The following is the first in a series of blogs aimed at providing a concise comparison of the most salient features of the leading Agile scaling frameworks. Hopefully, this information will help you choose the framework that is most suitable for your organization to meet their business needs.

For large software development projects involving up to a 100 to several 100’s of software developers, analysts and testers, the inherent techniques of agile methodologies such as Scrum or XP prove inadequate for effectively managing the progress of such enormous effort.

In this blog, we look at a quick comparison between two leading frameworks for scaling the Agile approach for large software development projects: Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe 4.5) and Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS).   Each has its strong points that may fit different organizational situations of large software product development.

Let’s get started: the “Big Picture”

See below the overview pictures for each of SAFe (www.scaledagileframework.com) and LeSS (less.works).

Right off the bat, you can see that while the SAFe Framework appears more comprehensive, it also appears more process-heavy.  In fact, the inventors of the LeSS framework are proud of its acronym indicating less process, less artifacts, and fewer roles, remaining faithful to having mainly the original Scrum roles of PO, SM and Team.

For example, SAFe offers the role of Product Manager, who is in charge of setting the priorities and overall scope of functionality to be delivered by a Program containing many Agile teams.  The Product Owner in SAFe performs the usual Scrum role for up to a couple of Agile Teams that typically work from a similar/shared backlog.

In contrast, LeSS offers the regular Scrum role of Product Owner (PO) for up to 8 Teams.  This is because in LeSS, the PO is not a liaison with the end-Customer: the Teams get to interact directly with the end-Customer to understand the details of the requirements, giving the PO the opportunity to focus on the overall priorities and scope for up to 8 Scrum Teams.

Hence if an organization can afford the opportunity for the Agile Teams to interact directly with the end-Customer LeSS can be a good fit in this particular aspect. Otherwise, SAFe can accommodate both the Team-direct and the liaison-PO situations.

SAFe 4.5 Framework

Organizational Structure

The Inventors of LeSS very much believe that culture follows structure.  To that end they offer LeSS not just as a practice to scale up the Scrum approach, but as a direct impetus for change of organizational structure.  The picture below shows what LeSS advocates for organizational structure for up to 8 Scrum Teams working together to develop a software product in order to provide what an Agile culture needs from an organization to succeed.

In this picture, you can see that there are no functional departments (e.g. development vs. testing) or a PMO.  Instead, in addition to the Scrum Teams, there is the Head of the Product Group, which LeSS views (as it views all other managers similar to the “Toyota Way”) as a teacher of those reporting to him/her, there is the Product Owner team that provides a pool of PO’s for every Scrum team (large or small scale) effort, and then there is the Undone Department.

The latter is a curious thing.  In LeSS, a permeating theme is that the Teams are supposed to do everything needed to put a high-quality software product in the hands of end-Customers: from analysis to development to testing to packaging, all while coordinating with other Teams.  All of that is represented in the Definition of Done of the Teams.  But it may take the Teams a few years to mature to that set of comprehensive capabilities.  Hence the Undone Department is a placeholder for resources that fill in for whatever the Teams are yet to be able to do (e.g. DevOps) until the Teams mature.

In contrast, SAFe does not advocate drastic organizational change as emphatically as LeSS.  It presents its approach for adoption even with the current organizational structure, and lets the organization take its time deciding when it may want to restructure to be more efficient with Agile.  That’s not to say that LeSS presents its approach as an “all or nothing deal” – it just emphasizes structural change in the organization more strongly than SAFe does.

Differences in Planning

SAFe stipulates that sprints should be grouped in sets of 4-5 consecutive sprints, each set being called a Program Increment (PI).  And while the Teams (and the Product as a whole) are expected to demonstrate incremental achievements at the end of each sprint (i.e. completed Stories), it is at the end of a PI that complete “Features” of the software product are expected to be available.  SAFe, however, maintains the option of releasing on-demand any time during a PI with the Features, or even Stories, that happen to be complete at that point in time.

Planning in SAFe happens in a 2-day session at the beginning of each PI, in addition to the usual sprint planning at the beginning of each sprint.  In the PI planning session all the Teams working together in what SAFe calls an Agile Release Train

(ART) attend to commit to delivering a set of Features for the PI, and to have each Team present a plan showing which stories (which are children of Features in SAFe) the Team plans to complete for each sprint in the PI.  Finally, in addition to the usual sprint demos and retrospective, SAFe has an overall Inspect and Adapt Workshop (analogous to the Sprint Demo and Retrospective) at the end of the PI which includes a PI demo, Quantitative Measurement, and a Problem Solving Workshop that dives into deeper root cause analysis than a normal Sprint Retrospective.

In contrast, LeSS remains faithful to just the usual sprints of Scrum, with the following additions:

  • Sprint Planning happens in 2 stages. The1st stage is attended by 2 representatives of each Team, which do not usually include the Team’s Scrum Master.  This stage decides which items from the common Product Backlog each Team will develop.  It also has cross-team estimations to unify the estimation numbers.  This is in contrast to SAFe, which suggests normalizing cross-Team estimations by equating a story point to a story that would take ½ day to code and ½ day to test.The second stage of sprint planning is the same as sprint planning in regular Scrum.
  • Each sprint review is held with all Teams as a “science fair”, where each Team has a station to demonstrate its accomplishments for the sprint. Attending stakeholders can visit the stations in which they are interested.
  • The Sprint Retrospective is held in two stages: the first being the same as regular Scrum; the second is for the overall progress of the software product being developed by the Teams.

Portfolio Management

As represented in the top level of the SAFe “Big Picture” shown earlier, SAFe offers a comprehensive approach of prioritizing “projects” (represented as Epics or a set of related Epics in SAFe) and budgeting for them in an Agile manner.  In its latest version, SAFe 4.5, there is an additional, optional, level for Large Solutions (shown below the Portfolio level in the aforementioned diagram) – it is usually relevant to projects with hundreds, or thousands of participants comprising multiple Agile Release Trains.

In contrast, LeSS does not delve into Portfolio Management: it only offers techniques that can be compared to the Program and Team levels of SAFe.

2 Versions of LeSS

LeSS has two versions:  the one we saw earlier for 2 to 8 Teams, and Less Huge for more than 8 Teams, depicted below.

LeSS Huge is formed by having several regular LeSS frameworks working in parallel with each other.  The most notable addition in LeSS Huge is making each regular LeSS belong to a separate Requirements Area with its own Area Product Owner (APO) under the overall Product Owner.

If you were thinking “Well, isn’t an ART the same as a Requirements Area?” you’d be partially right; a similarity is that the Product Backlog relationship to the Area Product Backlog is analogous to the relationship of a Portfolio Backlog to a Program Backlog in the sense that items on the former are coarser grained than items on the latter.  However, one of the differences is that an APO is still only one for 8 Teams, whereas the SAFe PO covers very fewer Teams.

