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Scaling with Agile – choosing the right approach for your organisation

We focus a lot of our energy on how an organisation can go Agile and how we, as an enabler, can help your organisation to apply the appropriate support and governance layers to Project Management, regardless of the existing methodologies used. However, once we’re starting to implement Agile, we need to stop to think about the approach we use to scale it across our organisation and how it grows and is maintained thereafter.

Where there are hundreds of organisations moving to an Agile way of working, there are many approaches that have been developed to enable establishing and scaling Agile. Some of these approaches include, but are not limited to:

Scaled Agile Framework for enterprise (SAFe)*

SAFe works by applying specific parts of the Agile methodology for managing their portfolios of projects, teams, budgets and priorities; moving onto the next part as one is applied. It runs across an entire, or subset of the organisation. It allows for embedding of business SMEs into value streams as necessary/appropriate; providing clarity of how teams interface together.

“Scaling Agile” across the enterprise as a Transformation Program

Approaching scaled Agile as a Transformation Program by extending participation beyond digital/software development teams to other functional and operational areas. It works by adopting and creating approaches to suit the organisation’s context and needs – for example ANZ vs Spotify vs Telstra. It typically aims to improve flexibility and ability of the organisation to rapidly adapt and steer itself in a new direction; minimising handovers and bureaucracy in an attempt to empower people.

Mixed Waterfall and Agile

This one’s a little more interesting and requires a little more overhead. The mixed approach allows Project Managers within the PMO to adopt a Waterfall or Agile approach to suit personal preference and/or team experience. It means that some streams in a portfolio may run Agile, where others may run Waterfall or even a cross between both (i.e. ‘Wagile’). It uses ‘lighter’ techniques such as ‘Scrum of Scrums’ to manage interdependencies. Using this approach isn’t always a conscious decision.

SAFe remains the predominant framework being applied, especially in Australia.

Before choosing an approach that suits you

It is important to consider some of the below before you scale Agile across your organisation. Once you have a clear understanding of your environment, only then can you begin to select an approach that suits you:

  • Scaling Agile requires a degree of Agile maturity; a reasonable amount of experience using Agile at the team level,
  • Understanding of the implications of the pros & cons for the specific context (i.e. industry, organisation, culture, size, etc.) – some are listed below,
  • Governance planning should include a structured approach to governance,
  • Agile should be piloted using well-selected projects/programs, with clear feedback processes built in, as well as planned evaluation/review gates – this will create a more evolutionary / tailored approach rather than ‘big bang’, and
  • Lighter weight options also exist to start scaling a number of agile teams- such as using specific elements like Scrum of Scrums.

Key requirements for successful adoption of an Agile framework include

Several considerations are required when looking to adopt a more Agile way of working, these will be similar across organisations and are key to successful change:

  • Top-down commitment, understanding and clear communication of overall objectives
  • A degree of Agile maturity- and a reasonable amount of experience using Agile at the team level
    • However, not everyone needs to be an “agile expert”- it can be successful with a critical mass of “change agents” (agile practitioners with deeper knowledge) alongside an appetite to invest in training across a broad audience
    • PMO & executive level need specific training to understand the change in approach and what will be required of them
    • Broader teams need a more general knowledge of Agile fundamentals
  • In addition to upfront training investment, this also needs ongoing commitment of resources to the quarterly planning and other activities
    • Several quarters of Planning Increments can be required to embed new processes, and build momentum and commitment
    • Assigning dedicated business SMEs to sit within value streams is a further investment that also improves the likelihood of successful delivery of business objectives and value
  • The rollout approach and change strategy need to be well planned and integrated with other transformation initiatives, to avoid confusion and maintain levels of staff engagement and to avoid change fatigue.

Common challenges in scaling agile

  • Lack of experience with agile methods,
  • Management concerns about lack of upfront planning,
  • Lack of management support,
  • Culture or company philosophy at odds with core agile values,
  • General organisation resistance to change,
  • Not enough/effective collaboration,
  • Not enough training,
  • Inconsistent agile processes and practices, and
  • Time & software quality issues where agile and non-agile worlds collide/interface.

Governance approaches

There are many challenges you’ll face when going Agile. If not accompanied by culture change, remnants of old control structures can be retained as an overlay across agile teams/squads, creating dissonance and competing priorities. Training and commitment where not achieved upfront, can also delay adoption, leading to confusion and slower delivery of benefits.

Good governance structures, such as the AMO Method, developed by Agile Management Office, will:

  • Provide an overall coherent aim for the whole system
  • Coordinate the significant changes needed to existing delivery governance structures and toll gate processes
  • Determine the next steps post Agile implementation
  • Implement and adopt just the ‘right amount’ of processes and governance
  • Avoid delivering a one-size fits all approach (although elements are modular in nature and can be customised)

It can often be difficult to go all-in with Agile, which may be due to vendors or internal culture that requires time to shift mindset, but applying a good governance structure with clear roles, responsibilities and accountabilities that integrates across the organisation can help with this.

Potential next steps

So where to from here, here are a few steps that may help you move to a more Agile way of working:

  • Formally assess and agree the current and desired level of agile maturity across the organisation,
  • Further develop agile maturity at the team level- offer additional training etc- as a precursor to scaling (as and where needed),
  • Commence scan for appropriate pilot initiatives,
  • Commence development of a change management strategy which encompasses all other transformation activities, to identify the most appropriate time to implement and/or pilot approach, and
  • Ensure you have a clear governance approach, like the one developed by Agile Management Office which helps to ensure a consistent, well-coordinated and collaborative approach to governance that provides a frictionless, proactive, scalable model focusing on results and getting it right the first time!

Interested in learning more about Agile Management Office and the AMO Method? You may like to read some of our other posts:

Introducing AMO and how it differs from the Traditional PMO

Preparing for Agile

Going Agile and sacrificing good governance

Alternatively, you can contact us via one of our many options listed on our website HERE.

*SAFe® is a registered trademark; through this article simply refers it as SAFe.

Other agile frameworks have also been developed for scaling scrum across a large organisation e.g. Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) & Large Scale Scrum (LeSS). These have not been considered here. SAFe remains the predominant framework being applied, especially in Australia.

By | 2018-05-29T05:32:33+00:00 May 21st, 2018|