Agile at Scale, or Scaled Agile, is all the rage! But, what exactly is it? When and who should implement Scaled Agile? Who shouldn’t? What does success look like? Scaled Agile is a way for organizations with many teams to plan, coordinate, and track work on large initiatives.
In this blog post, we’ll review why, when, and how organizations should consider adopting Scaled Agile. We’ll discuss what’s necessary to accomplish when you’re planning to transition to Scaled Agile, including the differences in frameworks, tools, and training options that are critical to success. Once you’ve decided to take the plunge, there are many tools and techniques to facilitate remote ‘big room’ or quarterly planning which is a key element in Scaled Agile, essential to keeping your teams on course.
Why? When? How?
Why are so many organizations considering the move to Scaled Agile? In most cases, large organizations implement Scaled Agile to increase productivity across teams and portfolios through accurate and flexible planning and reporting. When companies use Scaled Agile they are empowered to pivot quickly and respond to market changes.
Transparency is key. Do teams within your organization embrace the vision? Are they striving for the same goal? Do they understand why they are doing this work? Alignment and collaboration to improve processes and value delivery is a primary driver of Scaled Agile. This transparency works both ways as all team activities, progress, and targets are visible and monitored across the organization.
When should you consider Scaled Agile? The answer is clear: after extensive research and preparation. The most successful teams to take on the challenge of Scaled Agile are those who are mature and comfortable with Agile at the team level. The effort to implement Scaled Agile is significant; therefore organizations with 50+ users in multiple scrum teams are likely to see the best ROI, but only when those multiple scrum teams already operate under a real Agile framework and are comfortable doing so.
How do we get there from here? To successfully scale Agile in an organization, you have to use a top-down/bottom-up approach. Cultural change is as important as process change. Everyone in the organization must understand that it’s a journey, not a destination, and you certainly can’t teleport to get there. You’ll need to plan and budget for training at all levels and continuously reinforce the reasons you’ve decided to embark on this journey.
The next crucial step is planning. With the organization moving and pivoting in response to market changes, the entire organization needs to be aware of the short- and long-term program goals. Determine what transformation method is right for you. Can you phase in Scaled Agile over the course of months or years? Or do you need to bite the bullet and do a risky ‘Big Bang’ transformation?
Planning to Implement Scaled Agile
Although some organizations have had success with a ‘Big Bang’ transformation, your best bet is to start small. A ‘Big Bang’ implementation can lead to frustration and the organization is likely to slip back to a phased approach. In order to be successful, follow this key tenant of Agile: master each step, iterate, and adjust to provide the most value for your organization.
Here are some common building blocks shared across the most popular Scaled Agile frameworks which you can implement as a solid foundation for your journey:
Scrum of Scrums Meeting
Once or twice per week, schedule a 15-30 minute session where your scrum masters come together to share impediments, dependencies, and integration progress so the teams remain aligned toward the upcoming milestones of the program.
Product Owner Sync
Once or twice per week, schedule a 15-30 minute session where your Product Owners and the Program Manager meet to stay aligned on functionality, scope, schedule, and team progress. This keeps all Product Owners in sync to ensure teams are working together toward program goals.
When you have multiple teams working on one program, it’s crucial to work from one high-level backlog of features, in priority order, maintained by the Program Manager. Teams then break down the features into stories on their individual backlogs. This ensures the prioritization is being followed across teams and dependencies can easily be mapped.
Dependency Identification and Scheduling
Inter-team dependencies can be the biggest risk of Scaled Agile. To mitigate these risks, it’s important to understand which team needs to complete their work in order for another team to proceed with their tasks. It’s recommended that the functionality needed by other teams is provided at least one iteration prior to the functionality being needed. This allows time to integrate, iron out any bugs, and not delay the dependent team. As your Scaled Agile practices mature, you may implement tools which help you visualize these dependencies during quarterly planning sessions.
Common Integration Environment
It’s great if your teams are completing work on schedule in their local environments; however, you can’t truly gauge success until all teams’ work is integrated and working together in a common integration environment. Keeping this environment up to date using the right continuous integration and deployment tools along with automated testing for your organization is critical to the success of your program. Now is the time to invest in quality tools, such as Jira, Bitbucket, and Confluence. We have seen the value this brings to our clients when we help them configure their Jira environments and set them up for real Agile collaboration. The Modus Create Atlassian Expert Team can help you get the most out of your investment with customized training and coaching.
Once you’ve mastered these practices, you are well on your way to Scaled Agile. To further mature your organization, you can add in some more structure and practices from one, or many, of the popular Scaled Agile frameworks.
There are a variety of frameworks that offer guidance for scaling Agile. Keep in mind that your framework is a set of guidelines and tools to help you achieve your goal. It is not a strict set of rules which your organization needs to squeeze into. It’s best to become aware of the differences between frameworks and decide which features best fit your business need.
