As companies seek to thrive in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing business landscape, many are turning to Agile methodologies to drive greater innovation, productivity, and customer-centricity. However, taking the initial step is just the beginning - scaling Agile principles across large, multifaceted organizations brings an additional set of challenges. Leaders must have a clear vision of why scaling will benefit the company and how to strategically implement the transformation.
In this article, we will explore the key components needed to successfully unlock an organization's Agile potential. Drawing upon Simon Sinek's "Golden Circle" concept of starting with purpose before process and technique, we will navigate the frameworks, recommendations, and best practices to embrace when aiming for enterprise-wide agility.
Every company, whether it is a startup seeking rapid expansion or an established enterprise looking to stay ahead of the competition, can embrace the golden circle to unleash the organization's full potential.
Let’s begin by reviewing a few important concepts.
What Do We Mean by Agile and Agile Mindset?
At Encora, we strive to create an Agile mindset, ensuring that we are entirely onboard with understanding how Agile works and making it part of our culture. We believe that:
- Agile is a way of thinking and doing things.
- To achieve an Agile mindset, a team must incorporate Agile values and principles into their daily working practices, not just as part of a routine, but also understand and accept the motivation behind them.
- Tackling projects and goals iteratively will help us value in smaller increments and contribute to a completed product.
What is the Golden Circle?
It is a model to truly differentiate your brand's value proposition by focusing on the brand's “Why” and its reason or purpose. Attributed to Simon Sinek (Sinek, 2011).
Now let’s dive in…
Golden Circle: Why We Want to Transform?
When a company thinks about making such a significant change as scaling agile, it’s important to understand the “Why.” What is the reasoning or motivation that’s driving this transformation, so it makes sense for everyone? Scaling Agile brings a multitude of benefits. Firstly, it results in faster time-to-market, aligning cross-functional teams around value and leading them to meet customer needs faster.
Secondly, it improves quality by integrating it into every step of the development cycle. It shifts quality from a last-minute focus to a joint responsibility.
Thirdly, it increases productivity by empowering high-performing teams to eliminate unnecessary work, identify and remove delays, improve continuously, and ensure they are building the right things.
Lastly, scaling Agile results in better employee engagement by giving them more autonomy, mastery, purpose, ownership, and results, leading to happier, more motivated, and less burnt-out employees.
Globally, many metrics and indicators demonstrate the impact and benefits of using and scaling Agile.
Reports indicate that teams with regular sprint retrospectives have 24% more responsiveness and 42% higher quality with less variability than teams with infrequent or no retrospectives. (Src: CA Technologies)
Business units that fully adopted Agile before the COVID-19 pandemic outperformed teams that hadn’t on customer satisfaction (93% agreed), employee engagement (76% agreed), and operational performance (93% agreed). (Src: McKinsey)
Teams that adopt Scrum well can improve their productivity by 300% to 400%. (Src: Jeff Sutherland)
Golden Circle: How We Do It? Frameworks and Comparisons
The "How" of Agile scalability involves determining the strategies, frameworks, and practices employed to scale Agile effectively. Organizations must evaluate and choose the most suitable scaling frameworks, such as Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS), or Disciplined Agile (DA). Additionally, they need to define the scaling practices, such as cross-team collaboration, shared knowledge, decentralized decision-making, and continuous improvement. "How" also encompasses the implementation of the chosen scaling framework and practices within the organization.
All frameworks for scaling Agile share five main components: inspired by the 12 Agile Manifesto principles, cadence, synchronization, Scrum, and quality development practices. Understanding other frameworks’ origins, core differences, and the conditions for successful application can help organizations choose which framework or combination best suits their needs.
Here are some of the frameworks for scaling Agile:
- Scrum of Scrums: A technique for scaling Agile that leverages a system of ambassadors from other Scrum teams to participate in regular coordination meetings.
- Disciplined Agile: A process-decision framework based on a people-first, learning-oriented hybrid Agile approach for scaling Agile tactically.
- Large-Scale Scrum Framework (LeSS): A lightweight framework for scaling Scrum to multiple teams.
- Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe): A set of organizational and workflow patterns for implementing Agile practices at an enterprise scale.
Our experience taught us that our experts should understand and manage various frameworks to properly assess and recommend to our clients from the large Agile umbrella instead of automatically prescribing a set formula. We have Agile consultants who can handle the “how” professionally and integrally. Encora looks forward to mastering the different Agile frameworks and their implementation, which is a step forward.
Golden Circle: What We Do?
Agile scalability enables aligning and directing various Agile teams, providing integrated solutions, and allowing larger organizational goals. Organizations can implement Agile scalability by adopting an Agile mindset, selecting the proper scaling framework, building a strong Agile culture, and developing Agile leadership capabilities.