Other Differences between LeSS and SAFe

LeSS can appear to offer one seemingly shocking advice (which is not offered by SAFe):  Don’t scale! (But if you have to scale, use LeSS J). It advocates that even very large software products can be built more successfully by a relatively small Team of co-located master programmers and testers.  They cite at least one example on their website (less.works) of a huge software project that followed a torturous path to completion.  When the overall project director was asked if he were to do it again, what would he do differently, he said that he’d pick the 10 best programmers and have them build it all.  I can cite a more recent example with the Affordable Care Act, where a traditional government contractor put an enormous number of resources on the project that failed miserably.  Later, about a dozen master developers and testers were put together in a house to work on fixing the ACA, which they did within a period of several months. (See http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/07/the-secret-startup-saved-healthcare-gov-the-worst-website-in-america/397784/)

  • Whereas SAFe is generally tool-neutral from a specific vendor perspective, SAFe does encourage early and often automation as much as possible, utilizing the system team to support that.
    LeSS, on the other hand, strongly recommends that you not use automated tools until after your organization becomes quite proficient with LeSS, opting instead to use manual resources like very big white boards and wall charts. Otherwise, LeSS declares that if you automate a mess, you get an automated mess.  And even after the Teams become proficient with LeSS, it recommends that you only use open source tools, which you can easily jettison if they don’t work out for you, without losing high-dollar investments in them.
  • SAFe takes a more customary view of the role of Scrum Master. In SAFe, the SM is pretty much a permanent role with the Scrum Team and does a lot of intra-Team and inter-Team coordination.  In LeSS, the SM is first and foremost a Teacher.  He can fade away from the day-to-day Team dynamics once the Team becomes proficient in the Scrum and LeSS approaches.
  • In SAFe: Epics, Capabilities, Features and Stories are explicitly handled as integral parts of the SAFe backlogs. LeSS, on the other hand, only talks about coarser vs. finer grained Backlog Items, staying faithful to Scrum by relegating Epics, Features and Stories as instruments of XP, which is not part of Scrum proper.

Conclusion

The quick comparison between LeSS and SAFe in this blog is by no means comprehensive.  Yet it shows SAFe to be more wide-ranging in offering processes and roles to handle the development of software from the highest profile levels down to the individual Agile Team for large-scale Agile efforts, while making those roles and levels configurable according the organization’s needs.  Furthermore, for a typical traditional large organization it is perhaps more palatable to begin to adopt SAFe than LeSS, since the latter strongly advocates some major changes to the structure of the organization as early as possible in the adoption of LeSS.


REPLAY OF EXPERT VIRTUAL PANEL

CPrime hosted virtual panel with top SAFe/DevOps leaders in the industry: Zubin Irani, CEO of cPrime; Ken France, CEO of Blue Agility; Brandon Cipes, VP of DevOps at cPrime, & Dr. Steve Mayner, SPCT & Senior Consultant at Scaled Agile. Wednesday, Aug 16 at 2 pm ET.

Scaled Agile recently announced a more formal integration and stronger focus on DevOps and Continuous Delivery in the most recent 4.5 release of the SAFe framework – more specifically a “CALMR” approach to DevOps. C – Culture. A – Automation. L – Lean Flow. M – Measurement. R-Recovery. Is it just another acronym I need to learn? Is it any different from the way I develop and deliver? What does it really mean in real-world implementations?

In this Web Event, you will learn: The underlying value of the acronym! How our partners define and implement each one of the values; the successes and challenges they’ve encountered in real-life; and opportunities stemming from DevOps & Continuous delivery when done right.


If you’re looking to amp up your flow of value delivery to your end customer via DevOps strategy and continuous delivery, join us Thu Jul 13 @1ET – with Dean Leffingwell and Ken France.

REGISTER HERE

The recently announced SAFe 4.5 introduced and refreshed many capabilities and represents a major milestone for this proven and successful framework.

Two of the major focus areas are DevOps and Continuous Delivery. These crucial capabilities ensure that your organization delivers “the last mile”, the working software to the business, in an efficient, cost-effective & repeatable way.

Join us for this Web Seminar to hear Dean Leffingwell, co-founder and chief methodologist at Scaled Agile, Inc., and Ken France, CEO at Blue Agility, explore some of these enhanced capabilities and share some real-life examples of how DevOps enables the organization to continuously define and deliver solution elements to the end user that ultimately lead to superior business performance.

If developing at scale is something you are considering and you want to learn how DevOps can accelerate time to value to your customers, or if you’re already an experienced SAFe practitioner and want to come up to speed on these enhanced developments to the Framework, we would love to have you join us.

REGISTER HERE

PRESENTERS


Dean LeffingwellDean Leffingwell
Co-founder and Chief Methodologist
Scaled Agile, Inc.

Dean Leffingwell, a 40-year software industry veteran, has spent his career helping software teams achieve their goals. A renowned methodologist, author, multi-entrepreneur, consultant and executive, he has founded multiple software companies.

His current project is the Scaled Agile Framework, a public-facing knowledge base of proven best practices that bring the benefits of software agility to the largest software enterprises. He currently serves as both an independent consultant and Chief Methodologist at Scaled Agile, Inc., which he cofounded in 2011.

Ken France

Ken France
CEO
Blue Agility

Ken France has more than 22 years’ experience helping large-scale organizations adopt iterative and incremental development practices such as RUP and Agile. As CEO of Blue Agility, he helps develop and implement corporate strategy, provides executive level coaching for our clients, and works with and across all Blue Agility departments to ensure overall Client Success.

Much of his career has been spent directly coaching Agile teams and their management chain on how to drive the change necessary to become successful at the enterprise level, while recognizing the uniqueness of each environment and what trade offs need to be made to achieve that success. He is also the first US minted SAFe SPCT.

 


One of the most common problems with existing well-established agile teams is that they have issues delivering value-added user stories. The team is cross-functional, has established velocity, understands roles, process and cadences. But when is comes to demonstrating the work at the end of the sprint or program increment, the value behind what they develop falls short to the eyes of business owner, product manager or different stakeholders.

Most agile change agents or coaches have seen this scenario before and we all know it is neither the team nor the agile processes. It comes down to alignment and understanding of the work being committed during a sprint or program increment. The work the team has committed to in a sprint must have alignment to the enterprise, organizational or program goals. The team, leadership and stakeholders must all be aligned on the objective of the work and how that work will provide value back to the organization. In coordination with that, there must be a common understanding of the work being committed to by all parties involved. Lack of understanding leads to development of work that does not align to the value or goals we are trying to archive.

