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Agile Methodology

Scaling Agile Frameworks: SAFe, LeSS or Nexus to Roll Out Agile at Scale?

Mihaela Chelsoi
Mihaela Chelsoi
Scrum Master & Agile Coach

When managing simple projects is hard enough, bringing multiple teams to work on one product could grow into a disaster. A team of 50-200 professionals often faces similar issues to smaller teams, but the scale of those problems tends to be far more significant.

You get the point: big teams face more extensive issues that can spiral out of control quickly. When there isn’t an easy path forward, relying on Scaling Agile Frameworks will help your teams stay sane & productive.

SAFe, LeSS, or Nexus demand cultural transformation and require excellent Scrum Maturity for all teams involved. So, let’s take a look at all of them separately.

SAFe: Leading Framework for Scaling Agile Across the Enterprise

Imagine this scenario: the number of people on your team skyrockets to 150. How are you going to communicate with everyone? Are you able to keep up with your team members?

Situations like this are perfect for SAFe. Designed to coordinate big Agile projects and teams since its foundation in 2011, this type of Agile framework has helped the largest enterprises in the world find a new way to develop software and deliver value.

The leading SAFe principles are:

  • Apply systems thinking
  • Assume variability and preserve options
  • Build incrementally with fast learning
  • Base milestones on the delivery of working systems
  • Visualize and limit WIP, reduce batch size, and manage queue length
  • Apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain planning
  • Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers
  • Decentralize decision-making

scaling agile frameworks

Everything has an end goal; applying the SAFe framework seeks to ensure  that all players involved in the development process and that all of them are on the same page when they have to go from business strategy to execution.

Scaling Agile using the SAFe framework proved to be quite efficient with impressive results:

  • 30-75% Faster time to market
  • 10-50% increase in employee engagement
  • 25-75% increase in productivity
  • 20-50% improvement in quality

According to the 13th Annual State of Agile Report, SAFe remains one of the most popular Agile frameworks that organizations follow when scaling Agile. Many organizations prefer this option as it offers a chance to achieve milestones quickly.

For a team of 50-120 people that work in a traditional enterprise, SAFe is a suitable choice that provides the needed “push” to evolve.

This leader among the Agile scaling frameworks has prerequisites that are key to ensure its successful implementation:

  • Agile management style
  • Agile teams’ mentality
  • Agile process
  • Development framework
  • User stories

All these factors revolve around the idea that the team is open to change, can make decisions fast and has good user stories with acceptance criteria.

The three levels of collaboration in SAFe:

  • The Portfolio is a selection of the investment themes along with appointing a budget for each
  • The Program has an important role called Agile Release Train (ART), representing several teams that work on the same business outcome
  • The Team consists of a Product Owner, a Scrum Master, and a Development Team

If you know Scrum, you are probably already familiar with Artifacts. The SAFe framework is not an exception! It has two artifacts: Product Backlog and Sprint Backlog.

Implementing SAFe may sound simple at first, but that can quickly change once you begin. Initially, the team should have an Agile mindset. From the start, it’s necessary to train each team member in SAFe and launch the first Agile release trains. This way, you’ve laid the groundwork for applying the framework. Defining the value stream and its adjustability will then determine the project’s performance. To top it off, create an environment where your team’s roles proposed by SAFe will flourish.

Scrum Artifacts are more critical than you may think, as they provide essential information for the Scrum Team and the Stakeholders.

Advantages of SAFe:

  • It combines  the best ideas from Agile and Lean
  • It can recognize dependencies and resolve them during planning
  • It contributes to a high level of engagement from stakeholders
  • The Agile Release Train provides synchronicity, efficiency and predictability
  • Teams are organized on a feature basis

More with LeSS: An Agile Framework For Continuous Improvement 

Is there a way to ensure that the team’s attention is focused on the full product and not on a particular part? Here’s where LeSS comes in handy!

LeSS, an organizational design framework that works alongside Scrum requires examining the purpose of one-team Scrum elements and figuring out how to reach the same goal while staying within the constraints of the standard Scrum rules.

Scaling Agile - Less Framework

For teams, LeSS is an Agile framework with rules that allows product groups to experiment and discover what works best for them in specific moments.

The two large-scale LeSS Scrum frameworks are single-team Scrum scaled up: LeSS (up to eight teams) and LeSS Huge (up to a few thousand people on one product).

