The Complete Guide to Scaling Agile with Jira Software and Portfolio

We live in an agile world. A world where the ability to anticipate and quickly adapt to change has become a powerful source of competitive advantage. Success in this world demands that businesses become more nimble and adaptable.

Since the release of the Agile Manifesto, many large organizations have embarked on the journey to refine their business models and processes, with software teams at the forefront of agile transformation initiatives.

Now, other non-tech teams, such as HR and Marketing, are following suit. They’re using agile methodologies to bring products to market faster, quickly anticipate and respond to customers, and keep pace with changes inside and outside the organization.

Deploying agile at scale is a much bigger challenge than building discrete agile teams. In the 12th State of Agile report by VersionOne, 52% of organizations surveyed stated that more than half of their teams are already employing agile practices. However, only 16% of them said their companies had reached a high agile maturity level.

Before scaling agile, it’s crucial to understand your organization’s needs and how agile fits into the big picture. This complete guide will equip you and your organization with a deep understanding of agile at scale—its principles, challenges, and popular scaling frameworks.

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Agility isn’t about creating products that sell, it’s all about designing a new way of working. This mindset has been exemplified by the world’s fastest growing “unicorns” like Spotify and Airbnb. These digital platforms are designed to support borderless collaboration, liberate the full capacities of the teams doing the work, and most importantly, to delight customers through rapid iteration.

That said, enterprise agile consists of both self-directed and cross-functional teams. As these teams grow in size, a new breed of organizational structure starts to take shape – the “wirearchy“. This operating model helps reduce silos in processes and keep business objectives aligned with downstream deliverables.

The organizing principle for an era of interconnected knowledge, trust, and credibility.

Wirearchy, coined by organisational advisor Jon Husband, “is about the power and effectiveness of people working together through connection and collaboration… taking responsibility individually and collectively rather than relying on traditional hierarchical status.”

Tightly correlated with agile principles, the wirearchy of teams is linked around the organization’s vision. Each team decides which tasks to complete within a given duration, as well as the strategies to achieve them. If needed, teams can pull talent from other functions depending on the priorities of tasks. And the leadership role is to maintain a clear line of sight between individual teams’ daily activities and the company’s collective goals.

How can business leaders facilitate the transition into the wirearchy model? The answer is scaled agile.

Simply put, it means designating work across IT, HR, and Finance, among other functions, based on the requirements of the entire customer experience (product-driven), rather than according to a single interaction between the customer and the business (project-driven).

To sum it up, agile at scale is a transformation journey from agile project level, portfolio level, to the organization level. It calls for a cultural shift from project-driven to become product-oriented, supported by strategic investments in agile development tools.

The essential first step for agile leaders is to determine the right scaling frameworks for an effective agility expansion.

Scaled Agile Methodologies

VersionOne’s State of Agile survey also identified the most popular scaling approaches, as listed below:

As with anything in life, there is no one-size-fits-all scaling method for every business. By understanding the core differences as well as the benefits of each framework, you can adopt the right solution(s) for your organization.

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

SAFe is the most widely adopted framework for scaling agile across the enterprise. It’s designed to help businesses achieve high-value work continuously on a predictable schedule.

The framework provides guidance for all levels of development:

  • Team
  • Program
  • Large Solution (optional)
  • Portfolio (optional)

Depending on the scale of implementation and the business complexity, there are different SAFe configurations: Essential SAFe, Large Solution, Portfolio, and Full SAFe. We recommend that you start with the framework that is appropriate for your agile environment, and only upscale if required.

Besides the common taxonomy of vision, roadmap, and backlog, there are other artifacts that are unique to SAFe like Value Streams and Agile Release Train (ART). ART is a group of individuals focus on defining, building, and testing solutions. They are self-organizing agile teams aligned around the value streams. This is also the fundamental concept of the scaled agile framework.

Scrum of Scrums

Scrum of Scrums
Scrum of Scrums scaling

According to agile principles, Scrum involves daily meetings so that everyone in the scrum team stays aligned on their work. In large-scale contexts, having multiple scrum teams attending the daily scrum will most likely turn into chaos. That’s where Scrum of Scrums comes into the picture: each team prepares one or more representatives who then meet and report on their team’s status.

This framework allows you to quickly create different backlogs with multiple releases from individual scrum teams. From there, the development team knows which requirements depend on each other as well as the current status of those dependencies. With Scrum of Scrums, you can flexibly reallocate resources to help move the project forward in case of project creep.

Disciplined Agile Delivery (DaD)

Disciplined Agile Delivery
Workflow of a Disciplined Agile IT department

Disciplined Agile Delivery is a hybrid between Scrum and other methods, including Agile Modeling, Kanban, Lean, and SAFe. Which means, DaD aims to solve the challenges faced by other scaling frameworks, primarily in terms of complexity of terminology, processes, and roles.

DaD takes a people-first approach by suggesting a robust set of roles, including: Team roles (team lead, product owner, team member, and architecture owner), the Stakeholders, and secondary roles (specialist, independent tester, domain expert, technical expert, integrator).

This approach enables the agile leader to address the full, end-to-end delivery lifecycle from project initiation all the way to delivering the solution to its end users. Under this framework, teams can focus on all aspects of solution delivery, including the technical aspects that Scrum leaves out.

Which Scaled Agile Method is Suitable for Your Organization?

Note that an ideal framework is one that doesn’t involve a steep learning curve for your team. If you’re going to change the way your organization behaves (e.g. reporting structure or team’s responsibilities) make sure that these changes reflect the company values and business needs.

