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There's no question that trying to use Agile methods for larger things that encompass more of the value stream is hard. And if you can avoid it, you should. And you're right, you can't simply throw more people at a single team and expect things to get better - Brooks' Law predicted failure for that a long time back simply through the number of required communication channels. So you split into multiple teams, each with a domain focus. However, for some things, you can't simply find neat independent domains that can deliver independently. Think of a retailer introducing a loyalty card. That touches almost every system they have, plus marketing, branding, training, stock demand patterns and so on, all of whom are trying to do their own initiatives. You have successfully reduced the number of most rapid/interactive communication channels (intra team), with an inter-team sync that doesn't need to run as quickly. You've spotted the loosely coupled pattern's risk though: Systems thinking alone will tell you that individual excellence and optimisation can make the whole system less effective, and your symptoms are exactly those that arise. Is this better than small team Agile that is effectively delivering and engaging the whole value stream already? No. If you're succeeding at that already, keep doing it. Many of the organisations that have that situation are also struggling to do Any Agile - for these people, a quarterly regular delivery that takes feedback from the real world of both delivery and outcome is an ocean of better than their current situation. Alan is right - those 3 excellent subquestions do tend to get conflated by such organisations. Partially because the reason why they have not adopted Agile so far is that they have some combination of them. So the key question is: Given this situation, is Large Scale Agile (note: I'm avoiding talking about specific methods here!) better than what they're doing now? We can talk about 'many people' struggling to maintain personal relationships, but our 'many' is 'moderately sized' for such organisations. Most Large Scale Agile methods talk about delivery groups of up to 100-150 people (note: Dunbar's number limit, either accidentally or explicitly designed), which is a lot more than 7 +/-2, but less than the thousands that have worked on some multi-year programmes. We can talk about quarterly delivery and planning cadence being slow, but compared to the 5 year, €50m programmes that deliver once? This is light years better. We can talk about top down strategy, but these organisations have never given a vote on strategy to everyone. At least in these approaches, there's an acknowledgement of the difference between alignment of direction and autonomy of means of getting there - it's Clausewitz and Von Molke Mission Planning all over again. Will this result in the whole organisation changing culture and mindset? I can't guarantee it. But I have seen a recurring pattern of: once one team is actually delivering regularly with a happy, motivated group of people, it becomes infectious, and people start asking "how the hell do we do that?" Not everyone will be ready for the change of course, but not all enterprise managers are PHBs, and some actually take this seriously and do change. Again, I've seen it recurrently. Not a guarantee, but a promising set of experimental results. As I read once, the sound of science is not "Eureka!" but "Hmm, that's odd/interesting..."
Toggle Commented Jun 25, 2014 on The Folly of Scaling Agile at Agile Coaching
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Jun 25, 2014