LeSS Principles:

  • Large-Scale Scrum is Scrum
  • Empirical process control
  • Transparency
  • More with less
  • Whole-product focus
  • Customer-centric
  • Continuous improvement towards perfection
  • Systems thinking
  • Lean thinking
  • Queuing theory

In LeSS, each team has a dedicated full-time Scrum Master that helps its members maintain a whole-product focus. The Product Owner is responsible for prioritizing and clarifying items in the backlog. At the same time, the Development team, which incorporates from 2 to 8 teams, is a cross-functional and self-organized building block with a shared work product.

As with most Agile frameworks, LeSS implies that all teams will participate in events like Sprint Planning One & Two, Product Backlog Refinement (PBR), Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, Retrospective, and Overall Retrospective. Each team will have a sprint backlog that derives from a single Product Backlog.

For bigger teams, LeSS Huge is a proper solution.

LeSS Huge roles:

  • Product Owner: one PO for the entire product
  • Area Product Owner: one area PO for each requirement
  • Scrum Master: one SM for each team
  • Development teams: 2 to 8 for each area, no more than 3 areas

LeSS Huge artifacts:

  • Product Backlog: a general overview of all the work that needs to be completed
  • Area Backlog: a view into the Product Backlog based on the requirement area, where items are split, clarified and prioritized independently
  • Sprint Backlog: the list of work that needs to be implemented by the team to complete the selected Area Backlog Items

Advantages of LeSS:

  • Scales up Scrum patterns using small batches to deliver benefit realization to the business every sprint
  • Structures teams around features
  • Supports multiple teams working on a product
  • Emphasizes customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Focuses on collaboration and learning across teams

Nexus: A Process for Scaling Agile Framework for Multiple Scrum Teams

The Nexus framework divides up to 80 people into 3 to 9 Scrum teams working on a single Product Backlog.

In terms of the organization process, Nexus differs from other previously mentioned frameworks.

Nexus Team Roles:

  • The Nexus Integration Team consists of the Product Owner, a Scrum Master, and Nexus Integration Team Members
  • Three to Nine Scrum Teams

So, what does the workflow look like in Nexus?

  • Refinement of the Product Backlog: the identification and minimization/removal of dependencies in the Product Backlog
  • Nexus Sprint Planning: a review of the Product Backlog by representatives from each Scrum Team
  • Development Work: the integration of all work into a shared environment for testing
  • Nexus Daily Scrum: daily meetings of representatives from each development team
  • Nexus Sprint Review: a meeting at the end of the Sprint to provide feedback on the Integrated Increment built over the sprint
  • Nexus Sprint Retrospective: a meeting of representatives from each Scrum Team to identify shared challenges. The Nexus Sprint Retrospective is followed by Individual Sprint Retrospectives

Scaling Agile - Nexus framework

As with any Scrum Framework, Nexus consists of Scrum Teams and their associated components: roles, events, artifacts, and rules.

Nexus Events:

  • Refinement of the Product Backlog: a forecast of which team will deliver Product Backlog items and identify dependencies across those teams
  • Nexus Sprint Planning: coordination of all activities for all Scrum teams during one Sprint
  • Nexus Sprint Goal: an objective for the Sprint
  • Nexus Daily Scrum: an inspection of the Integrated Increment’s current state to identify integration issues or cross-team dependencies/cross-team impacts
  • Nexus Sprint Review: an event held at the end of the Sprint to provide feedback on the Integrated Increment built over the Sprint
  • Nexus Sprint Retrospective: a meeting to inspect the previous Sprint and plan improvements for the next one, ensuring continuous improvement

Nexus is also defined by Artifacts, opportunities for inspection and adaptation that are crucial in providing transparency.

Nexus Artifacts

  • Product Backlog: a single Product Backlog for all Nexus Scrum Teams managed by the Product Owner
  • Nexus Sprint Backlog: a combination of Product Backlog items from the Sprint Backlogs of the individual Scrum teams
  • Integrated Increment: the sum of all integrated work completed by a Nexus, inspected at the Nexus Sprint Review

Advantages of Nexus:

  • High level of productivity
  • Optimization of all efforts
  • Self-organization of a more significant number of developers
  • Possibility to detect anomalies in productivity
  • Practices to address issues that might appear in large teams

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