Agility at Scale

What does it mean to scale agile? The answer to this question depends on who you ask. For example, some people will tell you that scaling agile means applying agile strategies to a large software development team or to a geographically distributed software development team. To others scaling agile means applying agile strategies across a lot of software development teams and to others scaling agile means you apply agile strategies to your organization as a whole. It isn’t clear, is it?

This article overviews what it means to scale agile from a Disciplined Agile (DA) point of view. To do so it works through the following topics:

  1. The Scope of Agility
  2. Agility at Scale
  3. Tactical Scaling – Scaling an Agile Team
  4. Strategic Scaling – Organizational Agility

The Scope of Agility

DA Scope diagram

Figure 1. The layers of the Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit.

Let’s explore each aspect depicted in the diagram:

  1. The Foundation layerFoundation provides the conceptual underpinnings of the DA tool kit.  This includes the DA Mindset; foundational concepts from agile, lean, and serial/traditional ways of working (WoW); people-oriented issues such as roles, responsibilities, and teaming structures; and of course how to choose your WoW.
  2. Disciplined DevOpsDisciplined DevOps is the streamlining of IT solution development and IT operations activities, and supporting enterprise-IT activities, to provide more effective outcomes to an organization.
  3. The value streams layerValue streams encompasses the capabilities required to provide value streams to your customers.  A value stream is the set of actions that take place to add value to a customer from the initial request through realization of value by the customer. A value stream begins, ends, and hopefully continues with a customer. The value stream begins with the initial concept, moves through various stages for one or more development teams, and on through final delivery and support. It’s not enough to be innovative in ideas if these ideas can’t be realized in the marketplace or in the company. DA FLEX is the glue that ties an organization’s strategies in that it visualizes what an effective value stream looks like, enabling you to make decisions for improving each part of the organization within the context of the whole.
  4. Disciplined Agile Enterprise (DAE). A DAE is able to anticipate and respond swiftly to changes in the marketplace. It does this through an organizational culture and structure that facilitates change within the context of the situation that it faces. Such organizations require a learning mindset in the mainstream business and underlying lean and agile processes to drive innovation.

Agility at Scale

The Disciplined Agile (DA) toolkit distinguishes between two types of “agility at scale”:

  1. Scaling agile at the team level (tactical agility at scale). This is the application of agile and lean strategies on individual Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) teams. The goal is to apply agile deeply to address all of the complexities/scaling factors (team size, geographic distribution, organizational distribution, domain complexity, technical complexity, and regulatory compliance) appropriately. Scaling frameworks such as LeSS, NEXUS, and SAFe tend to focus around the issues of team size and sometimes geographic distribution.
  2. Scaling agile at the organizational level (strategic agility at scale). This is the application of agile and lean strategies broadly across your entire organization. From an IT point of view this includes Disciplined DevOps and Disciplined Agile IT in general. From an enterprise point of view this includes all divisions and teams within your organization, not just your IT department.

Scaling Agile at the Team Level (Tactical Agility at Scale)

Tactical agility at scale is the application of agile and lean strategies on individual Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) teams. The following figure summarizes the scaling factors that will affect your efforts to tactically scale agile on IT delivery teams. This includes the ability to apply agile on teams of all sizes, on teams that are geographically distributed, on teams facing regulatory compliance, on teams addressing a complex domain (problem space), on teams applying a complex technologies, on teams where outsourcing may be involved, and combinations thereof. An important implication of this is that because you are likely to have delivery teams facing different situations, these teams will be following different tailorings of the Disciplined Agile toolkit – context counts.

Agility at Scale

Figure 2. Scaling factors of the Software Development Context Framework (SDCF).

Scaling Agile at the Organization Level (Strategic Agility at Scale)

Strategic agility at scale is the application of agile and lean strategies broadly across your entire organization. From a high-level point of view this includes all four levels depicted in Figure 1 above, and from a more detailed point of view all of the process blades shown in the figure below.

Onion diagram of the Disciplined Agile tool kit

Figure 3. The Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit.