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Setting up a development team

Last post 02:51 pm April 12, 2020 by René de Ruyter
16 replies
05:06 pm January 18, 2015

Hi! In the scrum guide I didn't find an answer for a quite important question - who should decide about who should be in which team and how the teams should be large - when talking about 100+ developers... Are it developers themselves, who decide? Or should it be done by PO/SM? Thanks for advices.

09:55 am January 20, 2015

Hi Martin,
you are right, the Scrum Guide covers the development, but not the team building. This is a complementary practice and described "elsewhere", e.g. in the book "The enterprise and Scrum" by Ken Schwaber.
The Scaling Scrum approach is actually to bring the 100+ developers in one room and give them the task to build teams of 3-9 people. This supports self organization and puts responsibility where it belongs. You can help them a lot by presenting the Product Backlog and other useful context information.
Best, Ludwig

04:25 am January 21, 2015

Definitely not Scrum Master who chooses who should be in the team as he is not a Project Manager.

Product Owner can choose and structure the team composition.
Ideally though the development team self-organise and form the team composition. As an SM, I've pushed it back to the team to form themselves quite many times :-)

01:21 am May 6, 2015

It usually is better to get the development team self-organize and form different teams. PO/SM ideally do the tasks but sometimes it is better to leave the decision on the development team itself.

02:55 am May 8, 2015

Hi Martin,

Figuring out the difference between team management and scrum leadership can be delicate, and it sounds as if you've hit on one of the areas where the two sometimes overlap. Organizing a large collection of developers into productive teams isn't easy.

One of the advantages of Scrum is that the team organization isn't something that has to be permanent. Unless the organization insists that each developer commit to one team and never shift, the ability of teams to learn and adapt is a very helpful. At the retrospective for one sprint, the team may realize they need a developer with a different skill set, and reach out to the organization to bring someone in. Or a developer may find a strong interest in another team's project and move to that team.

Managers are responsible for keeping track of the workers and making sure everyone is engaged and productive. Scrum masters can help by encouraging participation and transparency, so teams can learn and adjust as their needs become clearer. Product owners may be able to provide some guidance, but the decisions should rest with the managers, and be informed most strongly by the team's own self-reflected needs.

I hope that was helpful. If your situation is very different from what I described, I'll be interested to hear how you approach it.

11:01 am March 3, 2018

Hi all,

I remember this question appearing in my certification exam. In theory, 100+ developers should self-organise and form  their own teams. However, based on my experience and in practice, I think this is very difficult to achieve. I've managed software delivery teams of 200+ people scattered across the globe and hoping that they would self-organise and form their own teams didn't seem like the most practical idea. Co-location of teams nowadays is becoming more and more difficult with cost restrictions and customer demands. For a one-time event, it is also very expensive to fly all 200+ people and put them in the same room. At the end of the day, theory has its place in this world and we should know when we should be taking it with a grain of salt.



01:29 am March 8, 2018

Agree with RJ. Of course, only developers should self-organise and form their teams. But in reality we are facing with a little problem: it is very hard to guess correct teams at the 1st attempt. Because by Development Team we mean not only developers, but also analysts, designers, testers, etc. And just imagine the group of more than 100 workers who are trying to create teams. 

11:57 am April 15, 2019

 In the book 'Software in 30 days' by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland , there is a line on page 58 Chapter 5  "The First task for the scrum master is to find developers to form the development team".

I am still confused here. Does scrum master plays any role in forming the development team or  am i misinterpreting the line.


08:07 pm April 16, 2019

A Scrum Master might have a hand in facilitating such things, in so far as the service includes planning Scrum implementations and leading the organization in Scrum adoption.

08:56 pm April 16, 2019

As @Ian says textbook is Scrum Master facilitates which is what you will find on Scrum Master certification exams.  But I haven't actually seen that in action.  My experience has been that the Development Manager (or whatever title you use) will be the ones that decide which Developer lands on which team and then all of the Developers on that team will end up reporting to the same Development Manager. I have participated in a "restack" activity where Developers were given the opportunity to change teams based on their skillls and the identified work in a Product Backlog. But even in that case it was all dependent on management approval. 

Reality often interferes with teams being truly self-managed. And even though Scrum does not recognize or mention a "manager" role, corporations still want to have management structure.  Even recognizes that and their Professional Agile Leadership certification provides guidance on how management can actually improve agile implementations. 

04:49 am April 18, 2019

I have participated in a "restack" activity where Developers were given the opportunity to change teams based on their skillls and the identified work in a Product Backlog. But even in that case it was all dependent on management approval. 

And this can still be very motivating to developers; particularly if it offers them a greater level of self-organization than they've had in the past.

I am also aware of cases that allow an even greater level of autonomy.