As a result of a lack of alignment and understanding there are four core problems that arise at the team level,

  1. Teams are delivering user stories which add no value to the enterprise or organization
  2. Teams are committing to user stories that are complex and large which result in an inability to deliver
  3. Team does not understand what they are trying to achieve with the user story
  4. Completed user stories are not demonstrable

As a result of seeing these common problems too often in my agile coaching experience, I have established the “Rubix Cube to Value Added User Stories”. This blog reviews the foundation, guiding principles and process which make this approach effective in ensuring that an agile team produces valuable user stories.

Foundation to Rubix Cube – Alignment and Understanding

The Rubix Cube is a perfect symbol to help demonstrate how user stories must be aligned and understood in order to ensure successful delivery of valuable user stories. Without the understanding and alignment of the work from the end users to the team, the team is being set up for failure.

As a result, we have set up a three-tier scope decomposition which originates from the Scale Agile FrameworkTM – a decomposition of work from Strategic Themes, Epic, Features and User stories. This framework is ideal for large scaled enterprises and can be scaled up or down, as needed, to fit any size organization. But a three-tiered system is best to illustrate the value alignment through the decomposition of work back to strategic themes and down to user stories. The key to scaling up or down this approach is to ensure that there is alignment from the top to the bottom of the framework, regardless of number of tiers.

To ensure alignment across our Rubix Cube, we should consider three key characteristics of each piece of scope that is critical to ensure we have a complete understanding of the work.

  • Details – Clear description of the “what” and “ Known How’s” of the piece of work. Identification of In Scope, Out of Scope, assumptions and Non‑Functional Requirements help to articulate the work.
  • Benefits – Identify the value behind the work based on three categories,
    • People – Who is benefiting from achieving this work and why?
    • Process – What is the benefit behind the process being enhanced?
    • Capability – What is the benefit behind the business or technical capability being enhanced?
  • Validation – Explanation of how the team, product owner, and other stakeholders will know that the work is complete. Details here can lead to acceptance criteria, Test Cases, etc.

Classification of the work into these categories becomes an effective and efficient way to get alignment and understanding of the work across all stakeholders.

This seems complex to complete and almost as painful as actually completing a rubix cube!  Ensuring there is full alignment and understanding of work across multiple incentives and teams is very difficult. This is why, in the days of waterfall, teams created 709 pages of requirements that would take four months to complete and required signed off by every person possible and baselined so that we ensure alignment and understand of this perfect rubix cube.  But today we can’t do that because market needs change too often and we can’t get the full rubix cube correct as it take too long to complete and the colors keep changing. The question is, what if we just want one side of the rubix cube to be perfect.  What can we do to line up the colors for one side?

Rubix Cube

We are about to move into the principles and processes which will lead us to value-based user stories. Remember that we are not trying to figure out the whole rubix cube, which is impossible in today’s world. The principles and processes below will help to outline how we constantly iterate, collaborate and refine the work so that we can get alignment and understanding for one side of the rubix cube long enough for the team to commit and deliver value.

Guiding Principles to Value Added User Stories

Knowing that we have a structure and foundation to document the work, we needed to establish some guiding principles to drive the alignment and understanding of the work. The guiding principles are all to drive a mindset of continuous iterations of scope decomposition to drive quicker value back to the organization.  

  • Align – Align all work to benefits. The core of this entire approach is alignment to value. The value derives from the benefits the scope is trying to achieve. Value should be identified at the highest level of scope decomposition and then aligned to the lowest leel. Establishing new or decomposition of value at lower levels Align Puzzle Piecesof refinement can lead to misalignment of work and non value added user stories. If, through refinement, new value is identified, it must relate back to an Epic (or highest level of scope decomposition). This could lead to adding it to or establishing a new Epic, which is specific to achieving that piece of value.  Doing this will minimize the risk of gold plating and keep the work aligned to value as it was intended.
  • Ensure – Validate that the work can be achieved by ensuring there is an understanding of the work Alignment to valueacross all stakeholders. Ensure they understand the value that will be achieved after the work is complete. This is how the value is realized. In the process, we identify value by the value to people, process and capability. Validation of that value occurs in the form of people, processes and capability to ensure the value was achieved. Doing this at every level of the scope decomposition ensures that work stays aligned to the value achieved.
  • Demo– Ensure pieces of work are demonstrated as minimal viable product. Sprint or PI Demo are the hardest of the agile process to fully achieve because it comes as an afterthought. Mid Sprint the team suddenly remembers that “we have to demonstrate something….” so they pull together whatever they can and hope it works at the demo.  For demos to be effective, thinking of what pieces of work tied together can be demonstrated at all levels of scope decomposition is critical. Splitting a single Epic into two demonstrable pieces of value allows for easier prioritization, better understanding, effective execution and value added demonstrations. Consider demonstrations when breaking down work.Demo


Process to Value User stories

The process outlined below is not linear and is very iterative. Think back to being a kid working on that rubix cube: If you kept at it for hours, it would eventually aggravate you enough that you would throw it across the room!!  Do not let that happen here. Start writing, have a conversation with someone (get their feedback), revise it, and then step back and see where you are. Then attack it again. It took my whole family an entire summer to get the rubix cube perfect. Don’t expect to lock down scope in a day and throw it over the wall. It takes multiple iterations to get it right.

Below is more detail about the process.

  • Write – Get the information down on paper. The culture of meetings and discussion too often creates more confusion than clarity when it comes to alignment of scope and decisions. Verbal communication can lead to misunderstand if not framed properly. As a best practice, write and allow enough time for people to read, react and ask questions. This aligns to the 3Cs in user story writing. Ensure the card is established first so that there can be an effective conversation which lead to confirmation.
  • Revise – Do not be afraid to adjust and create new Epics, Features or User Stories. Do not think of this as a traditional work breakdown structure.  At the core it may feel like it, but the principles and process enable iterations of determining the right scope. Feedback and conversation between the different levels of scope also helps to articulate the scope and validate true minimal valuable products. The management of these backlogs is an active discussion from top to bottom until the time of commitment at the team level.
  • Reflect –This rubix cube can get tricky as Epics and Features start to get split into 2 or 3 different Epics and Features. There are two key pieces to reflect on to ensure everything is staying aligned. First look across the features details to see if all major pieces of work are lining up to the proper sub pieces. Next ensure that when each piece Is complete is validated the benefits of the macro piece of work. This is critical to help ensure alignment. Constantly reflect and adapt to ensure the sum of the breakdown of work achieves the whole.

Call to Action

In my experience, I have seen teams and groups of teams called failures because they were unable to deliver value added user stories. This was not because the team was not effective or did not have the proper skill sets, it was because the team was unable to get alignment and a full understanding of the work.

In today’s environment, this is becoming the norm. The rubix cube approach to value added user stories helps to manage this unknown by ensuring that work is aligned to value and understood before it is committed to. It also helps to establish an iterative approach to scope refinement. If you are having challenges with delivering value added user stories, I ask you to try it, provide me feedback and improve the process.


