scaling agile

3 Things to Consider When Scaling Agile in a Mid to Large Organization

We have all heard the bedtime story. A little over fifteen years ago, at a ski resort in Utah, a gaggle of software development experts with various backgrounds collocated for a weekend to change the world for the better. Out of this bachelor weekend posing as a software development summit, the following values were written in a Manifesto:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Fast forward to 2016, Agile Software Development is considered the norm vs. the traditional waterfall approach… So what does this mean for the future of software development? Let’s pretend, you are the technology leader of a mid to large size organization. Your director of software development presented you the following stats that support transitioning the organization to agile software development:

  • 20-50% increase in productivity
  • 30-70% faster time to market
  • 50%+ defect reduction

The decision is not whether to transition to agile, but rather how and how quickly. Let’s consider 3 things when scaling agile in a mid to large sized organization:

  1. One size does not fit all;
  2. Context is vital; and
  3. Enterprise adoption is key!

One size does not fit all.

Like any organizational change, you must review what works and what doesn’t work in order to develop a plan forward. There isn’t a single mid to large sized organization that can transition from large distributed teams to collocated small teams without an understanding of the organization’s identity, its goals of the past, and its strategy for the future. There is no bottom up or top down approach to transitioning to agile that will be the silver bullet. It is both and all of the above at the same time.

One way to adapt your organization to the agile methodology successfully is to practice Scrum, created by Jeff Sutherland in 1993. Scrum is an agile framework that is consistent with the values within the Agile Manifesto. Scrum focuses on the team and its interactions with the rest of the organization. This team based approach is a very important mindset that stretches from the associate level to the executive level. Scrum is a tool that can help take the values within the Agile Manifesto and fit them into your organization.  

Context is vital

Where are your teams located? How important is speed of delivery? How complex are the products being developed? Whether you lead a large energy company, a mid-sized government agency or a small start-up, the answers to the sample questions above will provide you context to map out the path forward. For example, if your teams are distributed across borders and time zones, it will be important to develop a high level strategy for virtually collocating teams (if physically collocating is not feasible).

Often times, organizations communicate to their mid-level management team that all technology projects going forward will utilize the agile methodology. Within this communication is usually an expected transition timeline of 6-9 months. Without context and a high level strategy to support this communication, there will inevitably be a lack of enthusiasm and ‘self-organizing’ amongst the divisions.

Context must be defined. Think about creating an agile maturity matrix to share and provide context to your teams. A good way to communicate this context is by creating a team of change agents to train and communicate clearly the high level path forward to all levels of the organization. This team should operate within the values of the manifesto as well as the best practices of a Scrum team.

Enterprise adoption is key!

You can’t be successful and enjoy the potential return on investment mentioned above without enterprise adoption. Implementing Agile within the technology department of your organization is just the beginning. Agile is a set of values and a mindset that needs to permeate through all aspects of the organization. To truly scale agile in a mid to large sized organization, there must be an understanding and adoption of this mindset and methodology across all departments.

In order to ingrain the values of collaboration, working software, customer involvement and adaptability to change, each department needs to practice Agile as well as communicate their experiences across teams. Utilizing the Scrum framework once again, there is a concept known as ‘Scrum of Scrums’ which is a tool that could be used to achieve enterprise adoption. Each Scrum team would identify an ambassador to meet with other scrum teams. Out of those meetings a ‘Scrum of Scrums’ set of action items (also known as a backlog) would be created to improve communication and process across all scrum teams within the organization. Think of having your technology product backlog as well as your agile transition backlog.

The ‘Scrum of Scrums’ provides additional context, communication as well as training needed to permeate the agile values throughout.

Closing

Are these the only 3 things to consider? No, but they are critical to a successful agile implementation. If you were sitting in a room with any of the experts who attended the software development summit disguised as a bachelor party, they would say take the values of the manifesto and fit it to your company. Make agile work for you. Understand how your employees interact, learn, respond to change, communicate and solve problems.  Most importantly, remember that one size does not fit all, context is vital and enterprise adoption is key!

Albert Einstein said “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

Bryan Hickman

Bryan Hickman has over 14 years of Information Technology and Project Management consulting experience in the government and commercial sectors. He completed his Project Management Professional (PMP) certification in 2008 as well as became a Certified Scrum master (CSM) in 2016. He currently provides Delivery Lead and Scrum master services to a large healthcare company in the Government Business Division. There, he supports an IT Application team, which utilizes the Agile management methodology.

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