I blog a lot about the middle class and therefore also about the specific problems it has. However, I would also like to do not neglect the specific problems of large corporations. To this day, I am interested in the specific problems of scaling scrum scrum in large dimensions.

Through my blog, managers from three different corporations have written to me asking me to come by. Of course, I was happy to accept this invitation. The aim was an intensive professional exchange (4h). The agenda of the workshop was as follows:

  • What is the current state of scaling scrum scrum into corporations?
  • What are the challenges?
  • How could these be solved?

Tip:Please read in addition what the differences between small and medium-sized enterprises and corporations are.

Scaling Agility in Corporations

The last time I was really active as an agile consultant in corporations was in 2015, the first teams were organized using agile methods. In particular, the position of team leader was criticized and the importance in an agile world questioned. I found the following scenario (see figure).

scrum-in-konzernen

The teams were aligned with agile methods, had a scrum master (usually done by the team) and a product owner who was either in the team, the team leader or someone from the specialist department. These were often the first steps and my job was to bring agile processes closer to the teams.

Reading Tip: Scale Scrum

Now I was back on site and was guided through the new modern premises of the corporations. It was impressive what was built there. It has 8 tables (1 scrum team) with one board. Then came a small partition or partition furniture for the next agile team.

I was very surprised and also thrilled when I saw the organigram. The three companies have made insane progress and have almost broken out of the structures. For me, there was a flatter hierarchy with 30 to 50 agile teams, which are jointly led by 1-3 department heads as well as 5-10 scrum masters and 5-10 product owners. In addition, there were many other roles such as the Feelgood Manager or similar staff positions.

The following figure shows the scenario using a fictitious group. There are 18 teams as well as 3 Scrum Masters and Product Owners who lead the department. You already notice that a Scrum Master and Product Owner need to supervise 6 teams. There are also two department heads who jointly lead and exchange views.

agile Taylorism
Fictional example of a corporation. There are two department heads (disciplinary leadership) as well as 3 PO and 3 scrum masters who lead the department professionally.

I have to say that I was really excited about what has happened over the years and I think that this is the right way to go. The transformation has napped for a long time, but we are making great strides. I found it exciting that the team leader role has disintegrated and that the department heads are already starting to lead together. I think that a great deal of work was needed to do this. I would therefore also like to express my high esteem for the three companies. If you want to see another approach, you can watch my 2nd Roundtable.

Reading Tip: 2nd Roundtable to Scale Scrum

Lord’s Demands: agile Taylorimus and Scrum Master

Corporations are currently in a major upheaval. Agility is much harder to implement and explore, especially because of the high number of people. We focused on two priorities in our discussions. On the one hand, this is the real performance of the new organization as well as the fact that this form of organization is heavily dependent on the scrum masters and the corporations find too little suitable scrum masters. I now explain both challenges in more detail.

Risk of Agile Taylorism

Agility is behavior, mindset and culture. This is well known. For this reason, coaching and the teaching of the agile mind set are important. This is currently a point that managers want to implement more intensively. Without appropriate culture and framework conditions, one steers into agile Taylorism. What do I mean by that?

The central points of Taylor (1911) were that the main focus of a business organization should be to achieve the highest possible economic exploitation of the worker and the machines. In concrete terms, this means that workers and machines should achieve their highest yield, their highest benefits. Another goal is to divide work into the smallest units. This allows each employee to concentrate on a small part of the work and to do it better and faster. Today we know that it is precisely this work that leads to demotivation and monotony in the execution of tasks. The criticism of Taylor can be found in the “humanization of work”. As an alternative, agile work / agile methods are seen.

So let’s imagine that 40 agile teams each have a Scrum Master who wants to get the most out of the team. Also, the individual components of the software are strictly divided among the teams (one team makes payment, the next makes contact forms, etc.). If we compare this with the sales before, then we realize that we have agile teams, but at the same time we implement Taylor’s ideas very precisely. For this reason, the managers of the corporations are stepping up their efforts here, because achieving Taylorism is not the goal.

