I took part in a three day course before Christmas to better understand Large Scale Scrum (LeSS). LeSS’ tagline is “More with LeSS”. I’m pessimistic about most “Scaling Agile Frameworks.” Many give organisations an excuse to relabel their existing practices as “agile.” Not to fundamentally change them. Bas Vodde (one of the founders of LeSS’) invited me to take part in a course just before Christmas. I took him up on the offer to hear it “From the horse’s mouth.”
This article summarises my notes, learnings and reflections from the three day course. There may be errors and would encourage you to read about it yourself on their LeSS website, or post a comment at the end of this article.
About the Trainer
I met Bas Vodde about a decade ago. We met at one of the Retrospective Facilitator’s gathering. He is someone who, I believe, lives the agile values and principles and has been in the community for a long time. He still writes code, pair programming with teams he works with. He has had a long and successful coaching history with many companies. He worked with huge organisations where many people build a single product together. Think of a telecommunications product, for example. Through his shared experiences with his co-founder, Craig Larman, they distilled these ideas into what is now called LeSS.
What I understood about LeSS?
LeSS evolved from using basic Scrum in a context with many many teams. I took away there are three common uses of the term LeSS.
- LeSS (The Complete Picture) – The overview of LeSS including the experimental mindset, guides, rules/framework, and principles. See the the main website, Less.
- LeSS (The Rules/Framework) – The specifics of how you operate LeSS. See LeSS Rules (April 2018).
- LeSS (for 2-8 teams) – Basic LeSS is abbreviated to LeSS and is optimised for 2-8 teams. They have LeSS Huge for 8+ teams, and modifications to the rules. See LeSS Huge.
Practices & Rituals in LeSS
LeSS has a number of practices and rituals as part of its starting set of rules. Some of these include:
- A single prioritised Backlog – All teams share a single backlog with a priority managed by the Product Owner.
- Sprint Planning 1 – At the end of this, teams have picked which Backlog Items they work on during a sprint.
- Sprint Planning 2 – All teams do this separately. Like in Scrum, Sprint Planning 2 focuses on the design and creation of tasks for their Sprint.
- Daily Scrum – Each team runs their own Daily scrum as per standard Scrum.
- Backlog Refinement – Teams clarify what customers/stakeholders need. Good outcomes include Backlog Items refined into sizes where teams can take 4/5 into a Sprint. LeSS encourages groups, made up of different team members, to refine Backlog Items. This maximises knowledge sharing, learning and opportunities to collaborate.
- Sprint Review – Teams showcase their work to customers/stakeholders for feedback. The Product Owner works to gather feedback and reflect this in the overall Backlog. Sprint Reviews should not be treated as an approval gate. It’s about getting more input or ideas.
- Sprint Retrospective – Each team runs their own retrospective. As per standard Scrum.
- Overall Retrospective – Members from every team plus management hold a retrospective. This retrospective focuses on the system and improving the overall system.
- Shared Definition of Done – All teams share an overall Definition of Done, which they can also update. Teams can build on the basis of the shared Definition of Done.
- Sprint – There is only one sprint in LeSS, so by definition all teams synchronise on the same sprint cadence.
Roles in LeSS
- Scrum Master – Like in Scrum, LeSS has the Scrum Master whose goal is to coach, enable and help LeSS run effectively. The Scrum Master is a full time role up of up to 3 teams.
- Product Owner – The Product Owner is the role responsibility for the overall Backlog prioritisation
- Area Product Owner – In LeSS (Huge), Area Product Owners manage the priority of a subsection of the Backlog. They also align with the Product Owner on overall priorities.
- Team – There are no explicit specialist roles in LeSS, other than the team (and its members).
Principles of LeSS
A key part of LeSS is the principles that guide decisions and behaviours in the organisation. People can make better decisions when taking these principles into account. You can read more about LeSS’ principles here. Like many other agile ways of working, Transparency is a key principle. Unlike other agile methods, LeSS calls upon both System Thinking and Queuing Theory as principles. Both are useful bodies of knowledge that create more effective organisations.
Another explicit difference is the principle of the Whole Product Focus. This reminds me very much of Lean Software Development’s Optimise the Whole principle. I also like very much the description of More with LeSS principle. This principle challenges adding more roles, rules and artefacts. So think carefully about these!
- In LeSS, having LeSS specialisations is a good thing. This encourages more distributed knowledge sharing.
- LeSS explicitly priorities feature teams over component teams to maximise the delivery of end to end value. Both have trade-offs.
- LeSS doesn’t explicitly include technical practices in it’s rules. It assumes organisations adopt modern engineering practices. To quote their website, “Organizational Agility is constrained by Technical Agility.”
- A lot of LeSS has big implications about organisational design. Agile teams showed how cross-functional teams reduce waste by removing hand-off. LeSS will be even more demanding on organisations and their structure.
The creators of LeSS made LeSS Huge because they found a Product Owner was often a constraint. Since Product Owner’s focus on prioritisation, it’s hard to keep an overview and manage the priority of 100+ Backlog Items. (Note that teams still do the clarification, not the Product Owner). With 8+ teams, they found even good Product Owners could not keep on top of the ~100+ refined Backlog Items (which normally covers the next 3+ sprints).
LeSS Huge addresses this by introducing Categories (aka an Area). Each Backlog Item has its own category, and each category then has an Area Product Owner to manage the overview and prioritisation of Backlog Items in that category.
Guidelines for creating an area:
- This should be purely customer centric
- Often grouped by stakeholder, or certain processes
- Could be organised by a certain market or product variant
- No area in LeSS Huge should have less than 4 teams
After taking the course, I have a much stronger understanding of LeSS’ origins and how it works. After the course, it feels much LeSS complex than when I first read about it on their website. It includes many principles which I run software teams by. I can also see many parallels to what I have done with larger organisations and LeSS. I can also see how LeSS is a challenging framework for many organisations. I would definitely recommend larger product organisations draw inspiration from LeSS. I know I will after this course.