To Scale or Not To Scale, that is the Question

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How to scale Scrum and agile to large organizations has been a hot topic in the community since 2012. The advent of new team level practices has leveled off and the industry has more or less settled on a set of standard practices, whereas how to organize teams of hundreds or thousands of people was less defined.

In the past several years, a handful of scaling frameworks has emerged: Nexus, SAFe, LeSS, DAD. They’re all trying to tackle the same problem: How do you improve agility in a complex system with interwoven dependencies over a large organization?

To an organization attempting to select a scaling framework, the choices can feel overwhelming. To compound competition in the scaling arena, there exists an active community who insist scaling simply doesn’t work.

Jez Humble falls into the latter camp; At Agile India 2017, Jez will be giving a talk on “Why Scaling Agile Doesn’t Work.” In this talk, Jez will explore the pitfalls he sees with existing scaling frameworks. In Jez’s previous talks, he has railed against the trend of taking large projects, splitting them into small pieces, and farming them off to teams. One of the biggest risks with large projects is that it doesn’t tackle the underlying uncertainty in software development by validating hypotheses before spending large amounts of money.

The other pitfall Jez identifies is disconnecting measurable outcomes from the people doing the work. This can lead to a decrease in employee morale if they don’t understand the purpose behind the work they’re doing, and also removes the opportunity to leverage the brainpower of your development team to come up with innovative solutions and to raise issues with the approach. As Esther Derby puts it, we “separate the head from the hands.”

By developers and product managers working together to find solutions toward a particular outcome and running experiments to validate hypotheses, teams will be more engaged and can avoid waste in development. This is a topic Jeff Patton, an Agile India Keynote alumnus, talks about in his book User Story Mapping.”

To look at the value of scaling frameworks, we first have to understand some of the common problems they are trying to address:

  • How can we reduce dependencies between teams and manage dependencies where we cannot eliminate them?
  • How can we identify bottlenecks in the system and improve flow?
  • How can we address cultural issues in an organization to reduce handoffs and increase a shared sense of ownership?

These frameworks contain a wealth of practical tools to help organizations enhance their agility. At the outset, this looks daunting, and for the uninitiated, it could be challenging to find a place to start. For organizations looking to shift their approach, it is helpful to have some patterns to follow.

The risk can come if an overly prescriptive approach is taken. These frameworks come with a plethora of tools. However, much of this can be situation dependent, just as it is at the team level. For example, Scrum may work great if you have a single client that you can meet with on a regular cadence. You may want to consider Kanban instead if there is high variability in the rate at which work arrives. In complex systems, there are more variables to consider. One size does not fit all.

Don’t Miss the Panel Discussion at Agile India 2017

Agile Scaling Frameworks and their Eco-System – Boon or Bane?

Over the last few years, as agile has gained traction inside the enterprises, we’ve seen many scaling frameworks have sprung up. These scaling frameworks claim to retain the core agile values & principles and aim to provide a simple yet comprehensive way to scale agility across the organization. There have been several success case-studies that have been published. We also hear and see many horror stories of failed scaling attempts.

In this panel, let’s have a critical view of the entire scaling framework eco-system.

Panelists:

  • Jutta Eckstein – Independent Coach, Consultant – Germany
  • Scott Ambler – Co-creator of Disciplined Agile – Canada
  • Bas Vodde – Creator of LeSS (Large-Scale Scrum) – Singapore
  • Kurt Bittner – VPEnterprise Solutions @ Scrum.org – United States
  • Jez Humble – Owner @ Jez Humble & Associates – United States
  • Francis Kelly – VP @ Scaled Agile Inc – United States

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