Having a Ball – Variant 4 : Team Size is Important

V4 – Team Size is Important

There’s a reason why agile methods emphasize smaller teams: the overhead associated with many lines of communication is a drag on productivity. You want proof? Take a large team that has figured out how to deliver, and then split it into two teams, each with their own product owner. Within a very short period of time you’ll see the two teams are going to outperform the single large team.

Origin: The first time I saw this, it happened organically. I had explained to the class that they needed to form into teams, and each team needed a product owner. That particular class only had one person who was designated to be a product owner, so she assumed that role, and the other twenty-five people just sort of gathered around her. As you can imagine, it took a very long time for a single ball to pass through all the various team members’ hands, so :

  1. Their velocity of completed stories was quite low
  2. There was always a ball in play (unfinished work) when the time expired
  3. There were statistically many more opportunities for the team to flub a toss (drop a line of communication)
  4. For the vast majority of the round, each individual team member was idle, waiting for the current ball to complete the pattern before the next ball started, and they finally got a chance to catch and toss the next requirement.

“You would think”, I commented wryly, “that with this much horsepower on your team, that you’d be able to get a lot more work done.”

“But you said we had to have a product owner on each team, and there’s only one product owner here.”

“I never said the roles in the simulation needed to mirror reality, so technically ANY of you could play the role of Product Owner.”

With that perceived restriction removed, they split into three groups, and almost quadrupled the overall number of balls they got through the system each round.

Reality Check: In this variation, there’s a very simple explanation for the increase in productivity, namely each ball needs to only be handled by half as many people, and thus will traverse a shorter distance. But don’t let that discourage you! In this simulation, the passing of the ball represents the maintaining of lines of communication. There was another way they could have handled it…

Author: Michael Marchi

Michael Marchi CSM, CSPO, SA4 Co-Founder and Board Member @ APLN Chicago (michael.marchi@aplnchicago.org) Manager, Management Consulting / Chicago Agile Practice Lead / Agile Coach & Trainer @ Strive Consulting (mmarchi@striveconsulting.com)