Tactical Agility at Scale

Tactical agility at scale refers to the application of agile and lean strategies on IT delivery teams.  When people hear the word “scale” they often think large teams.  Fair enough, but our experience is that there is far more to scaling at the tactical level than just that.  The following diagram overviews the factors that will affect your efforts to tactically scale agility on IT delivery teams.

Figure 1. Complexity factors of the Software Development Context Framework (SDCF).

SDCF Scaling Factors

These scaling factors are described in greater detail in the article Software Development Context Framework (SDCF). The SDCF is used to provide context for organizing your people, process, and tools for a software-based solution delivery team.

Figure 2 overviews the three levels for what it means to scale agile delivery in a tactical manner:

  1. Agile/Lean. The first level captures how organizations typically start with agile or lean methods such as Scrum or Kanban. These methods require you to build upon their foundations, in the case of Scrum to add in techniques from other methods such as Extreme Programming (XP), Agile Modeling, Crystal, Agile Data, and many others. In the case of Kanban you first apply Kanban to your existing approach to start streamlining it, then eventually evolving your process with strategies encapsulated from other methods. In either case they implicitly assume your team has significant process expertise.
  2. Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD). The DA framework does the “heavy lifting” for you by showing how the various agile strategies work together, taking your existing agile teams to the next level and giving teams new to agile a head start by providing the process guidance they require. Disciplined Agile supports several full delivery lifecycles in a flexible, goal-driven manner that is tailorable to meet the needs of the situation that you find yourself in. The framework promotes a robust set of agile roles and a light-weight agile governance strategy that reflect the realities faced by modern IT organizations. In short, Disciplined Agile provides the solid foundation from which to tactically scale agile solution delivery.
  3. Agility at scale. This is the delivery process tailored to address the scaling factors of the SDCF (see Figure 1). You will tailor your process, your team structure, and your tooling strategies to reflect the situation that you find yourself in. Table 1 summarizes how each scaling factor affects your process tailoring efforts.

Figure 2. Tactically and strategically scaling your agile delivery process.

Agility at Scale v2


Table 1: How the scaling factors affect your tailoring of the DA framework.

Scaling Factor Process Goals Primarily Affected Further Reading
Team Size Large Agile Teams
Geographic distribution Geographically Distributed Agile Teams
Organizational distribution Disciplined Agile Outsourcing
Compliance Agile and Regulatory Compliance
Domain complexity TBD
Technical complexity TBD

Figure 2 also indicates that there are four organizational levels to consider when scaling agile delivery.  These organizational levels are:

  1. Individual (tactical/strategic). As an agile professional, you need to understand the fundamental agile/lean principles and to follow those principles in your every day work.  In other words you need to “be agile”.  However, being agile isn’t enough, you also need to “do agile” by following agile strategies and practices. To be effective you need to understand how these strategies and practices fit together, and when (not) to apply them. Finally, you need to be flexible enough to modify your approach for the situations that you find yourself in.
  2. Team (tactical/strategic). Your team needs to be “whole”, in that it should include team members with the skills to address the problem that it faces. The team should be organized and work in manner that reflects the scaling factors that it faces.  This is particularly true for IT delivery teams.
  3. IT department (strategic). Your IT department will have teams facing different situations, which means that they will be following different tailorings of the DA framework (or may even be following non-DA strategies, sadly enough). The implication is that your IT strategy must be sufficiently flexible to support such diversity.
  4. Organization/Enterprise (strategic). Your entire organization should work in an agile/lean manner that dynamically optimizes your whole, overall strategy.

As you can see, the first two organizational levels are applicable to both tactical and strategic scaling whereas the second two levels are focused on strategic agility at scale.

Disciplined Agile Supports Tactical Agility at Scale

An important feature of the Disciplined Agile (DA) framework is that it provides a foundation from which to scale agile solution delivery at a tactical level. The framework does this in several manners, including its:

  1. Explicit support for the scaling factors.
  2. Process goal-based strategy.
  3. Support for all aspects of software development.
  4. Support for several beginning-to-end delivery lifecycles.
  5. Support for a robust set of roles.
  6. Enterprise awareness.

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