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Your Roadmap for the Agile Scaling Framework Landscape

Agile has been a buzzword for decades now, and its popularity has led to a litany of different methodologies and practices which only get more complicated at scale. It can be daunting to consider scaling Agile, despite the apparent benefits the methodology offers. But it doesn't need to be! Read on for your guide to the Agile scaling framework landscape and how to choose the best one for your team.

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Agile is slowly but surely replacing the Waterfall technique, a time-consuming model that leaves no room for fast changes. As the software development industry moves more quickly, delays caused by the Waterfall model's slow feedback and approval processes created huge risks, sometimes rendering a product obsolete before it even went to market.

Agile emphasizes iterative development, incorporating constant stakeholder feedback and collaboration to create an environment which ultimately leads to faster, better product delivery. Popularized by the 2001 Manifesto for Agile Software Development, Agile is an elegant solution to the lack of transparency and course correction opportunities inherent to the Waterfall/V-model approach. 

But Agile is predicated on small, tightly integrated teams geared for collaboration and adaptation. So why should you scale? In a perfect world, scaling will result in Agile teams in every corner of your software development department, rendering nearly every process creative, iterative, and incremental. This takes the concentrated benefits of Agile for software development and applies them across a network of teams at your organization. If orchestrated correctly, you will see improved cross-functional collaboration, greater efficiency, and ultimately, a better bottom line.

Related reading:

When, Why, and How to use the Agile-Waterfall Hybrid Model

The Agile Scaling Frameworks

All Agile scaling frameworks are not created equal. From Nexus to LeSS, a variety of distinct frameworks for scaling the Agile methodology have emerged. All are based on Scrum project management to some extent, but each offers unique benefits and drawbacks. Before you can decide which is right for you, it's crucial to know the different frameworks available:

  • SAFe® , or the Scaled Agile Framework, is defined by core values and structured guidance that give organizations a clear path to scaling Agile. This framework tackles both high-level issues like leadership culture and operational items like roles and responsibilities. It is more prescriptive than other frameworks and requires a high level of buy-in across the organization.
  • Scrum@Scale is a newer approach to scaling your Agile scrum framework, toeing the line between documentation and flexibility. Scrum@Scale manages to be relatively well-documented (for its newness) while avoiding rigidity, encouraging the organic growth of Scrum (at scale).
  • LeSS, or Large-Scale Scrum, is a lightweight framework that allows significant flexibility in scaling. It is based on a set of simple rules and principles. It has two iterations, Basic LeSS for 2-8 teams, and LeSS HUGE for any group of over 8 teams. Because of its simplicity, LeSS is best for teams who already have an effective Scrum framework in place.
  • Nexus is a framework that strives to remain faithful to the Agile Scrum methodology and displays relatively rigid rules. Nexus is built for 3-9 teams of 3-9 developers, meaning your scalability maxes out at about 80 developers. If you are looking for a prescriptive framework for a smaller team, this may be the framework for you.
  • Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) takes a step beyond Scrum. This learning-focused hybrid model integrates multiple Agile methodologies. It is less prescriptive than other Agile scaling frameworks, providing you with the flexibility to cherry-pick Agile methodologies. DAD displays how different Agile techniques can work together and provides an excellent foundation for scaling.
  • Scrum of Scrums is a framework geared towards layered collaboration across Scrum teams. It is still predicated upon the Scrum principle of small teams, and up to 9 teams collaborate by sending one representative to a "Scrum of Scrums." If necessary, you can add layers continuously, sending representatives from each of the "Scrum of Scrums" to participate in higher level "Scrum of Scrums of Scrums."

Among these frameworks, two stand out as the most viable for the broadest range of organizations: SAFe and Scrum@Scale. These are the most adaptable, with quality documentation that allows you to tailor their core principles to your organization's specific needs.

Related reading:

Scaling Agile in Large Enterprises: LeSS, DAD or SAFe®?

SAFe® vs. Scrum@Scale: Which one is right for you?

