Yes, Agile works in larger enterprise projects, too

'Agile principles can be applied to large, even very large, groups of people, allowing them to be more connected to their work and its impact, despite being part of a huge system.'
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

The following insights were contributed by Stephen Younge, product line director for Rally Software.

Stephen Younge-Rally Software-photo from Stephen Younge Google-Plus Site
It doesn't matter how high you climb, Agile climbs with you: Stephen Younge, Rally Software. Photo from Stephen's Google+ site.

Some people have questioned whether Agile methodologies are suitable for the biggest problems and organizations in the world. The cooperative, iterative and user-focused approach to developing software is often seen as something for smaller teams and organizations.

Not only can Agile scale, but as the pace of change accelerates and consumerization impacts every corner of economy and government, Agile may mean the difference between success and failure in the long run.

Every business today is striving to deliver value to market quickly, deepen relationships with customers, improve employee engagement, and cope with the ever-increasing pace of change. In 2001, the Agile Manifesto defined a set of tradeoff decisions to make it possible for software teams to help deliver on these goals.

Several methodologies embodying the Agile philosophy then emerged -- Scrum, Kanban, Lean Software Development, and eXtreme Programming, to name a few -- and rapidly gained adoption by software development teams worldwide.

It has been said that as an enterprise or project grows, Agile will cause teams to lose sight of big-picture goals, such as managing demand, architectural runway, database standards, dependencies, and strategic planning. However, Agile has a fractal, scalable nature that allows for growth. In Agile, the same tradeoffs and methodologies apply to different levels of scale in the organization. For example, a single scrum team may consist of seven to nine people and plan in two-week iterations with user stories; whereas a single Agile program may consist of seven to nine scrum teams and plan in one-quarter iterations with customer features.

Scrum or kanban software development teams don’t ‘own’ big-picture considerations because they belong within a different fractal: they are program, or team-of-teams, concerns where planning horizons are in quarters instead of weeks, and all the principles of the Agile Manifesto still apply.

Concerns that Agile at scale “isn’t Agile at all” are similarly unfounded because the principles of the Agile Manifesto are alive and well in higher-level program-level concepts such as quarterly release planning, inspecting and adapting, and multi-team scrum-of-scrum meetings.

Scaling Agile above the team level goes by many different names these days -- Lean Startup, SAFe, DAD, LeSS, or Radical Management. Delivering products quickly -- empowering teams, partnering with customers, and adapting to change all play a prominent role in these frameworks and countless others. But, the Agile Manifesto is always there, lurking right beneath the surface, in all of them.

In fact, Agile at scale delivers some truly remarkable things. Consider these instances:

  • One of the largest manufacturers of agricultural machinery in the world embarked upon a complex, large-scale Agile transformation that affected hundreds of software developers around the world. What began as fewer than 100 software developers practicing Agile to deliver the most advanced innovations to satellite-based global positioning devices has grown to over 1,200 and counting. The company reports the following success: time to market is 20% faster; time to production is down 20%; warranty expense is down 50%; field issue resolution time is down 42%; and employee engagement is up 9.8%.
  • BMC Software, a company specializing in business service management software, rolled Agile out to over 900 developers and testers spread from India to Houston to Israel. In less than a year, BMC’s Software’s Infrastructure Management Group (IMG) transformed their development organization using Agile development practices to deliver a major product to the market in less time and with higher quality than previously possible. As a result, BMC was nominated for an ADT Innovator’s award in the Application Engineering category, and the company reported that individual team productivity is up 20% to 50%. BMC's customers are receiving critical functionality sooner through more frequent releases.

As Agile scales up, it also scales ‘out’ across an organization’s value chain -- to departments outside of product development -- to deliver a valuable product or service to the market. For example, at Rally Software, our executive team has a daily standup every day of the week, and our recruiting team uses a kanban board to maintain work in progress limits, surface blockages, and work to constantly improve cycle time. Agile at enterprise scale is going mainstream, and leaders are bringing it into their organizations with the help of coaching services, webinars, and conferences.

Rally Software published a book called Agile Business: A Leader’s Guide to Harnessing Complexity. To quote author Ronica Roth: “Scaling Agile means that we apply its principles to large, even very large, groups of people. When we do this, we allow those people to be more connected to their work and its impact, despite being part of a huge system.” 

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