Scaled Agile Framework (SAFeTM) change agents often face similar challenges when trying to implement SAFeTM within an organization. Change agent is a person from inside or outside an organization, which is driving a transformation for an organization. Change agents also have useful and creative tools and techniques in their toolkit to try to drive this change within the organization. However, many times transformations fall short.

Why does this happen?

As SAFe change agents, we need to reorganize and repurpose our toolkits to ensure that our tools and techniques for implementing SAFe clearly adhere to the SAFe principles and core values.

Scaled Agile transformations are really hard.

They are massively complex, have significant unknowns, and leaders typically expect results now!  On top of that, with SAFe transformation comes the need for a dramatic culture shift within the organization.  As a result of this complexity, there are several approaches to implementing SAFe within an organization. But ultimately, the value takes too long to achieve, the uncertainty around culture changes become unmanageable and the transformation loses momentum.

Does this sound familiar? The particular issues that arise when implementing SAFe are some of the same challenges that drive organizations to want to adopt SAFe in the first place: the value of a product takes too long to get to the end consumer, requirements and consumer needs change at an unmanageable pace and the teams lose motivation.

So, if they have similar challenges, can’t they be solved by the same solution? Assuming yes, why not solve transformation challenges by leading the transformation with SAFe principles and values?

There are five concepts from the SAFe principles and values that are critical to ensuring a successful SAFe transformation.  By using these concepts, an organization can set its vision for the change, consistently inspecting and adapting yet getting quick value added wins, and is able to set a foundation for continuous improvement.

Build a Cross Functional Transformation Team

Building a coalition for change is critical to any transformation.  When working to put together a transformation team to lead this change, consider what makes up a quality scrum team.  Cross-functional teams are the best type of scrum teams as members can make decisions and work through dependencies within the team.  So, a scrum team should have developers, testers, user experience experts, hardware, software, etc., so the team can build business value systems within the team.

With a team leading a transformation, the approach needs to be similar: i.e. assemble teams made up of members from all impacted areas of the change – business owners, program / project managers, software developers, infrastructure, human resource and a representative from every area that may be impacted.  The key is to have a team with a wide enough perspective to help drive the change and deliver consistent messaging and processes across all areas. This will help to manage the variability in the messaging of the change.

Also, training is critical to ensure the team marches to the same beat. Every member of this transformation team must become a SAFe educated change agent in the organization to help drive the culture change across all layers/areas of the organization.  While speed of change is important, we must spend a substantial amount of time on training to build a solid foundation for the transformation.  If solid training of the core values and principles of SAFe is not implemented early, when the transformation team starts to drive change, they will fall flat in the organization. This is when you observe organizations doing the motions of agile rather than living the behaviors of strong agile values.  Remember to spend time on training, leading agile thinkers and change leaders, to build that solid foundation upon which to move the transformation forward.

Visualize a Transformation Roadmap and Vision

Humans do not do things just for the sake of doing. We all have intrinsic motivation that drives us to change. In a transformation we demand a lot of our organization and team members.  The transformation team must build up such intrinsic motivation for team members to change.  Within SAFe, we achieve this goal by aligning the scrum team’s backlogs to strategic themes, vision and roadmaps.  Theme, visions and roadmap should also set the context around why the organization needs to change, what are the opportunities and proposed solutions that are going to make the organization better. This gives the teams a context for the work and shows them how the work they are doing provides value back to the organization.

In a similar way, we must provide the context as to why we are taking part in specific agile ceremonies or changes in culture.  People may see these changes as a waste of time or an attack on them personally, which often results in a negative reaction.  People need to understand where they fit and even if they are apart of the to be motivated to fight with and not against the change. But if the context around the ceremony or process is presented, we can build up that intrinsic motivation and encourage a deeper engagement. Without this context, team members will just go through the motions without getting the true value. The key is unlocking that intrinsic motivation: it will enable the value to emerge behind those changes and build positive reactions toward the changes.

Daily Scrum Example:
  • Without intrinsic motivation behind change: If a team member is simply asked to go to the daily scrum, they will show up, give quick answers and move on with their day.
  • With intrinsic motivation behind change: The team member comes empower to social decisions made within team and address any blockers that need resolution.

The following are four steps that can help visualize the vision and roadmap to unlock the intrinsic motivation of team members:

  1. Establish a Vision – After initial training of the transformation team, set some time to establish a vision and context for change. Establish the leading drivers for the change, e.g. faster time to market, high quality, etc.
  2. Build a backlog of opportunities – The backlog should contain a specific set of tangible challenges within the current state of delivery in the organization. This helps make the changes real and relatable.  The benefits behind the changes become tangible.
  3. Refine the backlog – The refinement process within the SAFe framework helps to reduce complexity and ambiguity around the work at hand. Refining the backlog of opportunities will reap the same benefits for the transformation, as it will help align opportunities around the value to the organization.
  4. Establish a roadmap – The backlog may seem intangible due to its size or complexity. Understand that a transformation does not happen overnight or over a period of weeks. Establish a six to twelve month rolling roadmap to help manage the amount of change as well as work in progress.

Take a Systems View When Planning

When taking a systems view in the Scaled Agile Framework we arrange backlogs to enable system development of business value over technical component development. A system can be an end-to-end solution, a set of people and a process to build an enterprise or a value stream to an end consumer. A system is only as good as it weakest link so a weak component within the system will tend to drive down the value of the stronger components and therefor hinder the value to the end consumer. The value behind a system is the cross functional slivers of value to the customer. Think of the 7-layer cake analogy, one bad layer and the whole cake is ruined, but if the layers are blended together it is culinary bliss.  Without taking a systems approach to planning of the work, the value will always be bottlenecked by the weakest component to the end user.

The same thought process must be taken when looking at a transformation with the Scaled Agile Framework.  SAFe is a system in itself and, like any system, if it has weak links, it will fail to provide its maximum intended value.  When looking at the backlog of items for a transformation, it is critical to align opportunities around value to the organization.  This ensures that as the framework is being integrated in the organization, it is built to maximize value in the system rather than create a weak link in the system.  Below is an example of a value added SAFe System and a weak link SAFe System.

Value Added SAFe System: Implementing Kanban refinement processes at the Portfolio, Program and Team level which all align to the strategic themes of the enterprise.

Weak Link SAFe System: Performing a full PI Planning event without conducting an Inspect and Adapt workshop to learn from opportunities that arose.

This approach becomes critical to establish early wins in your transformation.  When the transformation takes a systems approach, it provides value directly back to the organization, and any external stakeholder or agile naysayer in the organization will begin to see the light and positives of this approach.  When we fail to take this approach, the door is left open for agile naysayers to latch on to the fact that the value is not achieved due to the weak links in the system. Implementing SAFe with systems thinking in mind will aid in getting support and changing those naysayers into change agents.

