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Getting Lost in Scaled Agile Trains, Streams, Guilds and Tribes? Stay Tuned to Agile Roots

Tags: Charlotte , Agile Enablement

Have you been feeling overwhelmed by all the agile out there?  First, I can assure you that you are not alone. Second, take a deep breath because the discussion is only scaling up – literally.

If you hear talk about Release Trains, Architectural Runways, and Value Streams or Chapters, Guilds, and Tribes it is real!  All of the labels and names can make one’s head spin, and wonder where to start.

Scaling agile has surged in recent years, both in popularity and market demand.  The bottom line is organizations of all sizes are prioritizing applying agile methods - scrum, lean, and other methodologies to their product and software development efforts.  Many companies have experienced struggles exercising agile given their size, complexity, and structures.  Scaling agile is the act of applying agile principles or other methodologies to big efforts – think like 8+ teams working on the same product, or 100+ developer efforts.  Born out of necessity or as an opportunity to create a new market, scaled agile options are alive, growing, and hard to keep straight.

Let’s skim the surface on a few, in no particular order:

  • Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe, yes with an ‘e’) – Built on their “House of Lean” and three levels of scale (Team, Program, and Portfolio), individuals operate within Value Streams and Release Trains, contributing to Architectural Runway.  Arguably a market leader if measuring by conference chatter.  Their “big picture” provides near endless clicks of descriptions, artifacts, and roles.  Continually updating their framework, SAFe currently is on version 3.0 and in mid-July offered a sneak peek at v4.0.
  • Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) – Two frameworks in one!  LeSS is for up to 8 teams, and LeSS Huge for larger scaling efforts.  LeSS attempts to maintain the values of one Scrum team, scaled to many working together. LeSS provides principles and rules, among many other pages of information.
  • Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) – A Hybrid framework of ten sources including Scrum, eXtreme Programming, Kanban, etc – this borrows from established practices.  DAD provides advice on how to execute them together if desired.  Less prescriptive and more goal based/driven.
  • Nexus Framework – “The exoskeleton of scaled Scrum.”  Non-Prescriptive compared to SAFe, Multiple Nexuses, “Nexus+”, can be established when larger initiatives are in play.  Driven by dozens of proven practices and published by and Scrum co-founder Ken Schwaber.  The Nexus Guide, which reads much like the Scrum Guide, was released in late August.
  • Roll Your Own – Some companies have even gone to lengths to work their own framework!  Spotify, a digital streaming company, as far back as October 2012 operated their own scaled agile version. Chapters, Tribes, and Guilds were the logical matrix-like groupings of people in the organization related to their assignment, skills, and interests. 

Full disclosure, I hold the SAFe Program Consultant (SPC) certification and have more experience with that than any other scaling options.

Is a scaling framework right for your teams and organization?  Are you left hungry after trying the Scrum of Scrums appetizer attempt to scale, and the rest of the menu is overwhelming?  Which one will lead you to the product development promise land?  Most importantly, amidst all the blogs, conferences, meetups, certifications should remain an effort to remember why and where this all started. 

The community learned long ago, I hope, that there is not a one-size fits all solution, or a silver bullet.  There were and are however, principles, values, and experience.  It is to those that we should always attempt to steer by, especially the following:

  • Continue to prioritize people, as they are the ones executing the work.
  • Remain flexible and patient.  Don’t become paralyzed by the scaling options and their details.
  • Embrace change.  If something isn’t working, re-evaluate and move forward.
  • Keep it simple.  Doing scaled agile right shouldn’t be the goal – the team journey and end product should be.
  • When walking in the forest amongst the scaled agile constructs like Chapters, Guilds, and Tribes – sustain focus on the principles of the manifesto that made that forest walk so appealing in the first place.


About The Author

Senior II Consultant
Ryan is a Senior Consultant in Cardinal’s Charlotte office, working as a Project Manager and Scrum Master.  He has worked in software and product development for the last 7 years and holds the CSM, CSP, PMI-ACP, and SPC certifications.  Ryan has a strong interest in agile coaching and team transition to agile practices.