How to start scaling agile


With a firm understanding of how agile works at the project management level, it’s time to examine how to apply the model at the enterprise level. Scaling agile leverages the same four values established in the Agile Manifesto to suit implementation across multiple teams, departments, or an entire company. 

Depending on how your organization operates, there are many Agile at Scale frameworks to choose from. Your best option depends on whether you’ve adopted agile methodologies at the team or department level and which framework suits your business model, objectives, and goals.

What does adopting Agile at Scale mean?

Agile has a proven track record of building flexibility and adaptability into project management practices, and those benefits transfer to larger applications. Scaling the methodology at the departmental or enterprise level builds resilience, speeds up production, and drives value within all business areas.

Accomplishing that objective means incorporating agile principles, mindsets, and practices into all aspects of the company. Most importantly, companies need to decentralize decision-making, which is an enormous cultural shift, transforming an organization at every level.

While flexible, deployment should conform to five basic principles:

  1. Defined company structure and roles

    Clarify responsibilities and expectations before assigning roles, and then restructure the org chart to reflect any hierarchical changes resulting from implementation. 

  2. Customer-centric

    The goal of every project or task is to drive better outcomes and added value for your clients. Make sure scaling agile keeps customers at its center.

  3. Holistic implementation

    Implement agile principles and practices across all levels of the organization, both horizontally and vertically.

  4. Ongoing improvement

    Agile's initial implementation will be imperfect, which is a typical part of the process. You'll refine the practice as more teams and departments adopt the model. Once complete, you'll continue learning and finding ways to improve.

  5. Employee and team focus

    Agile scaling establishes a range of actions for each employee and team where they can operate with autonomy and flexibility. Everyone involved should know what their role is.

Comparing the Agile at Scale frameworks

As you refine processes to suit your business needs, the framework will adapt and evolve to become unique to your organization. Here are the basic frameworks to consider as starting points:

1. Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

The Scaled Agile Framework, or SAFe, is a scrum-based model that combines Lean, Kanban, and DevOps practices into organizational and workflow processes. This promotes alignment and synchronizes collaboration and delivery across multiple, large-scale agile teams. 

More prescriptive than other frameworks, the SAFe agile framework defines roles, events, and practices that benefit an enterprise-level business that delivers complex solutions.

There are four levels of SAFe deployment:

  1. Essential SAFe: This is the foundation level that establishes agile development practices and responsibilities.
  2. Large solution: This level builds large, complex solutions by coordinating multiple teams and hundreds of people working on a single project.
  3. Portfolio: The portfolio level considers multiple teams delivering a range of projects.
  4. Full SAFe: Full, holistic SAFe collects all layers to build agility into the entire enterprise.

2. Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS)

The LeSS framework scales product delivery by applying Scrum methodologies to larger, more complex development. It’s lightweight and aims to do more with less, incorporating fewer elements, roles, and rules than other models.  

Scrums form at the team level and self-organize with their own sprints and project backlogs. They come together for cross-team planning and collaboration. You can also scale LeSS to LeSS Huge for projects with intricate solutions that require multiple teams.

3. Disciplined Agile (DA)

DA is more of a toolbox than a framework. You choose scaling strategies depending on whether you’re doing so at the IT development level or enterprise-wide, with a range of application options for HR, finance, governance, DevOps, portfolio management, and more. You can even layer it over other scaling frameworks. Because you can pick and choose, DA is more flexible and easier to grow.

DA's holistic approach to the agile method focuses on the entire product delivery lifecycle, which requires additional primary and secondary roles to lead and support development.

4. Scrum at Scale (S@S)

As the name suggests, S@S extends the Scrum framework across an organization, usually after building proficiency at the team level. S@S aims to align a growing operation around a single, shared goal. 

S@S operates similarly to Scrum at the team level, keeping separating product and process operations into two distinct development cycles. Team and sprint leaders come together to align on product delivery, and product owners meet to align product definition and discovery with the company’s strategic vision.

5. Nexus

Nexus is similar to LeSS but more lightweight because it only considers the essentials. It reduces cross-team dependencies and complexity while allowing process, product structure, and communication to evolve organically. 

Working with 3–9 cross-functional teams, Nexus brings together a representative from each to form an integration team that ensures alignment with a shared goal. Groups collaborate on sprint planning, establish cadence, and participate in retrospectives to refine the process incrementally.

Selecting the right framework for your organization

What scaled agile framework is right for your organization? Most actually act in similar ways, and you'll adapt whichever you choose to suit your needs regardless. However, there are a few considerations before you get started:

  1. Finances: If your organization has limited resources, you’ll want to avoid frameworks like SAFe or S@S that require hiring additional personnel.
  2. Business phase: If you’re in the growth phase of a start-up or planning on expanding your business, you’ll want to consider expandable models like S@S to accommodate future needs.
  3. Adaptability: Some frameworks, like DA, are more flexible than others. Some, such as SAFe, take a more rigid approach to fundamental practices.

If you’re on the fence, the following decision tree can guide your decision-making process.

Scaling agile decision tree

Source: Graphite created

Agile project management simplified with Roadmunk

Scaling agile requires a committed, disciplined approach. Roadmap the implementation with Roadmunk by Tempo, then transition the application for use with sprint planning for product management, IT development, and other projects. Then integrate it with Structure to track Scrum activity, giving your organization the agility it needs to meet your goals.

For more useful resources on Agile at Scale visit the Agile at Scale Playbook

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