Take an Economic View of Prioritization

Taking an economic view when implementing in Scaled Agile framework, demands that we ensure maximum business value is delivered in the shortest about of time. Therefore time to market is essential and prioritizing backlog items based on those criteria is critical.

With SAFe transformations, the factor of time is the amount of cultural change that has to take place to implement the change.  Transformations often experience severe delays or halt completely because of an organization’s inability to change the culture in a timely manner.  Similar to SAFe, when looking at the transformation backlog, time should be factored in as the amount of cultural change a specific item should take over another.  Implementing a change with minimal cultural change may become a quick agile win over trying to implement something that requires a significant amount of cultural change to overcome.  This becomes critical to the SAFe Transformation providing business value.

An economic view translates into a review of the backlog for items, which would provide the most value and most significant progress in the shortest amount of time.  Within the SAFe model, using the formula for Weighted Shorted Job First (WSJF) does this.  This formula helps to identify the return on investment upon doing one piece of work over another with the primary focus around Cost of Delay (COD).  It compares the COD relative to job size for a subset of the backlog.  This formula should be used for the transformation backlog with some modifications.  For transformations, the WSJF should be calculated as Value to Organization, Time Criticality, and Risk Reduction/Opportunity Enablement relative to the Degree of Cultural Change.

 

 

Since the largest blocker to any transformation is cultural change, it is critical to evaluate this factor when prioritizing. Let’s take two examples to show this,

  1. As a part of a transformation there may be significant value in establishing the Product Owner role with someone from the Business. This would ensure work is aligned to business value.  But in this company the business is an entirely different organization than IT, thus forcing them to establish a Product Owner role would be a giant culture change.  Using the transformation WSJF this would score fairly low due to the high impact of the degree of cultural change.
  2. On the other hand, establishing daily scrums and the scrum of scrum practices within an organization, which already has scrum master in place, would be a high transformation WSJF. This change has value to the organization, high-risk reduction and a low degree of cultural change.

Transform on a Cadence

The complexity behind software development is due to the unknown and variability in development. Technologies change, dependencies evolve and requirements change quicker than ever.  With a SAFe Transformation, similar unknowns and variability will occur around the amount a change an organization is willing to take on at once.  People have a tolerance limit to change and in general many people are change adverse.  In any given situation within an organization the amount of change an organization can vary based upon that organization and a given situation.  Several factors out of the control of the transformation team will limit the amount of change an organization is willing to handle.  As a result, a transformation should be conducted on a program increment and iteration cadence.  This would include having PI Planning, Iteration Planning, Stand Ups and Inspect and Adapt workshops as a minimal viable product.  The purpose of this is control and managing work in process, inspect and adapt on complete transformation work, and line up future work, based on value.  A description of how each of the ceremonies should be run to gain this purpose is shown below.

Transformation PI Planning – All members of the transformation team and key sponsors attend.  A half day meeting where the vision and roadmap is updated. The outcomes should be a determination of any major milestones, an updated vision and roadmap, commitment of backlog items and resolution of any critical barriers. The team should establish measurements of success of the program increment and commit to their work around those measurements.

Transformation Sprint Planning – Conducted every two weeks with the entire transformation team.  Each meeting should last no more than one hour.  Outcomes of the meeting include resolving any upcoming issues, monitoring change tolerance, and committing work for the next 2 weeks.

Transformation Stand-Up – Occurs 2 to 3 times a week and follows typical standup ceremonies across the transformation team.

Inspect and Adapt – Conducted every two weeks focusing on the progress made, lessons learned, updating of future backlog items.

Transforming on a cadence allows for constant commitment to change as well as constant feedback.  It also creates a sense of urgency around the change, which the transformation team, and rest of the organization, can feel and build on throughout the transformation.

Empowering Changing Agents

At the begin of this journey, I discussed the need for SAFe change agents to reorganize and repurpose their toolkits to transformations with more SAFe values and principles. I have outlined some of my modifications to my toolkit to be better aligned to SAFe principles and values.   My hope is that you, as SAFe change agents and leading agile thinkers and organizational leaders, are now empowered to reflect on how you are transforming your organization and ask are we following SAFe principles and values during your transformation.

  • Do you have a properly trained transformation team to lead this change?
  • Is your Transformation roadmap and vision clear and understood?
  • Are you taking a systems view to planning your transformation?
  • Does prioritization of your transformation backlog occur with an economic view?
  • Are you driving your transformation in a scrum like fashion?

If no to any of these, take time to reflect and take action to allow your transformation to be better aligned to SAFe principles and values.

If yes to all these, than I challenge you to keep true to the SAFe principles and values and look for continuous improvement.

_________________________________________________________

Dan Teixeira is currently an Agile Change Agent for Blue Agility, helping lead organizations from team level to portfolio transformation to optimize delivery of business value. Dan brings his expertise in Agile/Lean best practices and industry experiences to help teams deliver the right results, faster and with higher quality. Dan is passionate about shepherding organizational change management across all levels of the enterprise by empowering people with new and innovative ways to view problems and solve challenges. He strives to bring meaningful new approaches into organizations to ultimately improve the lives of people.

 


PHILADELPHIA, PA – September 1, 2016 – Blue Agility today announced that is has been awarded a one-year contract, with extension options that could make it a total of five, to assist Sandia National Laboratories, Division 5000, Defense Systems & Assessments, in transforming their software development lifecycle to an Agile methodology. Under this contract, Blue Agility will be offering Sandia a variety of services such as Agile Training and Agile Transformation Mentoring and Coaching, including Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) initiatives. The contract was awarded to Blue Agility based on a competitive bid process. The firm’s services will aid in Division 5000’s vision to transform research into game changing solutions that provide the warfighter and intelligence community with unmatched superiority. Work will be performed primarily in Albuquerque, NM.

Blue Agility management believes that its contract with Sandia will continue to strengthen Blue Agility’s leadership position in Agile Transformation and software development services.

“Being awarded this Sandia National Laboratories contract is an important milestone for our company,” said Eyal Abukasis, COO at Blue Agility. “This award highlight Blue Agility’s unique experience and capabilities in delivering large scale transformations and acknowledges our leadership position in the marketplace. We are pleased Sandia selected us to partner with them and look forward to supporting their mission to create key program efficiencies.”

About Sandia National Laboratories

Sandia National Laboratories is operated and managed by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation. Sandia Corporation operates Sandia National Laboratories as a contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and supports numerous federal, state, and local government agencies, companies, and organizations.

