Scaling Up with Agile
Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.
James Cash Penney
A few years ago I worked with Cory. I just saw recently that his last child graduated from college. That doesn’t seem remarkable until you find out he raised twelve children. His wife and he had two children of their own. Then they connected with an orphanage in Haiti. They started adopting and kept going until they had adopted ten orphans. I have two kids so it is hard for me to imagine. Cory would occasionally relate stories about how they had to scale up their parenting. Feeding and housing twelve kids is not an easy chore.
Agile teams can have to scale up too. Maybe you start with a few Scrum teams or use Kanban for some too. Then as you grow more coordination is needed. Let’s explore three of the popular scaling techniques that organizations use to scale their agile organization. They each do things a little differently so we can explore that as well.
The Scaled Agile Framework(SAFe) is designed for large clients to deliver software with short lead times. The Scaled Agile Framework describes it like this. “SAFe synchronizes alignment, collaboration, and delivery for multiple Agile teams. Scalable and configurable, SAFe allows each organization to adapt it to its own business needs. It supports smaller-scale solutions employing 50–125 practitioners, as well as complex systems that require thousands of people.” They have extensive documentation and diagrams for you to learn more. For instance, the release train is used to coordinate multiple deliverables to customers. SAFe adds roles like Epic Owner and Enterprise Architects to enable systems thinking.
Organizations have embraced Scrum and want to take it to larger groups. Enter the LeSS Framework or Large-Scale Scrum. The founders describe it like this. “LeSS builds on top of the Scrum principles such as empiricism, cross-functional self-managing teams and provides a framework for applying that at scale.” There are guidelines to facilitate the adoption of LeSS that appear less prescriptive than SAFe. Review the documentation. LeSS has Feature Teams, Teams, and structure to coordinate the deliverables.
From Scrum.org they have created Nexus to scale Scrum using the inspect and adapt principles. “Nexus extends Scrum to guide multiple Scrum Teams on how they work together to deliver working software in every Sprint. It shows the journey these teams take as they come together, how they share work between teams, and how they manage and minimize dependencies.” Like Scrum, they have a Nexus guide that is a concise 12 pages. It was developed by Ken Schwaber the co-creator of Scrum. It utilizes a single product backlog to serve multiple teams. This work is integrated and sent to a separate team.
These frameworks are quite different as you review them all. Starting with SAFe it appears regimented and prescriptive. I have heard people even lament that it is the return to “Waterfall.” LeSS and Nexus appear to be easier to implement. I have worked in an organization that used SAFe. It didn’t seem to have the desired effect but, that could be in the implementation. As I recall with my Scrum implementations there are many organizational challenges.
In this 2015 article from CIO they point out that SAFe is popular and training plentiful but, “All those extra pieces can actually add complexity to the organization, which runs counter to the goals of agile adoption.” They point out the simplicity of LeSS how the rules fit on two pages of paper. The co-creator of LeSS Craig Larman said, “Rather than introduce a method which adds a Band-Aid on top of this…we are trying to change the organizational design to create multi-skilled feature teams. These ideas are in contradiction to how organizations are usually set up.”
Your mileage may vary, I see the Nexus and LeSS frameworks as more promising implementations. I preface that by pointing out that I also thought Novell networks were going to take over. The simplicity of Scrum seems to be present in these two. Where SAFe seems to work for organizations that want a prescriptive approach. Look at the organization you have an determine what will work for you.