Mary & Tom Poppendieck – The Scaling Dilemma

I’ve been a fan of the Poppendiecks’ work on Lean Software Development for a while, so I was quick to sign up when I saw they were coming back to Perth as part of a YOW! Night. The talk was entitled ‘The Scaling Dilemma’, and covered issues encountered in scaling development teams beyond the popular “2 pizza” size. I haven’t worked much with larger teams, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see speakers of this calibre in Perth.

Mary presented (I think Mary always does the presentations) some intriguing anthropological background on why teams are typically the size they are – the 5–7 person inner circle, the 12–15 person sympathy group, the 30–50 person hunting party and the ~150 person clan. She showed some evidence of these organisation sizes recurring throughout human history – the Roman Army & other military groups, stone-age villages, University departments, Gore & Associates, etc. Based on her background in hardware product development, she was most familiar with ‘hunting party’-sized teams.

Other than that, I found some of my key takeaways were:

  • “Monopolies destroy collaboration” – if there’s a group/team/department in an organisation that doesn’t (want to or have to) accommodate others, this will eventually destroy inter-team trust & collaboration.
  • The application of the Theory of Constraints as an underlying principle behind some modern software best practices – eg continuous delivery can be viewed as an attempt to break the release cycle/integration constraint.

It was a really thought-provoking presentation; it’s great to see these sorts of speakers come to Perth where possible – YOW! and BankWest deserve full credit for continuing to make this happen.