The Lead-Squad Protocol

How to successfully drive initiatives, objectives or opportunities that require several squads (or teams) to succeed? How to do this in a way that respects the agile mindset without falling into the command-and-control trap?

Today, this problem is more complex than it seems. We’ve designed and built our squads for self-organization and autonomy in the pursuit of delivering more customer value, faster than before. Aren’t we then inviting problems if we force our squads to collaborate? Won’t the collaboration be inefficient and slow? Isn’t a lot going to fall ‘in between’? Who should do the coordination? Don’t we need a project manager (do we have any left)? Should we rethink everything again?

Here is an introduction to the Lead-Squad Protocol, a lightweight attempt to address this problem in an agile way by creating a working agreement of sort between teams. The intention here is to frame the collaboration by setting boundaries and roles. It is based on the simple idea that one team takes the role of a lead squad, while others squads contribute to the effort.

This protocol has been used by Telenor Sweden (a Telecom Operator) to deliver major strategical initiatives, at times engaging 12 teams.

  • Does it work? Yes!
  • Is it a perfect silver bullet? Sadly no! And it can definitely be improved. For instance, we realized that coordinating 12 teams was very heavy so we came to the recommendation to limit it to 5 (how so? Start by breaking down the work in smaller chunks…). But, of course, it all depends on your context.
  • Isn’t it a Scrum of Scrums? Definitely inspired by it, but not quite it. This is more than just the framework, as you’ll see recommendations on a process and some practices to use.

A disclaimer on your context: depending on the size of your organization, this lightweight protocol may not be sufficient on its own. Organizations with different departments need some sort of a platform for facilitating cross-team collaboration and networking. At the very least a regular Big Room Planning event or, even better, a more continuous cross-team alignment and planning (a topic for a future post).

What’s your experience making squad collaborate?

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