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Scaling Agile in Enterprise Organizations

Hitting the wall while trying to Scale Agile within your organization?

Agile work management tools continue to gain ground across enterprises. As more teams implement these easy-to-use tools, organizations have a greater need for a coherent strategy to scale and incorporate Agile adoption into their overall approach to work governance, without impacting or slowing innovation. Most hit a wall, and that’s where strategic portfolio management can spell the difference between success and failure.

Why is it so hard to scale agile?

Adopting agile project management methodologies can be transformative for an organization’s efficiency. When organizations realize this, it’s common instinct to want to do more of it. That’s the mistake many organizations make. Making agile bigger will not make it better. In fact this can become the organization’s undoing. 

Don’t confuse Agile execution with an agile business

Agile teams may love focusing on velocity and team satisfaction, but that doesn’t help you manage your portfolio of investments. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether your work is delivered using waterfall, Agile or ad hoc methods. What is important is knowing the value that is expected to be delivered, whether that value is actually being achieved and how much that value is going to cost you in effort and financial terms. And you simply can’t get any of that if your Agile
transformation is being driven from the bottom up.

Governance shouldn’t be hinderance

An uncontrolled expansion of Agile often results in poor governance, a lack of alignment between strategy and work, a lack of transparency into where your money is going and a variety of missed dependencies. In this respect, Agile is no better than the traditional execution methods it replaced, and in some cases the organization could be worse off because at least a waterfall approach had some sort of project governance framework built in.

Unfortunately, for many Agile transformations in countless organizations, it’s the same old story. Somewhere between six and 18 months into the process, the organization hits the wall – with
a realization that it lacks top-down governance – with no way to give executives visibility, reporting and control, as well as a lack of capabilities to maximize the return on investment with optimized, relevant value.

Manage your portfolios no matter how work is executed

What’s needed is a strategic portfolio management framework that allows executive oversight and control of all work regardless of the modality. This ensures constant alignment between the investments being made, the purpose behind those investments, the work being done, and the benefits being achieved. Portfolio management becomes the hub of strategy execution – everything goes through it both from leadership and from the front-line work teams.

SPM is the glue that holds it all together

From a bottom-up standpoint, portfolio management consolidates and interprets information from all work teams, working in all modalities, to provide a consolidated picture of what’s happening to leadership in a way that is focused on value and set in the relevant context for each executive function. It also acts as a delivery expert, guiding and advising leadership on the most appropriate changes to optimize performance.

For all stakeholders, portfolio management acts as a translator – providing information in a way that is relevant to the audience and is a catalyst for success – improving the likelihood of positive outcomes occurring by supporting everyone from the CEO to project team members. Simply put, portfolio management increased success rates.

Top-down meets bottom-up

None of these portfolio management concepts are ‘anti-agile’, and they’re certainly not legacy waterfall approaches expanded to agile projects. Take a look at any of the formal strategic or scaled agile frameworks – there are several, and you’ll see that they are all built on the concept of decomposing execution from the overall business strategies and priorities while leveraging continuous and adaptive planning.

So when expanding the use of Agile, it’s wise to do so as part of an intentional strategy to improve the delivery performance of your portfolios. Agile as an approach to work can do that at the front line. But to create an enterprise capable of agility takes much more – it takes strategic portfolio management.

Best frameworks for scaling agile

There’s many accepted methodologies for scaling agile. No one framework is right for every organization. Some organizations choose to develop their own framework, like Spotify. Here are some of the most commonly used frameworks to scale agile.

  • Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS)
  • Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)
  • Disciplined Agile (DA)

3 critical steps to scale agile successfully

Aligning execution with financial performance

High-performing organizations understand the need to integrate financial insight into the work management process, to ensure that all initiatives are delivering value. The trick is doing so without disrupting the team’s execution. Providing executives and key stakeholders with the financial insight they need helps ensure that all funding decisions are made in alignment with specific desired outcomes.

Make resource allocation and management visible to leadership

One of the elegant aspects of Agile work management is how it enables resources to flow to the work that delivers the most value. Teams can form and adjust based on the work required. One thing it doesn’t typically do as well is provide the executive team with the visibility and insight they need to understand how effectively all those resources are being allocated. Keep in mind, most executives don’t really care what type of execution methodology is being used to execute work. But they do want to have insight into how effectively those resources are contributing to the organization’s strategic initiatives.

Identify & articulate expected outcomes

Regardless of the execution methodology used, the work being done is being done to achieve specific outcomes. To scale your Agile processes across the enterprise, you’ll need to clearly identify and articulate across the team what those expected outcomes will be. You’ll also need to have clear KPIs in place, and have the ability to measure progress against them. It’s also critical to be able to tie those measurements back to how each desired outcome will specifically deliver value to the organization.