The best frameworks for scaling your Agile process
Agile is a popular project management methodology that many businesses adopt to improve efficiency, productivity, and collaboration. You may already be using Agile for a project management or software development team you’re working on. Now, you’re wondering if the benefits of this approach can extend across the larger organization.
The good news is that you can absolutely scale your Agile process — as long as you have the right framework in place. That’s where this guide comes in. We’ll discuss how to scale Agile and cover some of the top frameworks your team should consider using, such as SAFe, LeSS, DA, and SoS.
This post will explore:
- Define Agile at Scale
- Scaled Agile considerations
- Scrum at Scale
- Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS)
- Disciplined Agile (DA)
- Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)
- The best of the rest
- Choosing a framework
- Scale your Agile team today
Define Agile at Scale
There’s a good chance your company is already using Agile principles for project management. Assuming you already use Agile on your team, you may be feeling the need to scale your Agile process so the rest of the company can experience the same benefits.
Agile at Scale is the process of bringing Agile to every team across departments within your organization. Scaling Agile ensures streamlined operations at the team level while enabling larger groups to follow similar procedures that ensure a lasting and effective approach to projects across an organization.
There are many benefits of scaling Agile. First, it irons out reporting structures and makes it clear to everyone, from individual contributors to C-suite leaders, exactly what is expected of them as part of a hierarchical structure. This includes goal setting, milestones, and approval processes, among others. The outcome is not just better project management but also increased communication, improved collaboration, and more flexible teams that are able to meet changing requirements.
When scaling Agile, project managers need more than just plans and processes. Tracking tools can give leadership insight into dependencies and risks, showcasing where teams need to collaborate and identifying potential blockers to progress. They also allow for transparency when it comes to prioritizing efforts.
For remote or hybrid teams, communication tools are also necessary to encourage proper collaboration. Consider that different team cultures may have different default means of interacting, and the platforms you choose should bring together stakeholders and contributors from across the organization with relative ease.
Understanding when to scale Agile is just as important as being convinced why to scale. One consideration is whether existing development approaches are meeting demand. If they’re falling short, the cause might not just be resource allocation. Scaling Agile can also help to manage cross-team dependencies better and reduce the time for approvals from stakeholders while equipping other departments, such as marketing and customer success, with the information they need to communicate with external groups like customers.
Of course, implementing Agile at Scale also has its challenges. Control is often the first thing individuals are asked to give up, as they allow established processes and procedures to take the lead in terms of project management, requirement setting, and approvals. Employees will be held more accountable for their contributions, given the transparency that comes with how work is organized, distributed, and measured.
Increased collaboration can also strain departments initially if they’re not accustomed to being held accountable for their own deliverables with other teams. Implementing systems and software tools to support Agile development and scaling can also slow down processes initially as solutions are rolled out and team members are trained on how to use them properly.
Scaled Agile considerations
There’s no one way to be Agile. A number of different frameworks or approaches can be used by companies, depending on their specific needs and organizational structure. Choosing the right one for you, or switching to a new approach, can be frustrating for project managers or stakeholders who aren’t deeply familiar with Agile.
Later, we’re going to review some of the more popular frameworks that are used to scale Agile, including S@S, LeSS, DA, and SAFe. Each is designed to be flexible when implemented for broader organizational use.
When it comes to choosing the best scaled Agile framework for your business, there are a number of factors to consider. You’ll want to determine how much flexibility you need in your framework. You can also consider the current framework and whether scaling it makes more sense than implementing a new structure, which can be time-consuming. Another question is how broadly implemented you need your framework to be since different approaches are better for incorporating multiple teams or departments into their processes.
You’ll also want to consider the challenges to implementing Agile of any sort. We’ve already touched on several of these, but key to any process change is the mindset of the individual contributors. Project managers and stakeholders will need to motivate their teams to change how they’re accustomed to working in ways that add transparency and protocols that they haven’t encountered previously. This shift in organizational culture can be aided by managers who truly believe in the Agile approach and want to foster an empowered workforce.
As we move forward, it’s important to know that more than half of teams use Scrum as their Agile methodology. As such, many scaled Agile frameworks are built off of the Scrum method for consistency and more seamless implementation. We’re going to walk you through the different scaled Agile methodologies starting with those more basic and building up based on complexity.
