First Principles of Scaling Agile Practices
Part 2 of my 8 part Training Series on Scaling Agile Practices
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Why Do We Need These Core First Principles?
In our previous post, we discussed the challenges of scaling Agile practices. We discovered that all scaling challenges ultimately lead to a single key challenge and that the primary goal of mainstream scaling frameworks is to address this key challenge.
The mainstream scaling frameworks like SAFe, Spotify, LeSS, and Nexus are all built on the same foundation.
To scale, we need this foundation in the form of First Principles. These principles are like our compass, guiding us in the right direction as we navigate through the ups and downs of scaling. These are the foundational needs that must be met in order for our scaling endeavour to be successful.
These Core principles are our “North Star.”
To understand this better, consider the example of a growing city.
In its infancy, the city's needs are straightforward:
the transportation system is simple,
governance can be managed by a small group, and
everyone knows everyone else.
However, as the city grows, the complexity increases exponentially. The quaint cobblestone paths no longer suffice for the bustling traffic, the governance requires a more robust system to serve a larger population, and the close-knit community now must find new ways to maintain their connections in a sprawling metropolis.
In such a scenario, without a guiding “North Star,” the city's development can become haphazard.
Roads may lead to dead-ends, new regulations may conflict with old ones, and the community might fray under the strain of growth.
But with a guiding “North Star”—like sustainable urban planning, transparent governance, and community engagement—the city can scale its infrastructure, administration, and social fabric in a way that not only supports growth but enhances the quality of life specific for its inhabitants.
In scaling Agile practices, these Core Principles will provide the foundation upon which we can build our scaled framework without losing sight of our objectives.
These Principles will ensure that:
every new group activity,
role we introduce
serves the greater goal of the scaled framework, which is to deliver value to customers through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
By adhering to these principles, you can create a customized scaled framework for your organization that is resilient and adaptable. It can withstand the pressures of growing teams, increasing product complexity, and market volatility, all while keeping the Agile spirit alive.
Here's where we currently stand in our journey:
First Principles of Scaling ← this post
Perfecting single-team Agility
Multi-team roles and responsibilities
Let’s explore the Fundamental First Principles of Scaling Agile Practices one by one.
Principle #1: Intellectual Phases
The scaled framework must have a 3 phased intellectual structure.
Regardless of the process or the framework, building a product requires the team to go through 3 distinct intellectual phases:
Discovery (the “why”)
Invention (the “what”)
Implementation (the “how”)
These 3 are the guiding forces for delivering value at scale.
Before a single line of code is written or a backlog is populated, we embark on a journey of understanding.
This is the 'Discovery' phase, where we ask the fundamental questions:
What is the problem we are trying to solve?
Who are we solving it for?
What are their true needs and pain points?
This phase is about empathy and context, requiring us to step into the shoes of our customers and end-users.
Consider a family planning their vacation. In the Discovery phase, they decide where they want to go based on everyone's interests. Do they want relaxation, adventure, or perhaps a bit of culture and history? They talk, they listen, and they understand what the family truly wants from their time away.
Armed with the knowledge from the Discovery phase, we now move to the 'Invention' phase. Here, we define 'what' we are going to do about the problem we've identified. It's about generating ideas and possible solutions.
The family, having decided they want a mix of relaxation and culture, now starts to invent possible vacation plans. The Product Owner, in this case, would be like the parent who suggests, "How about we spend a week in Italy? We can have a few days by the seaside and also visit historic cities."
The final phase is 'Implementation'’ the “how,” where we bring our ideas to life. It involves detailed planning and the actual doing of work to deliver a solution.
Now, it's time for the family to implement their vacation plan. They book flights to Italy, reserve a villa by the sea, and create an itinerary that includes visits to museums and historical sites.
When scaling Agile, these phases become more complex and interconnected. In a business scenario:
In Discovery, a team might realize the need for a new feature when feedback indicates users are struggling with a particular aspect of their product.
During Invention, the Product Owner defines 'what' that feature looks like. They create user stories that describe the new functionality from the perspective of the user.
In Implementation, the development team takes these user stories and turns them into a working feature, iterating through development, testing, and refinement in their sprints.
When we follow these Intellectual Phases, it helps us grow Agile practices in a well-planned and effective manner. It prevents us from scaling too quickly without a clear strategy and ensures that we stay aligned with the core values of Agile.
These phases keep the process grounded, innovative, and effective, even as we expand to more teams and projects.