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Smaller Scrums

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

How Joint scrums can drive results and make better decisions

A family that eats together stays together. It’s a line that my mother often cited on why it was so important to eat dinner at the table versus my preferred place near the TV. I miss those family dinners, mostly because of the food, but also because of the conversation and connection we built.

When I joined Amazon back in 2006, I had the great fortune of being a part of the Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) team. I was team member 13. The talent and passion of that core team was amazing. We had a unique take on Scrum; it wasn’t just engineers.

We had a joint Scrum every morning that included all 13 members of the team, including product managers, finance, business operations, and our VP/GM of the business. I LOVED THAT SCRUM.

It was a great place to understand what was going on all across the business, to get that dopamine rush when I finished a story, and to obtain real-time feedback. Yes, it was an expensive meeting, and yes, we stood up for 20 minutes every day, but it was instrumental in our ability to drive impact as a business. Once the team got bigger than 30 people the meeting lost a lot of its value. The meeting went from 20 minutes to 45, people stopped standing, and it was impossible to have a discussion with that many people - you basically had to just listen.

This is where I learned the value of small teams. At AWS, we called these two-pizza teams. "We try to create teams that are no larger than can be fed by two pizzas," said Bezos. "We call that the two-pizza team rule." Smaller teams are often more engaged and feel a greater sense of autonomy. With fewer levels of management to interact with, they are able to make decisions faster. The smaller the team the better the collaboration.

Having smaller decentralized teams helps spur creativity and innovation.  Bezos said, “This decentralized distribution of invention throughout the company – not limited to the company’s senior leaders – is the only way to get robust, high-throughput innovation.”

As the FBA team grew from 13 people to several hundred people, we took the principles of “the two-pizza team rule” to create small independent development teams (~10 people) that we used to create cross-functional Scrums that included business, product management, and finance (~20 people). Yes, it was an expensive meeting, but as my mom might say, a team that eats together stays together. While we didn’t eat pizza during our Scrums, the conversation and connections built there helped the team move faster, increased morale, and helped us understand the value of what we were building.

From my experience, transparency is easiest with a well-connected team that inspects and adapts as needed. This is what a joint scrum enables. Scrum emphasizes that decisions should be made based on observation, which requires transparency. From my experience, this kind of transparency was present when we executed on our two-pizza, family-dinner-style SCRUMS.

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