What is Small Scale Scrum?

Here's how the scrum agile methodology can help teams of three or fewer work more efficiently.
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Agile is fast becoming a mainstream way industries act, behave, and work as they look to improve efficiency, minimize costs, and empower staff. Most software developers naturally think, act, and work this way, and alignment towards agile software methodologies has gathered pace in recent years.

VersionOne’s 2018 State of Agile report shows that scrum and its variants remain the most popular implementation of agile. This is in part due to changes made to the Scrum Guide’s wording in recent years that make it more amenable to non-software industries.

The guide also changed its stance towards the team size needed to implement scrum: The previous recommended team size of 7±2 changed to a range of 3-9 people. 

[Download the Introduction to Small Scale Scrum guide]

Like in agile, scale is a hot topic in scrum, with a battleground of competing frameworks vying for supremacy. Scaling frameworks have focused on allowing multiple teams to coordinate in a seamless manner and, in essence, promote scrum at a large scale. However, scaling down (below the recommended minimum team size) is not gaining traction, even though it is the way many sectors operate.

For example, paid-for consultancy work typically involves one or two people working on a short-term project; since consultant costs are often charged by the hour or day, a smaller team provides maximum value for the customer. Open source contributors very often work alone, albeit part of a much larger community. And college students completing final-year projects or research assignments usually work in solo mode, with small teams forming in some cases.

All of these formats can follow an agile way of work. Scrum’s principles and execution have been applied to small-scale teams; however, they’re often applied in a way that leads to something slipping. In our experience, that is quality. We set out to investigate whether we could maintain a high level of quality and output with a reduced team size.

What is Small Scale Scrum?

The result of our research is Small Scale Scrum, a long-awaited and novel concept in agile “supporting planning, developing, and delivering production-quality software solutions.” Small, in this case, is a maximum of three people. According to an extensive survey, this is something the industry, customers, and small development teams have been asking for, as this team size is more realistic for their needs. Organizations that engage in consultancy projects are particularly asking for ways to run scrum projects with one or two developers, due to the industry-wide acknowledgment of the approach’s efficiency. Given that scrum has amended its guidebook to include non-software industries, this approach could benefit many different sectors.

In this guide, we’ll explain Small Scale Agile—what it is, how it works, and how it can help small teams work better. In future articles, we’ll cover the Small Scale Agile Manifesto, framework, and principles and describe our survey results, and where to go next.

Download the Introduction to Small Scale Scrum guide

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Agnieszka is an Associate Consultant working for Red Hat App Dev Center of Excellence and developing software solutions for customers in small 1-3 person Agile teams. She spent a year researching Small Scale Scrum for her final thesis and has recently graduated with MSc in Computing (Communications Software).
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Leigh is an Engineering Manager and passionate about process improvement and researching new ways to approach problems. He is an accredited ICF Coach and has led several Agile transformations within Red Hat.

1 Comment

Some (actually a lot) of my clients have only one or two person assigned to learn and work in an agile team. Reality is they are still not able to commit to full time on sprints, so while scrum is a great place to start, we move from scrum to kanban fairly fast and start to remove the ceramonies given we are only a few people and when we are working many times in the same area or close proximity. Nice article, lots of scrum-but today given the fact that agile has moved on beyond scrum, the limitations of scrum and organizations cannot always adopt scrum right away, I have found success with Disciplined Agile which includes scrum. Dont get me wrong, scrum was awesome, however its (and here I go poking the hornets nest) is really Dev/Dev ... its missing the Ops part! ;) Nice thesis Agnieszka!

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