Scaled Agile: An Overview
Many organizations around the world are moving from traditional Waterfall project management techniques, to Agile software development.
This is a difficult journey for many organizations, especially large and older ones. Many of the core ideas in Agile and Scrum are suited to a small team of six to ten people, like you might find at a young startup.
Trying to apply the same idea to a large enterprise with 30,000 people is a difficult task! There is therefore a new movement in the Agile community called “Scaled Agile”. This involves applying the ideas of Agile or Scrum and “scale them up” to a large company or government institution.
Scaled Agile attempts to answer questions like:
- How do you share a product backlog between multiple teams?
- How do you coordinate the work between multiple teams?
- What is the best way to manage or reduce dependencies between multiple teams?
- How do you maintain technical and business agility with a huge codebase and dozens or hundreds of teams?
Several frameworks for applying Scaled Agile have emerged recently. This article will provide an overview of them, and the strengths or weaknesses of each.
Scaled Agile Framework aka SAFe
This system was developed by author Dean Leffingwell. It defines a complex, portfolio-based approach to Agile for medium to very large organizations. The main concept in SAFe is the Agile Release Train, which is a coordinated approach to delivering Product Increments (PIs) at a regular pace.
It defines various roles and activities at a project, portfolio and value stream level. SAFe is probably the most well-known and widely used system for Scaled Agile.
- Thorough, well-known, well-documented.
- Can work for very large organizations.
- Complex, dense, many pre-defined roles and artifacts.
- Can encourage organizations to continue some old Waterfall behaviours.
Large Scale Scrum aka LeSS
Large Scale Scrum has been around for quite a while. Bas Vodde and Craig Larman came up with LeSS while trying to implement Scrum at large organizations in 2005.
It is a leaner and simpler system than SAFe. The intention is to keep most of the simplicity and adaptability of Scrum and simply replicate it across multiple scrum teams in an organization. There is some good advice on how to coordinate backlogs and sprint planning across scrums.
It might be a difficult jump for a process-heavy organization that is new to Agile, however.
- Simple, solid practices, based on the proven Scrum methodology.
- Could be too light on governance for some organizations.
Scott Ambler is the creator the Disciplined Agile Delivery or DAD system (they recently changed their name to just Disciplined Agile, but nobody seems to have noticed).
This framework is probably somewhere between LeSS and SAFe in terms of its rules and complexity. There are some solid technical practices in there, but the roles are quite specific and might not suit every organization.
- Based on traditional Agile principles of iterative design and technical quality.
- Medium level of governance and rules could suit organizations well.
- Very specific role definitions might be too constraining for some.
Nexus is the scaled agile system put out by Scrum.org, and Ken Schwaber, one of the co-creators of Scrum. It is a very minimal lightweight framework that adds a couple of roles and artifacts on top of Scrum.
It has not proven to be very popular.
- Simple and easy to apply, a minor extension of Scrum.
- Very little extra rules or governance (the opposite of SAFe).
- Very little guidance on how to coordinate building a product or technical practices.
This is a new system created by eXtreme Programming veteran Peter Merel.
It is a bold attempt to define a holistic approach to everything from product management, portfolio management and technical practices (based on BDD and DevOps).
It is a novel and complex system but is based on powerful and practical ideas.
- Extensive and holistic, provides guidance for the entire organization. Focus on value, innovation and throughput.
- Complex, might be difficult for some organizations to apply.
Those are the main systems out there.
There are some other smaller systems such as Spotify and DSDM that you can also research if you are curious.
I hope you found this overview of Scaled Agile approaches helpful!