This is the story of how I came to specialise in large-scale Agile development, what influenced my direction and ultimately, why I now consider implementing large-scale agile as at least 80% organisational transformation with only 20%. Any framework that ignores the 80% will give you marginal gains at best.
My Introduction to Large-Scale Software Development and LeSS
When I first started working with multiple teams, I did not know where to start. Scrum is great at lowering the water and exposing rocks within organisations. This is only amplified when you try to scale Scrum. Back when I started, I had very little to go on. I had to work it out.
- How to structure teams?
- How to coordinate between them?
- How to scale the Product Owner?
Thankfully, I stumbled upon the book that was to become my bible. Scaling Lean and Agile Development by Craig Larman and Bas Vodde gave me the tools and techniques I needed to get going. Soon, I was implementing what I had learnt and running my own experiments. Seeing what worked and what did not in a given context helped to shape my belief that there can be no cookie-cutter solution. With high levels of complexity and contextual learning, minimal prescriptiveness plus empiricism are vital.
In 2010, Craig and Bas’s next book was published; Practices for Scaling Lean and Agile Development. This gave me insight into nearly all 600 experiments they had conducted over the years at Nokia and beyond. It further shaped my belief that experimentation over conformance is key. I shaped my approach to scaling Scrum based on these two books and I began implementing its teaching with my many clients. My chance discovery of two wonderful book had allowed me to begin coaching LeSS way before the framework officially existed.
Understanding other approaches
I was recently asked by a prominent figure in the Agile world if I felt being a Certified LeSS Trainer and a SAFe Program Consultant was congruent. My answer was a firm yes. Let me explain why…
I took the 4 day SPC with Dean Leffingwell to gain a better understanding of what SAFe was about. There is a lot of talk in the industry about SAFe, much of which is from people that are not informed. SAFe has its strengths and its weaknesses. I do not train or coach SAFe, however, I believe that understanding it allows me to answer the difficult questions that arise around it during training. It is helpful to be able to compare and contrast frameworks from a position of knowledge. If you are wondering about the similarities, they both have four letters and a lower case ‘e’.
Becoming a LeSS Trainer
Craig Larman and Bas Vodde launched the LeSS framework in 2015. When they announced that they were looking for candidate trainers, I was quick to register my interest. Being a Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coach and having already been applying the concepts for some time with my clients, I was well placed to begin the journey to trainer.
After accepting me as a candidate, Craig and Bas were very generous with their time and mentoring. I attended Craig’s Certified LeSS Practitioner course in London in February 2015. It was one of the first courses in the world. I was excited to have a ‘candidate trainer seat’ on the course. It was exactly a week after the birth of my second daughter which was not ideal, but the course was one of the best I have been on. After each of the 3 days, three of us stayed behind to debrief with Craig on the issues of the day and how we could one day effectively deliver them ourselves. Learning from one of the greatest minds in the industry was inspiring for me. I emerged thoroughly enthused to continue down the trainer path.
The next step was getting my case study published. All trainers are expected to have successfully worked on at least one LeSS (or LeSS-like) adoption. I worked closely with Craig to tell the story of a large e-commerce organisation operating throughout Europe and how we make a huge impact on their ability to delight their customer through small and frequent releases; even with multiple-teams collaborating. You can read the case study here. Frustratingly, I did not gain agreement from the client to publish, so we have had to disguise the name. I have shared everything else. After we were all happy, it was finally published as an official case study which was greatly satisfying as an endorsement of my application of the LeSS principles and patterns.
With the main hurdles cleared, it was then a case of ploughing through, and digesting, the long reading list for candidate trainers. This gave great insight into the minds of Craig and Bas and why things are as they are. I learnt a lot from these books. My graphical representation of LeSS left a little to be desired, but I did my best. I hope to have another go in the new year to create something better. Maybe Christmas will get my creative juices flowing.
The final hurdle was a gruelling interview with Bas. We talked about all sorts of things from the reading list and rules and patterns of LeSS adoption. He pressed me pretty hard, but I enjoyed the conversation and his deep understanding of how to scale product development. I became a LeSS trainer in May 2015. Including Craig and Bas, I was the fifth trainer worldwide and the first in the UK. As I write this, there are still only eleven in the world.
LeSS is a framework in which I firmly believe. I have seen first hand the power of applying the principles, organisational thinking tools and patterns. I enjoy sharing my learning with others and guiding organisations through to agility at scale. A journey that can often feel like walking through a thick fog. I believe that my training and coaching go some way to clearing that fog.
I feel very privileged to be part of this small, but hugely experienced community. The trainers are a tight group of great guys and the collaboration is non-stop. Working so closely with some of the world’s most experienced though-leaders in large-scale product development has helped me to raise my game.
I believe that 2016 will be the year that LeSS really takes hold. I look forward to being part of the success of a great framework that has transformed so many organisations and will, no doubt, transform many more.