How To Grow (sustainable) Agile In Your Company!

Scaling Agile is as organic as the humans involved. Regardless of the methodologies or tools you bring; a successful and sustainable scaled agile program depends on a good human foundation. Agile is driven by people and molded by company culture. People and companies have underlying and historic values that need to be relinquished or evolved, otherwise they will rust any practices you put in place. Values define thinking, reactions, inevitably ‘how we process things’ and all to often decisions – even economic ones. The below three factors are a simple foundation for you to consider as a smart way of preparing for scaled agile success.

1. First and foremost focus on building an inherent ownership (not just adaptation & adoption) of the agile values. The founding Agile Manifesto values must be strongly rooted among your culture so that any switch to practices and tools is ‘successfully effective’ and sustainable. Otherwise, it’s just another process we all “have to follow”…{punch in time card and yawn }

2. Understandably being humans we prosper from having a clear set of guidelines that interpret those values into actions and outcomes. That’s simply why the Agile Manifesto includes the dozen principles to help you on your way. Strengthen the core of your organisations agile principles by adding in the well practiced and proven principles from Agile Architecture, Lean Enterprise, Continuous Improvement, Product Delivery Flow and Leadership and you have a strong as oak core culture. Have a unified and understand core culture of principles creates adhesion across multiple teams, no matter the size you are scaling to. It really is nice when everyone on the row boat paddles in unison.

3. With a foundation of agreed values, strong understanding and permission to exercise the strong principles you have a flourishing petri dish to ‘practice agile’. Now choosing which practices, which tools, what do we do in this situation is soo much easier because every person in the organisation has the guiding decision framework to solve problems and create value.

Yep, scaling agile is still about solving problems, creating value (building the right thing for the customer + building things right + building speedily) more than it is about what is the “right agile process” to use or what is the “right agile tool” to use.

Here’s a simple exercise you can do with your teams to gauge how your growing without the complexities of an agile maturity index or agile survey. It’s also a great ‘how we growing agile team retrospective:

1. Draw a tree with roots, trunk, branches on a big poster
2. Ask the team to jott down on stickies;
a) What do we value daily in our work
b) What principles guide our decisions and actions
c) Are practices in tune with our values and principles
3. Pop the stickies around the left side of the tree on the poster
4. Facilitate an insightful conversation. For example; ask them to discuss an surprises, contradictions, more or less important
5. Bring the team to a decision and actions. For example; ask them to pick One Value and 3 corresponding principles that they would like to practice better over the next month.
…..note: I’ve chosen a month to allow the team time to develop the values over a number of sprints. Values and principles go to the core of how we behave. Often organisations have competing drivers that need to be addressed, people need time to understand what that new value means to them in their role. And for a value and principles to stick it’s good not to short change the long term commitment that’s required with a short term training session.

Agile Videos

Great Videos that help to explore the Agile Paradigms, knowledge and practices.


  • Is Scrum Scalable? –  Mike Cohn is interviewed by OnSoftware on the possibility of scaling scrum across 100 developers (11min)
  • Scrum Organisation – Ken Schwaber provides an introduction, and overview of the purpose of the scrum.or


Extreme Programming

Scrum-Org Video – Ken Schwaber introduces purpose and programs

Scrum is growing up and Ken Schwaber has created an official organisation to ensure that the central Body of knowledge’s are supported and evolved with Consistency. Ken Scwaber, its purpose, and its organization. The video also introduces’s first program, the certified (really) Professional Scrum Developer for best practices & accompanying courses are being standardised across all trainers. So that all people trained are getting something of value.

How long is a scrum sprint?

How long is a scrum sprint is a question that many agilists differ on!

2 weeks, a month, 3 weeks – “man, but we can’t even do 6 months!”

I present the problem to my scrum team as part of our commitment and values of the team because each organization has different sequences and outputs that determine their efficiency. For a new team I’ll guide their answer to consider when can they successfully deliver an increment of a potentially shippable product? The response is generally “I reckon I could…” and then QA says “yeah and the following sprint we’ll test it”! And then I’ll challenge them to either complete within the month or extend it to two – to reinforce that quality is no longer the forgotten superannuation – you invest now and always.

More often the response after that is ” but we can’t cause” ” we’ve never done that” and other linear paradigm beliefs that prevent teams from being agile. And to finish off the journey – so they create a self-organized sprint plan – I’ll “ask if you could deliver in one month, so all we hav to do is flick the go live button, what would it look like? ”

They come up with ideas and challenges, & start to solve each others problems. The attitude will sometimes be stringently resistant. At the end I’ll summarize what they said into a list of tools, actions, environments. To sum up i’ll congratulate them on giving the scrum master the first impediment list and that is my mission to support them to deliver efficiently so we need to cut the crap out and build the reality ourselves.

It’s not so much the sprint duration -it’s the ability to Provide quality incrementally and continuously. It’s about check in points with the business and the drive to deliver together.

If your team is on 6 months challenge them to go quarterly, when they get good at that- go monthly, and so forth until you discover continuous delivery heaven.

For other organizations I’ll ad the lean business view to determine the cycles which generally are –
Annual – strategy
Quarterly – portfolio
Monthly – product (performance)
Bi-monthly/ weekly sprints

Have fun 🙂

Product Innovation – take the rubbish out

Product Innovation is not that hard! So why is it that many companies take so long to bring innovative product changes to market, let alone new products to the market. Regularly I’ve been brought into a business and given 3 very simple and similar targets;

“save money, make money, and use less money to make money!”

So, how on earth does a product manager evolve the stock-list to sustain growth, and give sales a shoe-in every time, AND in competitive environments AND with a delivery team that hasn’t delivered any value for a long time? Just like moving into a new house, you want to make sure it’s clean and ready to build a home. The first thing is to sweep out the rubbish that’s been left behind. In Lean they call it “eliminate waste”. In Japan they call it “kaikaku” (radical waste). In iChing I rather like the reference to ‘KU’ – ‘work on what has been spoiled.

Which products are rubbish and need cleaning out?

1. Are they inline with the business vision & strategy? Often businesses try to do too much, or staff get great ideas that just aren’t market relevant.

2. Are they making money? Has the been business been holding onto it’s 1970 Sandman for a few die hards for far too long? If the classics aren’t make a decent share it’s time to stop selling. Test the initial response – little kerfuffle, close : lots of kerfuffle, best to investigate.

3. What are you really going to focus on??? First step is to work with the business on building the Product Roadmap – this is your home, so relax and be cosy with it. The best and most efficient way to create a streamlined and Innovative Product Roadmap is using the Scrum Agile Methodology process.

While Scrum Product Owners use the prioritised story creation method for creating a single Product Backlog; there needs to be the step prior to that single backlog to break down the entire catalogue into achievable product delivery streams. Sounds like program management? It is, if you have a sweeping array of ‘epic’ requirements to prioritise do a Product Release Map to identify what is essential and when. To generate Product Innovation the first step is to simply dust off the shelves and start to talk to the business leaders, the market, the customers and the staff to clean up shop. If you still need some inspiration check out Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Innovation Review