Agile adoption strategies for large corporates

Everyone is different. Organisations are also different. The personality of an organisation is its culture. When we look to improve an organisation, it is the culture that needs to change. Applying different out of the box tools doesn’t work, because every culture is slightly different. We call this starting place, the context in which we work.

According to Larman’s Laws, Culture follows structure.

We therefore need to be prepared for structure change in any Agile adoption.

There are several observable implicit strategies for Agile adoption. These are bottom up, bottom up and top down, the big bang, and the full stack pull model. I will briefly describe these models.

Bottom up

Agile started as a set of single team software processes. It is not surprising then, to see single development teams adopt team level Agile. As the teams have success and other teams follow, all the teams start ‘doing’ Agile.

The problem comes here because the rest of the organisation does not support it, or perhaps even know about it. The higher costs of infrastructure that Agile demands and the higher levels of engagement from Product Ownership are not supplied and the Agile benefits are only minimal. The teams will still see pressure from large batch and long term thinking from other departments such as finance, with yearly budgets, or HR with yearly single person reviews.

Darren from Radtac2 calls this the ‘shallow wave’ adoption.

Bottom up and top down

This type of adoption is slightly better with the exec team getting on onboard because they understand the benefits that Agile can bring. Being at the top of the hierarchy allows execs to ‘command’ that the organisation is ‘going’ Agile. This gives the teams at the bottom some ability to fund the team level changes that they need. However, the middle management don’t get it, don’t want it, and will at best be passive and at worst attempt to destabilise the change process.

No real change can occur, because in this format, the paths of communication, transparency and collaboration between different branches of the hierarchy is frozen at the management level. Eventually the exec team get bored with the process and stop funding.

This adoption (again from the Radtac model), is called the Tsunami adoption. See diagram.

As the wave of change breaks, the guys at the bottom often get chastised by middle management for trying something so foolish.

The Big Bang

Frameworks such a SAFe, require large groups of people to change the way they work simultaneously. A typical release train is between 50 and 125 people. SAFe includes the budgeting model for Agile based on Rami Sirkia’s work.

The big bang approach will either work or it won’t. Much depends on the context (culture) of the organisation at the beginning.

There are certain behaviours that can determine whether you are likely to succeed, however, nothing is certain and this approach carries a fair amount of risk and can be expensive to get right. It can work.

The Full Stack Pull Model

This model is my adoption model of choice. It starts with identifying a single product and finding a thin slice through the entire organisation’s hierarchy stack. Include people all the way through the stack who are involved with the product.

Align everyone in that stack around the product using things like Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) as an alignment tool and fully fund the quality and infrastructure parts that the teams need. (Think continuous test and delivery).

Do use some metrics to measure success, BUT be aware all metrics distort the behaviour of those being measured. So keep measurement and governance simple, like measuring quality, cycle time and customer satisfaction.

Then pull the rest of the organisation into the Agile way of thinking, product by product.

This has the benefit of aligning the organisation around customers and product, keeping risk low and focusing on how the changes affect the organisation’s context.

Build around motivated people.

This is the sustainable and T-Shaped organisation approach. See diagram.

More information

Please get in contact if you would like help with Agile adoption in your organisation.

Concept and diagram courtesy of

Read next:  What Are The Scaling Agile Frameworks and How Are They Different?

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