Agility at scale is one of the crucial issues for large organizations. We interviewed four experts in order to put together an ebook, allowing to understand the contributions of agility at scale and SAFe. The following article is an excerpt from this ebook and allows us to determine the choice of agility framework at scale.

Laurent Charles
Laurent CHARLES, CEO and co-founder of Enalean (Tuleap)

Prefer structuring frameworks, which give the best practices

A number of frameworks are available to give you a structure for your work. Examples include SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework), LeSS, Scrum@Scale, and others besides — you have a choice.

These frameworks map out practices drawn from the experience of what the perfect agile organization might look like. They are full of examples of good practice and can guide you toward the method you might adopt or that might inspire you.

For your information, here are the most often-used frameworks in 2020:

jean-claude delagrange coach agile
Jean-Claude DELAGRANGE, agile coach

Choose according to team needs

The choice depends on the teams’ and managers’ levels of affinity with agile values and principles, as well as the degree to which decision-makers are committed to the transformation:

  • SAFe retains a strong managerial and decision-making structure while firmly circumscribing the agile structures to be used (roles, milestones, organization of teams, decision-making methods, etc.). SAFe is therefore reassuring to organizations that have been slow to start their transformation process.

Scaled agile: How to implement transformation

  • LeSS, or other scaled organizational structures designed on the basis of context-appropriate practices (such as Sociocracy and Nexus), are indicated when the transformation takes place during the project, when the decision is already highly decentralized, and when the agile teams are well established. The generally autonomously organized transformation process will require less involvement from managers but will have to prove its worth, with particular attention given to communicating about the transformation actually carried out.
Alexandre Cuva coach agile
Alexandre CUVA, agile coach and manager of SoCraAgile

Be supported by a coach to choose the right solution

We have extensive experience of scaling up at an organizational level. Whether SAFe, Scrum@Scale, LeSS, or other frameworks are involved, each has a common denominator: stable Scrum teams focused on a single product. Scaling can only be achieved if this simplest element is handled in a sufficiently disciplined way. Only then can the organization opt for one or other of these frameworks, or a hybrid version.

A pragmatic coach will help you choose a solution tailored to your organizational needs. In one of our recent major transformation projects in the watchmaking sector, our customer contacted us regarding a SAFe transformation. After the client discussed the situation with one of our experts, we understood that their needs involved “doing as others do” and “wanting PI Planning1” rather than really using SAFe. We’re now supporting the client with their implementation of Scrum@Scale, with planning releases in the format of PI Planning. There’s nothing to stop the client from moving to SAFe if that’s what they really want.

It’s therefore really important that you make your choice with the aid of a coach, who will help you choose the right framework for your environment and not simply follow fashion.

Laurence Hanot coach agile
Laurence HANOT, agile coach at Zenika

To give coherence and adapt to its environment

Why choose? From my point of view, it’s important to look for practices and roles that will help in the achievement of transformation goals and, if they don’t exist, to invent them. It may sound a little provocative, but I actually think that announcing we’re going to deploy a particular method is a mistake that frequently leads to a “by the book” application, whereas in fact the very principle of agility involves adapting to a particular context. As I often say, I’ve never seen the same agile approach adopted in two different teams, departments, or organizations—and that’s a good thing!

Having said that, it can be helpful, at least at the start, to choose a direction—the “main” framework to use as the basis. However, pay attention to the discussions concerning that choice. Even if, for example, you’re looking at a particular toolbox or a particular set of principles in your search, it doesn’t mean you have to accept everything or that you shouldn’t look elsewhere.

I’d say that two of my biggest projects over the last three years have been based on or inspired by SAFe but with two different approaches:

  • A project conducted in 2017–2018 (a department of 50 people), in which Scrum was effectively used to bring agility to five teams in the same department on a gradual basis and then, when the issue of scaling became crucial for coordinating those five teams, to the rest of the department (managers and cross-functional roles). We then relied on SAFe to bring about this synchronization and scheduling: by syncing only the Agile Release Train and PI Planning before working on “in- house” roles to involve the whole department;
  • My current assignment, for the past year (a program involving about 250 people), in which an attempt to deploy SAFe at the solution level was made without support and initially on a “top-down” basis; in this case, we needed to dismantle bad practices and then rebuild “from the bottom up” (SAFe Essential with adaptations, of course) in order to solidify the foundations and really involve the teams and not just their representatives. Currently, we’re leading this project alongside others on the higher Solution and Portfolio levels; these are also required in order to structure and manage the complexity of this program. These levels also enable issues at the senior management level to be addressed and incorporated in this agile approach (portfolio prioritization, adjustment of roadmaps for going to market, incremental deliveries, involvement of teams in choices and decisions, etc.).

In the French agile community, we frequently see passionate debates between defenders of SAFe and LeSS. Yes, these approaches are different: SAFe is very descriptive and prescriptive, whereas LeSS is simple and gives teams a lot of autonomy in terms of organizing themselves. However, they’re not in opposition provided that you don’t apply things to the letter, and they can even complement one another: in fact, we now include practices from LeSS in our SAFe Agile Release Trains!

The constraints of any method come only from the way they are applied; nobody is forcing you to implement everything described in a particular method. On the other hand, it’s vital that you explain the reason why a particular practice is being used and give coherence and consistency to a scaled agile approach.

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