Holistic Agility needed for Scaling

If you want to scale Agile to the enterprise, then lets take a look at a few great points that Forrester presented from their Q2-2010 survey results this week that verified the need to scale Agile beyond a single team.

You’ve heard in many of my webinars that adoption of agile methods is not always smooth and many organizations are experiencing obstacles to their acceptance.

There is great news to share.

Agile is going Mainstream

It was interesting to see Forrester acknowledge that Agile is going mainstream and most certainly crossing the proverbial business chasm that Geoffrey Moore talks about in his book “Crossing the Chasm“.  Moore divides organizations into 5 groups as shown in Figure below.

In Moore’s model, the first group, the Innovators, are a small band of enthusiasts who will try new approaches to see if they work, if they do not – no problem, they are off to the next thing. The next group, the Early Adopters, are not leading edge enthusiasts but are opportunity focused groups looking for openings to break away from their competitors. This is where Forrester believes Agile prominent today.

Geoffrey explains that following the Chasm is the Early Majority; a much larger group than the prior ones that looks at the practical realities of the technology or concepts being considered. This group is characterized by pragmatists who do not want to take chances and would rather wait until they see most other organizations adopting the new ideas before they do. These pragmatists not only need to be sold on the benefits, but also convinced of the practicality of adopting such an approach. “Where does it address X?” and “How will it integrate with existing process Y?” are common pragmatist questions.

Moore also states,

“rapid mainstream market growth does not follow directly on the heels of early market success. There is a gap – the chasm – between the two.”

Crossing the Chasm is not easy, but Forrester’s survey’s have revealed that Agile is starting to cross over !!!

Time to Broaden our Focus

XP was the most popular Agile method back in 2003, then came Scrum that has been leading the pack most recently.  However, for some organization this focus on iterative development is not enough.  People want practices and methods that also tackle Project Coordination activities, Project Management roles and enterprise constraints.  Scrum alone does not tackle “upstream” activities such as project feasibility, but it does cover day to day PM responsibilities and general project coordination at the team level.

What about the rest of the enterprise?

Adjusting the Agile Manifesto

Forrester mentioned they would make some adjustments to the Agile Manifesto (not challenges) to accommodate the scaling of Agile.  They made a great point about the need to balance Agile with larger enterprise issues and constraints such as:

  • Compliance
  • Outsourcing
  • Distribution
  • Measurement
  • Governance

…by “adding” the following to the manifesto:

  • Enable collaboration and team work
  • Deliver Frequently, but holistically
  • Deliver value for the long and short term
  • Transparent and shared reporting

Balance is Key

Forrester noted that these additions were about bringing balance to the equation so that Agile could scale.  As Agility expands to the enterprise, it is not just about adding to a method, it is about understanding value and planning as needed and bringing the organization together to focus Agile at the right problems it was designed for, such as when there are lots of unknowns, complexity or risks.

I can concur after managing many projects and coaching organization in projects such as software development, IT, data center migrations, outsourcing setup, etc. — that once organizations saw the benefits that Agile brought to a pilot team, they would want to expand it to other teams and the entire organization.

Forrester used the word “holistically” – so lets explore that for a second since that is also key to scaling Agile beyond the single team.   They said they would add “Deliver frequently, but holistically” to the Agile Manifesto.  Holistic refers to the “whole” of something, or the complete system, rather than just a part.  Such as holistic medicine attempts to treat the entire person:  mind, body, and spirit.

In commercial product development, a holistic view would include the entire SDLC process as well as other things that make up the complete system of launching products to market and supporting them.  Things such as documentation, product launch efforts, OEM integrations, business development, sales, R&D, etc.  It is more than just developing working code.

I like to use an analogy from the movie “Field of Dreams”….where the farmer heard a voice telling him “build it and they will come“.  But that DOES NOT WORK in the business world very often.   Businesses need to build what customers need and want to stay competitive. To do this, they must do Initiation work, talking to customers to find out the needs of their clients. Only then can Design and Development occur so they build the right thing for their customers.

One of my clients is a great example of this.  They adopted Scrum very easily at the team level.  They initially only wanted the team to include development and nothing else, but once we discussed how Agile is about delivering value at the end of each iteration, not just code, they quickly incorporated QA into the iterations.  But it stopped there.  It didn’t include R&D, IT, Marketing, Support, Sales, etc. So they soon realized that if they wanted to have the entire organization become Agile, they would need to think more holistically and apply Agile to the areas that it can affect.

Moving to Holistic Agility

What about those areas that are not suited for the iterative and incremental agile methods? Those areas that are more static or following repetitive processes?  Forrester and Rally mentioned how LEAN is the future to taking Agile to the enterprise.

This was exactly the case with some other clients of mine.   After implementing Scrum in their Dev & QA teams, I was able to show them how lean methods could help them involve other departments to impact the rest of the SDLC process so they could deliver comprehensive value to their clients frequently along with quality as quickly as possible.

We leveraged Lean methods, such as Kanban, where there were repetitive processes.  We started with the requirement gathering phase of the SDLC process where Product Managers were constantly talking to existing and prospective clients and capturing feature requirements.  There was a distinct process that Product Managers and Business Analysts would follow over and over – so we captured it and put it on a virtual Kanban board (since resources were nationwide) and fed that into a master backlog of features that were prioritized by value to the customer – and then used that to do road map planning.

Features were documenting in a very detailed fashion via large use cases at first, that’s what they were doing, but when soon instituted the use of Requirement Trees and started breaking down the features (that were really epics) into smaller pieces.  And we soon saw themes and feature groups start to emerge.  We eliminated waste by only documented enough to put the item in the backlog until it came time to consider it for release and iteration planning.  Then Product Managers and BA’s would work with the scrum teams to review the features ready for iteration planning.

We did this on the back-end, post iteration, as well.  So features delivered by the Scrum team would be used as input to the back-end team to prepare it for release to market and support.


The concept that Forrester reported from their Q2-2010 survey on the need for holistic agility in order to scale agile across the enterprise is a brilliant use of the word “holistic“.   Better yet, you have Agile-Lean industry leaders that have been saying similar things for some time now.

It is a balancing act of expanding Agile to include enterprise issues such as Compliance, Outsourcing, Distribution, Measurement,and Governance that will allow Agile to scale.  Lean will be the key to help that to happen.

And don’t forget that Chasm that Agile is crossing, where the Early Majority – that much larger group of organizations – are looking for more than benefits.  They must be convinced of  the practicality of adopting such an approach. “Where does it address X?” and “How will it integrate with existing process Y?” are common pragmatist type questions that are difficult to answer with Scrum and XP alone.

We need to apply Agile and Lean methods to the right parts of your organization to deliver value to your customers…involving our entire organization over time and creating holistic Agility !

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