Scrum at Scale
Scrum at Scale, or S@S, is the simplest framework on this list for scaling Agile. It extends the Scrum process that many project managers are familiar with at a team level and applies it to a larger context.
Essentially, Scrum gets teams to work together for a common cause. To scale this approach, envision a pyramid with development teams at the bottom and other teams stacked on top, representing the key contributors and stakeholders needed to move the processes forward. This alignment allows teams to understand their role and hierarchy, keeping processes, tasks, and approvals organized.
Scrum development is an empirical approach that prioritizes transparency and adaptability by working iteratively to meet well-defined goals. Scrum allows teams to organize themselves through clear task prioritization and regular meetings, all designed to reduce barriers to development. Incremental tasks are broken down into their smallest units and then assessed for difficulty by the team, allowing more accurate predictions for completion timeframes and clearer definitions of feature requirements and deliverables.
Scrum is made up of teams that have product owners, Scrum leaders, and developers who participate in a variety of events, from daily stand-up meetings to planning sessions and sprint reviews.
Applying Scrum at Scale takes these fundamentals and applies them to small, manageable teams across an organization. This can include adding to development processes and stacking them on top of one another. It can also entail breaking down other teams to ensure deliverables are clear across different business units. A Scrum Master is designated to oversee the entire framework and pinpoint areas for improved efficiencies or roadblocks across teams.
Note that S@S is the proper name for the scaled Agile framework. Scrum of Scrums (SoS) is a method for organizing multiple teams, though it often gets confused with Scrum at Scale since the terms look and sound similar.
Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS)
Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) enables scaling for team growth with a bit more structure in place than Scrum at Scale. LeSS takes the Scrum framework and distills it down with one Scrum team, where a single Scrum Master is responsible for grooming backlogs and defining individual tasks. The various Scrum contributors are then spread out underneath this structure and tasked with individual deliverables that roll up into a single product.
LeSS functions as a single-team approach and simplifies meetings and reviews with an all-hands mentality rather than silos or separate sessions.
Like Scrum at Scale, LeSS relies on Scrum development principles but also those of lean product development. This framework looks to limit waste in the form of resources and time spent on tasks. The approach entails shorter development cycles, or sprints, that help produce iterative sellable products that can go to market more efficiently. It removes barriers to communication by either incorporating all contributors into a single team or bringing together Agile teams for reviews and meetings that facilitate understanding.
One of the main differences with LeSS is all teams and contributors are working on the same timeline to produce a viable product. Rather than having teams at different development stages working on different components or features, developers are focused on working together through the breakdown of tasks to produce results within a given sprint. Everyone works from the same backlog and shared task list, striving to deliver solutions with more regularity and efficiency.
Disciplined Agile (DA)
For a bit more structure, some teams turn to a Disciplined Agile (DA) framework. This toolkit allows product owners and Scrum masters to customize their approach depending on unique organizational needs. One of the key goals of this framework is to simplify the decision-making process by iterating changes and development tasks.
DA incorporates aspects of Scrum, such as sprints and backlogs, but puts people first and allows leadership to make the decisions needed for progress. It also applies more broadly to the organization as a whole, addressing the processes of the entire company and incorporating their input into the way development operates.
With this approach comes more structure. Disciplined Agile typically addresses four key aspects — mindset, people, flow, and practices. Each of these includes definitions that set the roles, responsibilities, lifecycles, and workflows for people at every level to follow.
DA also distinguishes itself by allowing leadership to customize the development structure and iterative processes to meet their specific needs. So while DA can bring rigidity to processes once they’re rolled out, they are fairly flexible when defined by project management at the start. This can be an especially great fit for enterprise organizations looking for structure, but where a straight implementation of Scrum is not entirely applicable to their business processes.
Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)
Companies looking for a process designed for large-scale implementation can consider the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). It looks at planning on both a team level and an enterprise level to ensure measures are in place for efficiency across the organization.
While similar to Scrum at its core, especially when applied to teams, SAFe adds the program and portfolio perspectives to help leaders and managers prioritize workload down to the task level.
