Introduction to Agile at Scale
‘Agile at Scale’ is one of the popular and trending topics nowadays. But, what does it actually mean? Well, it could be reasoned from three different perspectives:
- If agile is being practiced in a few teams and has to be scaled to the entire organization.
- If agile is being practiced for some projects and the size of projects has to be scaled.
- If agile is being practiced for a part of the value stream and has to be scaled to the entire value stream.
Thus, ‘scaling agile’ could be interpreted from three different angles.
Long story cut short, “Scaling Agile means implementing a set of workflow patterns practiced by few teams, projector streams to the advantage of the entire organization”.
Benefits of Agile at Scale
The benefits of successful scaled agile implementation by the organizations include:
- Reduction in product delivery cycles and enhanced quality.
- Increased engagement and collaboration between the customers and organizational teams resulting in increased goodwill and morale.
- Identification of any issues, risks or process errors at an early stage of the project.
Challenges in Agile at Scale
In today’s volatile business markets, where many top companies are fiercely facing competition, the idea of flexible, adaptive, and fast-moving organizations is the need of the hour. However, as exciting as it may sound, putting the same into practice can be challenging. As companies are struggling to understand which functions need to be restructured into multi-disciplinary agile teams and which need not. Also, proper scaling up of several independent agile teams working on one or more products could be strenuous for organizations with excessive personnel and sluggish bureaucracies.
However, still, there is some light in the tunnel. There are many existing techniques and frameworks that help the organization with ways to scale the Agile implementations irrespective of the company size! Let’s explore them:
1. Scrum of Scrums (Meta-Scrum)
This technique to scale agile in large groups divides the group into sizeable scrum teams. As many teams in the organization are using scrum, Meta-Scrum is a formal discussion arranged to keep employees updated and aware of what is going on in the company. Each team nominates an ambassador to represent these discussions, which facilitate the exchange of information or address of any potential roadblocks between other scrum teams. Thus, the Scrum of Scrums is a pattern used for enhancing team-to-team co-ordination between multiple teams.
2. Scaled Agile Framework (SAFE)
Safe is one of the leading frameworks for scaling agile adopted by several large enterprises across the world. It implements a more structured approach based on three different stages within the organization. These are:
1. Portfolio Stage: The first stage includes values, patterns, and roles necessary to execute and manage a set of value streams.
2. Program Stage: This stage defines the roles and responsibilities required to deliver results on a continual basis using an ‘Agile Release Train’.
3. Team Stage: The final stage is comprised of roles, activities, and patterns which the team develops to deliver across the value stream.
Every domain of respective work is termed as ‘theme’. The theme is a route way to the ‘Organizational and Structural epics’ throughout the project cycle. ‘Organizational epics’ are consumer-specific, such as creating new software. While, ‘Structural epics’ are company-specific, such as reducing inventory waste and consequent costs incurred due to the same. These epics form the basis of the ‘Portfolio’ stage.
The project team and technical leaders transform these epics from the portfolio into a specific Agile pattern and Agile Release Train (ART). Thus, several teams can work on the same agile pattern within the same ART, making the larger organizations easier to scale Agile through Safe.
3. Large Scale Scrum (Less)
Less is not a framework but a set of rules that guides on applying scrum at an organizational level rather than being exclusive to the individual or team responsibilities. Thus, it adopts two techniques based on team size:
1. Basic Less: Eight teams of eight people per team working on a single product.
2. Less Huge: Few thousands of people involved in one product.
Thus, Less scrum is applied to multiple teams working collaboratively on one product. Basic Less and Less Huge are similar on the grounds of functionality, the only difference being team size. As work done under Less huge involves multiple area teams with many people involved, Basic Less involves not more than eight teams. Thus, Less is:
- Applied to multiple teams that are cross-functional.
- Working on one deliverable product through collaborative efforts directed towards one goal.
- Focused on delivering a real-time customer-specific product.
Which is an Effective Framework – Scrum of Scrums, Safe or Less?
Scaling agile could be challenging, though the benefits offered are worth the efforts. The above-discussed frameworks are the ones widely adopted by the companies. However, before companies choose a particular framework, it is important to analyze the goals based on factors such as:
1. Evaluate the Current Agile Patterns: What works well and what changes are required?
2. Understanding of Agile Practices: How well the team is informed and effective at agile practices.
3. Agile Capability Status: Assessing the performance of teams in a scaled environment.
4. Attainable Outcomes: Understanding what would be the outcomes and ways to achieve them.
5. Key Components of Transformation: Estimating how would an effective transformation look like.
6. Forecasting Risks: Identifying potential risks that could be a hurdle in the progress of a project and developing a risk mitigation plan to control the same.
With a definite understanding of answers to the above-listed questions, the companies would be able to choose, develop or implement a scaled agile pattern that would offer maximum benefits, irrespective of team or project size or complexity of the projects.
The motto of implementing, ‘Agile at Scale’ is all about, ‘Aiming high and proceeding in gradual and smaller steps’, even when the future seems blurred and uncertain!
This has been a guide to Agile at Scale. Here we discussed the basic concept, Benefits, Challenges and Effective Framework of Agile at Scale. You can also go through our other suggested articles to learn more –