Companies have been scaling agile for over a decade with frameworks like Large Scale Scrum (LeSS-2005) and Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe-2011). This article discusses five common pitfalls when scaling agile from teams to the enterprise.
1. Not Having a Clear WHY
When a vision and purpose are understood throughout the organization people are more likely to work towards company objectives. Without the vision and purpose broadly communicated people may think they are working on what the organization deems important but instead is of lesser value or even counterproductive. One sign of this is when the purpose is to improve quality, but resources are working on how to deliver quicker. Quicker delivery is good but if the business is fine with time to market but have problems with product features not meeting customer needs this is how a company can misplace their efforts and not achieve their objectives. Quicker delivery is not adding the highest value and could be a cause of producing these features that miss customer needs.
2. Not Seeing This as Organizational Change
Without trained and experienced resources in agile transformations there are missteps, restarts, and assessments that frameworks and methods do not work. Many transformations start as a grassroots initiative and then stall without having education and knowledge to support management and leadership to transform an organization. One would hear comments like “they don’t understand”, “we can’t get what we need”, or “they don’t know agile”. It is typical when you are just learning a skill to focus on the rules or mechanics and not the purpose and value. As you gain experience this focus shifts. Learning a sport is a great analogy. When you first throw a football, you focus on how to hold it and treat it like a round ball. As a professional quarterback, not only can they throw the ball, but you know how to pass it so the moving receiver can catch it where they want.
3. Not Being Principles Based
- Principles are long lasting, stabilizing, and value based.
- The direction will shift to the next best thing if they are not employed.
When an organization base their transformation on principles these can be a guiding light when posed with how or what should we do. They should reflect the values important to the organization. If an organization promotes face to face communication, then walking over to see the person or having a video call should be the norm versus sending emails. This sounds simple but the value of face to face is building relationships and trust easier which in turn allows work to get done faster and better.
4. Not Keeping All Levels of the Organization Aligned
There will be friction and waste if all levels of the organization are not kept synchronized with the iterative changes happening at team, program, and portfolio levels of the organization. This goes beyond coordination of teams. Signs of this are when a program starts adopting a cadence and teams are on different cadences. This will create friction and waste in releasing a feature that crosses teams. Friction occurs when the organization starts funding a team or program, but other teams are funded through projects. Work is prioritized differently due to being funded or not. If work crosses these funding models releases may be missing features. The latter potentially creates waste if the feature does not deploy. That could be due to missing a marketing campaign or a contracted date.
5. Not Measuring What is Important to the Organization
Trying to establish all metrics leads to a lack of focus on which ones the organization deems important. This can result in poor investment decisions. There is the classic saying you cannot improve what you do not measure. The point here is creating measures that drive your objectives. Make those core measures. This does not mean do not measure but rather make sure what you do measure is driving the behavior change you want. If a core objective is quality, then quality measures are what need to be visible and rewarded. Productivity may be measured but if improving this is not a key objective then the recognition system should not be more than quality.
Hopefully, this article shines some light on common pitfalls when scaling agile. Much of this may sound simple and easy. Just remember Number 2 and engaging those that have knowledge and experience in scaling agile.