The Secret Recipe for Scaling Agile Projects

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There is an interesting discussion on LinkedIn about the topic of scaling agility. If someone were to ask me the same question posed in the discussion—Does agile scale?—my answer would be "yes, it does." I have first-hand experience in delivering a large-scale agile project. This project had multiple teams and scaled not only in size but in geography as well. I want to share some tidbits based on my success.

We ensured that we didn’t have one large team but smaller feature teams, as described on page eleven of this article by Craig Larman and Bas Vodde. However, what is debatable is the size of each of the feature teams. Scrum recommends having seven team members plus or minus two, but there are debates about having five, fifteen, and even 150 as well.

Remember, the size of individual feature teams matters while scaling. We had teams with five people and teams of ten members. We didn’t try fitting exactly into the above ranges, but it worked well for us.

Apart from team size, tailoring practices to accommodate scaling plays a key role for successful implementation. The act of tailoring practices should be handled by an experienced coach. As David Snowden says, one needs a good chef rather than a recipe for scaling.

We ensured that a robust Scrum of Scrums structure was in place. Teams extensively used webcams and video conferencing equipment for all rituals related to geographically distributed teams. We made sure that people traveled between locations during the initial days, and it helped in building trust and collaboration immediately.

It is important to use collaboration tools—like a wiki, whiteboarding apps, and screen-sharing software—and instant messaging for improving communication. For the project management and tracking purposes, my team started with JIRA and switched to Rally midway.

Continuous learning is the foundation of agile methods. We used retrospectives as one of the key platforms to identify areas of improvement and took actions to improve. As part of this, we experimented with Scrum + XP, ScrumBan, and SAFe.

Various thought leaders have written some mud-slinging posts about SAFe. However, there are people who have seen success with SAFe as well. As agilists, we should be looking at tailoring practices to deliver value to the customer and avoid getting emotionally attached to one framework or another.

Last but not least, we had a huge commitment from the stakeholders of this project. Maintaining a culture of collaboration and trust is the key to successfully scale agile.

Implementing the project has been a journey for us. We took courageous steps to explore new ideas and frameworks, and we successfully tackled the most challenging issues at hand.

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Venkatesh Krishnamurthy

Venkatesh Krishnamurthy is an author, speaker and a coach. In his 15+ years of career in the software industry, he has played different roles as a developer, architect and an Agile coach.