About Blue Agility

Blue Agility specializes in large-scale Agile transformations leveraging the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe™) and Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) tools. Blue Agility provides a framework of people, process and technology, enabling the enterprise with continuous delivery capabilities. Leveraging our bluejazz™ knowledge platform (2015 Beacon Award), organizations access customized role-based tool usage models, ensuring scalable and sustainable enterprise-wide transformations with end-to-end traceability. www.blue-agility.com


Real World Coaching and Mentoring Expertise Combined with a Leading Knowledge Management Platform Bolster Client Success

Philadelphia, PA – August 17, 2016: Blue Agility, an industry leader in large-scale agile transformations and application lifecycle management (ALM) technology, and PEDCO, creators of Applied SAFe®, a fully-fledged ALM tool agnostic implementation of the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) as a process model, today announced a strategic partnership to help organizations accelerate and streamline the implementation of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFeTM). The two industry-leading companies are teaming up to support the growing number of PEDCO’s Applied SAFe clients seeking to maximize the benefits of their large scale agile adoption. The synergy between Blue Agility’s expertise and proven track record with large and complex agile adoptions and PEDCO’s innovative product will enable their clients to customize the framework and tailor it to their industry and specific business context.

For large organizations in an increasingly competitive marketplace, moving from traditional waterfall software development processes to lean, agile and synchronized efforts bring the promise of improved quality, shortened time to value and increased client satisfaction. However, scaling those efforts from small teams to an enterprise level introduces myriad of challenges. It is at this point where clients need the support of an experienced coach backed by a leading process management platform. Together, Blue Agility and PEDCO provide the experience and technology to ensure a smooth and successful transition effort and significant return on investment.

“I’m excited about our strategic partnership with Blue Agility. Their experience with providing expert coaching and training services for large scale SAFe implementations significantly enhances PEDCO’s ability to ensure a seamless transition to agile, lean and compliant processes for the growing number of Applied SAFe clients,” said Peter Pedross, CEO at PEDCO.

“We truly understand the challenges faced by our clients when implementing SAFe, particularly for those operating in regulated industries. By working in partnership, PEDCO and Blue Agility are uniquely positioned to provide customized and comprehensive enterprise-ready solutions for organizations wanting to adapt SAFe to their context,” said Eyal Abukasis, Chief Operations Officer at Blue Agility. “With PEDCO’s Applied SAFe, the potential to smooth the path to a full SAFe adoption that ultimately translates to high business value and customer delight is substantial.”

About PEDCO
PEDCO – Managed Process Services is a public limited company based in Zurich, Switzerland and a collaboration partner with Scaled Agile Inc., Boulder (USA) and Method Park, Erlangen (Germany). PEDCO supports enterprises around the globe for process implementations for complex product lines or within regulatory environments. We offer a comprehensive range of solutions to set-up, select, operate, and develop lean, compliant and efficient processes.

Applied SAFe® is a stand-alone product from PEDCO. It is a fully fledged ALM tool agnostic implementation of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) as a process model and kept in sync with the actual SAFe® version by Scaled Agile Inc. (SAI). It serves as your own comprehensive, customizable and tailored instance of SAFe®. Together with our Applied SAFe Consulting Partners, we ensure a smooth transition to agile, lean, efficient and compliant processes. www.AppliedSAFe.com.

About Blue Agility
Blue Agility specializes in large-scale Agile transformations leveraging the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe™) and Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) tools. Blue Agility provides a framework of people, process and technology, enabling the enterprise with continuous delivery capabilities. Leveraging our bluejazz™ knowledge platform (2015 Beacon Award), organizations access customized role-based tool usage models, ensuring scalable and sustainable enterprise-wide transformations with end-to-end traceability. www.blue-agility.com


Whom Do you Seek?

A major key to success of a sustainable agile transformation is finding the right person or persons to lead the transformation. This person(s) need great prior experience at the Enterprise level coaching and mentoring as a ‘Sherpa guide” through the difficulties of an Enterprise wide agile transformation. This is an “OZish” view of the behind the scenes of how an agile adoption can proceed, leadership and its role and the case for the “determined person”.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road…

I often ask people who their favorite character is in the movie “The Wizard of OZ”. Usually it is Dorothy or the Scarecrow. Those that answer Toto. I worry about. My answer is “I like the Man Behind the Curtain”. Here is the actual wizard working the flash and bang of the big show from a small side stage and he does not mean to be seen or heard (other than through his avatar).

Man behind curtain

Good mentors are like that. Good Enterprise Transformation Coaches are very much like that. They project leadership and strong qualities, and work the invisible pedals and levers of the Transformation within your organization. A great coach or mentor is always taking a back seat to the Employee who leads the Transformation. Even though they may be for this one topic of Transformations “the smartest person in the room” they don’t act it. They work at drawing out people, providing behind the scenes coaching, salting the conversation with ideas that others can latch onto as their own.

If required, they have the strength of character and leadership capabilities to take charge, but as a least acceptable solution. The Enterprise Coach should get their sponsor and lead to step up to the role of leading the Transformation.

What Comprises a Set of Skills?

Defining the Enterprise Agile Transformation Coach role is a mix of:

  • Communicator (up and down the whole chain of command)
  • Agile experience and practices
  • Enterprise Transformation experience
  • Technology savvy across multiple knowledge domains
  • Business experience and savvy to connect with non-IT types
  • Exposure and experience across the IT organization

Basically, someone who has been there done that, built and burned down the T-Shirt factory a few times. So they must have had experience with Enterprise Transformations before. There is no replacement for experience in this realm.

Most important they have a force of will to drive to get things done. Many years ago I read a paper on the concept of “The Determined Person”. The basis of the story was that The Determined person is someone who, despite what seem to be overwhelming odds manages to persist through the effort to its conclusion. Someone of strong conviction and faith that we can solve problems and overcome inertia of culture. This strength of will is coupled with persistence. This persistence of vision from Calvin Coolidge is my favorite quote of all times.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Do I Hire Someone Who is Certified?

Certifications are not a replacement for experience. I’ll take the seasoned veteran of the fight any time over someone with 5 certs on their resume. An interesting question to ask in an interview to sort out who is experienced is “So tell me about a major transformation failure and how did you get out of it?” An experienced coach will have interesting (and sometimes scary) stories for that one. (FYI, the more interesting part of the answer is how they got out of it).

TrekkersSomeone with little or no experience or who is too cautious to answer is likely not the kind of Mentor you are looking for. You want someone with wisdom, and unlike the catch phrase, “with age comes wisdom” it really should read with EXPERIENCE and failure comes wisdom.  Once you’ve had your metaphorical legs blown off by stepping on the various landmines strewn on the path to Transformation, you learn what a landmine is and how to avoid it. I want to follow that person.

