When it comes to Scrum, size matters – team size, that is! Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos notably coined the phrase the “2-pizza rule,” meaning that Scrum teams should be small enough that two pizzas would be enough to feed the whole group of typically around eight to nine members.

Bezos configured this sizing guidance when he experienced that Scrum teams with enough members to follow this rule had excellent communication and tended to accurately estimate work that needed to be completed.

However, every business is different, and sometimes even an eight-to-nine-person Scrum team can be too many people on one team. You may find that breaking your team into a couple of smaller groups is the most optimal decision for your organization.

Operating a sprint with smaller team sizes may help your team effectively follow the four values of agile better, too. In this article, we’ll be going over what the optimal team size is right for your organization, the pros and cons of varying team sizes, and how you know you need to change your team sizes.

What Should Your Team Size Be?

According to the 2020 version of the Scrum Guide, “The Scrum Team is small enough to remain nimble and large enough to complete significant work within a Sprint, typically ten or fewer people. In general, we have found that smaller teams communicate better and are more productive.”

If your team exceeds double-digit team members, then it is likely that your team is too large, and you may likely be inhibiting the entire team’s communication effectiveness and productivity. The Scrum Guide recommends that in this instance, organizations should consider restructuring their Scrum teams to have multiple smaller teams – each focused on the same product, product goal, product backlog, and Product Owner.

Smaller teams are not always the end-all-be-all, either. While communications may dramatically improve within a smaller team, you don’t need to be a genius to recognize that more people equates to more productivity.

Team maturity may play a vital role in determining your team size(s) also. If you have a team you have worked with before that is efficient, effective, and communicates well, you would likely benefit from having a larger team due to their experience and expertise. However, if your team is relatively new, having a smaller team might be the most helpful to get the ball rolling on the client’s product development.

Challenges of a Large Scrum Team

Large Scrum teams tend to get more done than smaller Scrum teams, but at what cost? Often, large Scrum teams are subject to various things that may slow them down and inhibit productivity.

One thing that may negatively impact the productivity of a Scrum team is that it’s more challenging to self-organize in larger teams. The Scrum Guide states, “Scrum Teams are self-organizing and cross-functional. Self-organizing teams choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside of the team.”

This issue of self-organizing all stems from the communication issues that may face larger Scrum teams. More people leads to more communication, and if your team is not communicating effectively, it impedes the rest of the group, like their ability to self-organize.

While larger Scrum teams tend to get more done, the other edge of this sword is that they face more meetings and longer meetings. Larger teams require efficient Daily Stand-Ups, an essential daily Scrum ceremony for any Scrum team. If their stand-ups are not efficient (i.e., taking longer than the Scrum Guide recommended 15 minutes), it might be because there are too many people on that team.

In addition, more team members means your team has more capacity, which means that your Scrum ceremonies like Sprint Planning will require exponentially more time than a smaller team size, too.

Lastly, another major challenge of large Scrum teams is that the team, in some cases, may have less motivation. If you have a team of 10 people, it’s likely that at some point, one of your developers may become complacent and rely on someone else to pick up their slack. If they have nine other team members to fall back on, there’s a chance that they might take advantage of that.

Why Smaller Scrum Teams Tend to Get More Done

Smaller Scrum teams tend to get more work done for a few reasons. One of the main drivers to them completing more work is that they fail faster together as a team. Failing, despite having a negative connotation, can be a great thing for Scrum teams. To quote C. S. Lewis, “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”

If the team fails together, they will highlight the root causes of the failure and establish what measures they should take to prevent failure in the future. Every sprint has a Sprint Retrospective where the team discusses what went well and what they need to improve on to have a more effective sprint. Doing this helps smaller Scrum teams greatly, as it helps them learn and mature at a much more rapid pace than a larger Scrum team.

The first value of agile is “individuals and interactions over processes and tools,” and the smaller your team, the more interactions you will be having with your team members, as you’re all working towards the same goal. Smaller Scrum teams require more communication and everybody to be on the same page, leading to full transparency across the entire team. Everybody is in the loop, and no team member feels like an outsider.

This also ties into the last significant benefit of smaller Scrum teams: Smaller Scrum teams tend to mesh together and get to know each other better. This is vital to the success of any team, Scrum or not. Whether you’re a chef, professional athlete, or software developer, the better your team knows each other, the better your team’s chemistry is, and the more effective and productive that team is, too.

Challenges of a Small Scrum Team

All that glitters is not gold, and this goes for small Scrum teams, too. A common challenge small Scrum teams face is that the team members may not all think alike, have the same goals, or always agree. This problem can lead to unnecessarily prolonged discussions and disagreements about how to best complete work and create a lack of motivation throughout the team and dissatisfaction for some team members.

In any Scrum team, everyone’s voice is heard and valued. But with a smaller Scrum team, there are fewer voices to be heard, meaning there are fewer ideas to work off and fewer opinions to counteract an approach to completing work.

Teams also may have issues with members having different personalities. As mentioned above, team chemistry is essential and can significantly contribute to the success and capacity of your team. If your team does not mesh well together, it is almost certain that your team’s productivity will take a big hit and have its potential limited.

In Conclusion

Clearly, team size matters. It’s one of the critical answers when asking, “How do I increase the velocity of my Scrum team?” If you’re starting a project or you’re starting with a new Scrum team, start with a smaller one. When your team matures and is continuously exceeding expectations each sprint, it may be time to add some team members to your existing team to increase productivity. If you’ve had success with your agile experience, your organization may consider scaling agile within the company. Check out this article to learn how to scale agile.

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