during Release Planning sessions conducted with the Scrum Teams and the Product Owner. When these two are not in alignment, the Meta-Scrum becomes the driver to get resolved.
Helpful Tools for the Meta-Scrum
There are two tools I find useful for encouraging the right discussions in a Meta-Scrum. The first one is shown in Figure 1: Example of a modified RACI chart applied to multi-level planning on Scrum projects. Notice the key difference between the Roadmap and the Release Plans. In this example, when release plans need to change and do not impact the roadmap, the Product Owners have the decision-making authority. Conversely, if the roadmap is affected, the Product Owners must get consent from the executives. The chart in this example has helped executives understand the levers they have and allows the decision authority of the Chief Product Owner to remain balanced.
Another tool that has proven valuable is Jim Highsmith's Tradeoff Matrix which is "an agreement among the project team, the customer (product manager), and the executive sponsor that is used to manage change during the project (Figure 2: Trade Off Matrix)." [vi] This helps stage the discussions by highlighting previous decisions about project constraints. For example, expected quality and date of release are often fixed or at least firmly defined. I saw the tradeoff matrix effectively used when the participants in a Meta-Scrum agreed to postpone a release due to a quality issue. The executives acted as a damage control team and decided how to handle their customers. They provided a much better solution than I typically witness without a Meta-Scrum. There was not any finger-pointing or bickering. The meeting ended on time with agreed upon action items and work continued on the product with the revised release target known by all. Everyone in the organization knew that there would be no changes until the next Meta-Scrum in one week, when the executives removed further impediments, re-established consent, or otherwise responded to current release-focused needs.
Conducting a Meta-Scrum
Conducting a Meta-Scrum requires a strong initial launch to set expectations. Responsible and accountable persons must attend this meeting and be prepared to make decisions or defer authority to the attendees of the meeting. This meeting should occur every week. A person who must miss a meeting for legitimate reasons regains influence the next week when he returns. This rule is critical to the success of the Meta-Scrum. Short meeting intervals also help prevent the need for back-channel or side-channel decisions that are more appropriately contained in the Meta-Scrum. A Big Visible Chart or handouts of the Roadmap should always be available along with Agile release plans. Discussions are centered around changes to the release plans. Obstacles and impediments are raised and action plans captured. Decisions are documented and notes published. It is useful when attendees include team representatives as observers to increase transparency.
In summary, unlike the Scrum of Scrums (where teams synchronize and coordinate with the purpose of executing on the Backlog), the Meta-Scrum focuses on executing on the roadmap and the strategy while eliminating side channel conversations about the releases and the roadmap. It is a gap reduction exercise. It is owned by the Chief Product Owner, who owns the plan. Successful Meta-Scrums provide consistent answers to the question: "Does a Chief Product Owner's Product Backlog have consent of all the Stakeholders?" The Chief Product Owner comes in to in the Meta-Scrum with the plan, discussing what is meant by plan,