Skip to main content

The Founder Effect

One way to scale Scrum is to get one team functioning (mature team) and then populate new teams by dividing the original members up amongst the newly created teams. Does this work?  I think the answer is both yes and no.  Does science have any analogies to study that would help us to predict what factors lead to the yes answer and away from the no answer?

The Founder Effect - an effect that evolutionary biology predicts from the classic theory of evolution.  The most adaptable will survive.  We agilist believe in this theory.  Here's a study of the founder effect in Caribbean lizards.  The study reflects that the founders of a population have a significant  effect upon the new population.  However the environment also has a significant effect.

To draw the conclusion the studies author,  Schoener said: “The answer we found is that founder effects can leave a persistent signal as generations replace one another over time, even as populations adapt to new conditions. Our study of these fundamental evolutionary principles affects our general understanding of how the biological world works.”

What should this tell you about the Scrum scaling practice?  That the individuals that found the new teams will have a large effect upon the team's performance.  And that the environment will influence this team also.  What I think we forget in making this scaling Scrum technique is that significant energy (Scrum coaching) went into the first team.  This is an environmental factor.  If that factor is removed for the subsequent team then the individual will have a much more difficult time instilling the philosophy of Agile by themselves.  Their "signal" will be diluted in the progenitor team.  Now if the organizational values and principles are Agile (truly Agile) then the environment is going to support this lone founder.  Yet, in many transformations this is not true - the scaling happens before the organization has had the changes set.

Founders are very important.  My favorite technique for Scrum adoption is to "stack the deck" - embed 2 or 3 known agilist on the team.  Yet, the environment is perhaps the one thing that the leadership has more control over.

In the book Switch - by Chip and Dan Heath creates a wonderful metaphor for change.  The rider, elephant, and the environment give us a nice model for what we can effect as change agents.

I just walked into the workplace bay of a team that did just this Scrum scaling technique.  Eight months later, I could no longer tell that the teams were practicing Scrum.  The environment did not sustain their new Scrum practices. The founders were mutated toward the old ways faster than they muted the processes toward the new Scrum processes.  The Scrum adoption didn't manifest in the next generation team.
Post a Comment

Most Popular on Agile Complexification Inverter

Elements of an Effective Scrum Task Board

What are the individual elements that make a Scrum task board effective for the team and the leadership of the team?  There are a few basic elements that are quite obvious when you have seen a few good Scrum boards... but there are some other elements that appear to elude even the most servant of leaders of Scrum teams.

In general I'm referring to a physical Scrum board.  Although software applications will replicated may of the elements of a good Scrum board there will be affordances that are not easily replicated.  And software applications offer features not easily implemented in the physical domain also.

Scrum Info Radiator Checklist (PDF) Basic Elements
Board Framework - columns and rows laid out in bold colors (blue tape works well)
Attributes:  space for the total number of stickies that will need to belong in each cell of the matrix;  lines that are not easy eroded, but are also easy to replace;  see Orientation.

Columns (or Rows) - labeled
    To Do
    Work In P…

Exercise:: Definition of Ready & Done

Assuming you are on a Scrum/Agile software development team, then one of the first 'working agreements' you have created with your team is a 'Definition of Done' - right?

Oh - you don't have a definition of what aspects a user story that is done will exhibit. Well then, you need to create a list of attributes of a done story. One way to do this would be to Google 'definition of done' ... here let me do that for you: Then you could just use someone else's definition - there DONE!

But that would be cheating -- right? It is not the artifact - the list of done criteria, that is important for your team - it is the act of doing it for themselves, it is that shared understanding of having a debate over some of the gray areas that create a true working agreement. If some of the team believes that a story being done means that there can be no bugs found in the code - but some believe that there can be some minor issues - well, …

What belongs on the Task Board?

I wonder about these questions a lot - what types of task belong on the task board?  Does every task have to belong to a Story?  Are some tasks just too small?  Are some tasks too obvious?  Obviously some task are too larger, but when should it be decomposed?  How will we know a task is too large?

I answer these questions with a question.  What about a task board motivates us to get work done?  The answer is: T.A.S.K.S. to DONE!

Inherent in the acronym TASKS is the point of all tasks, to get to done.  That is the measure of if the task is the right size.  Does it motivate us to get the work done?  (see notes on Dan Pink's book: Drive - The surprising Truth about what motivates us) If we are forgetting to do some class of task then putting it on the board will help us remember.  If we think some small task is being done by someone else, then putting it on the board will validate that someone else is actually doing it.  If a task is obvious, then putting it on the board will take vi…

A T-Shaped 21st Century Knowledge Worker

Knowledge workers in the 21st Century must have many areas of deep knowledge, while also be capable of collaboration across multiple other domains with dissimilar T-shaped individuals.  This description of a person is a metaphor.  Compare it to the shape of the "I" in the classic saying there is no "I" in Team.

I first read about Scott Ambler's term "Generalizing Specialist" - but it's so hard to remember the proper order of the words... get it backwards and it has an inverted meaning... T-Shaped is easier to remember. 
A generalizing specialist is someone who:
Has one or more technical specialties (e.g. Java programming, Project Management, Database Administration, ...). Has at least a general knowledge of software development. Has at least a general knowledge of the business domain in which they work. Actively seeks to gain new skills in both their existing specialties as well as in other areas, including both technical and domain areas.  General…

David's notes on "Drive"

- "The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us" by Dan Pink.

Amazon book order
What I notice first and really like is the subtle implication in the shadow of the "i" in Drive is a person taking one step in a running motion.  This brings to mind the old saying - "there is no I in TEAM".  There is however a ME in TEAM, and there is an I in DRIVE.  And when one talks about motivating a team or an individual - it all starts with - what's in it for me.


Pink starts with an early experiment with monkeys on problem solving.  Seems the monkeys were much better problem solver's than the scientist thought they should be.  This 1949 experiment is explained as the early understanding of motivation.  At the time there were two main drivers of motivation:  biological & external influences.  Harry F. Harlow defines the third drive in a novel theory:  "The performance of the task provided intrinsic reward" (p 3).  This is Dan Pink's M…