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A Tour of Agile Scaling Approaches

G John Okoro of Auspicious Agile gave a talk at the Agile Tour Bangkok comparing the various scaling models prevalent in the marketplace today.  He titled the talk “An Agile Scaling Tour”

His premise is that there is no one ideal scaling model and that the different brands & approaches are appropriate for different contexts.  He drew on the work published on the Agile Scaling website and extended that with his own observations about the different models, their advantages and disadvantages.

He started by introducing the concept of Shu-Ha-Ri as a learning pathway and pointed out that simply following the rules of method without understanding the context and thinking behind it is a Shu (novice/apprentice) level activity.  He cautioned that there is a natural bias to self-assess ourselves at a higher level of competence than what we actually have.  One aspect that he used in his comparison of the approaches is "shu-ability" - how clear the rules for a novice to follow. 

He emphasised that whatever approach you are taking to organisational change (and scaling agile is an organisational change activity) leadership buy-in and active support is crucial for success.  This type of change is not something that can be relegated to “chequebook support” – active leadership involvement is essential.

He presented the following key points about the different scaling frameworks:

  • Scaled Agile Framework – SAFe – Execution, Code Quality, Transparency & Alignment are key ideas, it is an attractive framework as it appears to offer levels of certainty which many managers assumed were in place in waterfall models.  However applied without the underlying culture and a strong focus on the technical disciplines it can lead to unsuccessful implementation and poor quality solutions hidden behind a veneer of process adherence.  Can work well at a Shu level.


  • Disciplined Agile Development – DAD – Influenced by the Unified Process, deliberately complex and requires significant tailoring when implementing.  Not applicable for a Shu level organisation


  • LeSS & LeSS Huge – Scrum at the core, heavily Product Owner focused, Shu level applicability for LeSS, not for LeSS Huge. Start where you are and iterate on the process


  • The Spotify Model – designed for a single context and one organisation, not intended to be a “model” for others, but has been well described.  Applicable at the Shu level, places strong emphasis on technical practices and team autonomy. 



  • Scrum of Scrum – simple to do, hard to get right, low Shu-ability, requires maturity of process and understanding of the scrum philosophy.  (The image below is from Mountaingoat Software)


  • Nexus – a new framework from, low Shu-ability, follows the Scrum philosophy and adds extra layers in the backlog.  Not much evidence for or against it yet as it is very new.


He pointed out some important factors to take into account, irrespective of your scaling model:

  • Take a kaizen, continuous improvement approach to scaling – start from where you are at and adapt your practices over time, using feedback loops to ensure you learn and adjust to the real context of the organisation
  • Irrespective of your development model or framework you should be addressing the “last mile” as well – DevOps requires an agile mindset and culture and brings it to the edge of the organisation, delivering real value to customers more frequently

DevOps Last Mile

He ended with a strong message and warning:  Don't scale unless it really is necessary - don't scale without a clear goal, otherwise you are simply adding complexity to your process without adding value to the organisation.

He will repeat the talk at the Agile Tour Singapore conference on the 28th of November. 

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