Scaling Agile Teams – 3 Things You Need to Know

Scaling AgileNow that you have successfully launched a Scrum team and helped them to deliver value to the stakeholders, you have proven that the Agile approach can work for your organization. Congratulations! This is a big milestone that is worth celebrating! It is likely that management will now ask you to replicate this success across other parts of the organization after seeing the potential to do bigger and more complex work. It is also likely that they expect you to do so very quickly. This is a tricky time because many organizations do not have experience scaling Agile successful practices, and often struggle to reproduce the same outcome that the pilot project achieved.

Why does this happen? There are many factors that could contribute to a lackluster scaling Agile initiative. Let’s take a closer look at some risks and potential issues that you might encounter.

Scaling Factor #1 – the Organization Isn’t Ready to Scale Agile

Demonstrating that Scrum/Agile works for an isolated project is a good thing, but it does not necessarily prove that the entire organization is ready for a broader adoption. How can you tell if this is the case? There is not a science to assessing an organization’s readiness to embark upon a massive transformation of processes and culture. There are tools available to help with evaluating an organization’s tolerance and readiness for such a drastic change; this may be a good starting point.

Scaling Factor #2 – Does the Organization Understand “the Basics”?

A pilot Scrum project can often succeed despite less than optimal adoption. This means that the team may have developed habits and/or practices that may not be aligned with sound fundamentals, which could spell disaster in a scaling Agile environment with multiple teams working on projects with higher levels of complexity. Hence, before thinking about scaling Agile, an organization must first understand how it is performing against the basics and make sure the team members have a solid foundation on which to build upon.

Scaling Factor #3 – How Complex Are the Larger Projects?

Very often, the pilot Scrum project for an organization that is experimenting with this new approach is successful because the conditions are simplified down to the bare bones to make sure that success is guaranteed. This means that someone (likely a person with a high stake in the initiative) influenced the pilot project so that they can come out looking great. The risk of this scenario is that the true complexities of projects may have been masked, and that replicating the success will be extremely challenging. If the intent is to apply Agile to larger projects that involve 10 teams, achieving project success with just one team is insufficient in understanding how the team dynamics and interactions will need to be managed; it is somewhat akin to building a single house versus an entire housing community of many houses – the problem domain is completely different, and additional steps need to be taken to apply the lessons gained from solving a much simpler problem.

In short, scaling Agile beyond a single team is something that most organizations new to Agile will likely encounter sooner or later. Achieving success for one Scrum/Agile team is almost guaranteed. However, organizational leaders need to be mindful about the investments required to take this success to the next level, because it is a completely different mission that demands support from experienced practitioners who have walked the journey and understand where all the landmines are hidden.

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Eugene Lai
Eugene Lai