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Scrum@Scale for Organizational Success: Insights from a Scrum of Scrums Master

In American football, being "ahead of the chains" means the offensive team has effectively advanced, making subsequent plays easier and achieving the goal more attainable. It's about being on the right track, consistently moving the ball down the field to score points. Conversely, being "behind the chains" is like a misstep, where the team hasn’t gained enough ground and faces the challenge of covering more distance for a first down—a detour from the path to victory.

This ebb and flow of gaining and losing yardage in football mirrors the journey toward organizational agility in the world of business. As the Vice President of People Operations at Scrum Inc, and after years of training and consulting clients, I've observed how the Scrum@Scale framework functions much like a coach's playbook in this strategic game. It's not just about the individual Sprints of a single team, but aligning multiple teams under a unified strategy, much like a football team coordinates its plays to continuously advance toward the end zone.

Just as a football team's consistent progress keeps them "ahead of the chains" and on track for victory, Scrum@Scale keeps an organization moving forward. It allows room for the ebb and flow. It harmonizes the efforts of various Scrum teams, ensuring that they're not just successful in isolation but contribute to the overarching goal of the company. It’s about making the right plays, at the right time, to collectively score points for organizational success.

The Importance of the Impediment

In a scaled environment, the identification and removal of impediments transcend beyond the domain of a single Scrum team, echoing across the network of teams within the organization. While traditionally in Scrum, the responsibility of impediment removal lies with the Scrum Master and their team, in a Scrum@Scale environment, this task gains an additional layer of complexity and significance.

Regularly identifying and addressing impediments is not just about keeping a single team “ahead of the chains” but ensuring that the entire organization, or the 'team of teams', is advancing cohesively. Each impediment removed at the team level can be likened to a successful play in a football game, contributing to the overall progress and performance of the organization.

The role of leadership in this process is pivotal. In a Scrum@Scale environment, leadership, Agile Coaches, and Scrum Team Coaches must look beyond the immediate team boundaries to understand how impediments in one area can ripple across and impact other teams. This holistic view ensures a more strategic approach to problem-solving, where the focus is not only on maintaining velocity and promoting predictable delivery but also on enhancing the overall agility and responsiveness of the organization.

Additionally, the practice of impediment removal in Scrum@Scale fosters a culture of proactive engagement and continuous improvement. It's about creating a collaborative environment where teams not only identify and solve visible challenges but also anticipate potential roadblocks. This forward-thinking approach, often inspired by traditional project management techniques, involves assessing risks and uncertainties that may not yet be obvious but could significantly impact the organization's ability to deliver value.

Risk Management and Acceleration

As a former project manager, I would regularly assess my project risks, their probability, impact, and plan any mitigating actions to minimize the risk. Taking mitigating actions on those risks reduced the overall risk to the project and helped the project team deliver on-time and on-budget more reliably.

In a scaled agile environment, assessing risks involves a wider lens, looking beyond individual team challenges to potential organizational-level impediments. This approach is crucial for synchronizing multiple Scrum teams and maintaining overall momentum.

In this broader Scrum@Scale context, we list potential risks — uncertainties, unresolved questions — and evaluate them for their likelihood and potential impact, using a straightforward 1–10 scale. This process, more strategic than analytical, helps us prioritize risks in an organizational Impediment Backlog. As a team of Scrum Masters and organizational leaders, we ensure these risks are preemptively addressed, reflecting a proactive approach to maintaining agility and steering our collective efforts toward organizational goals.

Conclusion

As an Agile Leader and Coach, one of my goals is to mentor others in this approach in identifying and tackling team-level and organization-wide impediments. This method, derived from my project management experience and adapted for Scrum@Scale, is more than just a tool for Scrum Masters. It's a strategic guide that enhances our collective ability to stay "ahead of the chains," ensuring that all teams move in unison toward our organizational goals.

I encourage every Scrum Master to adopt this method. In doing so, you're demonstrating the real, tangible benefits the Scrum Master role brings to the enterprise. Handling obstacles and risks effectively goes beyond just keeping projects on track; it shows your capacity to guide and improve the overall performance of an organization. By proactively addressing impediments and risks, you position yourself as a key player in not only leading Scrum events but also driving organizational agility and success.

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