What Everyone Needs to Know About Agile Scaling Frameworks

11 Mar, 2024
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Large organizations often have many cross-functional and cross-disciplinary teams working on different products and services. To help them do so effectively in a complex environment, many organizations use an Agile scaling framework that scales Scrum, such as Nexus, SAFe, LeSS, Spotify, or Scrum@Scale. To be sure, there is nothing wrong with that. If you need a scaling framework, that is.

The Prime Directive of Agile Scaling

Most organizations that use Agile scaling frameworks seem unaware of The Prime Directive of Agile Scaling: Don’t. Do not scale if you don’t have to.

How do you know if you have to scale? Some companies start scaling when they realize that they cannot develop their product within the confines of a single team. Other companies start scaling when they realize that they can’t complete the work they need to do within the preferred time frame. When do they realize this? When they have tried to create the product or service with one to five Scrum Teams. That is, when they have tried—and failed—to deliver a sufficient number of done increments with plain vanilla Scrum.

Have You Really Tried Scrum?

If you have not yet tried to scale Scrum and it is working well for you, don’t. The benefits of Scrum come from its simplicity. When you start adding processes on top of Scrum, you lose those benefits. So unless you need to scale Scrum, don’t.

If you have tried Scrum and it is not working well for you, don’t scale either. Scaling a framework that is not working will not make it work. You need to diagnose and fix the problems with Scrum before scaling it.

When you have to scale Scrum, there are many scaling frameworks to choose from. Many of them are based on the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). SAFe is a good framework, but it is not the only one. Other frameworks, such as LeSS and Spotify, might be a better fit for your organization. All of these frameworks assume you’re great at a smaller scale with, for example, Scrum and Kanban, or well on your way to becoming great.

Agile Framework

How to Pick the Right Scaling Framework

The key thing is to pick the right framework for your organization. Don’t just use SAFe because somebody sold you on it. The truth is, it doesn’t matter which one you pick, as long as you avoid the urge to, as Craig Larman puts it, pragmatically customize it for local concerns.

So, if it doesn’t matter which framework you pick, and you know you need to pick one because you have tried Scrum at a smaller scale only to discover you need more than five teams to get it done, how do you choose?

Try them all. Seriously. Invite your teams to run some experiments with all frameworks. Consider using OpenSpace Agility as an engagement model. Then, let them decide which one is most likely to work well for them. Be prepared to be surprised!

Want to deep dive into the world of Agile Scaling Frameworks? Come and join our Agile Scaling Frameworks Essentials Training that enables you to discover the strengths of SAFe, LeSS, Spotify (CoCreate), Nexus, and Scrum@Scale.


Laurens Bonnema
Agile Trainer, Management Consultant, and Graphic Facilitator. Mentor to leaders creating resilient organizations at any scale. I make boring business notes fun!

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