How to Scale Agile Software Development in Big Organizations

Daniel Knott Daniel Knott
minute read
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Why companies with more than one development team need to have the right mindset and environment to scale agile software development.

Agile methodologies such as SCRUM and KANBAN are the most used frameworks within small and independent software development teams. In theory, SCRUM and KANBAN are easy to establish in teams and companies. However, the majority of software development and product companies have more than one development team working on the same product at the same time.

Does that mean companies with more than one development team can’t establish agile methodologies? Of course not, but companies need to have the right environment and mindset to scale agile software development across all disciplines.

Finding the North Star

Every company must have a clear vision and goal for their product. Finding their own vision and goal is not always easy, but the north star metric can help.

The north star will give the whole organization a clear vision and mission. It gives teams guidance towards the right product decisions and direction. Furthermore, it communicates the impact and progress to the rest of the company to get more support from other departments.

A good north star metric must consist of two parts:

  1. A vision statement for the product
  2. A metric that is the key measurement of the current product strategy

An example product north star can look like:

Vision:
Help artists to sell their work online
Metric:
The number of sold artworks per week

Most important when finding the north star for the product is that it must be specific to the product and valuable for the customers. For example, one goal can be to optimize the checkout process to have only three steps until a user can purchase a product.

Product guidance with the help of the north star metric is only one piece of the puzzle to scale agile software development across big organizations. No less important is the investment into the development infrastructure.

Invest in Development Infrastructure

Modern software products must be built as small independent units to run on large scale technology stacks without interfering with other parts of the product. With the help of a microservice architecture, multiple agile development teams can deploy and release independent from each other to the production systems. The teams can deploy as early as possible and can monitor the behavior on the production systems. In case there is a problem, the team can either revert or fix the issue right away.

Having a microservice architecture is also an investment in the stability of the software product. If parts of the product can run independent from each other, a single part of the product can fail while the rest of the system works as expected. If patching the live system is not an option, feature toggles might be a solution for companies to switch features off in production.

Keep the Teams Small & Independent

The best way to scale agile software development across the entire company is to have small independent teams. The small team can focus on one part of the whole product to follow the companies north star. Keeping the teams small is one thing. On the other hand, it’s important that everyone on the team has an agile mindset. Everybody on the team must feel responsible for the outcome. If one person in an agile team fails, the whole team will fail the sprint goal.

With the help of agile coaches, the agile mindset and the quality mindset can be spread across the entire company and to each single team. So called scrum of scrums can help to align and scale agile software development across multiple teams.

Scaling Agile Development The Right Way

To scale agile software development in bigger organizations, it’s important to focus on several layers. First of all, a company must have a north star which all teams can follow and to get guidance through their development phases. The next layer for successful scaling is the technical architecture of the system. A company should invest in building or migrating the product with the latest technologies as well as software development patterns to establish a microservice architecture. It will help the company to release as early as possible to production and provide the possibility to easily revert the changes without taking down the whole product.

Key to success to scale agile software development is to have small independent teams. Each team member must have an agile mindset to help each other out in case of bottlenecks of problems. Only a working agile team with the right mindset can be a high performing team.

A nice example on how to scale agile software development across the entire organization is Spotify (Part 1 and Part 2).

Once the engineering organization is working with agile methodologies and is scaled to deliver products with high speed and high quality, a company can think of scaling the agile mindset to other departments too. Why stop at the engineering level, when marketing, sales or even human resources can establish an agile mindset to understand the needs of the company and their north star?

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