Feature Teams

The Development Team (a.k.a. the team)

By the Scrum guide:

  • Self-organising: the team determines itself how to organise and execute their work
  • Cross-functional: the team possesses all the necessary skills and competences to produce a potentially shippable product increment

Feature team

The term feature team has been coined by Craig Larman and Bas Vodde (2010).

Source: http://www.featureteamprimer.com

A feature team is a long-lived, cross-functional, cross-component team that completes many end-to-end customer features—one by one

A feature is able to take in a customer feature (requirement) and handle it end-to-end and in this way capable to deliver value iteration by iteration.

Feature teams

Source: http://less.works/less/structure/feature_teams.html

Most teams are not feature teams. There’s an attempt to create a cross-functional team, but that team does not possesses the skills necessary to implement a customer-centric feature end-to-end.

Traditional organisations are composed of component teams – a component team specialises in one particular line of work.

A feature team organization exploits speed benefits from specialization, as long as requirements map to the skills of the teams. But when requirements do not map to the skills of the teams, learning is ‘forced,’ breaking the overspecialization constraint.
Feature teams balance specialization and flexibility.

In large traditional structured organisations the number of component teams is huge: a sub team for each and every ‘phase’ of the project or system involved:

  • marketing / business concepts, business analysis, functional analysis, copywriting, visual design, user interaction / user experience design, technical analysis, technical design, front-end development (subteams by technology), back-end development (many subteams for each component or layer), network, server-system infrastructure, mainframe systems, webserver, etc – the list is long.

There’s a terrible overhead and waste in coordination, hand-overs, communication.

Coordination Chaos:

Creating true feature teams is a major and important step in the organisation’s redesign to become agile.

Generalizing specialists

The team itself is cross-functional, this means that the team as a whole requires the skills to implement the entire customer-centric feature end-to-end.

People within the team have multiple specialisation (skills): you need to ask and encourage (incentive) your team members to have secondary, tertiary skills. If the people don’t have those other skills, apply co-learning techniques.

Scott W. Ambler coined the term “generalizing specialists” to define the need for multi-disciplinary team members.

Mind map Large Scale Scrum (LeSS)

Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS)

Large Scale Scrum

Scaling Scrum addresses the questions/challenges which arise when applying Scrum (Agile) in a large context: an organisation or project with multiple teams, possible multiple products. The scale can vary from a few teams to dozens of teams (e.g. a few hundred or even thousands of people). As such a framework for ‘Large scale’ Scrum should be able to scale indefinitely. The challenges/issues involved are: cross-team coordination, organisational design, impediments resolution, backlog refinement and building one integrated product. Simply said, all the challenge you face in 1 team Scrum, but on a (much) large(r) scale.

The first advice given is: do not scale Scrum, do not multi-site! If you can create your software product with 1 team, go ahead and work with 1 team.

Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) can be called a ‘framework’ for scaling Scrum, but rather it defines a set of additional rules and guidelines. These rules are very much aligned with Scrum, and feel very natural. LeSS does not introduce an additional detailed process layer on top of Scrum. In that perspective, LeSS is very straightforward and lightweight.

Large Scale Scrum = Scrum. This is rational and very recognizable, but obviously does not take away the challenges. This is aligned with the vision of scaling Scrum by the official Scrum institutions: get basic Scrum right for your teams, scale only if necessary. Scale professional Scrum. Transparency is the key element to succeed. Unfortunately most (large) organisations are very un-transparent in most of all the things they do. As with Scrum, a scaling Scrum framework remains a framework (not a one-size-fits-all solution) for complex product development, in which teams will need to apply practices and methods and measure work in an empirical way.

LeSS and LeSS Huge

  • LeSS: Up to eight teams
  • LeSS Huge: Up to a few thousand people on one product

LeSS clearly defines to build 1 integrated product, with 1 product backlog. Sprint planning part 1 happens with all teams (or with team representatives). The Sprint Review is for all of the teams to review the one potentially shippable Product Increment together. The focus is on the whole product. An Overall Retrospective does not exist in standard Scrum. Its purpose is to retrospect on the previous Sprint(s) from a product perspective cross-team.

LeSS Huge provides a set of rules for a setup with a lot of teams – the ‘tipping point’ is ~ 8 teams, but it rather depends on the feeling and workload of the product owner. If the product owner cannot handle anymore the workload to own his backlog, LeSS Huge provides an answer by introducing ‘requirements areas’ (a set of customer-centric feature areas) with an additional responsible product owner per requirement area.

Flip the system

A key take-away is the fact that support of top-level management is absolute required to be able to transform an organisation to become effective in agile product/software development. As such, this is not new, but essentially – in the context of Large Scale Scrum – this implies the ‘go’ or ‘not-go’ decision.

A LeSS consultant goes in and talks to the management to discuss the required changes in organisational design and the need for good engineering practices. If the management is not convinced or does not acknowledge the need for such changes – basically the LeSS adoption would be a ‘no-go’.

An adoption flips the organisational system for 1 particular product (or product group), not for the whole organization. When the adoption for this 1 product is successful, you continue to spread to adopt the way of working to other products of the organization.


A part of the course addresses the adoption and the preparation involved to adopt LeSS. There is no perfect time to start agility; rather ‘initiation’ of the transformation to agility can start at any time and the path to agility is a path of continuous improvement.

