3 Pitfalls to Avoid When Scaling Agile

Scaling Agile can be the best thing your organization has ever done, or it can turn into a frustrating and difficult situation that costs a lot of time and money.

To accomplish the former and avoid the latter, there are three pitfalls you need to consciously avoid as you work to scale Agile across your enterprise.

1. A lack of consensus

Consensus is an absolute must and takes many forms. For instance, individual team members must agree on what their roles are and what the team’s role is in relation to the rest of the value chain. Team leaders must agree on how and why they are going to communicate with each other in order to maintain Agile processes at the program level and beyond. And executive leadership needs to agree amongst themselves and with management down the line so that long term business initiatives and Agile planning can and will coincide and support each other effectively.

Consensus of this nature requires a lot of communication, mutual respect, and a willingness to compromise and adapt on a regular basis. In companies where these factors don’t exist or where roadblocks impede them routinely, consensus will be difficult to come by and Agile will not scale effectively.

2. A lack of support

Related but separate from a lack of consensus is a lack of support for the initial Agile transformation and/or the scaling effort.

This support clearly needs to be evident from every team member and leader, but it’s absolutely vital from the executive level if Agile is to be scaled to the enterprise. It needs to take the form of walking the walk AND talking the talk. Everyone should be able to tell from executive words and actions that they are fully behind the transformation and scaling of Agile in the organization and that they will be doing everything in their power to make it a success.

In many cases, effectively supporting an Agile transformation and scaling will require some major adjustments to “business as usual” in areas that only executive leadership can control. For instance, compensation plans may need to be adjusted to reflect a concentration on overall production value based on team action rather than individual successes. The hiring process may need to shift dramatically to focus on bringing in talent that will support the new Agile organization.

Most importantly, everyone in the company will be making significant changes to the status quo if the enterprise is to become truly Agile. They need to feel comfortable that their changes are being supported over the long term and that what they’re doing truly is for the betterment of the entire organization. Otherwise, they won’t be able to get fully behind the change and it won’t happen.

3. A lack of leadership

As noted above, executive support of scaling Agile across an enterprise is vital. But more than just putting on a happy face and distributing memos encouraging everyone to make the changes necessary, all levels of leadership from the CEO down to the individual Scrum Masters need to truly embrace their new Agile roles.

Accountability is a large part of this process. In an Agile organization, problems that come up in the course of a particular Sprint, product launch, or really any other major initiative, are likely to be systemic problems rather than problems with people. Managing people will always be necessary to an extent, but an Agile enterprise is full of individuals who are working on managing themselves, especially within the individual team dynamic.

As a result, when challenges arise, leaders need to be willing and able to take ownership of the problem in their part of the system and make the adjustments necessary to continually improve. Likewise, they need to maintain constant constructive communication with other leaders throughout the organization to ensure their actions and decisions are improving the whole rather than just their small part of the big picture.

This requires leadership roles filled with people who have a thorough knowledge of Agile principles and processes, and a wide system view that incorporates their own team(s) into the overall value chain and appreciates its impact on everyone else.

By avoiding these three major pitfalls, any organization should be able to effectively scale Agile to the portfolio level across the enterprise. Of course, there will be other challenges along the way. But with these three items squared away, other challenges will be met head on and overcome through collaboration and a focus on continual improvement.

To learn more about scaling Agile in your own enterprise, dive into cPrime’s SAFe transformations.