Why are so many companies struggling to scale Agile practices? Why new approaches, such as Scaled Agile Framework, or SAFe, have appeared in the past few years? In my opinion the fundamental reason is that Agile, while promoting the right principles, was never designed to be an enterprise-wide operational model. As it creates obvious improvements at a team level, certain executive level challenges prevent an effective scaling of Agile to the entire organization. These challenges have always existed and they created numerous inefficiencies in traditional project management methodologies. The biggest problem continues to be effective alignment of all teams towards a common goal.
During initial implementation Agile shows excellent results. Teams improve their collaboration and communication, they establish execution rhythms and organize work effectively. What not to like? At the same time, the problem of prioritization never went away. It probably even became more visible. The weight shifted to a new role, introduced by Agile, called Product Owner.
This role quickly became critical to the overall success of product delivery, and execution in general. The person who ended up in this role became the process constraint. Those projects that had strong Product Owners generally did much better than those that struggled with their product ownership. So the problem became not the execution, which now operated with increased efficiency, but rather planning and prioritization.
As you can see the success of Agile teams resided with the rest of the business, which still had to have a clear understanding of what to do and when. While Scrum, XP and other techniques offered the ability to more effectively execute work and more frequently align on the direction, the longer term vision remained unaddressed.
This represented one of the reasons for me to combine select Agile ceremonies and artifacts with other business methodologies. One of those business approaches is Theory of Constraints, which provides tools specifically designed for thorough and effective goal definition, organizational planning and prioritization.
So if you are struggling with scaling Agile, try adding a few tools and techniques offered by Stream. Focus Wave and Strategic Roadmap assist with long-term planning. And as for the execution, below is a simple and effective solution which has been successfully tested and can provide a common organizational rhythm. All planning, execution and reporting can be standardized and organized around this schedule.
When it comes to managing execution, there is nothing like Sprints and Daily Standups. These simple ceremonies, which are common and well known in various business functions, are the backbone of a common rhythm for planning and executing work. This helps sync up executive and operational decisions and base them on common metrics. Stream relies primarily on 3 ceremonies:
Operational 2 week Sprints (with Planning & Review sessions)
Executive Quarterly Sprints
Monthly enterprise-wide alignment on the ongoing change initiatives can be added, if the situation calls for it.
Executive Sprints are meant to check the status of the strategic goal for a particular period and the progress of projects, planned to achieve it. Depending on the goal, the update can be about the execution of the Strategic Roadmap or about the Continuous Improvement Backlog. The schedule works as a "heart beat", pumping change through the organization. With this approach, Senior Leadership and the rest of the employees are continuously aligned, minimizing unnecessary change.