One option is to give developers guidelines that they should keep within, but then otherwise leave them to choose who is on which team. As long as the guidelines are followed, there is no need for management approval. The guidelines could be things like:

  • "Each team has the following competencies…"
  • "Two senior developers on each team"
  • "Everyone will get a place on a team"
  • "Each team must be the same size"
  • "If developers are unable to choose teams within these guidelines, the manager will decide"

I also recommend this post by Jurgen Apello on the membership Agility Scale:…

05:28 pm April 19, 2019

I believe SM can help in facilitating teams building activity.

PO should share the product vision and explain about product backlog.

Based on the PO explanation, teams should self-organise themselves in the  best possible way, of being cross functional to avoid any inter teams dependencies, to achieve Product vision.

In case there is IT manager or Functional Manager available, He/ she may suggest in teams composition based on past experience but let the teams take final decision. 

08:59 am August 8, 2019

In his book, The Enterprise and Scrum, Ken Schwaber mention two contradicting practices:

First, he answered the legendary question:


How do I organize my people into Scrum teams?

The Product Owner and ScrumMaster are the first people on a Scrum team. They are responsible for selecting the Scrum development team members. To optimize the productivity of the team, the developers are selected based on three variables:

  • People who have successfully worked together previously

  • People who understand the product or business domain

  • People who know how to use the selected technology

    The team is also selected based on what constitutes a "done" increment. For instance, if user documentation is part of an increment, the team should have a technical writer.


Then he mentioned a story about Woodgrove Bank, and how they only succeeded when Jack and him let the developers self organize themselves:


This meant that they were to come up with the best team structure and internal processes for developing Teller4U using Scrum. 


It's pretty confusing for exam takers, since we all know that there's only one correct answer for the exam, however, in real life there could be multiple answers depending on the situation.

I think should give clarification about how this question should be answered in the exam!!



M Sobeih 

05:50 pm August 11, 2019

Nice feedback folks! This will save my day! :)

02:44 pm January 30, 2020

All, last input from August 2019 was

"I think should give clarification about how this question should be answered in the exam!!"

and it is JAN 2020 and I would be heavily interested about a formal reply.

I passed PSM1 yesterday and during exam that question came up not with +100 developpers, but with +200.

I picked the "bring the 200+ developers in one room and let them self-organize" answer, but sorry, this is wishful but not realistic, specifically in a distributed solution delivery world with multiple locations onsite / nearshore / offshore, different employee types including contractors and multiple hiring managers.

Personally, I would expect a comprehensive - and realistic - answer first in the NEXUS guide and second in the Agile leader reading material.

10:37 pm January 30, 2020


I would start with the Scrum Guide and how it describes the Development Team and its creation:

There are also several comments above from Professional Scrum Trainer including Ian Mitchell, Joshua Partogi and Ludwig Harsch.  

As per your test, there are no questions on the PSM I test that discuss 200+ people nor any questions or answers that ask about a room, so not sure what you are referring to there and I have looked at your test to be sure that no questions like that were there. 

08:18 am April 12, 2020

I have done a view workshops and helped people to self organize into teams. These setups contained no more than 50 people and even so, it took a lot of hard work and time to get to a desired outcome. Still, not everyone was happy with the outcome, so we decided to do this quitte regularly (in these cases every quarter or half year).

The main problem was determining how to divide the responsibility of the complete set of teams over the teams. This was the case in all these workshops. Some teams found that division along customer journey lines was best, in other occasions teams found it better to slice the teams along micro product parts and another workshop has an outcome based on communication channels.

Note that it took some effort to guide people’s thinking away from component and architectural lines of responsibility. Especially since these responsibilities must still be shared by teams. The teams decided to create guilds. A kind of component ownership evolved that overarchs the teams. Then people also organized chapters in which people with the same required skill set could learn from each other. Great thing, despite the fact that we could not completely do away with inter team dependencies.

The things and subjects that have been taken into account were tremendous. Things like: what is this business really about, what does this company want to achieve, where do we stand on the technological imaginary roadmap, does everybody have the right skills, how is the architecture setup, what technical and non technical skills do we have on board, and the list goes on.

It would be great if these kind of workshops can be run on 100 or even 200+ workforce sizes. But with these sizes, figuring out what kind of teams should be created, will be very hard.

Yes, if team responsibility and scope have been determined upfront and you then organize a workshop and let people organize themselves in what team who is going to contribute, that can work. Also on the bigger scale (still considering of course the challenges you have with distributed or remote teams) this can work.

However.... determining what teams should exist (responsibility and scope wise) in a good way, may be too daunting a task to be determined by people that do not have their feet in the mud. Like the CTO, SW development manager, Scrum master and Product Owner. Architects (whether or not embedded in current teams) can be helpful. But still, no one knows better how thing work and don’t work than the people doing the actual daily development.


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