Despite following a set formula, I used to love the Power Rangers. Each character had their very own skills and styles, and for the final battle, they united forces to create the Megazord. Through the magic of 90s television, this large, clumsy robot always managed to prevail.
And this got me thinking about the benefits of scaled agile – and the unlikely parallels that can be drawn between the framework and the TV show. Take a scrum team – they each have their own way of doing things and can work with a number of methods, using any flavour of agile that suits them such as ScrumXP or Kanban. This allows them to deliver little and often, rather than all at once and risk failing.
The difficulty comes as the number of people and teams increase, and where dependencies become visible. If incorrectly managed, running the project becomes impossible, with teams blocked on their delivery unable to commit in sprints. In this analogy, the various Dinozords would not fit together and the Megazord falls over.
But using the SAFe® methodology, you can carefully manage dependencies between teams. On a large-scale project, you must abstractly commit for the next few months so the teams know what they will need, who from and when. Any risks and dependencies between teams can be addressed early and any commitments are approved by the whole team before going ahead.
However, planning our work months in advance does sound like a waterfall methodology doesn’t it? When working on a recent assignment, we started asking ourselves: “How can we be agile when focusing on long-term delivery? What's the point in planning so far ahead? How can we handle those unforeseen bugs and 'emergency' requirements?”
Unfortunately, as is always the way with real life, you can never plan for every eventuality. But if you have as clear a view as possible of what your dependencies might be, you can be more prepared and commit with increased confidence. You can estimate when you’ll be required and ensure other teams have a clear route to develop at the time they plan to. This is all coordinated and agreed at the programme increment level.
There are similarities that be drawn between SAFe® and waterfall but with SAFe®, you can afford to be more flexible. The plan is never final – it’s refined every sprint, and your commitments updated, based on previous sprints’ performances. It’s not a case of agreeing the full design months in advance. Working carefully with the business, you can prioritise the important tasks first and include those bugs and ‘emergency’ requirements.
Communication is key here and there are various types of meetings that we use when we work with organisations to help keep on top of things. We have the usual stand ups, planning and refinements, but to keep scaling we can add more layers. For example, a scrum of scrums. These highlight key issues between teams, means developers can continue with their work and you avoid a situation with too many meetings and context-switching.
As the Power Rangers would say: “Mighty morphin’ scaled agile!”