Agile Scaling Conversations from the San Diego Global Scrum Gathering

The San Diego Global Scrum Gathering was a great success!  Between the formal presentations and the Open Space meetings, the topic of scaling, including Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) and comparisons with the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and just basic Scrum, was an area of high interest as you might imagine.

No “final answers” of course, but here are a couple observations that emerged from conversations featuring a mix of coaches well versed in SAFe, LeSS, both, and neither.  It was a dialogue grounded in, but not jaded by a wealth of practical enterprise experience mixed with genuine agile passion.

One general conclusion offered was that some type of SAFe-based approach might be a workable step into agile development for large, complex, and conservative organizations where a full-on assault of the organizational structure would be a non-starter.  There was overall consensus that SAFe does not challenge the existing organizational hierarchy near as much as LeSS.  Craig Larman, in his presentation on LeSS, reinforced its emphasis on moving organizational structure away from local optimization.  Don’t ask how to do Scrum in a large, complicated organization, he said.  Ask why do you have such an organization?

Not that it was all about LeSS vs Scrum.  In his 5 Steps to Disruptive Innovation, Sanjiv Augustine provided a set of clearly articulated steps for transforming to a Product-Centric organization.  And there was the one very veteran coach who observed that after much familiarization and work with both frameworks that he now finds himself tending back toward simply Scrum and basic, incremental Scaling.

Alistair Cockburn observed that with models pushing vision and expectations heavily downward while trying to provide a space for empowerment and agility at ground level, the middle layer of management buffering those teams may take a beating.  In fact, he noted one agile implementation that collapsed upon the departure of just such key figure.  Backtracking with him, Cockburn discovered that this was exactly what had occurred.  The buffer was gone and the delivery teams ended up reverting.

I would be very interested in your thoughts on this topic.  The problem and opportunity of Agile transformation is certainly upon us.  Wouldn’t it be great to have an openly referenceable body of knowledge on empirical paths to success, and speed of transformation, based on some key organizational characteristics?  That would certainly be adaptive and transparent.

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