There are different views on when to start the first sprint: you can start right away (knowing you will not be able to produce a potentially shippable product increment at the end of the first sprint), but you deal with it in an empirical and transparent way during your sprints.

On the other hand, you foresee a preparation period which involves activities to get started:

  1. Educate everyone (including management)
  2. Design cross-functional (feature) teams and create feature team adoption maps
  3. Define the 1 definition of done
  4. Make the product owner, an actual product owner
  5. Keep project managers away from the teams

The preparation includes as well the setup of any facilities, systems, etc. With a good preparation, you have a solid basis to produce working software (according to the definition of done) at the end of your 1st sprint.

The course

The Certified LeSS practitioner is a 3 day course, quite interactive. Craig organizes his course by explaining some content, immediately follow by an individual, team exercise or in-class example. We’ve exercised lots of mind mapping to recapitulate what we’ve just learned and an exercise on causal-loop modelling. After the course, I’ve created my own overall mindmap of the course contents, which I’ll use as link to explore further topics. Both Ari Tikka and Ahmad Fahmy were present during the course. They have both experience with adopting LeSS (Ari in Nokia Networks, and Ahmad in Bank of America Merill Lynch).

Craig takes time to address almost each question or concern raised, or parks it with consideration. He emphasizes very much (as he should) on core Scrum and empirical process control.

Craig breaks the course in unequally time-boxed pauses, and spices it up with miscellaneous useful and useless stuff and quite a few bad Canadian jokes (no further spoilers mentioned here) J

Each participant received a copy of the scaling books + print-out of the slides (the slide deck is about 300 slides). Any particular issues regarding multi-site or offshore agile development are part of the resources, but not addressed in the course. Most large organisations have some kind of offshore/nearshore development on-going (or past this, after lots of misery) – it would have been very interesting to get some more explanation or guidelines on this topic.


After completion of the course, you are a Certified LeSS Practioner. The course is as well accredited by the Scrum Alliance, as an added qualification on the topic of Scaling Scrum Fundamentals.


The site http://less.works provides a lot of info on the framework. It’s much recommended to read the material on the site (it contains a lot): minimum minimorum the LeSS rules, but mostly read as well the LeSS framework, principles, and structure.

Craig Larman and Bas Vodde are agilists with lots of experience in Scrum and scaling Scrum/Agile. Craig has a focus on organisational re-design and systems thinking and he servers as consultant for large-scale Scrum and enterprise agile adoption.

Craig and Bas have authored 2 main books on Scaling Lean and Agile development:

2010 – Practices for Scaling Lean and Agile Development – Craig Larman, Bas Vodde

2009 – Scaling Lean and Agile Development – Craig Larman, Bas Vodde

There’s an upcoming book 2015 – Large-Scale Scrum: More with LeSS, Craig Larman, Bas Vodde, which will contain a structured explanation on LeSS as a framework for Large Scale Scrum. I expect this book to be much aligned with the content of the website and the content of the course, presumably filled with examples and extra guidelines.

This article expresses my personal view regarding the Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) Practitioner course, given by Craig Larman – March 2015, Brussels. In case of any remarks or questions, don’t hesitate to reply.

My LeSS mindmap

(click for full-sized image)

Mind map Large Scale Scrum (LeSS)

Mind map Large Scale Scrum (LeSS)


Lean Coffee: power to the people!

Vandaag mijn 1e lean coffee sessie bijgewoond.

“Lean coffee” is een meet-up format waarbij de agenda door de aanwezigen bepaald wordt:

  • elke participant kan items voorstellen om te bespreken
  • elke participant kan stemmen op de items; de items komen aan bod in de volgorde volgens de meeste stemmen
  • de discussie tijd is beperkt (vb. initieel 8 minuten)
  • stemmen: nadat de tijdspanne voorbij is, kan elke participant aangeven wat hij er van vindt (goed => verder gaan met de discussie, middelmatig, of slecht)
  • als er consensus is om hetzelfde item verder te bespreken, kan dit, maar met een kortere tijdspanne (vb. extra 5 minuten); anders gaat de discussie over tot het volgende item
  • in een kanban (in zijn meest eenvoudige vorm: “to discuss”, “discussing”, “discussed”) hou je een overzicht bij van de flow van de items
  • de aanwezigen kunnen notities nemen, indien gewenst
  • (optioneel) op het einde van de lean coffee, kan je de belangrijkste bevindingen distilleren

Lean coffee kanban

Voor meer info over de “antwerp lean coffee” (georganiseerd door Patrick Steyaert en Arlette Vercammen), bezoek antwerp.leancoffee.org (in tegenstelling wat de naam doet vermoeden, gaat dit op verschillende locaties door en niet enkel in Antwerpen).

Meer info:

The Case Against Agile: Ten Perennial Management Objections; More On Why Managers Hate Agile (Forbes.com)

The Case Against Agile: Ten Perennial Management Objections

Artikel over de discussie waarom agile development niet effectief, niet van toepassing zou zijn voor bepaalde organisaties, situaties. Het weerlegt een aantal van de typische argumenten contra.

More On Why Managers Hate Agile

Artikel over de conflicten tussen agile en de traditionele management aanpak. Een mooie verwijzing naar een copernicaanse revolutie: agile vereist een ‘paradigm shift’ in management denken en doen.

Artikels geschreven door Steve Denning (auteur van boek: The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century)