Need help to pick the best scaling framework? Contact us today for a free consultation today.

Benefits of Implementing Agile at Scale

By setting up scrums and experimenting with agile practices beyond technical teams, companies can synchronize multiple business units and remove cultural, technical, and operational hindrances to produce better products in a shorter lifecycle.

Therefore, today’s organizations see agility as the key to surviving market disruption. Implemented correctly, organizational agility can (1) bring alignment and conformity to complex business processes and boost productivity, (2) break down siloed functions to improve employee engagement, (3) implement close feedback loops across all business units to ensure high product quality, and (4) empower innovations that can be delivered in shorter cycles.

The key benefits of implementing agile at scale are shown below:

Productivity boost
Productivity Boost

Ensure alignment and conformity of complex business processes.

Engagement boost
Engagement Boost

Break down siloed teams to increase transparency and cross-functional collaboration.

Quality boost
Quality Boost

Maintain interactions between IT and other functions for tighter feedback loops, with customer needs at the heart of the business strategy.

Time to market boost
Time to Market Boost

Innovate with rapid iterations and increase delivery frequency in response to customer demands.

Take Cisco’s large-scale agile transformation case study as an example.

Cisco’s Collaboration and Communications Group (CCG) began their agile adoption back in 2008 as an effort to promote its customer-focused culture. Having experienced its transformative impact, CCG announced agile as their primary operating model, in which software is developed feature by feature, adding new capabilities and adapting to customer feedback as it grows.

With CCG’s successful trials, other teams at Cisco also started to transform themselves. But without a standard agile process, it is a challenge for the company to extend agile practices beyond CCG. Then arrived the Agile@Cisco team. Their mission is to become a central agile training hub, where any team can access, understand, and use the Cisco Standard Agile methodology through consultative coaching, leveraging agile management tools.

Cisco’s agile-at-scale approach has been proven to improve software development that meets changing user needs and simultaneously transforms the hardware development environment.

Common Roadblocks to Scaling Agile

As discussed above, scaling agile requires a culture shift that involves restructuring organizational hierarchy and refining internal processes.

Research from the State of Agile study indicates that existing culture and the organization’s resistance to change are among the biggest challenges in scaling agile. As such, executive leadership must be agile to lead agile.

Challenges Experienced Adopting & Scaling Agile

Source: 12th State of Agile report

To tackle these scaling challenges, you must get the basics right: create a clear taxonomy that everyone can agree on.

In agile principles, taxonomy explains the nomenclature for your organization. It starts with a clearly defined (organizational) goal, through which you can drill down to team-level goals and what each team is responsible for. The common taxonomy used are:

Agile taxonomy

Once the taxonomy is finalized, go ahead and draw the autonomy line. This is where you allow teams to take full ownership of their stories and tasks. Your job then is to ensure alignment of each team with the rest of the organization’s initiatives.

By doing this, you essentially give teams the freedom to work the way they prefer to, instead of imposing a rigid workflow. Teams can control their sprint planning, assign tasks, and devise the execution strategy without management intervention.

Agile at scale is built on a culture of trust. Giving teams autonomy is a definitive way to manifest this principle. Conversely, teams that trust their management will be more open to change.

Culture change is difficult. One lesson we can take from the Cisco case study above is to assign an agile coach to implement continuous testing with a centralized training and support hub for your teams.

From Team to Enterprise Agility: Is Your Company Ready for It?

Now, we’ve come down to the real question. Is your company ready to scale?

At 6kites, we assess an organization’s scalability in three core areas:

State of agile

  • Is everyone familiar with the language of agile?
  • How many teams are practicing or planning to adopt agile methods (e.g., Scrum or Kanban)?
  • Are there pilot agile projects that can demonstrate early wins?

Agility needs

  • Does the business need to become adaptive to achieve its goals (responsiveness vs efficiency)?
  • Are there functions whose processes are repeatable or governed by strict regulatory compliance? (which may not fit for agile management)

Environment setup

  • Are teams using different toolsets to manage projects?
  • Is the organizational structure flexible enough to let go of command-control hierarchy?

In general, companies that are innovation-led and prioritize adaptability will find success with large-scale agile. Because their operating model revolves around real-time customer demands, agile practices allow them to make major pivots in the face of disruption.

Jira Software and Portfolio Deployment to Support Agile at Scale

Within the scattered world of project management tools, the Atlassian ecosystem stands out for its native agile approach to software design. With Jira Software and Portfolio for Jira ranking at the top of go-to tools for agile development, you’ll be able to steer away from agile at scale pitfalls even before you dive in.

Click the links below to read our in-depth guides to scaling agile with Jira Software and Portfolio for Jira.

Bonus: The Components of Agile Portfolio Management

With Portfolio for Jira, you can manage enterprise-wide projects with confidence. The software is designed with the ideal structure and workflow that link agile execution across teams to business priorities.

Here’s a handy infographic of a typical scaled agile workflow and roles:

Scaled Agile workflows and roles

Design Your Journey to Scale

No two companies are alike, and neither are their agile practices. Whether you’re a luxury hotel chain or a global aerospace leader, your business faces unique challenges, your teams have adopted specific ways of working to address them, and you likely have years of organizational inertia to overcome.

That’s why it’s so important to work with experienced agile consultants like 6kites. We can show you proven best practices that have worked for other teams, help you avoid pitfalls that have tripped up others, and ensure that your tools are optimized to work the way your teams need them to, at any scale.

Get in touch with us for a free, no-commitment consultation to scale agile across your enterprise. In the meantime, watch our On-Demand Agile at Scale Webinar.

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