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Scrum of Scrums

The Scrum of Scrums is a scaling mechanism. Scrum scales fractally and by doing so limits the number of communication pathways needed to transmit information relevant to the success of the enterprise. The Scrum of Scrums is analogous to the team level Daily Scrum except the Scrum of Scrums is a virtual team composed of representatives from a number of individual Scrum teams that collaborate to integrate and ship a product(s). The Scrum Masters and anyone else needed to deliver the Scrum of Scrums collaborative Definition of Done meet and communicate impediments, progress, and any cross team coordination that needs to happen by answering for the team the same three questions used in the Daily Scrum.

Estimated time for this course: 5 minute
Audience: Intermediate
Suggested Prerequisites: Daily Scrum, Scrum Master

Upon completion you will:

  • Understand how Scrum scales up from the team level
  • Know the why behind fractal organizational development
  • Lean how Scrum improves communication by reducing it
  • Understand what roles the Scrum of Scrums, the Meta Scrum and an Executive Action Team (EAT) play in a scaled scrum implementation
  • Qualify for Scrum Alliance SEUs and PMI PDUs. See FAQ for details

Scrum of Scrums Overview:

A properly executed Scrum of Scrums is the minimum viable release team for products and product lines. It removes the waste introduced into many Scrum implementations by integration teams, release teams, and release management teams introduced by scaling frameworks that distort Scrum and make it less agile by increasing communication pathways. Ken Schwaber called this an Integration Scrum in his book on Enterprise Scrum.

For teams working on disparate projects or products that have no integration, the Scrum of Scrums is often used as a coordinating mechanism for the organization and may therefore meet less frequently.

Outside the Scrum of Scrums meeting, relevant individuals from the meeting volunteer to deal with eliminating operational impediments that are identified related to the release and deployment process. This is fractally equivalent to Scrum team members working together in a Sprint. For example, a Scrum of Scrums would have coordination mechanisms to deal with cross-team dependencies related to completion of epics required for release.

The role of management in a Scrum of Scrums is critical. They hold the Scrum of Scrums Master accountable for delivery. As a result the Scrum of Scrums Master is usually a more senior person, often at the Director of Engineering or higher level. The Scrum of Scrums is not the Enterprise Action Team (EAT - the management team that deals with company impediments). The Scrum of Scrums may refer company issues to the EAT, although the Scrum of Scrums deals directly with operational issues.

Scrum of Scrums Cheat Sheet

Scrum of Scrums does:

  • Meet once a day after all involved sub-teams have conducted their Daily Stand-up
  • Mirror the team level Daily Stand-up. 15-minutes or less with a potential 15-minute follow-up conversation (often called the parking lot) to flesh out impediments and/or possible solutions. Those not involved may get back to work.
  • Remove impediments for individual teams if possible. If not, they raise them to the next Scrum of Scrums and so on until the impediments are removed or are raised to the EAT.
  • Works with the EAT to help coordinate best practices across the entire enterprise.

Scrum of Scrums does not:

  • Develop backlog. However, may add stories to backlogs.
  • Decompose Backlog
  • Coordinate Epics
  • Plan releases
  • Manage releases

Additional Scaling Roles

Scrum at Scale Keynote Jun 2015 copy.030Executive Action Team (EAT): Is a individual Scrum team consisting of top level executives. The Product Owner of this team should be the Chief Product Owner (CPO) for the entire organization. The individual team members are ideally members of different organizational departments that help execute the vision of the organization as expressed by the CPO. For example, the CPO most likely is the CEO and his or her team may consist of the CIO, CFO, COO, and a Human Resources executive. The make-up of the EAT will depend on the context of the organization, but just like any Scrum team it needs to be cross-functional, self-organzied, and self-managed.


Slide11Meta Scrum: The Meta Scrum is how the Product Owner (PO) role scales in Scrum. The Meta Scrum is a virtual team made up of four to five Product Owners that coordinate Epics, product releases and product lines. An Epic created by the EAT is most likely too big to be completed by one individual Scrum team. As a coordination mechanism the POs from all the Teams working on one large Epic get together when necessary. This is usually coordinated by a scaled network of Meta Scrums including the EAT. The EAT is responsible for creating the organizational backlog that feeds large Epics to the network of POs.


Scrum of Scrums Origins

The Scrum of Scrums was first used at IDX Systems (now GE Healthcare) in 1996-2000. Jeff Sutherland (SVP Development) and Ken Schwaber (consultant) implemented as a technique to scale individual Scrum teams to the enterprise level.  There were eight business units, each with multiple product lines. Each product had its own Scrum of Scrums, some products had multiple Scrum of Scrums with a higher level Scrum of Scrums. Every product had to deliver to the market with a release cycle of three months or less and all products had to be fully integrated, upgraded, and deployed every six months to support regional healthcare providers like the Stanford Health System.

The Scrum of Scrums evolved further at PatientKeeper, where Sutherland was CTO during 2000-2008, to support multiple enterprise releases to both hospital systems and partners (GE and Cerner) every sprint. The Scrum of Scrums was a 15-minute meeting every day to (1) flush out any impediments to any release during the sprint and (2) hear a team level report answering the Daily Scrum questions.

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