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Introduction to Scaling Agile and the Scaled Agile Framework

We will discuss how most large organizations Scale Agile and explain the Scaled Agile Framework in a simple way, using an example.

Most organizations start embracing Agile and adopting Scrum at the team level with teams around the organization working independently on their own backlog.

But what happens when an organization needs to work on a large digital product?

This usually requires multiple Agile teams to contribute and work closely together in sync to develop it.

That’s when we need to scale Agile from the team level to the program level or maybe even the portfolio level, and have them work together towards the same goal.

There are multiple frameworks used today in organizations to scale Agile, one of the most popular ones is called Scaled Agile Framework, also known as SAFe.

Let’s take a look at a SAFe and how it works in a simplified way.

First, the organization identifies a larger goal and how the customer connects with the organization. This is called a Value Stream. For example, Microsoft Office could be a Value stream for Microsoft and its customers.

Then they break down this large value stream in smaller solutions that allows the Agile teams to incrementally develop, deliver and operate. This is called Agile Release Trains, also known as ARTs.

A value stream can have one or more ARTs. In the Microsoft example, Microsoft Word could be one Agile Release Train, Powerpoint another ART and Excel another and so on. One ART can be composed of anywhere from 5 to 12 Agile Teams operating using Scrum.

The teams should be cross-functional under each ART. This means they have all the capabilities needed to define, build, validate and release the final product.

All the ARTs under one Value Stream work together in the same planning cycle. They plan and work in cycles of 8 - 12 weeks long, which are composed of 5 Iterations or sprints of 2 weeks each.

The planning event that occurs every 8 - 12 weeks with each ART is called Program Increment Planning, also known as PI Planning.

Each ART has its own Product Backlog that should align with the overall larger vision and value stream.

Each ART prioritizes its backlog before PI Planning. PI Planning event is usually a 2 to 3 day event that brings together all the agile teams from that ART and any required business stakeholder. During this event all the teams from the ART work together to break down their work and identify what they can commit to for the next 3 months based on their own capacity.

At the end of the event, the team captures their understanding of commitment in PI Objectives. The PI Objectives are a brief summary of the business and technical goals that teams intend to achieve by the end of the next Program Increment (PI).

3 months later, after all the 5 iterations have been completed, all the agile teams and business stakeholders come together for a demo of the work completed.

After the demo, the agile teams measure the PI performance and discuss ways of improving before the cycle repeats and they have another PI Planning event.

In the next articles, we will cover how to implement the Scaled Agile Framework in more detail.

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