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Why Scaling Agile in Large Organisation?

by Sachin Ramchandra Bal

May 06, 2019
Category SAFe


My phone rang incessantly on a Monday morning and I noticed that it was a call from Mr. Ram Kumar, the CEO of “Zebra Systems India Pvt Ltd”. “Zebra Systems India Pvt Ltd” was the India offshore development centre of “Zebra Systems Inc” a global software development firm. This firm had around 130 staff in India and around 50 staff in the US. I picked up the phone and Mr. Kumar indicated that he was keen to discuss a situation which their company was facing. I am associated with this company as a consultant and I help them in various areas like project/program management, HR processes, Recruitment etc. I could feel the urgency in Mr. Kumar’s voice, and we decided that we would meet up in his office around 3 pm in the afternoon.

When I went to meet Mr. Kumar, he indicated that the company had decided to move from the traditional Waterfall methodology which they were using for software development to the Agile methodology.  The decision was taken when the management team had an offsite in California, a few weeks ago. With smaller projects, Mr. Kumar felt that it was a great way to move forward, but “how do we take care of projects which are spread across geographies and some projects having a total team size of over 60 people?” Mr. Kumar asked. The management team had decided to let Mr. Kumar explore the options available and based on his recommendation, they would decide on a “go/no-go” decision for shifting from traditional Waterfall methodology to Agile. It was in this context that Mr. Kumar wanted advice from me.

During our discussion, I pointed out to Mr. Kumar that it was a great thing that the company had finally decided to move from the traditional Waterfall method to Agile. I had noticed over the years that by sticking to the Waterfall methodology the projects were suffering from the typical challenges such as there was no room for unexpected changes, the client/or end user opinions during the project execution were never included and the testing phase was at the end of all development, so any revision after the testing would take a long time to complete. In addition, due to this they were slow to react to market changes and they had a gated process which was heavy on documentation.

Obviously, I emphasized on Mr. Kumar that it will not just take some trainings to move from Waterfall to Agile at a scale that he was planning to move to. Rather it would have to done in a planned manner and would require a sea-change in the thinking and culture and the way of working of the organization.

There are many ways that Agile could be introduced in the company and I suggested to Mr. Kumar that we should go ahead with Scrum.

Also, once we have a few team members trained and executing projects using Scrum, the next step could eventually be to scale agile in the long run. There are many ways of scaling agile and particularly Scrum and the three most well know options are Large Scale Scrum (LESS), Scrum of Scrums and Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®).

Further I informed Mr. Kumar that the adoption of Large Scale Agile (LESS) as a scaling method is miniscule globally as compared to Scrum of Scrums and Scaled Agile Framework and the recent evidence suggests that Scaled Agile Framework is more popular than Scrum of Scrums.

I suggested that we go with “Scaled Agile” for scaling agile within the organization

I further informed Mr. Kumar that within the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) has four levels and they are

1. Level I –      Essential SAFe

2. Level II –    Large Solution SAFe

3. Level III –   Portfolio SAFe

4. Level IV –    Full SAFe

Essential SAFe is the most basic configuration of the framework and provides the minimum elements required to be successful with SAFe. Large Solution SAFe is The other two are more advanced levels of SAFe.

I informed Mr. Kumar that it would take some considerable time to move to Scaled Agile. I also shared an implementation roadmap which would help the company to move from Waterfall to Scaled Agile

Implementation Roadmap – move from Waterfall to Scaled Agile

Waterfall to Agile

Step 1: Reaching the tipping point

I informed Mr. Kumar, that the good thing about the current situation in which we were in, was that the company had already “Reached the tipping point”. The great thing about this situation was that there was management buy-in already in place which was a clear indication of proactive leadership to move to Agile.

Step 2: Train Lean-Agile Change agents

The next step would be to create a sufficiently powerful guiding coalition of stakeholders within the company. This coalition would comprise of the following

  • Leaders who can set the vision, show the way and remove all the impediments to change.
  • Practitioners, managers and change agents who can implement specific process changes.

The Leadership team was already present in this company, who could set the vision and move forward. The next step was to identify change agents at all levels within the company. The change leaders would come out with a list of tangible objectives which they would like to achieve.

These agents would be trained as “Certified SAFe® Program Consultants” (SPC). Apart from internal staff which have been identified as SPC’s we would also take external SPC’s from a “Scaled Agile Partner”. The internal SPC’s would attend the “implementing SAFe® with SPC certification class”. This four-day course would prepare SPC’s to become Change Agents to lead the transformation.

The first two days of this class are to prepare certified SPCs to teach Leading SAFe®. The second two days would demonstrate as to how do we identify, plan and implement SAFe. In addition, the team attending the session will be briefed on the process of creating artifacts and templates which will be needed to identify the value streams. They will also be trained on how the need to prepare the organization to embrace SAFe and implement the effective processes and measures to help the company to sustain and improve as they imbibe SAFe.

