One of the hot topics at Agile 2009 was scaling agile and the Agile Enterprise. As we work toward a book on Big Agile: Incremental strategies for Enterprise Agile adoption I want to establish a clear definition on what I mean by enterprise Agile adoption and what the Agile Enterprise is.
First off, The Agile Manifesto really applies to software development. Small Team Agile is about getting teams together to develop software in a way that meets certain criteria. Agile teams operate as a healthy team and they reliably deliver a continual stream of high-quality valuable software. Valuable means that it serves some purpose for the customer. There are engineering practices, management practices, and leadership practices that combine together to enable Agile teams to be successful. A key benefit of Agile teams is that you can produce the most valuable features first, and continue to invest until the economic value of the code has been realized. Agile teams are different then most traditional software development teams because of the focus on small incremental delivery of always releasable code and the focus on pushing decision rights down to (empowering) the team.
I believe there are four distinct levels of Agile adoption. This is not four maturity levels. It is distinct levels where the engineering, management, and leadership capabilities express themselves differently to support the expanding context. In most organizations the scaling will not be linear – it will be implemented across these levels of scaling based on the needs of the business.
Horizontal Scaling is the first level of scaling. This is the ability to get multiple teams to deliver a continual stream of high-quality valuable software. What happens when you begin to have the ability to spread Agile across teams is you begin to have the ability to strike a new bargain with the business. You can help product management interface with the business and customers in a new way where you can be responsive to individual customer requirements and changes in preferences in the market.
First Order Scaling is where multiple teams are coordinated across a common project or product. Once you have teams reliably performing, a new level of coordination arises. Your constraint is no longer in the pace of development. New opportunities to exploit speed and responsiveness arise across product development are possible. Taking advantage of these new opportunities requires the engineering, management, and leadership practices to be expressed in new ways. For example, Architecture becomes more important from a common perspective. Agile, this raises the ability to strike new bargains with the customer. Complex projects can be developed in a more responsive fashion.
Second Order Scaling is where multiple teams are coordinated across multiple projects and products. This is where you may begin to see economic benefits from reuse across products. The new bargain you strike with the business is now at the portfolio level. The business can be more flexible in investment into products and projects and then shift to other efforts when the economic benefit has been maximized.
Third Order Scaling (the Agile Enteprise) is where the Agile Enterprise exists. This is where the business leverages the ability to continually deliver high quality valuable products beyond the product development effort. New bargains can be struck in Customer Service, Sales and Marketing, Invoicing, and every customer facing part of the business. Faster learning from the market, customer preferences, and other environmental inputs is leveraged to rapidly produce products that profitably adapt to what we learn. Other internal functions are also impacted. In fact, third order scaling often comes into play in even Small Team Agile. Once you can benefit from (or have to take into account) making changes to the way value is delivered to your customer beyond the product development organization, you need to think about Third Order Scaling.
Big Agile and Orders of Scaling
Scaling Agile has different meanings depending on the respective scale. From effective small teams, to reliable small team adoption, through products, portfolio’s to the organization -the focus is on achieving scale appropriate outcomes and purposes while maintaining focused value creation at the Agile team level. You can’t execute an Agile strategy from the top if you can’t first operate in a reliable agile fashion at the small team level.