Agile techniques have transformed many projects and businesses. The updated project management and delivery approach help teams work more efficiently and deliver projects faster. Managing larger projects with multiple teams is a challenge, though. Scaled agile frameworks offer a solution to this, with several well-established frameworks available.
Agile techniques and frameworks
Agile techniques have been in place for over two decades. They emerged from the software industry but are now well used across many industries. Agility better reflects the changed natures of companies and projects, with an openness to changing requirements a core foundation.
Several frameworks have been developed for the implementation of Agility. Agile Scrum is the leading such framework, in use for over 25 years. Other popular choices include Kanban, Dynamic Systems Development Method and Crystal frameworks.
These frameworks have been developed to focus mainly on single team operations. While they work well even for very large teams, they do not reflect the very different nature of multiple or distributed teams. Scaled agile frameworks are a response to deal with this. They introduce different methods, roles and approaches to handle much larger, or multiple separate, teams collaborating on the same product.
The challenges of scaled Agility
There are several problems that come up with scaling standard agile practices. These include:
Synchronising deliverables across teams. Agile teams are supposed to be self-managing. With multiple teams, though, some degree of coordination is needed.
Splitting authority between teams. Multiple teams will struggle to operate with just one central authority. Scrum, for example, has a product owner responsible for the full development and stakeholder engagement. With multiple teams, there is a need for local control.
Different timescales. Larger products often have longer timeframes, and this requires planning further ahead. A single team may treat each iteration separately or plan just a few iterations ahead, whereas scaled frameworks plan further ahead. Some frameworks (including SAFe) also introduce an additional iteration post-release to reflect the complications of multiple teams collaboration.
Popular scaled agile frameworks
Several frameworks have been developed to implement scaled Agility. They each approach the challenge of scaling slightly differently, and each has its strengths, weaknesses, and criticisms. The choice of which to use comes down to suitability and experience with standard agile frameworks are used.
SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) is one of the most popular options. It groups teams up into four levels – Team, Program, Large Solution and Portfolio. It is the most common choice for very large teams. It can be used with Scrum and other agile frameworks.
LeSS (Large Scale Scrum) is another popular framework. This builds directly on top of the Scrum framework, so it is good for organisations using that. It aims to add minimal additional requirements over standard Scrum. Teams, for example, share the same Product Owner and Product Backlog. Meetings run at the same time for each team.
Nexus is another option. This again builds on Scrum and adds a new Integration role and re-defined meetings. It is simpler to use but designed for use for up to 9 teams – so not for the largest projects.