Establishing and Maintaining Top to Bottom Transparency Using the Meta-Scrum


Agile processes and practices have gained enough attention that both IT businesses and product development organizations are engaging in large Agile implementations. These larger-scale products, programs, and projects are more complex, have more dependencies, and present significant challenges. According to the second annual "State of Agile Development" survey, Scrum (and Hybrid XP/Scrum) is being chosen over other Agile methods 60% of the time. For larger multi-team implementations, Scrum has an advantage of providing successful scaling techniques. For example, the Scrum-of-Scrums meeting helps teams synchronize and coordinate with the purpose of executing on the Product Backlog. When the Scrum-of-Scrums is insufficient because multiple organizational units need alignment, and consent must be obtained from high levels, the coordinating Meta-Scrum meeting adds balance because the Meta-Scrum is Product Owner focused while the Scrum of Scrums is team focused. Agile principles, including "Working software is the primary measure of progress," mean we must have a focus on releases - and releases are the primary focal point of a Meta-Scrum throughout the project lifecycle. A properly executed Meta-Scrum helps drive transparency vertically into the organization.

Expectations of a Product Owner

To set the stage for what a Meta-Scrum can accomplish, we need to consider what a Product Owner is expected to do. Scrum asks for a Product Owner to equip the team(s) with a vision and a list of prioritized items of work to be implemented. Scrum also asks the Product Owner to be able to evaluate the working software increments for potential release. Scrum further asks for expected business value and projected ROI to be available so the project can demonstrate the realization of value. If not, it may be usurped by something of more tangible value. The Meta-Scrum meeting follows a similar cadence like iterations to achieve an Agile rhythm . The meeting helps influencers evaluate and validate the Product Owner's work products and plans along with the value being achieved.

A good Product Owner of a large project has a significant amount of responsibility, as described above, in order to fully enable the team. As a result, expectations and constraints evolve from the effort to deliver what Scrum asks for. These constraints and expectations are often described in the form of high level requirements, budgets, and schedules. Since many organizations have complex environments, scale, and research methods, they typically have already adopted formal processes to help them define and prepare the information asked of Product Owners by Scrum. This work inevitably leads to some commitments being made, from plus or minus 10% to 50% of what was requested. [iii] This information represents the initial plan.

Increasing Transparency with the Meta-Scrum

Scrum provides frequent feedback through the empirical process control mechanism of inspection and adaptation. An IT manager recently described his career as one of "resolving tension." The release-centered focus of the Meta-Scrum helps reconcile the opposing forces of a plan's constraints, and the current reality revealed through the transparency of Scrum. However, in spite of the simplicity of Scrum, large initiatives are inherently more complex. Costs of scaling are often underestimated, even though they are well-documented. Barry Boehm claims this diseconomy of scale is caused by the time involved in increased communication. [iv] When embracing the feedback (good and bad) available through the use of Scrum, certain assumptions start revealing themselves as flawed. Risks become reality and changes become necessary. New information becomes widely known, even though this knowledge probably existed within someone earlier. These realities are at odds with the inertia of the initial plans because they threaten the initial plan. For these large initiatives, re-planning is very hard. A Meta-Scrum meeting achieves transparency so these tensions can be resolved by helping both responsible and accountable parties understand, coordinate, and respond to the release plans, along with any changes to the release plans, with the added goal of minimizing additional venues for decisions about a release.

Multiple Product Owners

Large initiatives tend to have several Product Owners. In this case, there must be one Chief Product Owner who reconciles the priorities of the other Product Owners. The Chief Product Owner is responsible for the plan and for conducting the Meta-Scrum meeting. The participants act as (are analogous to) a Board of Directors who review and approve the plan. The participants must have the authority to make decisions. Decisions need to be binding for the people in attendance. If someone is missing, that person must act in agreement with the decisions made in the meeting.

Important Artifacts in the Meta-Scrum

Tension can be identified and resolved when the business executives or Chief Product Owner is prepared with a roadmap that represents the desires of the business. [v] The Release Plan is created

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