How to select the right Scaling agile methodology for your organization? How do SAFe, DAD, LeSS, and Scrum of Scrums differ from each other? Do some of them fit certain industries or sizes of organizations better than others? How popular are they?
Is plain Scrum not enough? In large organizations, a gap is emerging between the teams doing the work and the finance manager who allocates the funding. To stay aligned, organizations are transforming from Scrum to the Scaling Agile, 2nd generation frameworks.
SAFe, LeSS, DAD, and Nexus are all agile at scale PM frameworks. We see them overtaking the market in the current decade. Implementing a scaling agile framework is an effort for the entire organization.
Scaling agile frameworks do not contradict proven agile methods, such as Scrum, Kanban, XP, or Cristal. The center of gravity only shifts from the product development good practices to the coordination of efforts across the company.
Agile vs Scaling agile
First, let’s look closer at how the scaling frameworks are different from the team-level, agile methods.
Table 1. First vs. second-generation methods
|Scrum, Kanban, XP, DSDM, Crystal||SAFe, LeSS, DAD, LeadingAgile|
|Teams execute a project at a time.||Organizations execute programs – combinations of several projects that may overlap.|
|Funding is allocated to business leaders, product leaders, or specific plans (projects).||Funding is allocated to team-of-teams that must use their resources to accomplish the initiatives.|
|daily coordination||weekly, monthly coordination|
|teams||teams of teams,
or teams of teams of teams
|one physical location||different physical locations|
Compare the “Big 4”
When choosing a Scaling methodology for your organization we recommend the following steps:
- Begin with the most detailed, formal, and prescriptive methodology (see the 2nd row of table 2).
- If, for whatever reason, it doesn’t fit, proceed to less formal methodologies.
- The less prescriptive a methodology the bigger the risk it will fail in combat.
Another factor is the number of certified practitioners. Is there a certified consultant available in your city or country? The more of them, the more proven a methodology is. Is there at least one certified person in any country in the world? – is a good question to ask yourself. SAFe shines here, so we marked it ‘Fairly mature’ in the third row of table 2.
Table 2. Similarities and differences in leading Scaled Agile methodologies
|DAD||LeSS||SAFe||Nexus / SoS|
|How detailed, formal, and prescriptive a methodology is?
1 – least formal
A “barely sufficient” framework. Formal LeSS rules fit on the front and back of a page. Version for product teams of up to a thousand people, LeSS Huge, is not much larger.
Very prescriptive, and telling what to do
|SAFe is the market leader at the time of writing. However, its high score recorded by Google Trends might result from SAFe’s extensive documentation available online. It’s hard to point to the second most popular framework – read Beyond SAFe – Trends in Agile Scaling Approaches 2020.|
Is there a professional in ~every country in the world?
|Disciplined Agile Consortium and PMI train and certify people to become a Disciplined Agile Scrum Master, Disciplined Agile Senior Scrum Master, Disciplined Agile Coach, and Disciplined Agile Value Stream Consultant.||Available certifications include Certified LeSS Practitioner and Certified LeSS for Executives.||Mature certification structures. 13 certified roles are available.
SAFe is supported by a large number of agile tools.
|Scaled Professional Scrum with Nexus (Scrum.org)|
|Full name, author, year||Disciplined Agile Delivery
Scott Ambler, 2012
|Large Scale Scrum
Craig Larman, Bas Vodde
|Scaled Agile Framework
|Scrum of Scrums
Jeff Sutherland, Ken Schwaber
2001, in Agile Can Scale: Inventing and Reinventing SCRUM in Five Companies article
In a nutshell
|In one sense methods such as Scrum, Extreme Programming (XP), Kanban, Agile Modeling (AM), and Unified Process (UP) provide the process bricks and DAD the mortar to fit the bricks together effectively.||LeSS scales up the activities in scrum, applying them at the team-of-teams level. Similar to SAFe, but focuses on improving communication between the teams.||SAFe provides a way for a large IT group to organize itself as teams of teams of agile teams.||Scrum of Scrums adds an “Integration Team” that focuses on dependencies, interoperation, and integration [of code] between Scrum teams.|
|Large, medium, or small organization?
Has roots in financial and telecommunication industries. Media, too.
|Portfolio management guidelines||yes||no
merely coordination, no role for project managers
|How robust is the set of Roles?
To what extent does a framework make a toolkit for roles and scopes of responsibility?
