What is scaled agile?
Scaled Agile concerns multiple teams who work on a shared mission or ambition. It can be as small as two teams or as large as an entire organization. There are multiple scaling frameworks out there that offer guidelines and starting points for coordination between teams, meeting cadence and governance in your organization. The right framework helps you align your teams, and ensures customer value is delivered continuously without making teams feel constricted.
An example. Saab is developing a top end fighter plane. Developing a fighter plane is an exceedingly complex process. In the past many comparable projects have seen massive delays, budget overruns, and technical complications. The Joint Strike fighter is just one recent example. Saab has chosen to develop their fighter planes in an Agile way. Dozens of teams are working on the Saab JAS 39E Gripen in short three week cycles. These are not just software development teams but also include the hardware and design teams, and even the construction teams! You can imagine such an endeavor requires a high level of coordination and alignment between teams. The role of managers is to support the teams by removing obstacles and making sure teams can work as autonomously as possible. According to Jane’s Aviation Weekly the Saab Gripen is the most cost-effective combat aircraft in the world.
When to apply scaled agile solutions?
Examples of questions in which scaled agile solutions might help your organization:
- How can we develop one product using multiple teams?
- I am coordinating a programme with 80 people, how can I make them work together effectively and how can I coordinate this?
- How can we reshape our organization into cross-functional, customer centric teams who self organize?
Scaled Agile situations always require a solution that is taylormade to the organization. There is no standard blueprint. Every organization is different and has different steps to take. A standard scaled agile framework is not sufficient to deal with the complexities and intricacies of an organization and its surroundings.
Well known scaled agile solutions
When a team has to work on or coordinate multiple projects or activities at the same time, for instance in the case of a management team or department, Agile Portfolio Management can be an appropriate solution. It helps such teams to gain join insight, connect people, ambitions and activities and cooperatively prioritize an move in the same direction.
Agile Portfolio Management uses a single board to visualize the team ambitions, current priorities and what is going on in- and outside the team
Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)
This is a framework that consists of three organizational levels: portfolio, programme, and team. Each level contains certain roles and processes. The central premise is to coordinate large scale joint releases (referred to as program increments). It is one of the most popular scaling frameworks currently out there and is in use at for instance airlines and insurance companies.
This is a scaled agile framework that was designed specifically for use outside software development. Central to the framework in a shared purpose, but it allows teams maximum autonomy in how they translate this purpose in their own work and surroundings. This allows teams to remain Agile and unconstricted by unnecessary structure and bureaucracy. Each team manages its own work portfolio. These are loosely connected by a shared heartbeat and purposes creating an ever evolving network organization.
Large organizations such as ING have embraced an Agile way of working that is built around cross-functional Agile teams, which they call squads, that enjoy a very high degree of autonomy within their set boundaries. This way of working is modeled on the Spotify culture and way of working, hence the name. A collection of squads who share a joint purpose is housed in a Tribe, while development of specialisms happens in a chapter. The old departments built around specific functions have been discarded with. The Spotify way of working combines a high degree if autonomy for teams with clear goals and direction. Something Spotify refers to as ‘loosely coupled, tightly aligned’.
This model was first developed as a way to address the unique challenges associated with ‘task-oriented’ work in the public sector. However the principles apply equally well as a scaling framework outside the public sector. An agile and effective organization has an efficient way to divide work over constantly improving stable teams. On the left side of the bow-tie tasks (projects, programs etc.) are sliced into assignments that are small enough to be completed end-to-end by a single cross-functional team. A team finishes its assignment, upon which they pick up the next, top priority, assignment.
Getting started with scaling
There is no fixed way to shape an Agile organization. We believe that the lightest scaling framework that offers your organization the right amount of insight, structure and a way to coordinate your teams is the right one for you. Usually that means combining best practices from many frameworks. We always use the following principles:
- combine the introduction of a scaled ‘framework’ with developing the agile culture and mindset in your teams and organization
- Use the lightest possible framework that satisfies your needs
- The agile transformation should also be agile, meaning take small steps while constantly readjusting using feedback from the organization and customers.
Some components of our approach:
- Introduction of a way of thinking that facilitates insight, cohesion, and prioritization across teams.
- If required, advice on team composition and organizational design
- Coaching teams on agility, the agile mindset, adding value, and cooperation and coordination
- Reshape and adjust new and existing processes and systems so they allow teams to better cooperate in a agile way
- Experiment with the right metrics, data, and sharing information, in order to make teams operate and coordinate in a self-organizing way
- Serve as a sparring partner for senior leadership and directors on how to manage multiple agile teams, and train them in agile leadership and governace
- Set up and support ‘guilds’ to facilitate continuous learning and (knowledge) development for e.g. scrum masters, agile coaches, and product owners
- Set up an meeting and event cadence that facilitates optimal transparency and minimal overhead
- Create transparency on how the organization decides and prioritizes, responsibilities and roles
- Celebrate successes and learnings!