When comparing frameworks for scaling Agile, the question is not what the best framework is, but rather which framework is best for your specific environment. Factors including your company size and scaling objectives, company culture, development goals, and existing Scrum mastery all significantly impact which scaling framework you will adopt.

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)


Released by Dean Leffingwell and Drew Jemilo in 2011, the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is by far the most popular framework for scaling Scrum in large organizations. SAFe is designed to accommodate DevOps, a method increasingly considered a must for future-proof Agile organizations. It is organized around a core set of values and principles meant to promote alignment and collaboration, ensuring faster, better delivery across a growing number of teams.

SAFe is best for large organizations looking to retain as much organizational and process structure as possible while reaping the benefits of a decentralized Agile way of working. SAFe is not as easily customizable as Scrum at Scale, so an in-depth analysis of your value creation processes is crucial to planning an Agile transition process using this framework.

On-demand webinar:

SAFe 4.0: Implementing Enterprise Agile Using the Scaled Agile Framework – with Michael Stump of Scaled Agile Inc.

Scrum@Scale

Scrum@Scale has a Scrum pedigree, having been developed by Dr. Jeff Sutherland (one of the co-creators of Scrum) and Alex Brown. Scrum@Scale is the newest of all the Agile scaling frameworks, publicly introduced at Agile 2014 in Orlando. Therefore, it is relatively untested and undocumented compared to SAFe, but the frameworks upon which it is based are well supported. The fundamentals of scrum are at the heart of Scrum@Scale, which is organized around minimal processes to help maintain efficiency and collaboration.

Related reading:

Jeff Sutherland: Scrum @ Scale – Powering Up The Business

By incorporating the minimum viable bureaucracy (MVB) approach popularized by Mozilla and Spotify, Scrum@Scale attempts to reduce complications and approach scaling as modular. Scrum@Scale is an extension of the core Scrum framework. What this means, essentially, is that wherever Scrum is used, Scrum at Scale can help scale the framework. 

In theory, Scrum@Scale is an excellent solution for organizations of all sizes. But its relative novelty and the lack of extensive testing may make it less suitable for large enterprise adoption.

Related reading:

Scaling Agile in Large Enterprises: LeSS, DAD or SAFe®?

Which framework is right for you?

Overall, SAFe is regarded by some as too rigid: it is based on a top-down approach and introduces several levels, roles, events, and artifacts to retain the organizational structure that enterprises are used to. This means that SAFe can't be as easily adapted to a specific environment as some other frameworks. It also requires a high level of adoption and implementation across the entire organization. 

Scrum@Scale, on the other hand, is a more flexible choice for teams working with highly customized processes or an untraditional environment. This framework is based on the scrum-of-scrums approach to ensure scalability while still adhering to the fundamentals of Scrum. While the flexibility it enables makes it an appealing choice, concepts such as Minimum Viable Bureaucracy make it less ideal for teams working on mission- or safety-critical products where ample documentation is needed to ensure regulatory compliance.

Scaled tooling

Agile tooling remains a topic of debate. While the Agile methodology explicitly favors a focus on "Individuals and interactions over processes and tools," most experts agree that adequate tooling is vital, especially in a scaled environment. Alignment, transparency, and collaboration are difficult to ensure when multiple teams collaborate on several complex projects.

Which is why tools that support the adoption and scaling of Scrum or any other Agile method can significantly impact the profitability, efficiency, and satisfaction of teams involved. Look for an established tool with proven use cases of scaling Agile, and prioritize capabilities around collaboration and transparency when selecting a development platform.

Related reading:

How To Select The ALM Solution That Best Suits Your Needs

Global innovators have used Agile platforms such as codeBeamer ALM to support the transition process and streamline collaboration. Whether you're working with SAFe, Scrum at Scale, or any other Agile method, analyze your needs and evaluate multiple tools to find the one that suits your needs. To learn more, contact us, or start your free trial of codebeamer right away!

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