Area Product Owner – in LeSS Huge
Release Train Engineer
System Architect / Engineer
Solution Train Engineer
Enterprise ArchitectSAFe Programme Consultant (SPC)
|LeSS – up to 8-10 teams of 8 (10-50 people)
Less Huge – 50-6000+ people on one product
|At the program level, each team’s scrum has between five and 10 SAFe teams as part of an Agile Release Train. An ART should aim at 50-125 members.
To break even, at least a few hundred software practitioners should work cooperatively as a Solution Train (a collection of ARTs) on related products and solutions.
|Intended for 3-9 Scrum teams.
4-6 people constitute a team.
|If you are already familiar with some team-level frameworks, the following are embedded:||Scrum and Kanban||Scrum||SAFe does not dictate a team-level methodology. All it says is ‘Work iteratively’. Scrum is commonly seen at the team level at SAFe-practicing organizations.
Kanban boards are recommended to visualize the flow of Features, Capabilities, and Epics at the Program, Solution, and Portfolio level respectively.
Proximity to other scaling agile frameworks,
based on Google suggestions
Scrum @ Scale
|How adaptable a methodology is? Could it become a path to “roll your own” approach?||add a bit more / adapt as you go||add a bit more / adapt as you go||Four configurations are available – Essential SAFe, Large Solution SAFe, Portfolio SAFe, and Full SAFe – to accommodate organizations of various sizes and needs.||add a bit more / adapt as you go|
|Non-fiction||Disciplined Agile Delivery: A Practitioner’s Guide to Agile Software Delivery in the Enterprise, Mark Lines, Scott Ambler||Large-Scale Scrum: More with LeSS, Bas Vodde, Craig Larman||Scaled Agile Framework, Dean Leffingwell||Scrum Guide, Ken Schwaber, Jeff Sutherland, Patricia Kong, Dave West
The Nexus Framework for Scaling Scrum, Kurt Bittner
An effort was made to gather accurate data. Data current at the time of writing. Help improve the table – e-mail marketing (a) softwareplant.com.
Other scaling agile frameworks
Scrum@Scale – Jeff Sutherland and Scrum Alliance, 2017
Spotify model – a culture-centric approach to scaling agile
LeadingAgile – transformation roadmap rather than implementing abstract models and rules, Mike Cottmeyer, 2010
Lesser-known: Agile Portfolio Management, Enterprise Scrum, FAST Agile, Lean Management, Recipes for Agile Governance (RAGE), SCARE, Scrum Lean in Motion (Slim), Team of Teams.
Once we dig past “scale” to the real problem your company is most interested in solving right now, then one of these solutions might make more sense than the others. Note the especially important “How adaptable…” criterion in table 2.
Truth-be-told, there’s no right way to scale agile. Nevertheless, let’s try:
- Scaling agile is there to prevent a senior executive from personally poring over specifications and bug lists. Leaders communicate clear strategic intents, then trust the teams to deliver on that strategy.1
- Most large organizations commit to a single agile at scale framework.
- Companies that don’t – that try to pick and choose the best pieces from each – still want to create a single vision.
- Ground the change in the context of your organization and this moment, instead of relying on someone else’s revealed wisdom.
For this comparison to be complete, we can’t skip those who question scaling agile frameworks altogether.
Leadership is frustrated because through middle management down to teams don’t seem to be getting traction on the goals/KPIs they want (alignment). They typically introduce more controls, more detailed processes and more measures (frameworks) that typically result in the exact opposite – Matt Barcomb
(With a scaling methodology having been implemented) what are some experiments your people will do at different levels in the organization to make a small improvement? Alistair Cockburn
Adding manpower to a late software project often makes it later. Brooks’ Law from The Mythical Man-Month book
I made extensive use of the following sources:
- Lean Portfolio Management, John May, Atlassian Agile Coach
- SAFe vs LeSS vs DaD vs LeadingAgile: Comparing scaling agile frameworks, Matt Heusser, CIO, August 2015
- Scrum of Scrums. How to scale Scrum, Chris Spanner, Atlassian Agile Coach
- What’s the difference between the Nexus Framework and other Scaled Scrum Frameworks? Quora
- What Are The Scaling Agile Frameworks and How Are They Different? adventurewithagile.com
- Smart Scaling (ASK) presentation 2014, Richard Dolman, Steve Spearman
- AgileScalingKnowledgebase(ASK-5.1), agilescaling.org
- Beyond SAFe – Trends in Agile Scaling Approaches 2020, Anthony Mersino, June 2020
1 Adam Yuret, a portfolio management and strategy consultant