Step 3: Train Executives, Managers and Leaders

The next step would be to help the leadership team to develop a Lean-Agile mindset and apply the Lean-Agile principles in their day to day activities. For this to happen they will need to attend a two-day class, “Leading SAFe: Leading the Lean-Agile Enterprise with the Scaled Agile Framework” which is designed for this purpose. This course teaches leaders the SAFe Lean-Agile principles and practices and the most effective leadership values for leading the new generation of knowledge workers.

Step 4: Create a Lean-Agile Centre of Excellence

In most of the companies, the people who are most qualified to make the change are those with full time responsibilities. These members can influence to drive the change in the organization but cannot devote their complete time. Therefore, it is imperative that there is a dedicated group of people which must be formed to drive change in the organization. This is the team which staffs the Lean-Agile Centre of Excellence (LACE). Looking at the number of people in the company, I indicated to Mr. Kumar that we can create such a centre with a maximum of 2-3 members.

The responsibilities of a LACE would typically include

  • To communicate to the stakeholders the business need and the vision for the change, with an emphasis on the urgency.
  • Develop the SAFe implementation plan and be primary team responsible for managing the backlog
  • Establish the required metrics
  • Conduct trainings for speciality roles such as Product Owner, Product Manage, Scrum Master and Release Train Engineer and the development team
  • Identify value streams and help define and launch Agile Release Trains (ARTs)
  • Providing coaching and training to ART stakeholders and teams
  • Participating in critical, initial events like Program Increment (PI) Planning and Inspect and Adapt (I&A)
  • Fostering SAFe Communities of Practice (CoPs) Communicating progress
  • Introduce guest speakers, present internal case studies, benchmark and connect with the external community by implementing days which are focused on Lean-Agile
  • Spread the Lean-Agile education across the organization by applying the Lean-Agile practices to the other areas such as budgeting, portfolio management and human resources

I indicated to Mr. Kumar that since this is a small LACE team these responsibilities will be shared by other SPCs.

Agile Release Train ART

Step 5: Identify Value Streams and ARTs

I informed Mr. Kumar that next we need to identify Value Streams within the organization. Many enterprises in the fortune 100 are focusing on not only how much fast they can deliver but also focusing on how much value can they deliver at speed. A Value Stream consists of all activities undertaken from beginning to end for a specific product or a service in order to provide business value.

Further, I informed Mr. Kumar that we will have to create an Agile Release Train to realize the value stream.

Typically, ARTs will have the following attributes

  • Made up of 50+ people
  • Focused on developing a holistic system
  • Stable teams which can consistently deliver value
  • Can release software independent of other ARTs

Step 6: Create the implementation Plan

Next, I informed Mr. Kumar, that we will need to create an implementation plan. As per agile methodology this would be done in an incremental fashion. In each of these increments we will select a value stream along with the associated ARTs which we have identified as fit for that particular value stream.

Step 7: Prepare for ART launch

At this stage, there are a few activities which must be carried out step by step for a successful art launch. The steps for the launch include

  • The first ART which has been selected has to be refined
  • Set the launch date and program calendar
  • Train ART leaders and stakeholders
  • Organize Agile teams
  • Form the Agile teams
  • Train Product Managers/Product Owners (SAFe Product Manager/Product Owner course)
  • Train Scrum Masters (SAFe Scrum Masters course)
  • Train System Architect / Engineers (SAFE System and Solution Architect course)
  • Assess and evolve the launch readiness
  • Prepare the program backlog

Step 8: Train teams and Launch ART

The next step would be for the teams to attend a two-day “SAFe for teams”. This training would introduce Agile methodology and include training on

  • Core scrum elements and exploration of the role of Scrum Master and Product Owner
  • The purpose and the mechanics of the basic events such as Iteration Planning (IP), Iteration Execution, Daily Standup, Iteration Review and Iteration Perspective
  • Preparation for Program Increment (PI) planning
  • Building a Kanban board for tracking stories

There are many ways of launching ART, but the best way is a one-week, ART Quickstart approach. The steps which need to be followed are

Day 1-2: “SAFe for teams” training takes place

Day 3-4: This is immediately followed by PI planning

Day 5: This is reserved for mentoring people on their new roles, tool training and any other activities the team needs to get ready for the next iteration

I explained to Mr. Kumar that these were the basic steps required to get their company to move from the Waterfall model to Scaled Agile.  Steps 9-12 are a natural progression.

At the end of the meeting, Mr. Kumar was convinced that this indeed was the method for moving from the Waterfall model to Scaled Agile for the company. He told me that he would take this learning and get in touch with the management team. I informed Mr. Kumar that I would share a presentation slide deck with him so that he could use the same to present the concept to his colleagues. To get an brief idea on Scaling Agile in Large Organizations one has to attend SAFe Agilist Certification.

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