These Coaches Are Really Expensive…

So I got one of these people lined up, now I can’t afford them. Yes, experience comes at a cost. The kinds of consulting we are discussing is expensive. Cheaping out just means you get what you pay for. Besides, transformations are cheaper with a good guide. Experienced coaches save you money by offering up, “I did this in three accounts, it worked in these two and failed here because… This kind of guidance can save lots of time, energy and money.

The value a Mentor brings is the experience and guidance to provide you with the capability to succeed. Just like climbers of Mount Everest hire Sherpas, you need to do the same.

I hope you’ve enjoyed and learned from our “Playing the Agile Transformation Game” Blog series. Did it answer some your questions? We’d love to hear from you…

And stay tuned for our upcoming blogs!


I’ve been working at doing Enterprise transformations for 18 years now and I can guarantee you that Murphy’s law is quite alive and well. Or as technologists know – the perversity of the universe is optimized toward the maximum. I do have to say all of these events are predictable, and with proper vigilance, can all be avoided. Now you just have to pay attention to find the ones I have not identified.

Here are lots of lessons learned from war stories of how large scale adoptions go off the rails with great ease.

“Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.” – Murphy’s First Corollary

Failure of the Agile Transformation Team to Deliver

So it turns out you have assembled the best team capable of delivering a new agile transformation to the organization. We have key representatives from all contributing departments; we have the best and brightest decision makers to get to right plans in place and we are ready to begin. We hold our first Transformation team meeting and we have a 70% or better “no show” rate because of press of business on the part of all these people who also have full time (as in 120% booked) day jobs.

Fallen chess pieces

This becomes a real failure upon the part of the Agile Transformation Team to deliver. The team consistently fails to meet; they consistently fail to deliver any assigned work as it is not as important as their day jobs. Essentially you get nothing done.

What happens to your well-conceived Agile Transformation is that you encounter the Second Law of Thermodynamics – and a state of entropy occurs. Your transformation dies a universal death.

Failure to Measure Against a Plan

Simple logic dictates plan the work, work the plan. This is a simple axiom to follow, yet it seems when we actually encounter the work, the plans go out the window. This always amazes me when professional project leaders dump logic and purpose for panic.

It seems that staff on the Agile Transformation Team are not aware we will fight battles, win some lose some, and as long as we win a majority and re-fight when we are in a stronger position for the others, we will ultimately win the war. Instead, each battle is assumed to be the war.

If the plan is no good, of course jettison the plan in favor of a better one. Just don’t proceed day to day without middle term and long term goals and objectives and a path to get there.

Measure progress forward and backward to the plan, use it to gauge and inspect and adapt to the vagaries of the workplace. As Dwight Eisenhower said “Plans are nothing, but Planning is essential”. Do contingency planning, have a Plan B, C, D and Z if necessary.

Failure to Communicate

“What We got here is a Failure to Communicate” – Strother Martin from “Cool Hand Luke”

Failure to communicate is often a cause for failure. Our goal is to establish an agile environment where Transparency and Trust are vital to the success of agile adoption and our transformation. Too often, due to the nature of trying to deliver “stuff” (“Stuff” is a technical term for anything we need that is support or infrastructure necessary to our cause) we miss the opportunity to shout from the rooftops the availability of “stuff” for teams to use to do their jobs.

Or we miss the opportunity to create celebration moments for highlighting successes. We do this for generating excitement and good will for the program. When was the last time you celebrated a success with the team? Get your leadership from both the IT and business sides to go to the team and congratulate them in front of their peers who may not yet be on agile teams. “Hey, look the boss is throwing a pizza party for the agile team, how do I get a pizza party?” That is what you want everyone NOT on an agile team to start thinking… then we can introduce them to agile.

road-sign-63983_1280
Communication Plans and Change Management plans ala Cotter or ADKAR as essential to the success of a transformation. Use every means at hand to communicate what’s happening. Especially WHY you are doing what you are doing. The WHY is just as important as the HOW and the WHAT.

Failure to Lead

I once read an article that dealt with the topic of “the determined person” and how that person would use their talents to overcome any obstacle placed before them. I view agile transformations at the enterprise level to fit that category of “any obstacle”. Lots of barriers, cultural roadblocks, technical traps and management indifference await the determined person who will now need to overcome these barriers.

These types of barriers and more are already in place and awaiting you to be challenged. If you fail to provide leadership and the ability to lead by example, how can you expect that your Agile Transformation Team will follow you? All these barriers, challenges and obstacles will require your best every day to overcome them.

“Everything will go wrong at once” – A Modern Revisionist’s Murphy’s Law

Thinking Too Small

Agile Transformations for very large organizations (2000 staff and up) can take years. Don’t get caught without a strategic plan to accomplish growth over time. Your timeline could look something like:

  • 1 – 6 months Organize, Mobilize and plan the whole effort
  • 4 months to end of year 1 – Early Adopter and piloting
  • 1 year – 3 years Bulk of the adoption based upon organization size and complexity
  • 1 year and on – Establishing stability of the conversion

Don’t get caught thinking that for very large organizations, you will get this done in a year. If you can and do, maybe you belong with the Justice League saving the universe.

Organically Growing Due to Lack Of Management Education

This is a result of abandoning planning. You are just moving from one shiny object to another based on management whim. As an agile Transformation team, you need to broadcast and syndicate support for a plan across the board. Make it public and work the plan. Having a rolling 4 quarter plan that accommodates change is fine. Just keep it in front of everyone so there are no gotchas.

Little or No Change Management Capabilities

Key messaging and managing expectations are keys to success for these Enterprise Transformatons. You have to let everyone in the division know what’s happening, when they may be part of an agile team, what the expectations are, what training they will receive, that coaches are available… you get the idea. Spew information like Linda Blair in the exorcist spewed pea soup all over the priest. If the staff start telling you “too much Information,” you’re doing your job well.

Failure to Get Bottom Up Support for Your Efforts

This is a variation on a theme of the Failure to communicate problem. Actively solicit your teams to speak with leadership; have them tell their stories to their peers. Ask them to sponsor communities of interest for various aspects of agile practice. Work the teams to tell their stories and talk with their peers. This is much more powerful than you think.

“It is impossible to make things foolproof, because fools are ingenious” – Murphy’s second Corollary

Failure to Keep Your Ear To The Ground To Help Avoid External Events Like Poor Business Performance Terminating Your Budget

This happened recently to a company I know of. A downturn in business caused severe budget cuts in the IT area (as well as companywide cuts). End result is many of the Agile Coaching and Enterprise Transformation staff got cut. This caused a loss of capability to achieve forward motion. Agile Transformations can be very expensive, and therefore are a potential target for budget cuts.

One shop I worked in had invested $18.5 Mil in a transformation, they were acquired and the acquiring company having just come out of a bankruptcy had a mentality that “if it does not make us a penny today, don’t do it” The $28.5 Mil investment in the Transformation was scrapped. Keep your ears open for events like this. Even public companies can show signs of upcoming bad news. How would you prepare for a downsized Agile Transformation so you can keep it alive?

