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Agility at the Enterprise: Agile Frameworks and Methods to Consider

Scaling Agile frameworks are organizational models that help companies create a value-centered business environment and bring agility to the enterprise. Discover the most popular ones below.

You might have been part of an Agile team and experienced firsthand the benefits of agility, or perhaps you have helped an Agile transformation go smoothly. Either way, the ability to expand agility is now seen as a key to achieving business success.

Agile at scale captures all the efforts and tools used by business owners to extend agility across the organization. The need for scaling the Agile ways of thinking about work management brought to life Agile frameworks such as LeSS, SAFe, KMM, and SaS, among others.

Let's discuss what's the essence of each method. 

Why Do You Need to Scale Agile?

Businesses today need to adapt to emerging changes, innovate and deliver new products to market at a rapid pace, accelerate improvements of existing services, and be competitive at all times. It is, therefore, necessary to have not only flexible individual teams but also to create agility at the company level.

Scaling agility does not only affect the operational and delivery processes, true business agility transforms strategic thinking as well. Apart from IT functions in companies, a growing number of enterprises extend Agile practices across the business as a way to improve their ability to address changing priorities, increase delivery and enhance team productivity.

Challenges of Scaling Agility

Adopting and scaling agility across teams and entire organizations does not happen overnight. In fact, being Agile in general is a continuous journey that never ends. And obviously, challenges are crawling from all sides.

Teams resist change, processes and practices do not stick, leadership does not get involved enough in the transformation process, and the list goes on.

Among the critical problems blocking successful adoption of the Agile ways include:

  • Lack of proper understanding of systems thinking 
  • Lack of awareness of the connectedness of services, departments, teams 
  • Lack of alignment between execution and business goals 
  • Organizational resistance to change 

No matter what challenges you face, there are different ways to solve them. However, you should remember that those companies that prevail in their scaling efforts all have a common trait – a sheer commitment to continuous improvement.  

Top 5 Agile Scaling Frameworks and Methods/Models

The role of Agile scaling methods is to address organizational challenges and facilitate the full-scale adoption of Agile values. Let’s uncover how the most prominent scaling frameworks can help you inspire agility in your company. What are the practices each applies, what are their strengths and downsides, and which should fit your work environment best? 

1. Kanban Maturity Model with Portfolio Kanban

Long before the appearance of the Agile Manifesto in 2001, manufacturing organizations recognized that to succeed they needed structured working processes allowing them to deliver customer value with increased quality and faster. The “just-in-time” production, originating from the Toyota Production System, became a cornerstone of Lean manufacturing where production was based solely on actual market demand.

The development of the just-in-time production system brought to light Kanban - an evolutionary approach to work management. Kanban highlights optimizing value delivery through the continuous efforts toward improving the way work is done, shared leadership at all levels, and a focus on the customers’ demands.

One of the biggest myths that have circulated in the Lean/Agile community for years is that Kanban is just a board with sticky notes and is applicable only at the team level. However, the creation of the Kanban Maturity Model (KMM) has provided numerous practices which promote agility through the Kanban method within a single team, across multiple ones as well as at different organizational levels. The model goes through 7 Kanban maturity levels which describe the degree of awareness an organization has toward the necessity of a structured work process.

Kanban Maturity Model scheme (See https://www.kanbanmaturitymodel.com/)

The KMM levels help to gradually develop agility at the individual level, progressing further to the team level until it reaches every organizational unit through undisruptive and naturally fitting work practices.

Thanks to the Kanban practices, organizations manage to bring greater structure and visibility into their work processes and improve their delivery times by uncovering bottlenecks, decreasing wait and blocked times for work items, etc. Furthermore, the KMM helps to scale these results by creating a global connectedness of the individual projects and strategic goals.

One way to enhance alignment between operations and strategic goals is through the Portfolio Kanban management concept. The holistic approach helps organizations visualize a portfolio of initiatives, projects, or other large pieces of work and connect them to their execution. Thanks to the increased level of work synchronization between multiple teams, businesses manage to evolve their organizational agility.

Portfolio Kanban scheme

2. SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework)

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is a set of Lean and Agile project management practices utilized by organizations for scaling agility at the enterprise level. The approach was originally developed as a way to visualize how work flows from strategic management through execution out to the market. SAFe can be adopted in four configurations: on a team, program, large solutions, and portfolio level.

