In an age where dynamic customer demands have to be met with increased speed, an Agile approach to software development is almost certainly the best way to develop and deliver software with minimal risk and costs. Since Agile frameworks allow teams to deliver code in sprints, they accommodate changes and enhancements and keep up with the pace of change. The Scrum framework, for instance, focuses on incremental development, with each sprint or iteration comprising a two to four-week duration. Scrum enables teams to meet customer needs faster while increasing productivity all along the way. Similarly, the Kanban framework allows teams to visually represent work items on a Kanban board and drive transparency by keeping track of every piece of work.
When is Agile most effective?
While there is no doubt that Agile frameworks provide a host of benefits, they do so only for organizations whose team sizes are small (7 to 10 members). Software requirements are increasing in complexity, and organizations are likely to come to a point where teams get bigger and bigger. For organizations with many large multiple teams, especially those that span the globe and use a variety of tools and systems, the efficiency of Agile frameworks starts to plummet.
Limitations of Agile Frameworks and the need for Scaled Agile Frameworks
Implementing Agile frameworks, such as Scrum and Kanban, are a great way to address customer needs faster, and with more predictability. Implementing Agile for small teams is relatively easy; the real challenge arises while implementing Agile at scale:
• When teams get bigger, managing tasks across many people gets very difficult. Maintaining a large number of communication lines can reduce the effectiveness of face-to-face communications and review meetings.
• Teams spread across different geographic locations struggle to drive mutual efforts due to time zone differences and communication gaps.
• Maintaining and updating requirements and design documentation frequently also becomes difficult for large, remote teams.
• Assigning specific tasks to a large number of people in the team becomes a time-consuming process that delays project development and delivery.
• For systems where functionality is tightly coupled, incremental software development is challenging. Also, QA testing gets cumbersome.
For teams that gradually grow in size, Scaled Agile frameworks promote alignment, collaboration, and delivery across multiple Agile teams. Offering a set of workflow patterns, they guide enterprises in scaling lean and Agile practices. They provide large teams guidance on roles and responsibilities as well as how to plan and manage the work.
• SAFe is one of the most popular scaled Agile frameworks that provides teams with a robust and structured approach for scaling Agile. The framework helps organizations design better software in ways that more easily and efficiently meet customers’ changing needs. It helps teams understand the current state of business, and its goals, and how everyone should move together to achieve those goals. Through constant synchronization of people and activities regularly, it ensures information flows in all directions and in a timely fashion, so critical development decisions are taken quickly.
• Disciplined Agile Delivery or DAD is another Agile-focused framework that helps teams in making simplified process decisions. Because it improves incremental and iterative decision-making, it is known to not just streamline the development process, but also enable scalability.
• Enterprise Service Planning or ESP provides a framework of tools to help teams overcome conditions of software development complexity, volatility, and uncertainty. Using ESP, teams can anticipate demand, allocate capacity accordingly, and improve agility - one service at a time.
• The ICAgile framework focuses on deepening the mindset in Agile - across different aspects of Agile testing, management, leadership, coaching and more. Using this framework, teams can blend Agile into the software development process and achieve sustainable agility for the products under development.
• Large Scale Scrum or the LeSS framework aims to drive the same benefits for Agile teams with more people. Teams work on creating a deliverable product in every sprint through incremental and iterative development and get the visibility they need through frequent communication and waste reduction. Because teams interact directly with the customer, they are in a better position to adhere to the product roadmap and focus on priorities and long-term vision of the product.
• The Nexus framework works on minimizing cross-team dependencies and integration issues, helping teams seamlessly scale their Agile products. Using Nexus, teams can deliver complex, multi-platform products in short cycles - without adding unnecessary complexity or compromising quality.
Scaled Agile frameworks enable teams at all levels to define the goals of each task and bake quality development practices into every aspect of delivery. They empower teams to divide work into smaller batches, provide insight into backlogs, prioritize tasks, and identify problems sooner.
Here’s how scaled Agile frameworks overcome common Agile limitations:
• Seamless collaboration, coordination, and communication between teams: Scaled Agile frameworks bring alignment by breaking organizational silos, enabling seamless communication across geographically dispersed teams. Since context is constantly shared throughout the organization, everyone has end-to-end visibility across project goals, current progress, and roadblocks. Such visibility fosters respect between teammates, regardless of their role, encourages empathic interactions.
• Long-term planning and iterations for large teams: Unlike traditional development methodologies where work is laid out in a top-down fashion, scaled Agile frameworks work on the build-measure-learn concept. Since teams work together and share findings on a regular basis, the end result is better planning and flexibility, along with the value that is aligned with business strategy and goals.
• To ensure agile adherence and sanity across cross-functional teams: Unlike traditional Agile development, work in scaled Agile frameworks is delegated to teams rather than individuals. Since every team has a better understanding of the organization’s larger goals, they work towards optimizing their own processes and delivery while ensuring Agile adherence and sanity across cross-functional teams.
• Defining of epics (portfolio, program, business, and architectural epics): For Agile teams that release software at the end of each sprint or Kanban teams that release software when the product owner requests a build, releasing big changes (software update) at once is challenging. Scaled Agile frameworks divide requests into independent release streams or epics, which improves flexibility and autonomy among business units. They also help reduce risk in each release and make diagnosis and fixing problems easier.
• Management of many product owners: For organizations that witness their Agile teams grow in size (and complexity), the presence of multiple product owners that manage the various aspects of development is common. Scaled Agile frameworks like LeSS divide product backlogs into multiple requirement areas and assign a different Product Owner to each area. Since every Product Backlog is assigned to exactly one Product Owner, such a clear division of roles helps maintain priorities while preventing the risk of conflict between different requests or backlog items.
• Planning and execution of multiple simultaneous deliveries: For organizations looking to release software updates frequently, scaled Agile frameworks enable seamless planning and execution of multiple simultaneous deliveries. Even if a release involves the work of multiple programs, by using aligned sprint cycles and strong APIs, teams can know who is shipping what and when, and automate the testing and deployment pipeline.
• Ensuring code quality: Scaled Agile frameworks enable teams to limit work in progress items, thus maximizing throughput and accelerating quality code delivery. By limiting overlapping work, reducing complexity, and limiting the amount of work that is tackled at any given point in time, they ensure code is developed and delivered in batches that are sized through constant validation.
Scaled Agile frameworks are paving the way for robust software development for teams that see themselves growing in size. By inspiring lean-agile decision-making across functional and organizational boundaries, they are helping organizations improve collaboration, minimize conflict, and release better quality code.