Looking Beyond Large Scale Agility

After being involved with a group that is probably the most Agile anywhere in the world, seeing hundreds of companies over the last decade trying to become Agile and so miserably at that, or after having taught Leadership, Kanban, Scrum and Agile Engineering workshops and finding that the same problems exist in organizations that existed a decade ago, I am really starting to wonder if its time for us all to really Look beyond Large Scale Agility.

If you are in an organization that is busy implementing Agile Change frameworks like SaFe, Less, Dad, Nexus etc you may be wondering

  • How all of this is going to improve your life. ?
  • What is going to happen to all the hard work you have put in this organization over the years. ?
  • Is your company getting better or worse?
  • How are you going to make more money and be happier?

You are not alone. The issue I have come to realize more so lately is one of Scale. Agile is heavily dependent on people, less in the process. Yet most companies we work for are heavily driven by the process and profit  Have the meeting madness. Leaders are incentivized to drive down cost. The pressure of shareholder satisfaction makes things tough to change.

Agility tends to work well in smaller groups. If your organizations are really small say 50 people, it’s really tough to implement Any kind of Framework. Pretty much the culture is one of “Get it done”. From 100 to 150 People scale All these things work beautifully. More than that you are in the “I am not sure this is working Zone”.  Dunbar’s Number posits that 150 is the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships.

What we need is

  • Sess – Small Scale Scrum  NOT Less – Large Scale Scrum
  • RaFe, Right Agile Framework NOT SaFe Scaled Agile Framework

The fundamental issue in scaling beyond 150 to 200 is a simple one of coordination and one of leadership mismatch. At a scale of 150, you often have a group leader of some sort. The culture of this unit really depends on this leader. See this HBR Video that talks about 8 kinds of company culture.

If you see the video you would see one of the top kind of culture is Results Driven.

I would expect every profit driven organization is results driven. See the video above.

Every kind of organization should be results driven. So that means leaders are incentivized to get results.

Shown below is a typical organization where leaders are incentivized to get outcomes. Most of our organizations look like this. Broken by some sort of functional groups. Here shown are two Blue could be Sales and Marketing and Red – Could be Products. L (A) who is the leader for both the groups has to make sure the L(B)’s are incentivized correctly in  order to extract maximum results from the six leaders who in turn, so on and so forth


The book Leadership BS from  Jeffrey Pfeffer, a well known Stanford professor calls our many of the issues with leadership today. He goes at why leaders are actually not honest, not authentic, and not modest, do not often tell the truth, doesn’t build trust, and do not take care of others. In organizations such as the one above where top-down leadership is practiced, there is more of order following rather than ownership. Even if leaders really want to be Agile, The system is set up against them.

People who actually do the work are so far away from the real customers that they don’t have a clear understanding of what problems they are trying to solve for customers, are not empowered to decide anything without explicit permission from the leaders. In such organizations meetings is the norm as the person above has to delegate the work down, coordinate across different groups. Hence the normal problems of excessive meetings are seen in these organizations.

See this amazing Ted talk about what happens when leaders create an epidemic of meetings in organizations.

So how can we be Agile? Really agile. Agility is really about
– profitability of the business,
– Engagement of employees where they are empowered to solve and innovate for customers

It starts with three simple practices
1) Small groups that are direct customer facing creating a startup like a mentality in these groups
2) With a heavy focus on good solid agile engineering practices and a culture of teamwork.
3) Where leaders are elected by those they serve and are now serving than leading.

It’s really about Product or Service Agility. Are we creating products or services that delight our customers? We really cannot change org culture esp if your organization in more than 1000 people.

But we can do a lot of magic in the 125 range.

You can make a huge service to your organization by creating worthy leaders who are trained to lead from the side. The leaders can create a culture where truly the time of the team is protected so that they do not waste even a minute of their time in meaningless meetings, instead of by working together to creatively solve customer problems.

Share your thoughts and experiences on success or failure trying to implement large scaled Agile.

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