It seems that these days everyone is talking (and writing) about scaling agile.

I guess what happened is that most companies now realize that agility is not a passing trend or just a set of values and principles, agility is a skill that most organization need to develop in order to survive in the stormy waters of today’s market.

Developing a skill across an organization (even a small one) is hard, and it gets really hard in big organizations. This difficulty leads some organizations to try and replace developing a skill to purchasing it (e.g SAFe DAD), but there is a catch: buying an “out of the box” solution is usually not solving the specific problem the organization intended to solve by scaling agile.

One of the characteristics of complex adaptive systems (e.g IT organization) is that they are not predictable when it comes to changing things.
When you try to change something in such an organization, it is very hard to predict the impact it will have, so in order to change something in a complex adaptive system, or specifically in order to scale agility, an “off the shelf” solution just doesn’t cut it.

If they were not able to effectively deal with change until now, adding another big change is simply not going to work.
I am not claiming that an organization will not gain benefit from adopting one of the scaling agile recipes, instead i do believe it will not help you achieve the solution that you need.

In order to improve your ability to deal with change you need to be able to learn to deal with change, what?  Let’s break it down into two parts: “Learning to” & “deal with change”.

Part I is “Learning to”.

The organization needs to develop the skill of learning fast. Really fast. Even faster. Shortening the feedback loops whenever possible, allowing mistakes and focus on improvements, do not make a habit of blaming people for mistakes and do not ignore mistakes as well. Treat mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning, measure the things that have an impact on your business goals and constantly try to improve them.

To be able to learn properly you also need a high level of transparency.
Transparency is important in order to lower the water level and expose the problems that exist in the organization.

Part II is “deal with change”:

Surprisingly this part becomes second nature for an organization that developed the skill of learning. Agility was not developed in the academy (it did significantly contribute to it though), it was developed by people and organizations that strive for perfection, that were looking for better ways of developing software (by doing it and helping others do it).

Choosing an out of the box solution for scaling agile is for me is like taking someone else’s prescribed medication if you share the same symptoms: It might work, but the risk you are taking is very high and not worth saving the time of getting diagnosed by a doctor.

Not sure where to start?

If you are interested to learn more about making this transition in a healthy manner, one of the topics Johanna Rothman will cover in the week with Johanna event in November 2014 in Tel Aviv will be An Agile Approach to Organizational Change.


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