Lack of Scrum Masters

You can see that in the fictitious example, three Scrum Masters must accompany a large number of teams. This is a bone job. In none of the three companies were there enough posts on the one hand and enough applicants for the scrum master’s position on the other. However, the exact location of the Scrum Master is crucial for the success and mediation of the agile mindset. I therefore like to call the Scrum Master the “extended arm of agility”. So we have spoken more about this body. The current challenge, according to the manager, is that hardly any scrum masters are found, although many positions are open. Boris Gloger already stated in 2012:Of the 600 I do each year, should 10% per year really want to do scrums? But that is not the case, as I often notice. There is demand, but hardly any people who want to work as a scrum master. What’s going on?”

But why doesn’t anyone want to be a Scrum Master? We asked some employees as well as Scrum Master, who only held the post for some time. In summary, it was said:

  • Scrum Masters have no enforcement skills (no leadership – toothless tiger)
  • Scrum Masters have a lot of responsibility (partly 5 teams) and it is not adequately remunerated.

Overall, the job was described as very ungrateful. It’s certainly tough, because in the example alone a Scrum Master (8-man scrum team) must lead 24-32 developers. As important as the position of the Scrum Master is, it is also difficult to fill it. I had already wondered why many recruiters are currently looking for scrum masters for corporations and freelancers like Sand am Meer are also being ordered as Scrum Masters.

The solution

I then brainstormed all three corporate managers on how we could address the current challenges. You presented me with current ideas and I showed my research results.

Against the agile Taylorism Cross-functional with OKRS

First of all, we discussed how to prevent the concept of agile Taylorism. At first there was the idea that teams should not be set up according to components (unless it is possible otherwise). Thus, cross-functional teams are to be formed. As a result, a wide range of experts such as test, requirements engineering, back-end and front-end developers, etc. are mixed into the teams. This is also known as feature teams.

In order to maintain controllability, motivation and control, we found the concept of OKRS (Objective Key Results) very exciting. OKRS means measuring performance against team goals. I explained this more precisely in another article. In the first attempt, three teams will be controlled via OKRS. I’m looking forward to the results and I’m also trying it out with my team at the moment.

Reading Tip: OKRS – the agile management method

Solving the Scrum Master Dilemma

Scrum Masters are especially important in this form of organization. I therefore also believe that solutions for the Scrum Master positions are not so easy. If you give you more skills, you can immediately use the old team leaders again. Rather, I think that the problem of scrum masters can be solved with the approach of holacracy.

A special Painpoint is the lack of penetration of the Scrum Masters. The aim would therefore be to create a scrum team of scrum masters and product owners, each with a scrum master and product owner. These two have certain competences and are democratically or by consensus elected by the team. So this role can also change. You could call it the Chief Scrum Master and Chief Product Owner. The department management could then act as coach of the agile team of scrum masters and product owners.

Reading tip: Holacracy

Examples from small and medium-sized enterprises

I, too, am currently scaling the Scrum method to several teams in my job. I am currently working for a medium-sized company and of course I do not have 50 teams, but 5 teams. All work for different customers, each of whom is the product owner, which is why we do not have our own product owner. However, each team has a Scrum Master. This ensures that the customer’s requirements can be met and that the team can work to Scrum without any problems.

Our solution is to add the Scrum Masters to an extended leadership board. This Board may take decisions jointly by consensus. Thus, we give the Scrum Masters a forum to enforce decisions. We hope to give the scrum master the position of the Scrum Masters the necessary penetration.

Conclusion and limitation

Of course, these were just the results of conversations over half a day and I certainly didn’t cover all the details. There are other experiments of the corporations such as the appointment of Chief Scrum Masters etc. However, there was not enough time for this or the managers are trying out here and wanted to exchange rather points, which are currently important for them.

Nevertheless, I believe that we have been able to grasp the core and find two exciting challenges and solutions. If you also work in a company, please write to me by e-mail or in the comments whether it is similar for you. I have to pay my respects to the corporations, because they are really well advanced and the journey to agility has already taken shape. I, too, recently completed a change. But you can find this story in another article.

Reading Tip: My Story as a Change Agent

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Taylor F W (1911) The Principles of Scientific Management. Harper and Brothers, New York, USA

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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