What your agile coach hasn't told you about scaling agile & scrum

By Duncan Troup on Friday, November 11th, 2016 in Lean and Agile.

Agile and Scaled Agile or Scrum and LeSS (Large Scale Scrum) are fantastic frameworks for delivering value to your organisation. They are well established methodologies, but finding your way to a working and successful implementation can be a big challenge. Even well intentioned organisations can falter if they don’t have enough experience to know where the traps are, when scaling up to a scaled framework!

Organisations need to ensure everyone is on board, the cultural shift is just as important as the knowledge of the methodology, so you need an approach that takes this into consideration. You also need to ensure you don’t undermine your BAU activities as you build up your capability, you need to not only prioritise the what is coming into your pipeline, but also ensure you have capacity in your teams to focus on both new and BAU activities. In a big organisation mobilising people is always hard, changing their processes to optimise and enhance their outputs is not easy, and unless you can see why you are doing something and what’s in it for the individual (and the organisation) from the start, you will take much longer to realise the benefits. The new capability needs to grow in a controlled manner, keeping the lights on, whilst shifting your work processes for better productivity at the same time.

And don’t forget the rest of your organisation. We sometimes overlook the impact of this kind of change on other departments, we sometimes think, ‘well we are just changing the project methodology, we don’t need to look outside of our own teams’.  Some of the biggest challenges are building in new financial models to support these scaled solutions. You need to rethink your benefits realisation, you need to modify how you budget to support a large pipeline of work, you need to ensure everyone understands your prioritisation tools and believes in them so that the right decisions are made and are made quantitatively. In the world of Scrum you are also very focused on feedback (retrospectives) in every cycle to really optimise your delivery processes. When you scale up to LeSS and do this on a broader organisational level it can often uncover more than you bargained for. But let’s be honest this is why these tools are great, if you address some of the root problems in an organisation beyond your project and technical teams this can lead to even a better organisational structure and sustained success.

For success you don’t want a sudden seismic shift for an organisation, ripping out every process you have in place and replace it, it is about allowing teams to go about their normal business and adding to their quiver a new set of tools to realise value more quickly and prioritise the work that really does need doing now to meet your customers needs. You build the capability over time and review the outcomes regularly. Both Agile and Scrum once scaled provide a great set of tools to make quantitative decisions about what to do, structure and processes to guarantee when work will be completed, feedback for continual improvement, at a scale that permits enterprise portfolio views, aligned to strategy and budget cycles.

So what do you do? You can go it alone, fail fast and try to find your way through, or you draw on the experience of people who have been through these changes already, people who have seen the traps in their own experience and who can tailor the implementation to your organisation for success. Start with the little things on a big scale, not the big components on a small scale in an isolated team. You need to get everyone thinking about the value of their work, get everyone working in the same cadence, even if they are not yet on a train or in the scrum. Bring in the basic tools like Kanban to make life easier to assess the work of your teams. Establish your standups, make them safe discussions so everyone has a voice. The buzz this even creates is great and everyone starts talking the same language. Only from that position will you be able to scale up in a manageable way and really see the benefits. The challenge is knowing what to leave out and what to bring in to get you moving. This is where a partner like Tingle Tree can help. With broad ranging Lean, Agile and Scaled Agile implementation history, you can tap into real experiences that will save you making mistakes that threaten the success of improving the way you work, and ultimately the way you deliver benefits to your customers.

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