Scaling Agility can conjure many ideas in your head, but what does that really mean? Agile Scaling can be approached in various ways. You may be scaling up—adding Agile teams to an existing initiative, whether it’s a project or a program. Or you may be scaling out—spreading Agile principles and methodologies across the organization. It could also be a mix of both.
Now that you understand what it is, the next question should be “why”—why apply Agility at scale? Your “why” should be centered on outcomes that are important to your organization. For example, you might state “We are scaling Agility to make it easier to deliver Product X to meet current market demands.” Once you understand why you’re using or thinking of engaging in Agile Scaling for your project, program, or organization, then you are ready to explore the next steps in your Scaling journey.
Over the last ten years supporting a multitude of government clients, we have found that three crucial factors are required for scaling success:
- Communicate your vision consistently
- Focus on your people genuinely
- Create your own path intentionally
Inherent across all these factors is the importance of making teams and leaders more empowered and ultimately more engaged.
1. Communicate Your Vision Consistently
Whether you are developing a product, managing a portfolio, or evolving an enterprise—you have to be clear on your goals and what you are trying to create. Even in an Agile transformation, your vision is still the destination and Agile is the vehicle to get you there. Your organizational vision, mission, and goals are different but interconnected.
- Vision: an aspirational statement of what the organization wants to achieve.
- Mission: the organization’s purpose and how it will attain its vision.
- Goals: the actions to accomplish in order to reach the vision.
Once your vision is clearly defined, that vision needs to be communicated amongst the many teams that are a part of your Agile Scaling initiative. In a Scaled environment, this vision helps your teams stay focused around a common goal and perform in synch with each other even though they may work as independent teams.
It is key to communicate and amplify the vision on a constant basis. Consistently sharing the vision with teams provides a constant reminder to everyone and guides them. It keeps them on track and avoids going off the rails. Consistency in communicating is also critical when your vision evolves. If your goals change, all teams need to be cognizant of those changes and reset their path forward.
Establish vision statement to guide decisions
In order to implement this concept, you must first formulate your vision statement. The right type of Agile Coach can help facilitate a workshop to craft an applicable vision statement at the product, portfolio or enterprise level. Your Agile Coach can help you devise a strategy to constantly amplify your vision to all the teams that are part of your Agile Scaling endeavor. A well-crafted vision statement makes it easier to:
- Develop roadmaps
- Guide timing of release-to-market decisions
- Frame priority discussions
2. Focus On Your People Genuinely
Any Agile Scaling initiative involves engaging a significant number of people. You want to encourage their creativity. Centralized decision making is suboptimal since decision and information bottlenecks are sure to surface. To avoid these types of blockages to the flow of work you must delegate decision-making authority down to the lowest possible level. This empowers the teams to make better decisions faster. Additionally, this will ensure you are responsive to the changing needs of your project, portfolio, or organization.
For teams to truly be empowered to make decisions, leadership needs to provide support and enable them. Leaders must create environments that foster collaboration, cooperation and connection between teams.
Encourage team-level decision making to drive engagement
In order to implement this concept, you must leave room for teams to experiment and evolve new ways of working together. These experiments can take many forms, but the main goal is to foster autonomy. With autonomy, teams develop a sense of ownership in their work, become more invested in the success of the initiative, and look for ways to improve.
For example, I’ve seen team experiments:
- Support self-organization through a team self-selection process
- Define technology standards through team representative cooperation
- Increase information flow through intra-team collaboration
Leaders who support team experiments—whether successful or not—create a learning environment. They overcome the inertia associated with avoiding the stigma of unacceptable failure.
3. Create Your Own Path Intentionally
If you happen to be at the beginning of your Agile Scaling journey and haven’t committed your organization to a particular Scaling framework, start with a lightweight foundational Scaling approach that is just enough to keep teams connected and focused on their common goals. If you have already selected a Scaling framework, focus on customization. No two organizations work in exactly the same way, so Scaling Agility in your organization cannot conform to a “one size fits all” mentality.
“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
As individual teams are given the freedom to explore and experiment, apply a similar mindset to your Scaling structure. Establish a cadence to regularly inspect and adapt your foundational Scaling approach, to incorporate new techniques that have been successful and remove or change those that haven’t worked. As the Will Rogers quote indicates “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Continual evolution of your Scaling approach is key to be responsive to the ever-evolving needs of your project, portfolio, or entire organization.
Experiment continuously to customize your Scaling approach
In order to implement this concept, you must look for opportunities to adapt your Scaling approach to best fit your needs. For each element of your Scaling structure, experiment with how to improve it and fit your organization better. By adjusting discrete components and customizing your Scaling approach, you will be able to learn and improve parts of the structure that are normally considered outside the bounds of things that you are “allowed” to change. As teams are evolving through their own individual experimentation, those learnings can become catalysts for evolving the Scaling structure as well.
Implementing these three factors can be challenging in some organizational cultures but they are vitally important to ensure Agile Scaling does not impede your success. Let the journey—and what you learn along the way—be the focus of your Agile Scaling adventure. Your greatest success with Scaling Agility will not come from a direct path, but every twist and turn will give you an opportunity to intentionally pursue new growth.