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I’ve just returned from the Scrum Gathering put on by the Scrum Alliance in New Orleans. I enjoyed the event quite a lot, New Orleans is a great town, and there was a great deal of information and energy at the sessions I attended.

One of the goals I had was to get some education on these agile at scale things such as the Scaled Agile Framework and Disciplined Agile Delivery. I am asked frequently about Scaled Agile Framework in particular, and until attending the gathering I only really knew what I had read about it online. After the gathering? I know more, enough that I feel like I can share a more educated opinion on the subject. In particular, 3 things stand out to me.

1) These agile at scale packages are very Prescriptive:

I don’t believe that any of these approaches to scaling agile will work for every organization for the simple reason that every organization is different. What I saw when looking into them is that they delve too far into prescription to be true frameworks. This however, is I think, a good and necessary thing, which I will get to after point two.

2) They are heavily marketed:

The title of this blog post reflects the biggest thing I have noticed about SAFe in particular: tremendous amounts of marketing, to the point of being infomercial-like in nature. There is an implied guarantee in SAFe, heck, even in the name. Safe. It’s safe, you will succeed, this is the way you scale agile. The thing is it probably isn’t, and in fact contains some practices that may be counter-productive to agile adoption, but that’s not the way it is marketed.

This too is probably a good thing.

Why would I say an overly prescriptive and marketed method of scaling agile is a good thing? The answer is simply that sometimes that’s what is needed as a starting point. I would suspect that anyone who has been in this agile arena for any time has made promises to people who are used to promises, most likely related to timelines and completion dates, this isn’t much different. These agile at scale packages are big, impressive, and a “safe bet” giving the people who know that agile at scale is going to be a multi-year effort involving a great deal of pain and expense.

How do you get buy in on an organizational change that you *know* is going to take years, likely involve turnover, and cost a near completely inestimable amount of money? The simple answer is; you leave that to the professionals. These agile at scale deals are a starting point for those in an organization who really understand what needs to be done. On to point 3, which is a really more of a question:

3) Will these Agile at Scale packages shift how organizations think?

One of my favorite ways to describe Scrum is as an exercise and diet regimen for becoming agile. What Scrum forces a team to do is good for them, even when they don’t quite understand why they are doing it. A team that sticks to Scrum, especially through the parts they find hard, will emerge from the other side with an Agile mindset.

This really just applies to the 3 roles in Scrum, and the stakeholders and folks who are in their immediate vicinity. That radical shift in thinking sometimes comes about in other portions of the organization, but more often does not  in my experience.

So I am led to wonder, are these scaled agile products going to help bring the rest of the organization to that all important agile mindset? I’m personally unconvinced based on what I have seen, but I’m certainly not going to rule anything out.

Agile at Scale is something that has to happen, it will happen. How it happens will be a fascinating and dynamic place to be for many years to come.


Caleb Brown

Caleb Brown is an Agile trainer, organizational coach, and Certified Scrum Professional with a focus on the the “People Side” of software. While practices and technology are part of what enable organizations to succeed with Agile, Caleb likes to concentrate on using the cultural piece supported by whatever practice, process, framework, or technology is needed to be successful. Having worked on the technical side of the software industry since 1999, and as CollabNet’s Product Owner and Master ScrumWorks Trainer since 2007, Caleb has gained deep insight into the inherent challenges with Agile adoption. His trainings and expertise in helping global organizations understand where process ends and tooling picks up, is well respected and highly sought after.

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