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Scaling Agile – Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?

  • Publish Date: Posted about 3 years ago
  • Author: Andrew McKnight

Scaling Agile – Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?

Disclaimer: I hope there will be good discussions with this post. Please be aware this is not comprehensive, but a start to a larger conversation.

Scaling Agile – Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?

It’s unfortunate that the Agile community has gone the direction of “taking sides” when it comes to the many different approaches to igniting organizational agility either throughout individual teams or at scale. These communities of Agile evangelists, nay, I would call them Agile extremists cause an incredible amount of misinformation and confusion for those that are trying to truly benefit.

While having a discussion regarding Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) and the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), I had someone tell me that LeSS empowers the team, while SAFe empowers management. I was truly baffled by this remark, so I decided to compare the two approaches and understand where are they different — is SAFe “waterfall in sheep’s clothing”?

One main divergence that I see between SAFe and LeSS is with guidance for who should participate in planning at scale. LeSS provides a tip for Sprint Planning across teams in which they recommend: “if there are more than two teams, then send one or two representatives per team.” This is one point I do not agree with, as there is value to the experience and perspective everyone on the teams have to contribute to planning for the commitments of the team.

Even as you look at the SAFe and LeSS Principles, I don’t see that they are divergent from each other. Whether it’s:

  • LeSS’s ‘Systems Thinking’ or SAFe’s ‘Apply Systems Thinking’

  • LeSS’s ‘Empirical Process Control’ or SAFe’s ‘Take an Economic View

  • LeSS’s ‘Queuing Theory’ or SAFe’s ‘Visualize and limit WIP, reduce batch size, and manage queue lengths’

If you aren't familiar with these frameworks, each has a short video to explain their framework. When you watch these videos, are they really that different?

LeSS Complete Picture

SAFe 4.0 in 5 minutes

As an Enterprise Agile Coach, I coach and mentor leaders and senior management on how to take individual pockets of Agile success and scale that throughout an organization. I often run into comments about "SAFe is too...” or “LeSS doesn’t...” What we have to look at is what is the right framework to use given the culture of the organization, complexity of the systems, and current operating model to understand what is the best framework to implement.