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By Pavel Kukhnavets

Agile at Scale

Scaling Agile: benefits, techniques for scaling, and common challenges to overcome.

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Agile at Scale

Agile methods are everywhere. Businesses all over the world that perform in accordance with the Agile philosophy can tell their own truth about implementing the values and principles found in the Agile Manifesto.

Agile methods and frameworks are rapidly maturing, and the associated terminology is part of the modern business lexicon. And of course, there are so many opinions and views on what Agile is and how to make it work in organizations.

One of the most essential challenges is to scale Agile to work in complex settings with larger teams, larger systems, diverse operating environments, and multiple engineering disciplines.

Agile at scale

In this post, we'll try to give you a proper Agile at scale definition, share its benefits and powerful techniques for scaling Agile easily.

What is Scaling Agile?

Scaling Agile is the ability to run Agile at the team level while applying the same principles, practices, and outcomes at other layers of the company. In other words, this is about translating established Agile methods (Kanban or Scrum) to larger teams. What does it mean to scale Agile?

We know that traditional Agile teams work best with groups of five to ten members. As businesses see success in these small groups, they often want to replicate it at a larger group of people. That’s where scaling Agile comes in.

If you think that scaling Agile is as simple as applying traditional Agile principles to a larger group of people, you’re mistaken because this process has it own specific features.

There are eight defined attributes that should be considered when scaling Agile:

  • The size of your team
  • Team roles
  • The role of a product owner
  • The role of a user
  • Iteration length
  • Synchronized cadence
  • Release definition
  • Batch size

All these components play a role in scaling Agile efficiently, however,  getting it right is a complex objective. That is why many organizations use a scaling Agile framework to guide their efforts.

Is Agile at scale hard?

Many admit that Agile is not a simple method and scaling is also hard. From this, we conclude that Agile at scale is very hard in sum. However, Agile is not always hard. It actually depends on a certain environment.

Often companies that strive to scale are not chasing after a great UX or a cozy environment for their workers.  They are chasing after revenue.

Focusing on the user experience and on the healthy environment are typical of an Agile-friendly firm. And chasing after revenue can be very destructive.

Scaling may look hard because it introduces coordination between several teams. The more people, the less each person is productive.

And of course, you must pay them. While individuals are less productive, they still expect to be paid the same.

Why scaling Agile

Nowadays companies need to adapt at an enterprise scale, in order to stay competitive. It is about responding to clients’ evolving needs and delighting them in the process. It is also about providing flexible solutions, supporting teams of teams working on a unified front, changing mindsets, and inspiring Agile ways of working outside of IT departments.

However, if the company has no clear framework or plan, it becomes increasingly harder to scale to predict delivery, focus on the right business objectives, and manage cross-team dependencies. This often leads to a decline in customer satisfaction.

What Are the Benefits of Scaling Agile?

Secrets of scaling Agile

Scaling Agile across the company provides countless tangible and intangible business advantages. It can truly transform the whole organization from better ROI to attracting top talent, from faster time to market to higher customer satisfaction. Here are some evident benefits of scaling Agile:

Benefit 1. Aligning strategy and work

Scaling Agile connects the objectives of a business with the people responsible for reaching them. This kind of alignment creates downstream effects, including accelerating cross-team coordination, fostering transparency, enabling faster response times, and boosting agility if priorities change.

Moreover, scaling Agile focuses on building ART (Agile Release Train) or teams of teams. It means that everyone in the company is centered on producing value for the target audience.

Benefit 2. Improving capacity management

Thanks to Agile at scale, capacity management is aligned with teams of teams and regularly reevaluated.

This allows paying attention to building value, improving flexibility and change. Leaders can reflect and rebalance on a regular cadence with minimal disruption to organizational flow.

They get benefits from stable and persistent teams with robust metrics around delivery. This allows them to make informed decisions about who can take on how much and what kind of work.

Benefit 3. Facilitating teams of teams planning

As you already know, scaling Agile involves bringing people from different departments together under the same umbrella. This may occur within various departments or across the whole business but always requires the need for better coordination and alignment.

Scaling Agile solves this with the help of regular planning events. They bring cross-functional teams together to generate plans, highlight dependencies, and identify risks. These events look like “teams of teams” ceremonies that play a key role in scaling Agile by giving everyone clear visibility into quarterly deliverables.

Benefit 4. Providing enterprise-wide visibility

Planning events are great, however, visibility requires more. By scaling Agile, you get enterprise-wide transparency by connecting and visualizing work from every team. This gives managers a big-picture view into potential bottlenecks, so they can make informed choices to allocate work properly.

Benefit 5. Engaging teammates

Scaling Agile requires trust and autonomy at the team and individual levels.

Team players make decisions about how their work is delivered. They need to get the info about how their work affects the set business goals. This autonomy and trust make them happier and more engaged.

