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When’s it a Good Idea to Scale?

Stacey Ackerman

A member from the United Kingdom recently asked the community, “When’s it a good idea to scale agile, and when is it a bad idea?” She added that her company is currently using the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and is not yet sold on the idea. She wanted to know who had success stories where scaling worked really well and which frameworks they used. We received a number of insightful answers from community members around the world. Here’s what a few had to say.

Scaling Can Work Well with Already Agile Teams

An agile coach from Rhode Island shared some context around the various scaling frameworks. Their key differences are LeSS and Scrum@Scale only talk about what’s needed, where SAFe wrote everything down.

“I think SAFe has a lot of good material, but implementing everything at the start is a mistake,” she says. “I have seen SAFe work. These keys were starting out with one agile release train (ART), conducting well attended inspect and adapt workshops and having leadership support.”

She adds that organizations shouldn’t try to implement everything at once, but should start with teams that were already successful with Scrum or Kanban.

Another member adds on to this discussion with a similar perspective. “Starting with tools/framework (SAFe, LESS, DAD, Lean, FDD, Scrum, Kanban etc), for me is a wrong way to start agile adoption or transformation. Transformation is about working on changing the existing culture and behavior including a mindset that will eventually enable whatever tools/framework to be sustainable,” she says. She adds, “SAFe implementations usually take the approach of radical change - a complex framework is put in place over a shorter period of time, from six months to a few years.”

“Instead suggest looking at the incremental change approach taken by large-scale frameworks such as Kanban. The idea here is that you begin with what you have and then work on making one or possibly a few changes at a time in accordance with the Agile Manifesto in order to arrive in a continuously improving agile framework that works for your organization,” she says.

Grassroots Efforts Can Be Effective

A Scrum Master from Virginia chimed in to say, “It is always a good time to grow more agile within any organization, but that doesn’t mean it always has to be a huge scaled transformation. Grass root efforts and small successes can lead to growth of agile principles and ideas as it did in our organization.”

“Not every part of my organization needs to change their processes to follow some prescribed agile framework, but often times they amend or adapt their processes to better facilitate their own work as well as collaborative efforts with other groups.nHowever you can promote and influence continuous improvement in your organization, that is the way to help your organization be more agile,” he says.

SAFe Success

Another member shared his success story. “I’ve been implementing SAFe solutions for approximately four years and have had very good success. A scaling framework is essential if your solution requires more than 50 people and 5 teams and I have no doubt that other scaling frameworks work as well,” he says.

“What is key with SAFe is that you must have a commitment from the business to be an integral part of the process. It doesn’t work very well if it's focused solely on R&D or IT. And you need to make the investment in training and coaching. If you provide the right level of commitment and support, the results can be quite dramatic,” he says.

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