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Mar 20th, 2024

4 Challenges of Scaling Agile Practices [+ 8 Tips for Success]

Ashwinee Kalkura
Ashwinee Kalkura

He is SAFe® Premier Trainer, SAFe® SPCT, AHRA (Agile HR Enabler), and an experienced Agile Coach,... Read more

In many organizations, Agile takes root in software development teams aiming to deliver more value to the customer, faster. While this is a great start, meaningful organizational change comes from scaling Agile: enabling teams across the enterprise (not just IT) to use Agile frameworks and techniques to transform the way work gets done and improve the products or services delivered to end users.

The 4 Challenges of Scaling Agile 

Scaling Agile requires extending Agile principles beyond software development and IT to the rest of the business, both horizontally and vertically. Scaling Agile can bring about tremendous benefits at every level of the organization, but it also introduces more challenges than the relatively straightforward process of implementing Agile in a single team.

The following 4 challenges are encountered in most of the organizations. In this blog the intention is to call out and briefly explain, without giving any deep solutions. 

Cultural Shift

Agile is often described as a culture or shared mindset instead of a set of practices. In the context of scaling Agile, this is both a blessing and a curse. The framework used to scale Agile is less important than the shared mindset behind it, but that shared mindset can be difficult to create.

Scaling Agile demands that entire organizations think, act, and respond differently in every dimension, from how work is planned, managed, and completed to employee engagement. That shift requires time and intention, but most importantly, it requires commitment from the top.

Technology Shift

Organizations working towards scaling Agile must address their technology stack. Scaling Agile across the enterprise both requires and creates increased visibility, transparency, and information flow. For most organizations, that means evaluating and potentially augmenting or replacing technology solutions.

Even if the culture and workflows are in place, teams can’t scale Agile successfully without the right solutions to underpin their work.

Ways of Working

The culture shift required to scale Agile aligns the organization to the principles that people want to do their best work and maximize customer value. To turn those principles into reality, businesses need to shift their work management methods to enable value to flow.

Traditional work and project management approaches start with a fixed scope and estimate the time and resources (people) necessary to achieve that scope. This idea assumes that by defining requirements up front, organizations can reduce risk and increase success.

The Lean-Agile model, on the other hand, flips that paradigm. Time and resources become more fixed through established iteration windows and teams of people while scope becomes more fluid, influenced by constant learning and change. Teams experiment and receive feedback quickly and adjust the scope accordingly so that organizations can adapt in a nimble way.

Training needs

A new way of working needs a new mindset which in turn needs teams to unlearn and relearn. This will demand a substantial effort and time from every member. While learning is fun, and teams embrace the right environment provided with the delivery expectations, it can be a daunting task for leaders and managers to balance all the expectations.

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How to Overcome These Scaling Agile Challenges [8 tips]

  • 1Get Buy-In From Leadership — Scaling agile is an enormous undertaking that necessitates unwavering leadership support. Executives must lead by example, embodying agile values such as transparency, continuous improvement, and customer-centricity. Without this top-down commitment, any agile initiative risks becoming an uphill battle against the traditional command-and-control management style.
  • 2Provide Comprehensive Training — To develop a sustainable agile mindset, organizations must invest in comprehensive training for all employees, not just IT teams. This training should cover agile principles, methodologies (Scrum, Kanban, etc.), and specific practices to be implemented. Hands-on exercises and simulations can help teams internalize these concepts more effectively.
  • 3Start With an Agile Pilot Instead of a "big bang" transformation, companies can start small with an agile pilot project. This allows teams to gain practical experience, identify potential roadblocks, and refine their approach before scaling agile to other areas. The pilot also serves as a proof of concept, building momentum and confidence for further rollout.
  • 4Implement the Right Tools Agile at scale demands seamless collaboration, transparency, and information flow across teams and departments. Organizations should invest in tools that support real-time visibility into work, enable efficient coordination, and foster knowledge-sharing. These tools act as force multipliers, amplifying the benefits of agile practices.
  • 5Focus on Culture Over Frameworks While agile frameworks like Scrum and SAFe provide structured guidance, the true essence of agile lies in its cultural values: empowerment, continuous learning, and customer-centricity. Organizations should prioritize nurturing this culture over rigid adherence to any specific framework, allowing teams to adapt practices to their unique contexts.
  • 6Break Down Organizational Silos Agile thrives on cross-functional collaboration and seamless information flow. However, traditional organizational structures often create silos that hinder this crucial aspect. Companies should strive to break down these barriers, promoting cross-pollination of ideas and fostering a "one team" mentality across departments.
  • 7Employ Agile Change Management Scaling agile itself is a transformative journey that requires careful change management. Organizations should apply agile principles like iterative development, continuous feedback, and adaptation to drive this change. This incremental approach allows teams to gradually adopt new practices while mitigating risks and resistance.
  • 8Celebrate Successes and Failures Creating a blameless environment that encourages learning from failures is crucial for sustaining agile practices. Organizations should celebrate both successes and failures, using the latter as learning opportunities for continuous improvement. This reinforces the agile mindset and keeps teams motivated throughout the transformation.
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By proactively addressing these challenges and following these tips, organizations can successfully navigate the complexities of scaling agile, fostering a culture of innovation, adaptability, and customer-centricity.

Want to know how to solve these challenges?

Want some patterns and practices that can avoid these pitfalls? On 26th March 2024, I will be facilitating a webinar, “Agile scaling: Maximizing Efficiency and Effectiveness in Complex Environments,” to talk about all these and more set in a practical context. Please do join at 11:30 AM India time / 2 PM Malaysia-Singapore time. 

Frequently
Asked
Questions

Organizations ensure cultural shift by top leadership commitment, embodying agile values, fostering open communication, and providing comprehensive training.

Technology facilitates increased visibility, transparency, and collaboration. It may require evaluating and potentially augmenting or replacing existing solutions.

By investing in comprehensive training covering agile principles, methodologies, and hands-on exercises for all employees and fostering a supportive learning environment.

Ashwinee Kalkura

He is SAFe® Premier Trainer, SAFe® SPCT, AHRA (Agile HR Enabler), and an experienced Agile Coach, Consultant, and passionate Trainer (SAFe®, IC Agile, and Axelos Accredited) with a demonstrated history of working in the Retail, Mobile, Industrial Automation, Banking, and Networking industries. Strong engineering professional skilled in Agile Methodologies (SAFe®, Scrum, XP, Kanban), Technical Practices, Test Automation, and Stakeholder Management. Trained over 2000 people on Certification-based training.

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