Do we have an answer to how to scale in the industry? Hardware is scaling very nicely. In some respects, software is too. But our methods and overall approaches are still (in some cases) decades old.
A brief history of
time hard drives
In 1956 IBM shipped the first RAMAC 305 system. It held 5MB of data at a cost of about $10,000 per MB. It was the size of two refrigerators. At the time of writing a 250GB solid state drive can be purchased for approx $70 with cost of a MB now being tiny fractions of a penny. If you don’t need the blistering performance of a SSD, 2TB of space can be had for for similar money. Both choices will deliver performance which the designers of the original RAMAC system would have found inconceivable. See if you can watch this short promotional video without a nostalgic smile or two. (listen out for “faster than the eye can follow!”)
Clearly, hardware has not had much difficulty in finding ways to scale. Similar stories can be found on a broad number of hardware related topics (networks, RAM, video etc). Perhaps the starkest one is the number of mobile phones now in use throughout the world (4.5 billion).
Isn’t software scaling?
Software has scaled too. But not (perhaps) in ways we would have hoped for. KLoc (lines of code) seems to be obsolete as a meaningful metric in a similar way to how bits and bytes seems arcane. The sheer volume of available solutions is past being counted (but perhaps could be estimated). In 2016 the number of apps in Apple’s app store was 2 million and Android users had 2.2 million to choose from. In many cases the software is free. These are solutions built using languages and technology stacks only made available comparatively recently. The growth and proliferation is impressive. So, viewed through one lens, software has scaled too.
What has not scaled well
While software has scaled (when viewed through the lens of proliferation) our approaches to building it have not. The principles and practices promoted by the agile movement caused the industry to take a collective stride forward. Although it must be noted that significant numbers of people are still unaware of what it really means to be ‘agile’. But by itself it was not enough. Agile by itself is superb at creating a pocket of excellence in a team-centric fashion. But there has been little guidance on how (say) fifty instances of those pockets would work together in concert.
For every example of a great company which has harnessed the power of agile to its advantage (Spotify) there are many enterprises who have tried to adopt agile and faltered (I’ll leave you to fill in the examples yourselves). Expedient answers such as “we use it when it seems appropriate” abound but that’s really not running headlong at the problem. “Why despite the promise of agile do we not realize its benefits?” is the question large enterprises should be asking of themselves.
“How do we organize 100 teams (pockets of excellence) into a powerhouse of productivity which every one of us is proud to be associated with” would be an even better question.
Scaled Agile Framework
I believe in the Scaled Agile Framework (hereafter SAFe). I have seen, first hand, how it can transform an organization. SAFe is a field guide for your organizational development process. It provides important tools and defines a common language for concepts which should be present in all but the most simple organizations. The SAFe framework is a model for engaging with each other at a number of different organizational levels and working on business and technical objectives at differing levels of abstraction. It combines agile principles and best practices into a single cohesive framework designed to guide organizations as they apply agile methodologies at scale. It is prescriptive in the sense that it makes clear recommendations regarding what it believes to be a formula for success. Where your context dictates it, SAFe fully anticipates modifications to the default framework.
SAFe reignited a passion and a belief in me that things can be better. I have witnessed SAFe be a significant catalyst with its additional perspectives on how things need to operate in large enterprises in order to achieve successful outcomes. In the posts which follow I will be discussing common problems which surface in organizations applying agile methodologies at scale. I’ll gladly take your questions and share perspectives and answers. They will often be grounded in SAFe principles and practices. On the occasions when I’m drawing from my own thoughts and experience I’ll usually make it clear when I’m doing that.
If you are beginning your journey to discover ways of scaling agile in your enterprise or if you have already started that journey and have stories to share – I’d consider it an honor if you would frequent my site and interact.
I hope you enjoy my posts and that they prove to be useful and helpful. And I hope the same from yours.
-Michael Casey (Instructor and Coach)