An Introduction to Scaled Agile

Written by Andy Rivers

So, you’re doing Scrum. You’re knocking out your sprint plans, grooming your backlog, and killing it in your sprint retro. Many of us have been doing this for awhile – to the point it’s (dare I say it) becoming a bit old school.


Scaled Agile Framework Kangaroo

See what I did there?

While Agile and Scrum remain useful and go a long way toward making individual teams more efficient and effective, many companies that practice Scrum continue to struggle with delivering large, complex projects on time and with the features expected by stakeholders. How does one take a way of working like Scrum and scale it for these larger projects? Making the Scrum team the size of the entire company certainly won’t do the trick. So what will?

Enter the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), which focuses on moving past individual Scrum teams and into a coordinated, predictable delivery structure shared by multiple teams. Sounds like a dream, no? So, how do we get there? The key is coordination and alignment of teams. Let’s start with a definition of coordination, per our friends at Merriam-Webster:

“The process of organizing people and groups so that they work together properly and well.”

Simple enough. Many Agile companies attempt to achieve coordination through a “Scrum of Scrums” model, wherein the ScrumMaster from each Scrum team, and maybe management, get together to discuss what their teams are working on and delivering. Sounds great! What’s the problem? Well, imagine this:

You run a factory where all of the assembly line directors get together to talk about what they are producing and when it will be delivered, but the overall vision that all of these pieces need to fit together to form a certain car with certain features by a certain date hasn’t been shared. What are the odds your car will be completed correctly and on time? Not great, probably. All the coordination in the world can’t fix that.

It’s entirely possible – and fairly common – to achieve coordination and continue to miss timelines and desired features. This is where alignment becomes critical. With coordination and alignment, we aren’t merely working “together properly and well” but toward that common goal; We all know our respective pieces need to be done by this date so Feature X will be available in time for Feature Y’s team to add their part on schedule, and so on.

The methodology within SAFe provides the frame work required to manage both the coordination and alignment of large, complex projects. And the best part is they have made this framework available to everyone. Fair warning, though, I hear a lot of, “Whoa! That looks complex.” when people are first exposed to SAFe. Stick with it. While it may look intimidating initially, you’ll soon see how it fits together logically, and maintains a consistent flow from the business perspective to development teams. No matter what the size of your organization, it’s a Best Practice worth exploring.

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Originally published June 06 2018, updated January 01 2019