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July 09, 2019

3 Keys to Agile Scaling: The View of Our Experts

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Written by

Nicole Spence-Goon

Agile Xpert

Trent Hone

Scaling, like Agile itself, can become a target objective rather than the means to an end. To ensure this doesn’t happen, first determine why you think you need to scale. What are you hoping to achieve? What are your goals?

After identifying them, learn about scaling and address any mistaken preconceptions. You may decide not to scale; on the other hand, if you proceed and assess whether or not it is time to scale, you may decide you’re ready. Now what? Here are three keys to scaling agility effectively:

1. Communicate intent

To accomplish your goals—both with your organization and with scaling—you need to have a clear vision. The vision becomes a guide that helps your teams stay aligned and act with cohesion as they work independently. It sets their direction and keeps them focused on your goals. It expresses your intent.

You can increase the effectiveness and clarity of your intent by crafting a vision statement. You may have more than one. A product vision statement will describe your product roadmap and answer questions about how you will serve clients. An Agile transformation vision statement could explain why you’re scaling and what you hope to accomplish with Agile.

In both cases, the vision statement helps inform strategic and tactical decision-making, tying together operational planning and the daily decisions of your teams. Your goals—as expressed by the vision—remain the focal point, allowing teams to adapt and adjust, discovering the best way to accomplish your goals as new information is learned.

2. Focus on your people

As you scale, your team members will face a more complex set of challenges. The difficulties of coordinating multiple, fast-paced Agile teams increase as more of them begin to work together. The power of a scaled Agile environment comes from the recognition that no single person can effectively manage or coordinate it all; delegation and pushing decision-making down to individual teams is essential. This means that team members will need to have the knowledge and skill to make very important decisions each and every day.

Managers and other leaders are essential to making this successful. With teams managing their own work, managers shift their focus from controlling and coordinating to empowering and enabling. This is servant leadership; one of its most important characteristics is an emphasis on creating an environment within which individuals and teams can collaborate, cooperate and connect. The teams self-organize to do the work; managers create the space for that self-organization to thrive.

Connectedness is critical to making this successful. Individuals and teams need to see themselves as part of a whole, not separate factions or functions. Successful scaling requires a mantra—we fail together and we succeed together—in order to foster this collaborative, connected spirit. Servant leaders help create that mindset.

3. Create your own path

Just as no two organizations look or operate exactly the same, your scaling journey will be unique to you and your organization. Scaling agility is not one-size-fits-all; it is a customized process that relies on regular and continual adaptation and adjustment.

Start by establishing a light-weight foundational structure that’s just enough to keep teams connected and focused on their common goals. From that beginning, empowered teams can explore and experiment to discover the best ways of working together to meet your goals and objectives. As the teams improvise and innovate, regularly inspect and adapt your foundational structure. Incorporate new methods and techniques that have been successful in your context; discard those that haven’t. The path to your destination will not be direct, but recognize every deviation as an intentional pursuit of new opportunities.

Proceed Deliberately

We believe these are three essential elements for scaling effectively. Your unique context may require more focus on one than the others, but we urge you to keep all of them in mind. They are grounded in the values of  The Manifesto for Scaling Agility that emphasize a holistic, unscripted approach:

  • Shared vision over aligned processes.
  • Organic growth over pre-defined structure.
  • High performing organization over high performing teams.
  • Team-empowered responsibility over organizational policies.

None of the three keys we’ve described are easy to implement in an established organization but they are crucial to ensure that Agile scaling helps and does not hinder your success. Scaling is not a silver bullet that will solve organizational issues; it is a mechanism that will help you address your needs as you grow and expose the limits of established organizational patterns and structures. When you’re ready to start the journey, we’ll be here to help you find your own path.

Get your fill on Agile scaling with our other posts in the series:

Looking to learn more about the Agile Scaling journey? Download our Agile Scaling eBook now!

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Nicole Spence-Goon

Agile Xpert

Nicole is a certified Agile Coach with over 20 years of software development experience in Agile process management, business process reengineering, requirements management, test support and execution.

Follow Nicole on LinkedIn

Trent Hone

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