Loss of A Key Sponsor

It has happened to me three times now in 22 shops. One heart attack, two changes in management for reasons I cannot mention. The losses were sudden, and new replacements essentially meant new direction too. There was always some period where the new sponsor undertook to come up to speed so as not to rock the boat initially, but in all three cases, the new CIO wanted to prove something to their superiors, that they could get more done with less.

This put a large target on any efforts that were not directly contributing to the business, and unless your transformation is well documented, has serious success stories, has won the hearts and minds of the new CIOs senior staff and is well entrenched as a “good thing” for the business, you should be checking out alternate business opportunities within or outside of the company because your future as the lead of the Agile Transformation team is a short term thing.

Backsliding or Just Plain Failure of Teams to Adopt

My experience says adopting agile is not that hard. Almost all teams properly mobilized and organized can practice agile as SCRUM or KANBAN. So if you are encountering failure to launch, or serious backsliding, check the competence of your coaches, evaluate the competence and effectiveness of your training materials, question the veracity of your competence surveys before you blame the teams. Something in your delivery mechanism is broken. Look internally first, before you blame the teams.

Missing Overcoming the FUD Factor

FUD – Fear Uncertainty and Doubt. Having teams overcome the FUD factor when adopting agile is very important. If they never get over it, that team will be a failure. The FUD Factor is not hard to discover. You can actually see it in the faces of the team members who just don’t get it, or those who see their current job description being disintegrated before their eyes. Having the successes to point at, having leadership address the change in methods and that all are still valued under the new ways are good ways to address this problem.

So there you have it, the challenges, the pitfalls, the problems, the landlines, and Murphy. But don’t despair… Just be prepared!

Get ready for our next and last blog coming soon.


Overview

“Donkey: Are we there yet?
Shrek: No
Donkey: Are we there yet?
Fiona: No, not yet!
Donkey: Are we there yet?
Shrek: Yes!
Donkey: Really?
Shrek: No!!!!”
From Shrek-The Movie

Measuring an agile transformation effort is what we are looking at today. Several important questions present themselves about measures: What to measure? How to Measure? When to measure? Who to report it to? All good questions to help us determine two crucial things:

  • Are we there yet?
  • Are we sustaining the effort?

So here are some Tips and Tricks to picking the right metrics to provide management and record the journey and the capability of sustainability. We can help define this journey by determining when you hit the “Critical Mass” that is, when the transformation starts clicking over on its own.

To define the critical mass, I think there are three valuable metrics:

  • Conversion Rate
  • Hygien
  • Customer Satisfaction

These three metrics help us understand are we there yet, if we’ve reached critical mass and if we are delivering value to the business customer.

What is Critical Mass?

At a point in time, your transformation all of a sudden takes on a life of its own, and the transformation is suddenly less of an uphill trudge and more of an enjoyable experience. What happens is that you reach a “Critical Mass” in conversion. There are more staff educated and using agile techniques than are not.

I borrow the term “Critical Mass” from nuclear technology to represent the phase a nuclear reactor achieves when a just enough sufficient amount of nuclear fissile material is brought together and a chain reaction (the giving off of electrons) takes place within the fissile material. This reaction is then controlled using graphite rods to keep the reaction going at a controlled pace.

Like the nuclear reaction, there is a point in the transformation where we achieve critical mass and we have enough going on that we find the effort is easier than before.

  • Enough staff are educated on agile methods
  • Enough staff are working on agile teams producing valuable software for their customers
  • Enough of the leadership on both the technology and business branches see the value of what we are doing.

Measure the Results of the Transformation

The Conversion Metrics

So we are faced with determining how many and when with regard to the staff in our organization. How do we track their agile journey? Some simple metrics help.

Let’s track two simple metrics:

  • Their participation in agile training
  • Their participation on agile team(s)

Topography - MeasurementThese two simple metrics can be tracked in an inventory of all staff in a division or Information Management department. This gives us the view of how much of the IT unit we have converted. At some point when a minority to majority are converted, that Critical Mass event will take place. I’ve seen it happen as early as 25% conversion and in some very slow organizations as late as 75% conversion. When the event takes place has much to do with the prevailing culture of the organization. Culture and its effect on your agile transformation is a whole different conversation for another time.

FYI, don’t forget to include training management and leadership and recording their compliance too!

Hygiene metrics

When launching new agile teams, we need to be able to determine at some point after they are separated from coaching and mentoring whether or not they are practicing good hygiene regarding the use of the ceremonies, practices, principles and tools.

This can be as simple as the practice of doing self-assessment surveys at regular intervals. I like the idea of once a quarter self-assessment that list three point of view: the team as individuals, the Scrum Master and the Mentor or coach – optionally the Product Owner may also have a separate opportunity to vote on the same categories.

Categories are simple:

  • The Agile Ceremonies
  • Practices
  • Tool Usage

A simple 1 – 5 scale works and a spreadsheet tool is very commonly used. Results are often mapped as spider diagrams like the one below. You define questions around the usage of agile practices and tools and then ask the team to take the survey. Compile the results and publish them for use in a retrospective.

Team Maturity Assessment

Figure 1. Team Maturity Assessment

Don’t forget converting Leadership as a measure of success!

Customer Satisfaction

Are we delivering Valuable Working Software? Measures for valuable software in the customer’s hands could be:

  • Quality
  • What the customer needs
  • Delivered on a timely basis

Doing a customer satisfaction survey to get a baseline, then again measuring quarterly how are we doing? And sharing it with the team is important. Focus groups with the business customer that include all the team is also useful.

And of Course – Budget for and Measure Against a Plan

DO NOT LOSE SIGHT OF DOCUMENTING PROGRESS AGAINST A BUDGET AND A PLAN. These are expensive programs. They are also not easy to accomplish. So like all good agile work, create a vision and translate that into a rolling quarter roadmap. Break the roadmap down into adoptable features and lay them out in the roadmap. Develop a release plan per quarter just prior to that quarter and execute against that plan. Some key components of this:

        • Make sure you have a plan
        • Make sure you document results against the progress (or lack of) against the plan
        • Be prepared to chuck and re-write the plan

The same applies to budgets – by making work visible and measuring your accomplishments against them, it will be a lot easier to get budgets approved so you can move forward with the work.

FYI a great Project Management technique I found when things go wrong (notice I said WHEN not if) Be the first to note you screwed something up, then quickly move forward to figuring out how to fix it. It takes the focus off the finger pointing and the blame game and moves you into define the problem domain in an us against the problem mode.

I hope this has been informative. Stay tuned for the next article in our series that will address the potential landmines and pitfalls to watch out when implementing a large scale agile transformation.