In my previous post, Can You Scale Agility, I set the stage for why I am exploring whether true agility is possible in a scaled environment.
Starting with Scaling Frameworks
The intent of this post is not to convince you that one scaling framework is better than another. I do however, intend to look at some of the more prevalent practices and offer my opinion on whether one or more offer an environment that leads to organizational agility.
As I mentioned in my first post, while I don’t claim to be an expert in scaling agile frameworks, I am a longtime Lean, Agile, Scrum, and Kanban practitioner so feel reasonably equipped to review and comment on Agility at Scale.
A Bit of Commentary
The order of framework depictions is intentional, starting with the least complex, and easiest to implement and ending with the most complex.
Scrum of Scrums (of Scrums of Scrums of Scrums…)
The Scrum of Scrums (SoS) is the simplest scaling practice to implement and can be used in a small environment of a handful of teams up to dozens or even hundreds of teams. It has only a few fundamental rules to follow which ranks it high on my “scaling agility” level. SoS can be used independently or as part of other more complex scaling frameworks and scales nicely to meet the needs of small or large organizations.
Scrum of Scrums Depicted
A single member of each set of teams– blue, purple, and green meets in the respective SoS and a member of each SoS meets in a Scrum of Scrum of Scrums.
A quick overview
If you are not familiar with the practice, Scrum of Scrums is similar in structure to the team level Daily Scrum except the SoS is a virtual team composed of representatives from a number of individual Scrum (or Kanban) teams that are working in tandem on a large project, product or program. SoS is a recurring meeting that can be held once a week or even daily if needed. SoS can be used to coordinate across programs.
The primary goals are:
- to collaboratively resolve impediments or problems facing one or more teams
- to integrate a product across teams
- to coordinate and potentially release code
One or more representatives from each team meet to discuss the following:
- What each team completed from the last time the group met
- What each team plans to complete before the group meets again
- Blockers caused by the other teams represented in this meeting,
- Things their team is doing that might block one or more of the other teams.
- Problems to be resolved immediately
Level of Scaling Agility:
For an organization not proficient in lean and agile practices, the scrum of scrums does not provide explicit direction for becoming better. Although I would say if you are starting SoS, you get points for continuous improvement!
For companies who are already proficient in their agile and lean practices at the team level, SoS is a great way to start coordinating across multiple teams and even programs. I have used SoS in several organizations and liked it for small companies because there are only a few rules to follow and it is easy to get started without a lot of coaching. In larger organizations with many levels of management SoS may not, by itself, help reach your goal of organizational agility. If that describes you, read on because more direction and prescription may be what you need.
Large Scale Scrum – LeSS
LeSS is more complex than a simple Scrum of Scrums practice, but still very lightweight. LeSS is Scrum applied to many teams working together on one product. LeSS embraces the essence of the scrum framework — teams working together towards a meaningful goal.
Unlike other more complex Agile scaling frameworks (to be detailed in my next blog post), the LeSS framework prescribes a minimum amount of details for scaling:
- One product owner
- One product backlog
- One sprint planning
- One sprint review
- Because the teams are developing one product
Where LeSS beats traditional frameworks hands down
Whereas traditional large scale software development methodologies consist of multiple component teams working on a single product, teams working in a LeSS framework are predominantly cross-functional, feature teams. Unlike traditional projects, LeSS teams minimize dependencies by focusing on:
- Daily builds
- Continuous integration
- Automated tests
- Inter- and cross-team communication
In addition, independent LeSS teams follow scrum tenants: transparency, empirical process control, iterative development and self-managing teams (to name a few).
(Some) prescription required
Generally speaking, empirical processes require minimal prescription. However, LeSS founders Craig Larman and Bas Vodde found that early in the adoption, LeSS teams will likely need additional direction and guidance to assist in their adoption of the new framework:
- How does each team build its part of the product?
- How do teams retain ownership and operate with transparency?
- How do teams give and receive feedback?
To help with adoption, LeSS provides ground rules to guide new and existing teams in a number of areas:
- Clarity around scrum for multiple teams
- Definition of roles for team members and managers
- Management of the product backlog
- Planning best practices
- Handling a product with 8+ teams (AKA LeSS Huge)
LeSS is Scrum
Like single team scrum, LeSS empowers teams and team members to make decisions. Teams and individuals are self-organizing and self-directed. LeSS is a minimalistic framework and, like Scrum, looks easy but takes hard work and dedication to master.
LeSS is based on Scrum so the values and principles for single team scrum apply. In addition, the LeSS Framework provides a minimalistic set of principles, but does not give answers as to how best to apply in a specific context. The LeSS principles provide the basis for making decisions.
Level of Scaling Agility:
LeSS bases its framework on Shu-Ha-Ri, which is a Japanese martial arts concept. Shu-Ha-Ri describes the journey from learning through mastery and is often used to describe business as well as physical pursuits.
For organizations looking to scale, LeSS provides direction at both the single- and multi-team levels. LeSS is a lightweight framework and, as the name implies, bases its concepts on the adage that less is more. Unlike other Scaling frameworks, LeSS recommends that teams build the method up rather than tailor it down. Organizations should look to implement the core of the framework and only add to it if they are feeling pain.
LeSS: One Product and Multiple Teams
LeSS Huge: One Organization, Multiple Requirement Areas, Multiple teams
Of the frameworks I have reviewed so far, LeSS gets top votes for Scaling Agility. Be explicit and directive when and where you need it, and break the rules or make your own when the time comes!
Catch up on the series! In Scaling Agile Part 3 I dive into Disciplined Agile (DA), and Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), which I expect to be the most complex and prescriptive of the scaling frameworks. In Scaling Agile Part 4, I take a closer look at Scaled Agile Framework, also known as SAFe.