When the pandemic started, we had to move our CSM and CSPO training to an online format. For the certification courses, the Scrum Alliance recommends not more than 30, but for LeadingAgile’s CSM and CSPO classes, we set a target class size at 15 with a max at 18. There are a number of reasons for this:
In each class, we run 3 in-class retrospectives and an end-of-class survey. What we have learned is that the classes rated as delivering the most value are the ones with 12-15 students.
Using Scrum to Run Classes
All our CSM and CSPO classes are run using Scrum and we do everything we can think of to recreate the experience of working on a Scrum Team in the class. Part of this is complying with the Scrum Guide, which requires that Scrum Teams be less than 10 people. With a class size of 12-18, we can establish two teams in class and they can work through the exercises, comparing results and learning from one another as we go through the class. We have experimented with trying to run 3 teams in class, going up to 27 people, but adding that 3rd team adds about 90 minutes to the exercises across the two days. Running 3 teams we also do not have time to get to some of the “extra” topics that are not required by the Scrum Alliance but are important to participants, like User Stories, Vision Statements, or any tactical implementation topics.
In social psychology, social loafing is a characteristic that has been proven over and over again. It refers to a thing humans do when you have them work together. The more people that are engaged in the effort, the less engaged everyone becomes. This is also one of the reasons for limiting Scrum Team size. You can learn more about social loafing here. The way this plays out in class is that when we have larger teams, we typically end up with one or two people dominating the conversation and “leading” the team. In a work setting where the team would be together for an extended period, this is something we could work through, but in two days we simply do not have the time. We’ve found that when the team in class is 6-8 people, more of the team members are likely to engage with one another and collaborate on the exercises.
One of the things we have found to be critical to our ability to deliver valuable classes is the ability to engage individually with each person taking the training. This is one of the reasons we require that every participant have their camera on 100% of the time we are in class. It is also why we have two people facilitating each class. With 15-18 people, our two facilitators are able to check in with each participant periodically throughout the day and make sure things are going ok for them. Sometimes it is simply calling on them and asking them for their thoughts on a topic. Sometimes it is engaging with them 1 on 1 in chat to make sure they are getting what they need. With more than 18, we are just not able to maintain that and the quality of the class drops a bit.
Technology Goes Sideways
No matter what we do to prepare ourselves or what steps we take to safeguard against technology mishaps during class, they are going to happen. Maybe the students did not have time to do the pre-work activity we ask them to do in order to make sure they are set up for the tools we use, or Zoom will drop out, or someone will have trouble figuring out how to use Miro. Even though we block out time at the beginning of each class to make sure everyone is set up, there are always issues. With two people facilitating and 15-18 students, we can manage this, but experience has taught us more than once that going over that number of people in the class just invites risk and puts the value we are able to provide in danger.
Since the pandemic began we’ve spent over 1,000 hours developing, leading, and refining our LiveOnline CSM and CSPO classes. In each class we run new experiments to improve on our ability to deliver a valuable virtual learning experience for our students. We are looking forward to being able to resume in-person classes with a larger class size, but for now, in order to maintain the level of quality and deliver the value we want to provide in our CSM and CSPO classes, we are keeping them small and focused so we can ensure each participant gets what they need from their time with us.