Scaling Scrum

Scaling Agile.

Scaling Agile.

Nail it before you scale it.

The first rule of scaling is not to scale. Maybe you should descale rather than scale?

We spoke about the Cynefin Framework in previous episodes and as a reference point, the clear space is where you and the team know exactly what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. In other words, you can follow a recipe to success.

In the complicated space, like civil engineering for example, you can get the experts together and they will more than likely come up with the best solution, first time around, with a clear path to success that can be deconstructed into specific steps or stages.

This is also known as waterfall-style project management.

Scaling is appropriate in the clear and complicated space. It works very well because there are a sequence of precise steps to take, and you have people with the necessary skills and experience available to simply execute against a predetermined plan.

Things change when we enter the complex space.

According to the EU field guide on ‘how to deal with complexity in a crisis’, the maximum number of people who should be working on a complex problem or attempting to build a complex product, is 15 people.

When you descend into a state of chaos, the maximum number of people that should be working on the problem decreases to 5.

So, why would you scale in a situation where you don’t know what you don’t know?

In many ways, scaling in complexity or chaos could be like the blind leading the blind.

We need to run lots of parallel, safe-top-fail experiments in the complex space.

We need to twist previous inventions into a new purpose to solve a current, complex problem.

So, you have to be really careful about scaling.

Scaling is based on the Agile industrial complex, and the belief that we can scale our way out of any problem. I don’t believe in that and my experience reinforces that belief structure.

I believe that we need to nail it before you scale it. To get it right at the team level. To get the best people together and create an environment where they can figure out what to do.

I would not consider scaling unless the initial team are battling to figure out how to solve the problem or struggling to find out how to move forward.

Only in that kind of circumstance would I recommend that you consider something like LeSS (Large Scale Scrum) as an authentic framework for scaling scrum and empowering teams to create environments where they can thrive despite complexity, volatility, uncertainty, and ambiguity.

Other approaches such as nexus and flight levels are also appropriate if the initial agile teams are struggling to overcome the obstacles and challenges they face in the complex space.

Think carefully through your options before attempting to scale.


John Coleman has deep experience and expertise working with executives, #leadership teams and product development teams to achieve increased #businessagility and create environments where creativity and collaboration produce high-performance teams.

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