November 22


How to scale (3 of 5) – Agile (process)

In the earlier posts, I explored how successful companies scale, and ways to structure product teams.   In this post, I look at execution – how to get code shipped.

Modern software development (Agile) differs from historic approaches (waterfall).   Agile is a commonly used term but is often embellished and miss-understood.  It is important to separate Agile from agile practices.  Agile has been described as a methodology, philosophy and a framework.  To best honest it does not really matter, you just need to know that Agile just refers to the Agile Manifesto and the Principles (below), while agile practices are methods, that include XP, Scrum, Kanban, LeSS, DAD or SAFe (further below).

The Agile manifesto

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

The Agile principles

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  • Deliver working software frequently, from a  couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a  preference to the shorter timescale.
  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • Build projects around motivated individuals.  Give them the environment and support they need,
    and trust them to get the job done.
  • The most efficient and effective method of  conveying information to and within a development
    team is face-to-face conversation.
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  • Agile processes promote sustainable development.  The sponsors, developers, and users should be able
    to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  • Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.

There are a growing set of agile practices, and many charlatans and companies are invested in adding complexity.  More information can be found on agile practices here:

There are also a lot of scaling frameworks out there, Large Scale Scrum (LeSS)Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD). You can find a great summary in the table below (copied from here).

A lot of the key people in Agile do not like these frameworks, as they feel that they are too prescriptive, favour process over people and remove agency and power from people (a view I completely support).

When searching for your own approach, always come back to the Agile Manifesto and Principles.  When introducing a new meeting/ritual or process, reflect on whether it allows you to live up to the Agile Manifesto, or are you introducing controls and rules by another name.

If in doubt, focus on:

  • Getting the right people to talk to each other about future work and work in progress
  • Prioritise shipping software that adds value to your customers and the business above everything else
  • Co-created your products with customers
  • Being able to re-prioritise quickly


Image credit Our Pets. 2018