Scaling Agile seems to be a hot topic at the moment. A number of people are suggesting that “Agile doesn’t Scale”. They are right and they are wrong.
First, lets clarify what I mean by Scaling Agile. Scaling Agile does not mean a large organisation where all the teams use Scrum or Kanban. It means that the entire organisation is using Agile… The usual suspects of Development, Testing, Product Management, but also Finance, Marketing, Operations and Management. Scaling means that as an organisation grows in its use of Agile, it can do so fairly smoothly.
The “Agile doesn’t Scale” crowd are right!
Dave Snowden says that you cannot scale Agile using Recipes, you need Chefs. You need people who have done their apprenticeship for several years and studied the material. I agree with Dave. You need Chefs to Scale Agile. People with years of experience in Agile who understand the theory and principles. However, that is not enough. You also need people who understand organisations rather than development teams. People who have years of experience which involves understanding management, finance, operations and marketing.
The Chefs exist but there not that many of them about. A number of them are helping organisations to Scale. It will not be possible to determine whether they have successfully scaled Agile in a way that is sustainable for a few years. ( I remember a few years ago an Investment Bank in London had an entire department that was Agile but it did not survive for more than a couple of years as the developers had not incorporated the business analysts )
In order for the claim “Agile Scales” to be valid, we need a set of patterns or recipes that people can use without the need for a Chef.
Those recipes do not exist yet. So the “Agile does not scale” crowd are correct.
The “Agile doesn’t Scale” are wrong!
After the Chefs have scaled agile a number of times, it will be possible to examine their stories of success and failure to extract patterns for scaling Agile. It will not happen for a few years as it is necessary to establish whether the patterns are stable in the organisation, or whether they need the support of a powerful manager to ensure their success.
Even though the recipes do not exist yet, they will start to emerge over the coming years. So the “Agile does scale” crowd are correct as well.
You never know, some of the patterns in the Safe framework may turn out to be valid. (So far, listening to stories of people scaling Agile, you need to scale using the product management function who work on a single enterprise level backlog, with a development/testing group that has staff liquidity).