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Woman on ComputerAs an Agile Coach, a question I often hear is, “when should I be looking to scale up my agile practices?” A better question might be, “When should I not scale?”  There are several excellent scaling methodologies, as well as smaller interim steps that can help your organization build toward large-scale delivery initiatives. While these are proven tools, they solve a specific set of problems. Be careful not to jump in too early. Here are a few quick “when NOT to” statements:

1. Don’t try to scale when you are first starting out. When I meet with clients that are just beginning their agile journey, many express an interest in moving immediately to an enterprise framework such as Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), or Disciplined Agile Deliver (DAD). Many clients identify with these because they come from a process-oriented or waterfall environment, and these robust methodologies seem familiar and comforting.

When beginning the agile journey, it’s critical that you start small and master the basics. Introducing a large enterprise framework with multiple dependencies presents a steep change curve and typically requires extensive investment. In the early stages, you’ll reap greater benefits if you focus on developing core agile principles such as scrum and Kanban, the two primary methodologies used at the team level. At this stage I advise clients to work on developing a good backlog, meeting commitments, reaching a standard velocity, and achieving high-quality output. Additional reasons to start small include building excitement, focusing on quick wins, and testing and learning more nimbly.

2. Don’t start before you have nailed the basics. Many of our clients have reached the stage where they have multiple agile teams, are working well in an agile environment, and have started introducing larger epics that could benefit from being split across multiple teams. This seems like a natural inflection point in the journey, and is the spot where I am most often asked about readiness for scaling. Before taking that leap, I strongly recommend optimizing your current agile teams and agile processes. Really concentrate on strengthening your base in order to maximize throughput and ROI—instead of trying to build the product-development processes that you will need for agile at scale.

If you are here, look at test-driven development, continuous integration and deployment, and meeting commitments on a regular cadence.

3. Don’t do it just to do it. Scaling agile has become incredibly popular in many industries, and SAFe is a buzzword in the agile community. Rightfully so. Companies that are truly ready for enterprise frameworks are getting major rewards from them. But that by itself isn’t a sufficiently good reason to move to an enterprise framework.

The transition from team-level agile processes to an enterprise framework requires a significant investment in change management. The move should be well thought-out and cautiously approached. If you have specific problems that scaling can solve, lay them out with an advisor and see if the journey is worth the investment.

When you’re ready, know that enterprise frameworks are tried and true tools that have delivered tremendous benefits for many organizations. But you have to be at the right point in your journey to take advantage of these tools.

About the Author

Dennis Bowne

Dennis Bowne is a Principal at CapTech based out of the Richmond, VA office. Dennis has provided account management, IT leadership, and operational support over his 10 years with CapTech. In addition to his role managing projects for financial services, IT, and application development projects, he has played a significant role in operations support and development within CapTech’s service offerings. He founded the User Experience service offering, helped establish the IT Program Management Office, and provides business development and strategic support for multiple client accounts. Dennis is also an Agile Coach and leads CapTech's Agile Transformation services, providing guidance on Scrum, Kanban, and Scaled Agile practices to multiple organizations.