Scaling Agile? Keep it simple, scaler!

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The promise of Agile is short cycled value delivery, with the ability to adapt. This is achieved by focusing on the people that create value and optimising the way they work.

Scrum provides a framework that provides a limited set of roles and artefacts and offers a simple process framework that helps to implement the Agile values and to adhere to the Agile principles.
I have supported many organisations in adopting Agile as their mindset and culture. What puzzles me is that many larger organisations seem to think that Scrum is not enough in their context and they feel the need for something bigger and more complicated. As a result of this, more and more Agile transformations start with scaling Agile to fit their context and then try to make things less complex.
While the various scaling frameworks for Agile contain many useful and powerful tools to apply in situations that require them, applying a complete Agile scaling framework to an organisation from the get-go often prevents the really needed culture and mindset change.
When applying a little bit of creativity, already present organisational structure can be mapped easily on the structure suggested by many scaling frameworks. Most frameworks explain the needed behaviour in an Agile environment, but these explanations are often ignored or misinterpreted. Due to (lengthy) descriptions of roles and responsibilities, people tend to stop thinking for themselves about what would work best and start to focus on who plays which role and what is someone else’s responsibility. There is a tendency to focus on the ceremonies rather than on the value that should be delivered by the team(s) with regards to product or service.
My take on adopting Agile would be to start simple. Use an Agile framework that prescribes very little, like Scrum or Kanban, in order to provoke learning and experiencing. From this learning and experiencing will come changes in the organisational structure to best support the Agile Values and Principles. People will find or create positions where their added value has most impact on the value that the organisation creates and, when needed, will dismantle positions and structure that prevent this value to be created.
Another effect of starting simple is that people will not feel limited by rules and regulations, and that way use their creativity, experience and capabilities easier. Oftentimes, more energy is create by less rules.
As said by others as well, some products or value are difficult to create with simple systems. As observed by Dave Snowden and captured in his Cynefin framework, too much simplicity could result in chaos when this simplicity is applied to complex systems. To create value in more complex systems, use the least amount of tools provided by the scaling frameworks to prevent chaos and leverage the benefits that simpler systems provide. Solutions to fix problems in complex systems are best found when experiencing the complexity and discovering what works best to cope with that. Trying to prevent problems to pop up might paralyse an organisation too much to put out the most possible value.
So: Focus on delivering value in short cycles, adapt when needed and add the least amount of tools and/or process to optimise communication and value delivery.


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