Thursday, 22 May 2014

Why Should I use a Framework to Scale Agile?

In my career and that of many Agile coaches and consultants that I have worked with scaling of Agile to the Enterprise level has come up while working with customers and companies.  The idea of scaling Agile is not new, but approaches to do this are quite honestly not very mature.  This question is frequently on the minds of IT and business leaders that I have worked with from Software VPs, to CIOs, VPs of PMO to business executives.  They hear about the benefits of Agile, maybe in an industry publication, or from a colleague or peer in industry.  But then the concern turns to how (and if) Agile can work in their enterprise, with hundreds or thousands of people and multiple locations (often in different countries and time zones).

Agile is well defined at a team level, Scrum, Kanban, and XP as well as other variants have been around for a long time, and there are many trained and skilled practitioners.  However, when it comes time to scale to say a company with development teams in the US, Asia, and Europe things become a little more unclear.  We can use Scrum-of-Scrums to scale up to handle multiple teams.  In terms of running the necessary programs, budgets, contracts, and team coordination there are allot of questions that generally are not prescribed by simply scaling using a Scrum-of-Scrums approach.  The team then enters uncharted territory for team level Agile.

In some smaller organisations that already use Lean Startup and related Agile practices this may not cause too much of a problem.  However for a large Financial Services, Entertainment, or Manufacturing multi-national this is much more of an issue.  How do they track the progress of multiple Agile teams?  How do they ensure that the budgets allocated by the executive team are being  well spent?  How do they have teams in multiple time zones 12 hours apart, or 8 hours apart work together in a stand-up?  The questions go on and on...

Basically in my experience enterprises end up making up an approach as they go along, a "home made" approach to scaling Agile.  While this is a road that enterprises can and do choose to go, it is not necessarily the best one.  I have been part of teams that have done this and it is quite stressful for the teams and the leaders, making it up as they go along.  I am sure this has caused many managers and execs quite a few sleepless nights worrying about what to do next, and if they will succeed at all.

Having recently spent time looking at several pre-defined approaches for enterprise Agile, such as DAD (http://disciplinedagiledelivery.wordpress.com/introduction-to-dad/), Agile Path (http://www.ebmgt.org/Agility-Path-Framework), SAFe (http://scaledagileframework.com/), LeSS, Spotify, and several others I think that in many cases it is a better approach for an enterprise to adopt or adapt an Enterprise Agile Framework rather than making up their own.  There are several reasons: First it saves companies time, second it allows managers and leaders to find something proven that other companies have used, and third enterprises can reference other companies, case studies, and practitioners for guidance.

Of the frameworks I have been impressed with SAFe as it matches allot of what I have seen when large companies have created functioning approaches to scaling Agile (for instance the Team, Program, and portfolio distinction within SAFe matches what I have seen in large enterprises).  I also like that there are many references to companies that are already using the framework, and there is a path to certification which I think is useful for enterprises.

In fairness, I have spent more time working with SAFe recently than any of the other Agile Scaling Frameworks.  Also, I do not think that any of these frameworks fully defines every step that a company will need to take to implement a Scaled Agile Program (though SAFe does admit that not every aspect of implementation is covered - http://www.scaledagileframework.com/implementing/).  Finally SAFe is still relatively new, though the concepts underlying it have been around for a while.

However, from what I have experienced along with my discussions with other Agile practitioners, it is my opinion that Enterprises are better off to start with a framework for scaling Agile (whether SAFe or another framework), than to go it alone and make up their own.  The key is to make sure that the Enterprise Agile Scaling framework you choose is implementable in your particular business context and matches up with the way that you do business (more on this in future posts).

All the best, from Singapore,
John.

**Note:  My latest series on comparing Agile Scaling Frameworks here (LESS vis-a-vis SAFE) may be of interest to readers of this post.