Agile as a framework does not define any scaling mechanisms. Agile values apply equally to one team or one organization, however, the mechanics of enterprise-level Agile has not been well defined yet. Success at team level is not being questioned anymore, it has been achieved million times by teams around the world. Enterprises are frequently struggling. Scrum of Scrums as a scaling mechanism for thousand people IT organizations is not efficient. Meanwhile scaling Agile is not a rocket science. I've done it successfully with a number of organizations and saw others doing it even better. So what is the secret source? There are only 3 components from my perspective. You follow them, and your Agile will scale:
1. Scale your Agile implementation based on your company's culture and tolerance to change. Agile Coaching is all about "building on what is happening". Scaling Agile is nothing different. The question is not whether SAFe or LeSS is better, the question is which framework is right for you. Let me give you an example. In one of organizations with thousand-people IT department, we selected prescriptive approach. Organization was corporate and structured and responding well to management initiatives. With support from the top, we created an Agile playbook where we defined everything: ceremonies, their frequency. standard cadence, normalized story points, trained everyone in SAFe, and rolled it out.
There was still autonomy at the team level. The teams defined their internal practices, but all checkpoints were synchronized. Tooling was also synchronized. Everyone had access to role-based dashboard in Rally for their program and could see team-level productivity for each team and their commitment met per sprint. No one was punished and there was no finger pointing because teams are different and velocity-based comparisons are meaningless, but commitment was public and the teams who had less that 80% commitment met were getting additional coaching. There was a lot of collaboration and IP (innovation and planning) sprint was sacred with hackatons, fix-a-thons, open space collaboration, unconferences, and a lot of education, self-education, and cross-team experience sharing. The overall implementation was at the same time very structured.
Metrics was also standardized, with 12 parameters (based on our OKRs) every team was moving into, including the 80%+ commitment rate, ATDD implementation, continuous integration up to staging, and a number of other process and technology goals. This implementation was a success because the organizational culture was receptive to the structure, because executives fully supported it, and the teams were ready and excited.
2. Manage expectations at every level. The "big bang" approach we selected was a marginal risk because a well-defined structure with high level of standardization is easily scalable. It was disruptive but we managed expectations well with executives, product managers, and Agile teams, so there were no major surprises to anyone. However, this is frequently not the case.
In one of the organizations I worked at, I felt very fortunate when my arrival was warm and everyone was very welcoming. Very soon, I noticed that expectations seemed to be unrealistic. "You came and now our life will be different. We'll be more nimble, more efficient, and more aligned." So I started asking coaching questions: what prevents you from being aligned right now? (we had layoffs and people are concerned; we are used to be operating in silo's; people stay here of years and hold on to the way they used to work before; we are consultant-heavy; tolerance to failure is low) Immediately, I started thinking where we will anchor our transformation (is it support from executives? is it bringing more internal employees? is it bringing in an external coaching team? ) It was obvious that "big bang" approach wouldn't work here so the goal was to find out the right scope and approach.
Once the approach was defined, there was training put in place for every pilot followed by a discovery session. The discovery session helped define the scope, success criteria, and implementation timelines for each team. Once done, we made our expectations clear to the executives, teams involved, and all relevant stakeholders, and then were able to proceed. Most of the pilots were very successful, but one was not, and we spent a lot of time analyzing it and learning from failure. Tolerance to failure is one of the secret sauces of a successful transformation. But it cannot be unlimited. Be thoughtful in defining the strategy and socialize the approach and the support you will need by getting all key stakeholders aligned on this approach.
3. Scale continuously and establish build-measure-learn loops. If you have not selected a "big bang" approach (which has more risk to fail in the beginning but higher chance of success as a scaling approach), you will most likely start with early pilots. Once you implement these pilots and celebrate early successes, you will be expected to scale. If your scaling mechanism is not built in to your pilots, you will stumble at this point. So what needs to be built in? The following as a minimum:
A. Communities of practice. A community of change agents who support the change, who continuously think about supporting and implementing change, who can serve as informal coaches and inspiration to new teams. A community that scales itself organically and is excited about continuously thinking of becoming better and more successful.
B. The foundation. This includes training materials, trainers, ongoing education (such as Lunch and Learns) targeted at all stakeholders, not just immediate participants. Value proposition statements for business stakeholders and implementation sponsors, templates for the execution teams, playbooks with detailed instructions and helpful advice - everything they need to be successful. Scaling has to be a foundation of these practices and experience sharing sessions: how do we work together? what are the touch points? how we define impact and agree on timing and effort? how do we respect each other by working collaboratively and establish transparency? - from culture to process, the foundation has to cover all aspects.
C. Continuous improvement. Ability to analyze, implement, and then learn from our mistakes ("build-measure-learn" loop) is the foundation of success. It goes hand in hand with zero tolerance for blame and fingerpointing, with promoting the culture of transparency and feedback, with tolerance to failure if it comes with thoughtful analysis and commitment to success. Whether you have company-wide retrospectives, or themed open space sessions in the areas of difficulty, or open continuous feedback, you won't succeed without a desire for continuous improvement and a fear-free collaborative environment. Those two are pre-requisites for any organizational success but especially the one that involved scaling across the organization.
What are your scaling secret sauces?