Smart Scaling: Finding the right approach for your organization.

I recently participated in the Scrum Alliance 2013 Scrum Coach Retreat.

I chose to work with a group that wanted to explore the topic of “How are scaling frameworks affecting coaching?” since the topic of scaling and scaling frameworks has become more prevalent of late.

The group quickly decided that the question was not “how scaling frameworks affect coaching”, but rather “how can we, as coaches, affect or influence the selection and implementation of a scaling approach for an organization?”

With all the variation and opinions on scaling models out there, how can we help organizations differentiate between them?  In exploring this question, we wanted to stay away from any framework-specific cheerleading or bashing.   A coach’s job is to expose the system to itself, to elicit questions and insights that help drive decision-making and/or improvement.  We don’t want to line up behind one scaling approach over another.  We want to help our organizations understand their needs and then assess the approach that best serves those needs.

It’s funny that everyone I talk to about this topic seems to have an opinion or belief.  Our industry appears particularly prone to this and that’s a good thing.  Some folks have training, experience or certifications that inform their position.  Others have neither, but have read online or heard something and may form an opinion based on that.  But we all know that empirical data is much better than hearsay or anecdotes for critical decision-making.

Case in point just came up today on one of the LinkedIn groups.  Someone posted a question with the heading “Opinion required about Scaled Agile Framework, SAFe (Agile), please share your experiences…” and the bashing and name calling ensued.  I respect each of the individuals who were responding and their opinions, but come on man!  (props to Chris Carter, ESPN)

Back to the point –

We created a User Story and then brainstormed some Epics to get our backlog started.

The (updated) User Story reads:

As a Coach

I need to be able to help guide my organization through decision-making, implementation and sustainability of an agile scaling framework

So that they can make the right choices and achieve the right benefits for them.

As we mind-mapped the Epics, we zeroed in on the following items:

  • Analysis and Selection
  • Adoption
  • Sustainability
  • Measurement

I chose to focus on the first bullet – Analysis and Selection, so we brainstormed key elements of the scaling “frameworks” decision tree:

  • Key Differentiators
  • Common Patterns
  • Why a scaling framework?
  • Why do we need to scale?
  • Pitfalls
  • Framework vs. process
  • Customizing a framework

We broke each of these down into separate mind-maps to flush out the high-level questions or sub-topics that would likely be of value.  For example – What are the “Key Differentiators” of the various approaches? What makes them unique or valuable?  How can we compare them?  What are the “Pitfalls” we might face? Can the emphasis on a scaling framework cause us to lose focus on the teams? Are the frameworks overly prescriptive? Should we consider the maturity of the teams/organization before applying a framework?  What are the risks of anti-patterns or bad behavior emerging?  Is this favoring process and tools over individuals and interactions?


One first, obvious question to emerge was: “What are the Key differentiators between the various Scaling approaches?”

To try and answer that, we came up with the concept of the Scaling Agile Differentiator (“SAD”).  Steven Spearman  (@sgspearman) has since suggested re-branding this to be the Agile Scaling Knowledge (“ASK”) matrix.   

The Elevator Pitch (Vision) reads:

For Organizations

Who are interested in agile scaling frameworks

The Scaling Agile Differentiator “SAD”    * or “ASK”

Is a comparative analysis tool

That provides guidelines in the selection of the appropriate scaling framework for your organization

Unlike heated Internet diatribes

Our tool (ASK) will provide guidelines in the selection of the appropriate scaling framework for your organization (I would amend this to also include: …will be open to all coaches and/or organizations that wish to use it and is the only tool available in the market that provides objectivity.)

We considered the variety of options out there that may be worth exploring:

  • Scrum of Scrums (SoS)
  • Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)
  • Large Scale Scrum (LeSS)
  • Disciplined Agile Delivery / Agility @ Scale (DAD / A@S)
  • Spotify/Crisp approach
  • Agility Path framework
  • Others – varied and valid, if not as well marketed as some of the others

As always, a key questions to ask is: “what problems are we trying to solve?”  This question should be applied to the organization for sure, but we should also ask the question of the frameworks/approaches listed above.  For example, Agility Path is clearly not trying to solve the same problem as SAFe or LeSS. We need to explore this question and it’s resulting answer before assuming one approach is preferable over another or that an approach will actually help us solve said question.

As evidenced by the frequent Internet diatribes, there are a lot of opinions out there.  There are also a lot of misconceptions.  As a group we wanted to stay above the fray and offer an objective way to evaluate and discuss the topic.

My goal is to facilitate the conversation – to bring together various perspectives, experiences and clarification on the topic and to build a knowledge base that others can reference as a tool for decision-making and guidance for implementation and sustainability.

I will be seeking input from some of the authors of these approaches, as well as contributions from others who have hands-on experience in one or more of these, as part of an on-going series on this topic.    I welcome your thoughts on this topic.


Scrum Retreat group members included Dave Cornelius, Steven Spearman, Bob Galen, Bryan Stallings, Perry Reinert, Mike Register, Bill Johnson, Vijay Kumar, and me.  
Scrum of Scrums – Sutherland
Scaled Agile Framework – Leffingwell
Large Scale Scrum – Larman & Vodde
Disciplined Agile Delivery / Agility @ Scale – Ambler
Spotify/Crisp approach – Kniberg & Ivarsson
Agility Path – Schwaber /
2 Responses to “Smart Scaling: Finding the right approach for your organization.”
  1. Michelle Shanks says:

    Hi Richard, this is a hot topic! I agree with your position that, as coaches, we must facilitate the enterprise discussion to determine the framework best suited for them. I do think that the corporate culture should also be included as an Epic. Let’s face it, if the culture doesn’t support the selected framework, and there are no plans to address any needed culture changes, then I believe the framework will fail, even with the best planning and intentions.

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