The New Agile – But Does It Scale?

If business analysis is where we come up with ideas, then product development process is the factory that makes the vision real. What did we take from agile and how is it different today from 15 years ago?

The magic word of today is SCALE. And the king of Scaled Agile is SAFe. I’ve already written before why I didn’t like SAFe, but I must admit, there are some positive aspects to it. For example, unlike scrum, it actually says “Use TDD”! In the development process, there’s a focus on XP practices. It’s been a while since XP got some support from non-XP people. (Large Scale Scrum also speaks about technical excellence, but it seems SAFe is winning over LeSS).

Regardless, SAFe continues to push enterprises towards big product development teams (or as they are called, release trains). I feel that SAFe speaks to the  market (as any process should)  and the market is ready to buy. I can attest that some of the people promoting SAFe admit that, although it may look like SAFe has all the answers to all your scaled agile questions, they don’t. I respect the admission and the spirit of experimentation, but I guess they are in the minority. SAFe will succeed in the way that scrum did, leaving many organizations that tried it disappointed in the process.

But SAFe isn’t the only hot process in town. Lean Startup may be even hotter. First of all, it doesn’t sound as enterprisy as SAFe, and it’s lean, man. Lean Startup takes Inspect and Adapt one step further to the customer. If you think about it, we’ve been inspecting and adapting since we’ve discovered fire. But this thing is lean, dude. Lean is hot.

There’s another reason that Lean Startup is hot, and it does relate to the Startup side. It’s called technology. Only once the internet has matured over the last decade, tools and skills improved enough so we could actually do the “measure” part in the build-measure-learn cycle. Only when there’s a big mass of customers, and we can measure their choices online, we can speed up the cycle, or pivot quickly. While we can apply the same ideas of Lean Startup to the enterprise, unless the technology is there to do the measurements, we can’t speed up the cycle.

Lean Startup goes hand in hand with Design Thinking. And Design Thinking leads me back to A3 thinking from the last post: Understanding the problem is our major concern (before building the solution), then seeing if our solution solves it, then making the decision on how to continue. Design thinking is about  collaborating with the customer, but instead of asking them what their problems are, we actually watch them, without subtitles. Once we get an idea, we can Lean Startup it directly into their hands, and see if things work well. If not, pivot.

SAFe, Lean Startup and Design Thinking take a page of context out of agile’s book. SAFe tries to answer the scale up issues, while Lean Startup scales down, while both are talking about alignment. SAFe is about alignment and feedback cycles at the org level, while Lean Startup is about alignment and feedback cycles with the customer.

Apparently, there are many ways to scale agile.

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