Agile Scaling Frameworks: Choosing the right flavor for your organization
What if you could reduce time to market while delivering quality products? What about increase employee engagement while improving team productivity?
Adopting an agile approach comes with many benefits. And Scrum, being the most popular product development framework in our fast-moving world, is a great fit for companies wanting to get out of the traditional waterfall project planning approach in order to speed up their product cycles and increase team morale. It’s time to take Scrum to the next level – but which flavor is best for you?
Customize with Scrum: Take it to the next level
Scrum was originally designed for small cross-functional teams to work on complex problems. A very lightweight framework at only 19 pages, it deliberately doesn’t dive too deep into specific practices, which allows teams to build off of it and create their own approaches that work best for them. Practices developed through Scrum are highly flexible due to being highly customizable.
However, Scrum only focuses on a single team. While not specifically covered in Scrum, this framework is able to foster collaboration between different teams. But collaborating successfully within Scrum requires individuals to have good soft skills or an external coach to teach those soft skills, since working with others in a timely manner doesn’t always come naturally. If there are multiple teams working on a project, each team is free to design their own set of processes within Scrum. However, normally a company adopting Scrum for a large amount of people builds an overarching framework to align the pace of delivery (or “cadence”), integrate planning, and review events from the roadmap together.
Pick the one that’s right for you
Some Agile frameworks have been in the market for more than two decades, so Agile scaling has been addressed in multiple ways. According to the recent The 12th Annual State of Agile Report from Collabnet VersionOne, SAFe (short for “Scaled Agile Framework”) is the leader of the pack, adopted by 29% of large companies. Apart from the Spotify method (which is rather a set of practices created by the popular digital music service), most other methods are based on a scaled Scrum framework, with Large Scale Scrum (or LeSS) being one of the most elaborate:
Large-scale Scrum (LeSS): It’s Scrum, period. There are the same 3 roles, 5 events and 3 artifacts as in a solo-team Scrum, however some LeSS users have one-team and multi-team phases (such as two-part sprint planning or both a team and joint retrospective). Every team is working to implement Scrum on a smaller scale (3-9 people normally), but with the LeSS or LeSS Huge approach, it can be scaled up to as large as hundreds or even thousands of people from the same organization. This “pure Scrum” framework is based on cross-functional, independent teams, delivering incremental value just like in Scrum.
However, setting up LeSS leads to major changes in the organization’s structure, as it is based on a collaborative culture rather than a traditional hierarchy. So it’s important to break up functional silos so every team has all the skills necessary to develop the product and deliver business value.
This framework can be considered revolutionary vs evolutionary.
Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe): More permissive to traditional management, SAFe is considered by some experts to be the “missing link” between the traditional waterfall approach and fully agile continuous delivery. Still based on the same principles as what’s in the agile manifesto, it’s for management that values alignment and compliance as much as fast delivery, yet are not ready to completely disrupt their processes and rebuild their delivery organization from scratch.
With SAFe, teams can be dependent on one another if needed, forming an overarching cross-functional vehicle called ART (short for Agile Release Train) of 50-125 developers, product owners, system architects and other roles required to deliver business value at scale. Teams within an ART are encouraged to be as close to cross-functional as possible (with becoming similar to LeSS teams as a target), but it’s not considered a prerequisite to launching an ART.
A regular 2-day planning session helps keep everyone aligned on current goals and where they are on the roadmap, which is focused on and defines potential challenges and how to overcome them. This 2-day session includes a rough plan for approximately five 2-week sprints, with some leeway to brainstorm or change the plan if necessary. However, 70-80% of the established plan does not change, so this method works best when mid-term program goals don’t change on the fly. Other events on the roadmap include regular system demos (similar to sprint reviews in LeSS), regular Product Owner syncs and Scrum of Scrums meetings, and program increment-level problem solving workshops.
Forming a dedicated Lean-Agile Center of Excellence consisting of executive leadership, agile experts and other major stakeholders on the transformation project can help with adoption, allowing for those less experienced in agile delivery to participate while building a structure to expand SAFe across the organization.
This framework can be considered evolutionary vs revolutionary.
Overcoming challenges with Luxoft
Depending on the scale of organizational change, many challenges may arise. These are the three most common challenges you need to overcome in order to scale your Agile approach successfully:
Lack of Clear Communication: Changing processes, roles and benchmarks may not be communicated properly, leading to the organization not understanding why they’re implementing the change. This can complicate things and create internal frustration, possibly even causing some employees to seek out new opportunities as a result.
Falling Back into Old Habits: Another challenge to overcome is the urge to fall back on traditional siloes. This is counterproductive to the agile way of thinking, where teamwork is a central piece. This can be a difficult habit to break, since people are already used to doing things a certain way.
Neglecting Team and Infrastructure Issues: While manual testing and a cumbersome build process may work well with a 6-12 month release cadence, short release cycles (from weekly to multiple times a day) often reveal huge, frequent transactional costs. To minimize these costs, it is essential to focus on creating a DevOps culture, investing in a flexible infrastructure, automated testing and metrics gathering before even considering to launch an Agile framework at a corporate scale.
To overcome these challenges, it’s important to assess the context, create an implementation roadmap, launch workshops and role-based training for Product Owners, Scrum Masters and key stakeholders, and focus on creating a Scrum and DevOps culture rather than just adhering to specific practices. However, there are a lot of tips and tricks when it comes to Agile scaling, but they are all very context-specific.
If you want to learn more about how to successfully transform your organization, please reach out to us.
Sergey has a computer science background and 18 years of experience in IT, including over 9 years in Agile scaling. Currently he combines several roles: Director of a company-wide Agile practice center of expertise with focus on growing a solid consulting offering and meeting challenging financial goals; Principal Agile consultant running presales, kick-starting new Agile engagements, driving organizational changes, coaching client executives and being a leader of a team of consultants; Agile promoter of modern management principles and practices through public speaking, supporting analyst firms and investor relations, running internal community Agile-related topics, and developing partnerships with 3rd parties. Sergey’s goal is to help organizations build sustainable and effective product development frameworks with a close focus on timely delivery of business value.