Who cares if agile scales?

Photo by Dan A. CrosleyI’ve found a lot of talk recently about whether agile scales. At the Agile Business Conference last week there was a whole track over both days dedicated to “Proving agile works and scales”. Clearly this is something that still needs to be proved. (And does the track name also suggest we need to prove it works, or that it works when it scales?)

So does agile scale? I don’t think that’s an interesting question for any forum except the pub; it’s theoretical, and agile is practical if it’s anything.

The more relevant question is: Can agile work for us? And the “for us” part is highly variable. It depends in part on the scale of our need, but also on the structure, and it depends on who we are, what skills we have, what skills we can get, what technology we’re working with, and so on.

To consider scale and structure, let’s imagine an organisation with a 100-strong development team. There is a difference if those developers are broken into teams of 5-8 people, each delivering largely independent things, or if they are all working to deliver a single product. The structure differs. Some would say of the former “that isn’t scaling agile; that’s small agile lots of times”. Some would say of the latter “that’s not scaled until you’ve got at least 1,000 developers”. Some would say of either “that’s not scaling agile until everyone in the organisation is doing it.”

In practice, none of that matters. What matters is whether can we can use agile for our situation. Our people, our products, our projects…

And then the next question is… whether we should.

One thought on “Who cares if agile scales?

  1. You raise some great points here. It seems like every ‘scaled agile’ solution makes some pretty huge assumptions about how an organization scales, even though we all know large groups of humans are complex and messy things with no two organizations being the same. What works for one will undoubtedly fail for another.

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