Meeting Folks’ Needs At Scale

Scaling Agile is one of those oxymorons that has, nevertheless, consumed endless column-inches and hours of debate. I have no time for it. Agile was meant for development-in-the-small. For teams of five to seven people, give or take. Even at that “scale”, I have serious reservations about its efficacy and effectiveness. The idea of scaling it up to multiple dependent teams, or even to whole development departments or groups of hundreds or thousands of people, seems just crazy.

The Demand

Yes. There are organisations with hundreds or thousands of developers working on more or less dependent things. Huge systems. Ginormous products. And these organisations have problems. Boy, do they have problems. They’ve had the same kind of problems for decades now. Advances in tech and tools seems to have made little dent in those problems. Similarly, advances in methods and processes have barely scratched the surface.

So there is a demand. A demand for something better. A demand for a packaged solution that can be simply (ha!) “installed” and run with. And the folks with the problems have money. Lots of money. Bags of moolah.

No wonder it looks like an interesting problem to solve. The thing is, I don’t see many people, either on the demand or the supply side, that actually understand the nature of the problem.

Absent an understanding of the problem, and given their desperation, the demand side will embrace any and all solutions that bear even a vague whiff of credibility. And the “Agile” label these days confers that smell.


All product development is, in essence, an exercise in attending to folks’ needs. The more kinds of folks with needs, the more of their needs we bring into scope, and the quicker we want to see those needs met, the more people we might choose to commit. The question of agile (or not) is a huge irrelevance. Things like communications overheads, coordination, partitioning of needs, a regular cadence, flow, and effective use of resources (time, money, equipment) hold sway. TPDS had these issues sorted out (mostly) years ago with e.g. the Obeya or “big room” concept, set-based concurrent engineering, etc.

I have suggested that something like FlowChain might afford an effective model for organising to meet folks’ needs at scale. I have yet to hear anyone suggest why this model is flawed. Until that day, I will continue to invite you to consider its merits.

The demand side continues to have needs that are not being well-met (due to e.g. a host of pathogenic beliefs). The supply side has needs that are being more-or-less well met by selling solutions largely disconnected from the real problem. Scaling agile seems to me a very one-sided, cynical and exploitative bargain.

– Bob

Further Reading

Moving Past the Scaling Myth ~ Michael Feathers
Lean Product and Process Development ~ Allen Ward

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