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Scaling Agile: Frameworks and Experiences

| by Ben Linders Follow 29 Followers on Jan 19, 2015. Estimated reading time: 5 minutes |

On January 22 the Agile Consortium Belgium together with UNICOM is organizing the Scaling Agile for the Enterprise 2015 congress in Brussels, Belgium:

This Congress brings together stalwart thought leaders - Dean Leffingwell, Mark Lines - and practitioners to demonstrate this need to share best practices and makes the day a must for all those already involved and those who are looking into in the Agile method of working and to go deep into making their organization more agile.

InfoQ will cover the event with Q&As, write-ups and articles. Some first coverage was published earlier this month:

InfoQ interviewed Arie van Bennekum, Chair elect of the Agile Consortium International, and Jan de Baere, chair of the Agile Consortium Belgium, about activities organized by the Agile Consortium, issues that the software industry is facing with agile scaling and stories from enterprises that have successfully scaled agile.

InfoQ: Can you introduce the Agile Consortium International to our readers and tell something about the activities that it or it's chapters organize?

Arie: We have 2 areas in which we see a role for the Consortium. The first one is Innovation and Sharing. Agile is always subject for innovation. The Agile Consortium facilitates this. Our philosophy is that we have a continuous loop to facilitate the innovation. Members can join task forces and share knowledge (on for example our events). Based on the sharing we innovate, once we have another innovation we publish. Once we have it published we create an events around it to close the circle.

The second one is certification. We have the Certify-to-Inspire program. We don't believe in just one method. When you are Agile you design your way of working based of whatever you can find as long it is within the values and principles of the method, regardless of the method. We noticed a demand on this sort of certification years ago. If you like you can use one method but it is never a dogma.

The Consortium facilitates a certification process for member-organizations and others which is method-independent, non-profit and based on 3 different levels. We have the Foundation level (a multiple choice exam that shows someone understands the values and principles with underlying concepts), the Practitioner level (a one hour oral exam based on a project synopsis that shows that someone has done it and can design and apply the best matching way of doing Agile and reflect on it for improvement) and the Master level (this is a full day assessment based on a transformation someone was involved in that shows that the candidate is capable to change individuals, teams and organizations to become Agile).

The Agile Consortium is an organization for organizations. Membership is open to companies, non-profits, educational institutes and freelancers.

There is a board responsible for organizing events like this scaling event. We have International events (organized by the Consortium as a whole) and local events done by local chapters like Netherlands, Belgium or Italy. Events will take place 5-6 times per year per chapter.

InfoQ: Why are you organizing an event about agile scaling, what makes this so important?

Arie: Our organizations is run by people from member organizations. They bring forth their wishes. This is a demand from our members initiated by the Belgium chapter.

Jan: From the market and also from our own experience we feel the needs for scaling. Applying agile principles at team level is well understood. Question is what you can do if you have a lot of teams? How do they coordinate? How do they plan together? How can you make the rest - non development part - of the organization agile? That is where scaling frameworks and principles kick in.

The setup of the conference is to put the major agile scaling frameworks and principles next to each other. This is alternated with some real life cases where people explain why they need scaling, how they did it and what the results are.

InfoQ: What in your opinion are currently the biggest issues with agile scaling? How is the software industry dealing with them?

Arie: The biggest issue is mapping what teams do to a larger scale. Most organization are not Agile (for various reasons) but do Agile. This is understandable because organizations have a legacy, a history, a culture, etc. and they need time to change to really become Agile. Sticking to the Agile method they have chosen is their option. Translating this to a bigger environment is difficult since most original methods cover only the team level. The steps on a team level have often been taken. What to do next can be unclear, this is what we have to solve.

InfoQ: Many organizations struggle when then try to scale agile. Do you know stories from enterprises that have successfully scaled agile? What was it that made the difference?

Arie: Yes I do. The difference is in the true mind set and vertical commitment. On top of this people have to avoid the traditional cramp with a set back. When things are tough organizations and traditional management often step into the pitfall of going back to the "old way, what we were used to do". The concept should always be "it did not work as well as I hoped yet, what can I do to make this it work better".

InfoQ: You are one of the authors of the manifesto for agile software development. Was there any discussion about scaling when the manifesto was written in 2001? Any ideas back then on how to deal with scaling?

Arie: Not that I remember from the debates during the Snow Bird Session. However, I know that I have always been working on this. My projects have always been multi discipline, often multiple teams, projects which require integration with the full environment. Never aware of "changing an organization" but always working for a full delivery of the required solution including all needed changes. This goes from end-user-population and operations to quality assurance, audit trails, etc.

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