Instead of everyone on a team working on the same initiative, SAFe takes simultaneous iterative approaches across large groups of developers. Called Agile Release Trains (ARTs), these teams form around common projects or deliverables and work to complete set initiatives within the larger framework. This means developers on one group of teams may be working on something entirely different than another team group. It allows enterprise organizations to keep their pipeline progressive while also streamlining operations and objectives.
Portfolio-level activities lead the way, and executive leadership is held responsible for defining a vision for the company’s products and services. Project managers distill this down to deliverables aligned with business strategies. The result is a top-down approach where leadership sets expectations, ARTs are assigned initiatives, and teams are given tasks that ladder up to the bigger picture.
SAFe provides the most guidance for teams using Agile because it sets definitions for success and aligns tasks directly with goals while allowing different development groups to work at different rates. However, it’s also one of the more complex Agile frameworks and may be too rigid for some organizations. Since direction comes from the top down, executive management also has a more hands-on role that can sometimes restrict developers and limit their ability to be Agile.
The best of the rest
While the above frameworks are among the most commonly used, here are a few others worth exploring.
Similar to Scrum at Scale (with a few modifications), Nexus allows upper-level project management and stakeholders to have more of a say in the coordination of efforts between Agile teams. Notably, sprint planning is handled at one time for all teams involved, and groups come together — like at a nexus — for sprint review and retrospective meetings so everyone can hear experiences from shared processes.
The Spotify Model is a broader way to structure an entire organization rather than just the development arm. It creates groups within groups and allows individuals to define their own tasks and deliverables in alignment with corporate goals. The model resembles a matrix structure but can leave accountability lacking, as individual contributors are given more autonomy than in a typical Agile framework.
Another less-traditional model is Enterprise Kanban. This essentially applies the Kanban project management method to every aspect and department in an organization. While it establishes a clear workflow for contributors to follow and is usually paired with visualization software, Enterprise Kanban does not indicate the specifics of how an organization should be structured.
Choosing a framework
Choosing a framework can be a time-consuming and daunting process. But with so many options available, any company can find a framework to fit its needs. Remember that part of being Agile is having processes and procedures that can be adapted or instilled to meet your exact needs.
It’s also worth noting if your organization already has a framework in place, such as Scrum, it may make sense to choose a similar approach to reduce change management issues. If your company is growing fast or you envision being an enterprise-level development team in the near future, it may be worthwhile to implement a more complex framework now to scale with you as you grow.
Scrum-based frameworks tend to work well for flat organizations or those that don’t need complex requirements in order to move tasks forward. In contrast, a framework like SAFe might be a better fit for a company that wants to prescribe actions across its operations and ensure they roll up into more traditionally defined business goals.
Here are three key factors that are often part of the Agile framework selection process:
- Size. Larger organizations can usually benefit from more structure, such as that of the SAFe or Spotify models. Smaller teams might find S@S or LeSS a better fit since they build off of existing Scrum processes.
- Structure. More rigid frameworks like SAFe are often preferred for top-down organizations that want to control output. More flexible frameworks, like DA, could be more appealing to smaller companies that are still growing and proving needs.
- Agility. Companies that want their development teams to be Agile and able to shift depending on demand or iterative production will likely want a framework that allows for flexibility.
Scale your Agile team today
Now that you have a better idea of the different Agile frameworks, you can start to evaluate your own business needs and which one might be best for you. Every organization is different, and it’s possible you’ll struggle to find one that is 100% perfect — and that’s normal. Agile frameworks can be adapted to specific use cases with relative ease. And the good news is you have several roadmaps to choose from as you scale your Agile team.
When you’re ready to get started, note which frameworks appeal to you or seem to be most applicable to your company’s needs. Then get other key stakeholders in your organization to weigh in on what they think, and feel free to share this article with them. After you compare notes, consider the pros and cons, and pull in any other relevant team members, the right choice should become evident.
Once you’ve chosen a scaled Agile framework, you still need great project management tools to execute on your strategy. Adobe Workfront is enterprise work management software that connects work to strategy and drives better collaboration to deliver measurable business outcomes. It integrates people, data, processes, and technology across an organization, so you can manage the entire lifecycle of projects from start to finish.