How much of Agile is too much?

Many years ago, by which I mean 1996, I got attracted to something called Extreme Programming. I loved the fact that we could work in small teams, created tested products.

People like Martin Fowler, Uncle Bob, Dave Thomas made things more real. Using Scrum was easy as Scrum mostly works nicely at the team level.

I have seen Scrum work really well up to groups of 100 or so people. Beyond that, in theory, it’s supposed to scale. I was part of one of the largest and best implementations of Scrum at scale, I believe that the program had 1000 or so people, and after 2 years, the product died. It was the best process implementation I had ever seen of Scrum at scale, Scrum of Scrums, distributed Agile and yet it failed for one reason – They delayed the shipping of the product, by trying to gold plate it with more and more features. Then bad things happened, people were fired, many have now become agile coaches in other companies.

Then came Agile transformation. – To me, it meant applying Agile at a large program or portfolio level. When large companies started adopting Agile, they found immediate issues in terms of scaling. With that was born a billion dollar industry. Scaled Scrum Frameworks.

  • SAFe
  • LeSS
  • Nexus
  • ….
  • Certification bodies sprung up
    • ScrumAlliance
    • .
    • Lean Kanban Training etc.

So far I have not seen even many successful implementations of any of these large scale frameworks. The reason no framework can fit is our organizations are complex adaptive systems.

Even in the phase of Agile Transformation mostly everything was still in the IT side. One of the financial giants I know after 8 years of trying agile, many millions help from consulting companies, just closed down their agile coaching office.

And now the year 2019 seems to be the year of Business Agility. Essentially running the agile business in an agile manner. While these are fundamentally sound principles, the agile community has not had much success in Agile beyond IT level.

At the core, if we follow simple rules that small teams work better, form many two pizza teams and have each manager to have not more than two pizza teams. Give them the autonomy they need to solve the complex problems of the business.

I am curious to see the certification bandwagons like SAFe now add new tracks for business agility. I am convinced that small groups, cross-functional armies are better. Too much structure in scaling may not yield the desired results

We can create learning organizations, we can use systems thinking to learn from our organizational units, however, I don’t think there is enough data yet to prove that running everything under the banner of agile may be a wise thing.

These theories may be proven wrong in some years, who knows.

But i guess only time will tell.