Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Three Aspects of Agile Scaling

You can scale agile in several dimensions; from "doing Agile to being Agile" is an important aspect in digital transformation.
There is no doubt that agile techniques can be scaled at the enterprise level. However, an organization that hasn't matured in equipping with a customer-centric mindset, collaborating cross-functionally, implementing portfolio and program management principles along with sound governance processes will always face challenges in implementing agile at higher levels. It's very difficult to introduce all of those Agile techniques in one go. Many organizations have culture friction to stifle innovations, and other businesses have overly rigid processes to embrace changes. Such maturity takes both the right approaches and sufficient time to transform from "doing Agile" to "being Agile."

The true highlight of SAFe is its ability to scale across the enterprise and encompassing all programs in the portfolio. Agile does not equal chaos! In fact, Agile needs to plan more, not less; Agile takes more disciplines, not less. When you implement SAFe you have a more concrete and realistic plan than waterfall could ever provide. It's also true that Agile can easily be used in a distributed model. It has been used successfully in onshore/offshore models for many years now. The requirement is to have sound governance processes instituted along with strong management dashboards that can provide constant visibility to the overall business value being rolled out through the projects and programs.

One of the biggest challenges in scaling Agile is in retraining IT Management and transforming IT Project Managers to team facilitators (Scrum Masters). Individuals who have been trained by PMI, etc. with a focus on control and using a heavily planned methodology; frequently struggle in adopting and moving to Agile techniques and adaptive methods. The more sinister part of the question is, "Are project managers happy letting teams run large projects?" Do the PMs get their reports? Do they need to have meetings? Escalations? Often the project-managing-class are the ones that propagate the line of questioning because it threatens their positions. To the extent that middle management (aka project managers) do not buy into using Agile, it does not scale, but then, neither does waterfall. It's simply a foreign concept in many cases, and it takes months or even longer to transition. Therefore, the proper training is necessary for both senior and middle-level management to follow Agile principles as a management philosophy and mindset.

You can scale agile in several dimensions. It's not only the number of developers. There is also the number of teams, the number of sites (including onshore/offshore), the number of time zones, the number of products or values streams the developers work on, and so on. When we say "scale," it means there are many teams working on the same code, the same project. The problems are the same whether you use Agile or Waterfall. The difference is that Agile usually creates shorter feedback loops, so, it's better, faster, cheaper. Scaling up one dimension at the same time may work, scaling up more than one will probably not work. Scalability in agile ecosystems depends on communication and architecture: given that the agile approach requires unmediated collaboration, adjustments are needed when impacts are distributed or tasks are divided. With regard to communication, that can be achieved with models. With regard to architecture, all will depend on the modularity of features.

Organizational maturity is key for agile scaling up since the methodologies and guidance are based on incorporating into the organizational culture, it is likely to conflict with current governance and compliance policies, not to mention a cultural determination to adhere to the basic principles through a number of complete product cycles. The good agile approach requires a different mindset, which drives the different architecture, the different approach to successfully transform from doing Agile to being agile.


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