I recently spent a full day at a Fortune 500 company consulting their Agile Center of Excellence and later presenting to a larger group of Executives. I actively listened to what they told me about their organization, their successes and struggles with Agile. They asked lots of questions about how I’d done things in past Agile engagements, including Agile at the Enterprise level. All in all, a very rewarding experience.
But it was the topic of scaling Agile that seemed to garner the most interest.
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I think many organizations have been attempting Agile at the Enterprise level for a while now, but maybe not doing it in the most efficient and effective way possible. There’s clearly real opportunity in this area. Overall, companies appear to be doing great on the Project (Team) side, but struggling at the Program and Portfolio level. In order to link our overall strategic vision with projects, and coordinate those projects across teams, we must be effective at this. It’s vital to the success of any organization.
Enter Dean Leffingwell, creator of SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework). His framework and accompanying certification program is all the rage in Agile circles today. I believe folks have been looking for someone to put a formal framework (and catchy tag) to this for a while now. And to Leffingwell’s credit, he has done a good job of that with SAFe. Check it out at http://www.scaledagileframework.com
While Leffingwell labels SAFe as a framework, some of the folks I’ve talked with and various blogs I’ve read see it as more prescriptive (a methodology). And while thorough, some are suggesting it may be a bit too complex.
But maybe that’s what folks want right now; something that tells them exactly what to do, when to do it, who does it, regardless of its complexity. In fact, I see some new teams that approach Scrum like that. Even though it was created as a framework, they treat it like a set of standards and procedures that must be followed to the tee.
So let’s consider how organizations accomplish their goals and reach their strategic vision in an Enterprise. Call it Scaled Agile, or call it Enterprise Agile. I’ll use the latter term for simplicity.
There are three levels necessary to successfully implement Enterprise Agile; the Portfolio, the Program, and the Project.
At the Portfolio management level, we’re deciding if we’re making the right investments that will allow us to realize our strategy and vision. You may have at least one and possibly several Programs within a Portfolio.
At the Program management level, we’re managing resources and deliverables. Our job is to drive the execution of the decisions made by Portfolio Management. This requires we communicate constantly with them, so they’re always aware of any changes (e.g. how dates might be affected.)
At the Project management level, we’re getting the most granular level of work done. Part of our job is also to deliver status to the Program.
In short, all three levels must share information and communicate constantly. What we don’t want to happen is for any of these layers to get silo’d. Enterprise Agile simply won’t work effectively if they do. We need a holistic approach that helps us to deliver to our customers what they want and need. Based on some of my experiences, this is exactly where a lot of organizations fail with Agile.
As for the nuts and bolts details of how to accomplish Enterprise Agile in an Agile software management tool, check out how VersionOne does it. This video walks you through it step by step, simply and elegantly.
How are you scaling Agile in your enterprise? What are your challenges?