The "What" of agile scalability encompasses the specific actions and steps required to achieve the desired scale. This includes creating cross-functional teams, establishing clear roles and responsibilities, implementing agile ceremonies and artifacts, fostering a culture of trust and transparency, providing necessary training and support, continuously monitoring and adapting scaling efforts, and so on.
In our experience, this is the part where we help clients fully understand why they should scale Agile and what they get by doing so.
What Challenges Can We Expect When Scaling Agile?
Scaling Agile presents a unique set of challenges that organizations must address to ensure successful implementation. In March 2021, the 4th annual report of the State of Agile enlisted some of the principal blocks or challenges organizations face when scaling Agile. Some of the common ones include:
- Cultural Resistance: Scaling Agile requires a cultural shift within the organization. Resistance to change can hinder adoption, particularly from individuals accustomed to traditional command-and-control management styles.
- Communication and Collaboration: As teams and stakeholders grow, communication and collaboration become more complex. Effective communication and alignment between teams, departments, and leadership becomes critical.
- Organizational Structure: Traditional hierarchical organizational structures may not align well with Agile principles. Scaling Agile often requires rethinking organizational structure to create cross-functional teams, facilitating collaboration, and empowering decision-making at the appropriate levels.
- Scalability of Agile Practices: Not all Agile practices can seamlessly translate to larger teams or organizations. Some practices must be modified or supplemented to ensure they work effectively in the scaled context.
- Training and Skill Development: Scaling Agile requires a workforce that is knowledgeable and skilled in Agile practices. Providing training, coaching, and support to individuals at all levels of the organization is crucial.
Recommendations for Scalability
When a company decides to start scaling agile, there are several challenges they can face, as previously explained; that is why we’ll share some recommendations from past implementation experiences that could help this process get closer to success; here are some of those:
- Define a Clear Vision: First, organize a visioning workshop with key stakeholders, team members, or relevant participants. During the workshop, invite participants with a stake in the project's future and encourage them to brainstorm their visions. Identify common themes and collaboratively craft a concise and inspiring vision statement that incorporates core values and purpose. Define measurable milestones and develop an action plan with assigned responsibilities and timelines.
- Choose the Right Scaling Framework: Start by assessing your organization's specific needs and challenges. Research Agile scaling frameworks like SAFe, LeSS, or Nexus and align them with your organization's goals. Involve key stakeholders, pilot the selected framework, and customize it to fit your organization's context. Provide training and ongoing support for teams during implementation. Measure progress using KPIs and encourage continuous learning and improvement.
- Create Agile Communities of Practice: To create Agile Communities of Practice, identify team members and individuals with a shared interest and expertise in Agile methodologies. Form cross-functional groups with representatives from different teams and departments. Set clear goals and objectives, defining the purpose and topics the groups will address to contribute to organizational agility. Schedule regular meetings for knowledge sharing, discussions, and learning opportunities.
- Establish Agile Leadership: Cultivate a servant leadership mindset among key stakeholders and managers. Encourage leaders to support and empower agile teams, giving them the autonomy and resources needed to excel. Foster a culture of continuous improvement and learning by leading by example, embracing feedback, and being open to change. Train and mentor leaders in Agile principles and practices to ensure they understand their role in supporting Agile teams effectively. Encourage collaborative decision-making and promote transparency throughout the organization.
- Foster Cross-Team Collaboration: Establish shared goals and facilitate effective communication channels. Encourage knowledge sharing through workshops and presentations, fostering a culture of learning. Organize joint events to build camaraderie among team members. Address interdependencies between teams to ensure smooth collaboration. Recognize and celebrate successful collaborative efforts and provide training on collaboration skills.
- Invest in Continuous Learning: You can start by allocating resources for training and development initiatives within your organization. Encourage employees to participate in workshops, webinars, and courses that align with their roles and interests. Create a culture that values learning, where employees are encouraged to seek knowledge and share their insights with others. Provide access to learning resources and online platforms to facilitate self-paced learning. Set up regular knowledge-sharing sessions or lunch-and-learn events.
- Start with Pilot Projects: To initiate pilot projects, identify specific areas or initiatives that can benefit from a trial run. Choose project tasks that align with strategic objectives and have a manageable scope for testing. Assemble cross-functional teams to ensure diverse perspectives and expertise. Set clear goals and success criteria for each pilot project to measure effectiveness. Allocate necessary resources and support to enable teams to execute the pilots successfully.
- A deep understanding of what, how, and why a company scales Agile is crucial for a higher chance of success.
- Having professionals certified and experienced in this process as a helping hand is the key factor when planning for a successful Agile scaling process.
- Even though challenges occur when scaling Agile, following the best practices and advice from experienced individuals who have walked this path is the secret to success.
- There are a lot of success stories in the industry about scaling Agile, not only in software-related companies but in other kinds of companies; their stories are worth studying and following to learn about this topic.
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