Agile at Scale

An agile team practicing scaled agile at an enterprise

What is scaled Agile? 

In simple terms, “scaled Agile” could be described as the large-scale development and delivery of enterprise-class systems and software, involving many teams. In truth, scaled Agile means different things to different organizations, but the idea generally is that Agile practices are spread across different teams and departments throughout the enterprise.

Agile frameworks, such as Scrum and Kanban, enable software teams to deliver solutions to customers faster, with more reliable results. Implementing Agile at the individual team level is relatively easy. In its most basic form, it works best in teams of five to nine. 

Various scaling Agile frameworks seek to solve the challenges posed by agility at scale by setting down the guidelines, techniques, processes, and roles that enable multiple teams and departments across an enterprise to stay coordinated and well-managed.

Why scale Agile? 

In today’s tough marketplace, even large enterprises need to be agile like smaller, leaner organizations to remain competitive. They need a solution that helps them cater to changing customer requirements and market conditions. They need to scale Agile to realize the fast, flexible benefits enjoyed by many software development teams.

With the clear-cut methodology provided by a scaled Agile framework, an enterprise can better predict delivery dates of products, manage cross-team dependencies, and focus on customer satisfaction, helping to boost market share and revenues. 


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How to determine if you’re operating Agile at scale.

One of the chief characteristics of an enterprise successfully operating Agile at scale is that they have a constant improvement culture, where teams continuously learn from one another and constantly fine-tune how they operate.

Scaled Agile is also about connecting the longer-term vision to daily work practices. An agile enterprise has its teams aligned with its higher-level objectives.

Some characteristics of enterprises operating Agile at scale include:

  • A steady focus on business outcomes

  • Having the right tools to achieve higher productivity

  • Flexible budgeting

  • A high value placed on backlog management

  • Balancing the demands of “push” (investors, sales, market conditions, and other demands) and “pull” (limited time, skills, capacity, and other constraints)

Organizations just at the beginning of scaled Agile may have pockets of people following Scrum or Kanban, while most teams continue to use traditional project management methodologies, like waterfall. Those further along the learning curve will have achieved widespread adoption of scaled Agile practices, where cross-functional teams are organized efficiently and focused on continuously delivering value in iterative release cycles. 

How to determine if you’re ready to scale Agile.

 To decide if it is ready to scale Agile, an enterprise should ask itself these questions:

  • Do team leaders/sponsors and company management have a clear vision of what they want to accomplish, even if the scope of the project(s) is not known?

  • Are teams prepared to cope with and welcome evolving project requirements and changes that come in late in the process?

  • Can projects remain flexible even though time and costs are fixed?

  • Are project teams committed to only delivering usable features?

  • Is the enterprise prepared to have customers fully involved in projects?

  • Are stakeholders happy to receive small but frequent deliveries of working software parts?


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What are scaling Agile frameworks?

If Agile is an overall approach to software development, iterating quickly and frequently to keep customers happy, then an Agile framework is a specific approach based on the Agile philosophy articulated in the Agile Manifesto.

These frameworks are methodologies or processes that are typically customized to meet a particular team’s or project’s needs. There are several Agile frameworks developed to meet the particular challenges of Agile at scale, specifically: 

  • SAFe

  • LeSS

  • DA

SAFe

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is a large-scale solution created by Dean Leffingwell, which comes from his writing on software scaling agility. SAFe encompasses planning at the team, program, and portfolio levels, enabling organizations to build a solution for the whole enterprise, rather than focusing on a single team or project. At the “team” level, SAFe is similar to Scrum, with the addition of a few extreme programming practices. The “program” level aligns the teams around common events to form an Agile Release Train (ART). “Portfolio” level is the highest level, in which executives and leaders determine the organization’s visions, business goals, and strategies.

LeSS

Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) is a framework for scaling Agile development to multiple teams in an enterprise, building on Scrum principles such as empiricism and cross-functional, self-managing teams. It is formed around three main knowledge bodies: Agile software development, lean product development, and systems thinking.  It promotes alignment, collaboration, and delivery across many different Agile teams. It has been defined as a regular Scrum plus a set of additional rules and tips that make it more suitable for large, multi-team, multisite, and offshore Agile development initiatives.

DA

Once known as Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD), Disciplined Agile (DA) is a learning-oriented process decision framework for delivering IT solutions. The approach puts individual people first and provides only light guidance to help teams optimize their processes according to a specific project’s special needs. It employs Scrum and Kanban, along with transformative knowledge on areas that include HR and finance, governance, DevOps, portfolio management, and culture.

Think big to act big.

Scaled Agile enables enterprises that think big to act big, taking smaller organizations’ agility and enacting it on a much larger stage, with a much greater payoff. With this guide, your company can successfully scale up Agile and see more innovation relative to routine operations.

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