agility.

People are tribal in nature.  We care more about the people closest to us than people in our organization further away.  This is not a bad thing.  It is just being human.  When our approach assumes this isn’t true or ignores it completely, bad things will  happen.

This is why the Lean practices of:creating visibility, having an explicit workflow, and creating a common vision are so critical. The combination of Lean-Thinking (systems thinking, flow, build quality in), Lean-Management (managers as leaders and coaches), Lean-Tools (kanban and more), Lean-Culture (improve the eco-system, use big and small changes to improve learning) can unite an organizations different roles and levels.

Please discuss these on the Lean Systems Society Discussion Group.

Al Shalloway 
CEO, Net Objectives

 

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About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With over 40 years of experience, Alan is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, SAFe, Scrum and agile design.



        

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