Scaled agile frameworks: Is scaling agile necessary?
As part of several discussions with these organisations, and the research being done by them, I have been quite surprised by the abundance of scaled agile frameworks now available.
Many of these have grown up in the last few years with the intention to help you scale agile. It seems that everywhere I go on the web these days there is a framework that will solve all our agile problems!
At the latest count, there are six that I know about and I have listed them below.
Scaled agile frameworks
Scaled agile frameworks (scaled agile) have grown in popularity in recent years. Scaled agile provide knowledge bases of guidelines, principles, practices, and competencies for achieving business agility using Lean, Agile, and DevOps.
Scaled agile is primarily used for scaling agile practices in larger organizations. It was developed to help organizations improve their agility, increase productivity, and improve quality using agile methodologies.
Scaled agile frameworks provide ways to help organizations manage and coordinate work across multiple agile teams, while also aligning their work with the overall business strategy.
Here is a list of just some scaled agile frameworks.
Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®)
Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) is a widely used framework for scaling agile practices to larger organizations. It is designed to help organizations manage and coordinate work across multiple agile teams while aligning their work with the overall business strategy.
SAFe provides a set of guidelines, principles, and best practices that help organizations adopt an agile approach at scale. The framework includes key features such as the Agile Release Train (ART), Program Increment (PI), Portfolio Management, Continuous Integration and Deployment, and Lean-Agile Leadership.
Large Scale Scrum (LeSS®)
Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) is a framework for scaling Scrum to larger organizations. LeSS emphasizes simplicity and focuses on the core principles of Scrum, such as transparency, inspection, and adaptation.
LeSS is designed to help organizations improve their agility, increase productivity, and improve quality through the use of Scrum practices. The framework provides a structure for organizing multiple Scrum teams to work together on a single product or service, and it includes practices for managing product backlogs, integrating work across teams, and facilitating communication and collaboration.
Disciplined Agile® (DA)
Disciplined Agile (DA) is a framework that provides a toolkit of processes and practices that can be tailored to fit the specific needs of an organization. DA is designed to help organizations improve their agility by providing a flexible approach that can be applied to a wide range of project types, from simple to complex.
The framework includes practices for team-based development, DevOps, continuous improvement, and agile governance. It also provides guidance for scaling agile practices to larger organizations and integrating with other frameworks.
Scrum@Scale is a framework that provides a way to scale Scrum beyond a single team by using a fractal approach. It emphasizes the core principles and practices of Scrum, such as transparency, inspection, and adaptation.
The framework provides a structure for organizing work and managing the complexity of large-scale agile development by dividing work into smaller, more manageable units. It also includes practices for managing dependencies, facilitating communication and collaboration, and aligning work with the overall business strategy.
Nexus is a framework that provides a way to scale Scrum by integrating the work of multiple Scrum teams working on a single product or service.
The framework is designed to help organizations improve their agility, increase productivity, and improve the quality of their work by using Scrum practices. Nexus emphasizes the importance of collaboration, transparency, and continuous improvement.
The framework provides a structure for organizing work, managing dependencies, and ensuring that the work of the multiple teams is integrated and delivered as a single, cohesive product or service.
Agile Scaling Model (ASM)
Agile Scaling Model (ASM) is a framework that provides a set of principles and practices for scaling agile development in large organizations.
The framework emphasizes the importance of understanding the organization’s culture, structure, and objectives, and tailoring agile practices to fit the specific needs of the organization.
ASM provides a structure for organizing work and managing the complexity of large-scale agile development by dividing work into smaller, more manageable units. It also includes practices for managing dependencies, facilitating communication and collaboration, and aligning work with the overall business strategy.
Define the problem
So, what exactly is the problem that these frameworks are trying to solve? Are they trying to solve a problem that has already been solved?
Solution delivery and project management
I may be oversimplifying things here, but I believe that most of these agile scaling frameworks are trying to use techniques that are good at solution delivery and use them as a substitute for agile project management.
The problem though is that project management isn’t the same as solution delivery. Project management is trying to do something different from solution delivery. It also has a different set of needs.
I don’t think we should be looking to manage programmes and complex projects with ‘giant to-do lists’!
The most popular agile approach today by far is Scrum. Scrum is quite simply a team-based approach to working through a backlog of features.
However, what about multi-team situations or dispersed teams? What about strategic alignment and projects with fixed deadlines? What about compliance issues?
There’s a long list of questions to answer and the agile techniques that work in a small-scale delivery context are not likely in my opinion to be the answer in a large-scale real-world context.
Big versions of scrum
This is where I think the problem lies with several of these frameworks that are, if you like, big versions of Scrum and are trying to give Scrum-like solutions to problems that actually Scrum is not designed to sort out.
This is not a problem with Scrum in itself, in fact quite the opposite. Scrum is very good at the solution delivery level because that is where it is aimed at and that is what it was built for!
You need control at scale
To get agile to work in the real world and to work at scale we need structure and discipline that helps us to stay in control in imperfect situations and in complex situations. Scrum doesn’t have this.
Programme and portfolio needs
If ‘big versions of Scrum’ aren’t the answer to real world project needs at the programme and portfolio levels, then what is the answer?
The answer I believe already exists and I think this will surprise most people particularly in the agile community and particularly amongst agile purists.
The fact that agile is different in many respects to traditional thinking is certainly true but is there really need to reinvent the wheel? Why don’t we just look at decades of tried and tested thinking that has already been used to address complex situations? Do we really need to build something new?
DSDM agile framework
I am referring to things such as the DSDM framework which has been around since the mid-90s and has always focused on both the project needs in an agile context as well as the needs of solution delivery. It can be used ‘standalone’ or it can be used to complement Scrum. It’s quite happy in either setting but again we don’t need to reinvent anything.
So, my view is that if you are using Scrum ‘at the coalface’ to deliver solutions but are looking to add layers of project management and governance around it without losing that agile feel and mindset then help is already at hand. Further to this you also get a controlled start (sometimes referred to as ‘up-front’ work).
A good test of how scalable an organisation’s agile has become is to look at how well defined the early stage of a project is. A classic error here is to just use the first part of a traditional waterfall approach – I often find that a cocktail for many problems down the line.
So quite simply – if you are using Scrum, wrap it with DSDM and off you go to addressing the needs of large scale agile.
Agile Project Management (AgilePM)
I am not sure how well known this fact is but the DSDM framework is the basis for the Agile Project Management qualification (AgilePM) by the APMG. AgilePM is currently the fastest-growing agile project management qualification globally. By the end of 2020, more than 150,000 professional AgilePM exams had been sat worldwide.
In today’s marketplace people are updating their CVs with modern and relevant qualifications. With AgilePM, people can embrace this new wave of agile, or more accurately as I call it, the second wave of agile i.e. agile at scale.
The case for agile at the solution delivery has clearly been made. The next big step for agile is to make its case on large-scale and complex projects.
There is nothing wrong with Scrum so we don’t need to replace it. There is nothing wrong with scaled up frameworks like DSDM so let’s not replace this either!
Play to the strengths of both and create a blend that suits your own organisation.
SAFe and Scaled Agile Framework are registered trademarks of Scaled Agile, Inc.
Large Scale Scrum and LeSS are registered trademarks of LeSS Company.
Disciplined Agile is a registered trademark of Disciplined Agile Inc.
Scrum@Scale™ is a registered trademark of Scrum Inc.
Nexus™ is a trademark of Scrum.org.
agileKRC has helped shape agile thinking by leading the teams that developed AgilePM® and PRINCE2 Agile®. We take a practical, success-oriented approach. We begin by taking the time to listen and understand your needs, before offering our real-world experience and expert guidance.