The Scaled Agile Framework (“SAFe”) is the most used and most complex framework around. There are lots of benefits to being the biggest, including tons of training and certification courses, mature templates, handbooks, and supplemental materials. However, SAFe can be overwhelming and expensive for organizations who want to ease into Scaled Agile.
If you’d like to take it slow, lighter weight frameworks like LeSS and Scrum@Scale may be a better next step in your journey. Be sure to start small and think ‘lean’ so you don’t get your teams bogged down in too much overhead.
You’ll also want to understand why some frameworks, like Spotify’s, are not recommended; because they were developed by and for use in specific companies, the models often aren’t easily adapted to a wide range of businesses.
There is a lot to be learned by researching these frameworks as well as what has and hasn’t worked at organizations. One of the key aspects of Agile is focusing on people over processes, so consider taking that approach here – try things and retrospect until you find what works for your organization. You may determine that a hybrid approach is best, choosing aspects and terminology that suit your needs, borrowing key elements from SAFe or other frameworks to gently introduce more structure for Scaled Agile without the extreme burden of new rules and lingo. You’ll get quicker buy-in and therefore have a better chance at success.
Scaled Agile requires a significant investment in tools and people. You may already be using common tools such as Slack or Teams to communicate asynchronously, or in real-time with video conferencing tools such as Zoom or WebEx. How are you organizing your team’s work? How are you tracking initiatives across projects, teams, and the organization at large? Take stock of your preparation to date, and gauge your readiness for the jump.
Planning and Tracking
A big part of planning to scale Agile will be determining the best planning and tracking tools for your organization. The most popular range from lightweight to extremely feature rich. Consider which deployment fits your needs: Cloud, Server, or Data Center.
- Confluence – This feature rich team workspace includes numerous templates and enables your team to easily collaborate and share requirements, documentation, decisions, risks, and more. It’s the perfect place to work with your team on requirements and then seamlessly create Jira issues from your Confluence pages.
- Jira Software – One of the best tools to prepare your team to scale Agile is Atlassian Jira. If your teams are successfully using Jira at the team level, and you have a solid understanding of velocity, you are in a good position to consider scaling. If you’re just starting out with Jira, this is a great time to look ahead so you can configure your workflow, fields, and reports to best set you up for a smoother transition to Scaled Agile.
- Easy Agile Programs for Jira – This tool provides a lightweight and complete Program Planning solution for Jira. Empower your teams to view whole Programs to enable cross-team planning, view and manage cross-team dependencies while keeping a focus on committed objectives.
- BigPicture – This powerful and feature rich tool includes Gantt charts and strong roadmap, resource, and risk management functionality. Big Picture is also SAFe Compliant.
- Advanced Roadmaps (formerly known as Portfolio for Jira) – This Atlassian tool provides a strong layer on top of Jira Software for long-term planning, creation of roadmaps, and keeping stakeholders informed of progress. It is available on Cloud as part of the Jira Premium service, or as a separate add-on for Server/Data Center instances.
- Jet by Jira Align – Jet analyzes your teams’ agility, collaboration, and use of Jira to ensure you’re ready to scale.
- Jira Align – The most powerful tool in the Atlassian Suite for multiple Jira Instances and very large teams. Jira Align enables teams to roll stories all the way up to the top-level company mission, vision, and goals. Teams can see cross-team dependencies, priorities and long-term roadmap for current and future product increments. Built-in dashboards, reports, assessments and retrospective modules give you flexible options for the most complex organizations.
Tip: check out this side-by-side comparison of Advanced Roadmaps and Jira Align by Atlassian.
So, Are You Ready?
As you’re assessing your organization’s readiness to scale Agile, it’s important to make good use of tools specifically built for team collaboration, like Atlassian’s Confluence and Jira, to provide transparency to work planned, in progress, and done. If you haven’t implemented these tools already and aren’t sure where to start, or have tried on your own but still have questions, the Modus Create Atlassian Expert Team is here to help. When you work with Modus Create, you have a trusted partner to guide you through the maze and over the hurdles you might encounter when scaling Agile. We’ve successfully implemented these programs and processes across small to enterprise-level organizations in many verticals. Together, as one blended team, we’ll ensure you have a solid foundation from which to confidently take the leap to Scaled Agile.
Lots of options, right? And lots of risks if you get off to a bumpy start. Make sure you’ve got commitment to follow through beyond implementation for long-term management and maintenance. Remember: “being Agile” is not the goal. Always focus on the value the processes and tools bring to your teams, product, and customers. Scaled Agile is a journey – success is measured by progress and continual improvement. Reach out to a Modus Create Atlassian expert to guide you through the labyrinth of tools, processes, and practices to make sure your Scaled Agile journey is smooth and rewarding. It’s a lot of hard work that, done right, and at the right time, will pay off for your organization.