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Exploring the Landscape of Large Scale Agile Models

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Exploring the Landscape of Large Scale Agile Models

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 The interest for enterprise agile is booming
As lean and agile development methods are becoming increasingly proven in many software development industries, the interest for large scale agile transitioning programs is booming. Change-initiatives of the “going agile”- type are getting more attention from higher up in the organizations and more funding is poured into the transitioning programs. This increased level of executive buy-in enables more full-blown change initiatives than the typical transformations we have previously seen. Early-age agile transitioning programs (if it is even right to refer to them as organized programs) often had the characteristics of pilot-projects where individual development teams experimented with lean and agile methods. When a team suddenly came up with a method/process that worked particularly well in their context (likely an evolved or adapted version of scrum), the organization would try to spread their best-practices internally and also scale the way of working to reasonably fit the existing processes on the program/product level.

“Going agile” initiatives of today are often empowered and well-funded
Compared to these past efforts, the approach to agile transitioning today often looks very different. The scope of agile transformation programs are expected to impact not only the development organization but the company as a whole and its customer facing interface. The mandate of change agents have grown beyond changing the way we think and the work processes in the development organization to redesigning major parts of the company, changing reporting lines, relocating people, rebuilding the office space and do whatever it takes to get the company to a more agile state with efficient work processes that allow it to outperform its competitors. Needless to say, managers in these organizations feel challenged to come up with and implement a smart model for agile scaling that fits their company’s particular products and context well and they turn to the industry to get inspiration from already existing models and frameworks.

What large scale agile models exist out there?
So, what frameworks for agile at scale are out there? What type of product development and environment are the existing models fit for? These questions are surprisingly hard to find a good answer to. There is a lack of forums that present and explore the pros and cons of different frameworks and many of the agile coaches and process consultants out there have a tendency to specialize in one model and promote it as a one-fits-all solution.
My ambition with this post (which is intended to be the first in a series) is neither to create a comprehensive list of all existing models nor to describe them in detail but to start build on a smorgasbord* of options for agile at scale and point out in what circumstances they fit, what they are optimized for and where you could turn to learn more about them. You will not be able to directly compare how the different models would fit your organizations because they are all apple and pears in terms of what aspects they describe. You could simply look at the smorgasbord as sources of inspiration.
Let the exploration of the large scale agile landscape begin;

Dean Leffingwell’s scaled agile framework, SAFe
I have to start with this obvious one. During the last six months, I have not talked to a single large software developing/engineering company that have not been inspired by, considered or have-already implemented Dean Leffingwell’s scaled agile framework.

  • Best source to learn about SAFe and some proven success cases is the official webpage; www.scaledagileframework.com 
  • Framework itself is open source IP and constantly evolving
  • Describes roles and practices across team, program and portfolio level
  • Optimizes for program rather than team level
  • Puts emphasis on close collaboration between top level management and the development organization and clearly describes how team level development work is aligned with the business strategy
  • Handles one of the core challenges of large scale agile, dependencies between work packages conducted by different teams, in an efficient way through the up-front release (PSI) planning. A flip-side with this practice, a heavy release planning, is that the agileness of semi committing to work 10+ weeks in advance could be questioned.

Scaling Agile @ Spotify
Spotify provides a digital music service with access to millions of songs. Their development organization consists of 30 teams that are spread out on three different sites. In 2012, Henrik Kniberg and Anders Ivarsson published a paper of their current way of doing large scale agile at Spotify- A model which since then has received a lot of attention and inspired many.

  • Kniberg’s and Ivarsson’s 14-page paper can be found on WordPress; Scaling Agile @ Spotify 
  • Approach is very team (or “squad” as Spotify calls them) centered. The squads are cross-functional and autonomous with the skill of handling everything from design, development and testing to release and production on their own. They are empowered to organize their own work and ways of working (eg. Scrum, Kanban and mixed methods are used) Dependencies between squads are relatively few and are handled through scrum of scrum when they occur.
  • Continuous learning and innovation is handled in the format of hack-days and group belongings (chapters and guilds) based on skill sets and areas of interest

In future blog posts, more models for large scale agile will enter the smorgasbord and you as a reader are more than welcome to share thoughts of frameworks that should be part of the landscape. Next in queue is an interesting agile-waterfall hybrid that succeeds pretty well with the challenge of combining different methods without destroying too much of the value they bring in their more "pure" format.

*Smorgasbord- This word has a Swedish origin and means something like "dinner including a wide variety of tapas"


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