Is a Framework Needed to Scale Agile?

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As larger organizations adopt agile, there is an increased focus on figuring out how to apply agile across a large part of the organization and how to deal with obstacles and dysfunctions that are more prevalent in larger organizations compared to smaller ones. These obstacles often relate to the size of projects that are attempted, the number of people who have to be involved with them, and the organizational structures that are involved in delivering new software assets or changes to existing assets.

This focus, usually labeled as “scaling agile” or “enterprise agile,” is viewed by some in the agile community as the next step in the agile evolution. There are varying reactions to the need to scale agile. Some in the community have identified new methods along with training, consulting, and certification to help with adoption. Two of these methods are the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD).

Reaction to the different frameworks is varied. There was a great deal of discussion about SAFe at Agile2013, and there have been various opinion pieces extolling both the positives of the framework and some of the concerns people have.

One concern that many have expressed surrounding the rise of SAFe and DAD is the creation of new methods that are compared with or pitted against existing sets of techniques. For those in the agile community who are much more interested in promoting shared principles rather than a competing collection of techniques, the methodology wars seem counterproductive.

Fortunately, for those who are more concerned with what people are trying and finding effective, there are some people in the agile community who are willing to try to address the challenges involved with doing agile in an enterprise setting and to share their experiences.

A couple of examples are Henrik Kniberg, who willingly describes his experience scaling agile at Spotify, and Natalie Warnert, who recently described how she has integrated a centralized UX team with a set of development teams at Thomson Reuters. In both of these cases, the teams adopted a variety of techniques without paying too much attention to a specific framework, finding the things that seemed to make the most sense for their particular contexts.

Is a framework needed to scale agile? Perhaps not, but many organizations are more comfortable adopting approaches that are—or at least appear to be—more established and in use at similar organizations. The frameworks and the consulting, training, and certification that go along with them give that appearance. Whether those are the most effective approaches for every organization remains to be seen.

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Kent J. McDonald

Kent J. McDonald is an author, speaker, and coach. His more than fifteen years of experience includes work in business analysis, strategic planning, project management, and product development in a variety of industries including financial services, health insurance, human services, nonprofit, and automotive. He is coauthor of Stand Back and Deliver: Accelerating Business Agility.