Hopefully, this is clear. Now it is time to discuss the steps and techniques for scaling Agile in an enterprise.

5 Reliable Techniques for Scaling Agile Methodology

Here are effective approaches for scaling Agile to your specific project and team.

1. Start with an MVP

Customers get high-quality and accessible software thanks to the Continuous Delivery strategy. And the process of releasing an MVP (minimum viable product) is essential for earning early feedback and tracking usage patterns to test hypotheses.

Applying MVP, you will preserve important features among large software teams and will save wasted engineering time.

2. Create an Agile backlog

A product backlog in Agile is the set of tasks that must be completed before the code release.

It’s important for product managers to be able to maintain one group backlog for all teams. The backlog allows focusing on high-priority tasks while providing access to all contributors at all times.

3. Create a collaborative culture

Running the meetings that include the product owner, developers and a tester helps to enhance Agile teamwork. The PO expresses the business need, developers explain implementation, and the tester considers potential problems. This helps to provide different viewpoints and group consensus on project status.

4. Choose an appropriate Agile framework

There are three basic frameworks that large enterprises use:

SaFe – the Scaled Agile Framework, DAD – Disciplined Agile Delivery, and LeSS – Large Scale Scrum. Scrum of Scrums is another demanded approach that includes informal training.

These Agile frameworks are based on the ideas originating in Scrum testing.

  • SAFe requires 5-9 people and uses team, program, and portfolio levels with two-week Scrum processes in the XP (Extreme programming) methods.
  • DAD is built on existing Agile techniques. It uses inception, construction, and transition phases and helps in architecture and design in the inception phase. The framework is ideal for deployment in the transition phase.
  • LeSS consists of Framework-1 (for smaller companies) and Framework-2 (for larger ones). This framework puts several feature teams on a single PO, expanding on the basic Scrum framework. It is more flexible and most effective in smaller projects.

5. Find training courses

You can try to get certification in the Scaled Agile Academy. It is specialized in trains on the team, program, and portfolio phases of SAFe. This certificate will be useful for executives, managers, developers, and testers.

There is also the Disciplined Agile Consortium for DAD. It trains and certifies people to become certified disciplined agilist or the Agile coach.

For training on LeSS, try Certified LeSS Practitioner and Certified LeSS for Executives. These programs help students review basic Scrum knowledge.

Overcoming the Challenges When Scaling Agile

Agile at scale

Implementing changes in a small team is one thing. Another point is transforming how the organization thinks and how executes work.

Even the most experienced Agile teams face roadblocks when they decide to scale Agile. The challenges related to scaling Agile usually fall into the following categories:

Cultural challenge

Agile is not only a set of practices but also a culture or shared mindset. The framework used to scale Agile is less important than the shared mindset behind it. However, the mindset can be difficult to build.

Cultural elements combine to prevent any attempt to change it. Failure to shift organizational culture is one of the key reasons for Agile transformation failure.

Scaling Agile requires that companies think, act, and respond differently in every dimension. That shift requires intentions, time, and commitment from the top.

Companies’ leaders must clearly understand the Lean-Agile mindset that includes prioritizing value, flow, and continuous improvement over milestones and requirements. They must be ready to adjust their management styles as well.

Work management challenge

People strive to do their best work and maximize customer value.

In order to realize these principles, businesses have to shift their work management methods to enable value to flow.

Traditional PM approaches estimate the resources and time necessary to achieve that scope. They start with a fixed scope and assume that by defining requirements upfront, businesses can increase success and reduce risks

Agile flips that paradigm. Time and resources become more fixed while scope becomes more fluid. Agile teams get quick feedback and adjust the scope accordingly so that companies can adapt in a nimble way.

Technology challenge

Businesses working towards scaling Agile must also address their technology stack.

Scaling Agile requires increased transparency, visibility, and information flow. For most companies, this is about evaluating and replacing technology solutions.

When planning, financial, and corporate objectives are in one tool, but work delivery is tracked in another tool, then delivery teams are disconnected from strategic goals. Technology tools must support alignment. Even when workflows and the culture are in place, teams can’t scale Agile effectively without the proper solutions to underpin their work.

Final words

As you’ve already understood, scaling Agile is not easy. It will not happen overnight.

Large-scale Agile development is not the end goal no matter whether your company goes all-in on a scaled Agile framework or tries to implement a homegrown process. The end goal is to execute your strategy efficiently.

Try new ideas and make incremental improvements. And remember that the tools you use to support your business play an essential role in scaling Agile.

Pavel Kukhnavets

Pavel is a Content Marketing Manager at &, a project management tool loved both by tech and non-tech people. Pavel writes about the world of Agile project management, covering such topics as popular methodologies, frameworks, techniques, innovative tools, and much more that affect the overall efficiency and productivity of product teams.