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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, scaling is about translating established Agile methods (Kanban or Scrum) to larger teams. 

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 some peculiarities.

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 people admit that Agile is not a simple method, and scaling it is also hard. However, this process doesn’t have to bring trouble. The results depend a lot on the environment in the company.

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. While chasing after revenue can be very destructive.

Scaling may look hard because it introduces coordination between several teams. The more people are involved, the less each person is productive. 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 predict delivery, focus on the right business objectives, and manage cross-team dependencies, which 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 is about building ART (Agile Release Train) or teams of teams. It means that everyone in the company is focused 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 way, teams are focused on paying 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 working with robust metrics around delivery. Teams make informed decisions about who can take on a particular amount of work or certain tasks.

Benefit 3. Facilitating teams of teams planning

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

Scaling Agile solves this problem 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.

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 you to enhance Agile teamwork. The PO expresses the business needs, developers explain implementation, and the tester considers potential problems. This way, you can incorporate different viewpoints and reach a 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 is very efficient in architecture and design in the inception phase. The framework is also 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 is most effective in smaller projects.

5. Find training courses

You can try to get certification in the Scaled Agile Academy. It is specialized in training 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 a 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. 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 takes 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 let the value 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 the 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.