Enterprise Agility – How far would you go?

One of the sessions in the Agile Coach Camp Canada 2014, in open space format, was on Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). The session attracted many participants who works in large enterprises. The interesting thing is that rather than talking about the specific implementation and experiences people had with SAFe, the discussion went directly to whether SAFe is agile enough to be called an agile framework. The specific arguments are outside the scope of this blog. The main argument (my interpretation) against it though is that SAFe seems to put an iterative, but somewhat sequential and hierarchical structure around accepted agile methodologies like Scrum and Kanban. The main proponent (my interpretation again) for this framework feels that the current corporate structure and external environmental factors like regulation is a real hard constraint just like any other technical constraint that agilists have to work with. SAFe is a very attractive way of building enterprise agility with what we have. This is very interesting to me as I am currently consulting for a big bank in Canada. Does this provide a structured way to finally bring large enterprises across the chasm over to mainstream agile community?

Incidentally, I got involved in a passionate online debate on LinkedIn group Lean and Agile Software Development – “QA organization with agile teams”. The discussion started with a question on whether you need a QA Director role in an agile software development organization of decent size. The replies converged nicely into a qualified “no”. While the managerial oversight is an overkill, the need of a voice in support of quality and quality practices is there. The need to nurture and care for QA professionals in the team also exists. Whether these responsibilities become job of one or more and whether they have a title of Director are implementation details. However, the discussion spiraled into whether a flat network system is better than hierarchical structure. While no one favours a deep hierarchy, people with senior management responsibilities, myself included, think there is a scalability issue with network systems within enterprises or public companies.   Sooner or later, hierarchy will emerge to manage external interaction and inter-dependencies between networks.

This brings me back to the original discussion on SAFe. If the premise of flat network systems can become a reality than SAFe may not be the most agile framework that can be applied. However, is it possible for an enterprise to undergo such a drastic transformation even if you have years or decades? How far would you go to move your or your large enterprise client’s organization towards that direction?