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Scaling Agile Step 2: Adopt a Lean-Agile Framework to Scale

Recognizing the challenges that most large organizations face as they try to scale Agile using first-generation methods, consultants and thought leaders have designed Lean-Agile frameworks (also known as Scaling Agile Frameworks or Enterprise Agile Frameworks) to help solve problems associated with agility at scale.

In its recent market guide to Enterprise Agile Frameworks, Gartner lists 13 frameworks that are available today but the three leading Lean-Agile frameworks are Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS), Disciplined Agile Delivery (DaD), and Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). Each framework takes a unique approach to solving the problem of Agile at scale, but they all share some critical characteristics.

Common Characteristics Across Lean-Agile Frameworks:

  • They are built on a foundation of Scrum and/or Kanban at the team level and leverage a wide array of Agile, Lean, and systems thinking practices.
  • They define a set of values and principles which build on Agile and Lean concepts.
  • They emphasize overarching concerns, like architecture, security, and performance, and the resolution of dependencies and inconsistencies across projects.
  • They synchronize the delivery cadence of multiple teams, rolling up features delivered by each team into a unified release.

The industry is still in the early stages of adopting Lean-Agile frameworks. Recent surveys show that only 28% of organizations have adopted SAFe, and other frameworks are largely untested, having only single-digit adoption rates.

Here’s a brief comparison of the three main Lean-Agile frameworks. When selecting which one is right for you, feel free to draw from multiple frameworks to create a unique approach that is contextual to your organization.

LeSS (Large-Scale Scrum)

LeSS is a Lean-Agile framework that builds on top of the Scrum principles of empiricism and cross-functional teams, providing a framework for applying these at scale. Similar to Scrum, LeSS incorporates a single Product Backlog (because it’s for a product, not a team), one Definition of Done for all teams, one Potentially Shippable Product Increment at the end of each sprint, one Product Owner, and many complete, cross-functional teams (with no single-specialist teams). In LeSS, all teams are in a common sprint to deliver a common shippable product, every sprint.

In addition to the one Product Owner, sprint planning in LeSS includes people from all teams working on the product. Team members are allowed to self-manage to decide their division of Product Backlog items. LeSS also involves having an Overall Retrospective. This is a new meeting not found in one-team Scrum and its purpose is to explore how to improve the overall system, rather than focusing on one team. It should include the Product Owner, Scrum Masters, and rotating representatives from each team.

LeSS is a good starting point when you already have Scrum in place and are just beginning to scale up with more teams, one at a time.

Disciplined Agile 2.0

(Formerly Disciplined Agile Delivery or DAD)

Disciplined Agile 2.0 is not a scaling framework per se. It’s a framework that enables simplified process decisions around incremental and iterative solution delivery. DA 2.0 supports a people-first, learning-oriented hybrid agile approach to IT solution delivery. It builds on the many practices adopted by advocates of Agile software development, including Scrum, Kanban, Agile Modeling, Lean software development, and others. It emphasizes consumable solutions and decision-making based on risk plus value, and enterprise awareness.

The Disciplined Agile approach is goal-driven rather than prescriptive. Compared to Scrum, which proposes that all work is managed via a product backlog queue, DA 2.0 suggests choosing a work-prioritization strategy based on whatever factors are most important to project stakeholders: business value, risk, due date, dependencies, or any combination thereof.

What makes Disciplined Agile especially interesting and useful is that it is based on real data, providing development teams and business stakeholders with insight into what’s going on in other organizations. It promotes enterprise awareness that’s based on industry successes – what works and doesn’t work elsewhere.

SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework)

SAFe – the Scaled Agile Framework – is the most widely adopted methodology for implementing Agile practices within high-risk, complex IT initiatives at enterprise scale.

SAFe’s overarching goal is to enable the continuous delivery of maximum value and quality to the customer in the shortest sustainable lead time. It leverages Value Streams to understand and organize value and defines Agile Release Trains (ARTs) to coordinate its delivery.

SAFe is designed to align stakeholders, manage cross-project dependencies, and orchestrate product delivery so that large organizations can benefit from Agile and Lean approaches. This framework is based on nine underlying Lean and Agile principles that drive the roles and practices in SAFe.

The 9 Principles of SAFe:

1. Take an economic view
2. Apply systems thinking
3. Assume variability; preserve options
4. Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles
5. Base milestones on an objective evaluation of working systems
6. Visualize and limit work-in-progress, reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths
7. Apply cadence (timing), synchronize with cross-domain planning
8. Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers
9. Decentralize decision-making

Which Lean-Agile Framework Should My Organization Use?

While there are excellent aspects within all of these frameworks (and others not covered here), none should be seen as the one “right way” for an organization to structure its development process. This is because every organization is different; there is no “one size fits all” approach.

Instead, evaluate and select the Lean-Agile framework that best suits the unique needs of your organization. But, if one is missing an element that you believe would be beneficial to your process, you should also feel free to create your own mixed model by drawing from multiple frameworks to create a unique approach that is contextual to your organization.