SAFe supports the organizational efforts to evolve agility by promoting system thinking, alignment of all work around creating value, implementing fast learning cycles, as well as cross-team collaboration around motivated individuals.

Furthermore, the framework tackles the time-to-market delivery by encouraging fast decision-making, effective cross-team communication, and keeping the focus on creating value for the customer. Shared responsibility and reducing waste from the work process also result in better quality and productivity.

The model is, however, criticized for its prescriptive nature in terms of roles and practices. The level of complexity and commitment required can be overwhelming for users.

3. LeSS (Large Scale Scrum)

The Large-Scale Scrum is a product development framework that applies regular Scrum to multiple teams. The approach promotes less prescriptive roles, events, management, and organizational structures. It is available for up to eight teams (first-level LeSS) and “Huge Less” (second-level LeSS) for organizations with multiple teams.

At its heart, LeSS can help organizations scale agility through diminishing organizational complexity, emphasizing cross-team collaboration, and self-organizing Agile teams.

4. Scrum@Scale (SaS)

Scrum at Scale is a product development framework for scaling agility across the company. The model is based on the Scrum framework applied to multiple teams and in complex environments. SaS promotes tight collaboration and coordination between Scrum teams for successful product delivery.

The leading principles of the Scrum at Scale framework include the presence of small Scrum teams and less hierarchical organization, which improves the pace of decision-making. The model introduces the Scrum Master Cycle and Product Owner Cycle to aid the synchronization of team efforts toward scaling agility. 

5. Spotify Model (Not a Framework or a Set of Guidelines)

Spotify has developed a work structure designed to scale the adoption of Agile throughout the company. This model enables enhanced collaboration including transparency and strives to improve product development processes.

The model suggests organizational structures in the form of squads, tribes, chapters, guilds, alliances, and trios. It’s important to note that instead of guidelines, those are just an example of how scaling agility can happen in practice within a big organization. Spotify doesn’t prescribe a strict framework for scaling Agile as most teams use either Scrum or Kanban. The main idea of the model is to promote high levels of transparency, team autonomy, and less bureaucracy.

Image Credit: Scaling Agile@Spotify (blog.crisp.se)

Although the Spotify model provides a real-life example of scaling agility across the organization, it comes with its own limitations. As such, the squad’s dedication to specific functionalities can pose a threat to the integrity of the product architecture if updates are not implemented throughout all systems. Furthermore, keep in mind that the Spotify model is merely a way that the company managed to promote agility in their own environment, which does not imply that mirroring the same steps and practices should work in your world.

First Steps on a Scaled Agile Journey

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach regarding scaling agility. In fact, it could be very dangerous to follow in the exact footsteps of somebody else. Organizations are like living organisms – they’re different in their nature, so don’t blindly rely on a framework that tells you what to do.

While there’s nothing wrong with applying a prescriptive model, it’d be a much safer approach to first examine your own environment. In other words, instead of reorganizing everything right off the bat, start with what you do now. Look for your sources of dissatisfaction, and analyze both incoming demand and your system’s capabilities to handle it. Put your workflows on display and get an idea of where you may need to improve things.

Creating a Kanban system to analyze the end-to-end flow of work

Whatever the nature of your process is, you can first visualize it “as is” on Kanban boards and uncover some pain points. This way, you can significantly reduce the risk of resistance and even get your colleagues on board to get their initial feedback. Eventually, you might decide to follow the evolutionary practices of the Kanban Maturity Model or go with a prescriptive framework such as SAFe. The idea is to prepare the groundwork and understand your true sources of dissatisfaction before embarking on a scaled Agile journey.  

After all, true organizational agility can be achieved by continuously evolving your processes, instead of hoping that what worked for someone else would work for you too.

In Summary

Nowadays, it’s not enough to apply Agile practices within a single team, especially if you are a big organization or an enterprise. To achieve true adaptability and nimbleness in today’s competitive market, companies need to start integrating Agile across multiple teams and management levels. To achieve this, different Agile scaling models or frameworks come to help. Some of the most prominent ones are: 

  • Kanban Maturity Model (KMM) 
  • SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework)
  • LeSS (Large Scale Scrum) 
  • Scrum@Scale (SaS) 
  • Spotify Model (example of a custom Agile scaling model) 

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