Blog Agile@Scale and your DNA

Agile@Scale & your DNA

Many organisations believe arbitrarily choosing one of the different Scaling Agile Frameworks will lead to success. This is certainly not the case and may lead to unintended negative consequences. Your company DNA should be the deciding factor for which Agile practices are tested and adopted.  

Authors: Sonja Noben, Anne-Marie Zeghers & Laurence Jourdain

Historical successes and failures of Agile

Agile ideas have been around for years. Since the forties, Kanban helps visualise and speed up the flow of activities. Scrum, introduced in 1986, simplifies and improves software delivery. The Agile Manifesto, drafted in 2001, adds Agile values into the mix.

Many smaller organisations leveraged these methodologies and mindsets to improve their delivery of business value. However, medium to large sized organisations experienced lesser success. Due to the complexity and dependencies inherently present at larger organisations, the benefits of Agile ways of working were not always obtained.


Framing Agility for larger structures

This led to the origin of Scaling Agile Frameworks. These frameworks expand Agility to the enterprise level by including all the activities of the organisation, also providing solutions for the dependency issues.  Many such frameworks are available today (e.g. SAFe, LeSS, Nexus, DaD, …).

A smart and successful Agile transformation tests and implements practices found in different Scaling Agile Frameworks to create an Agile Operating Model that fits the company DNA.


Organisations wonder which Scaling Agile Framework offers the magical success formula that can be implemented ‘of the shelf’. In our experience, none of them do. DigitalScaler Logo White Sonja Noben

What DNA components drive your framework design?

When creating an Agile Operating Model based on the existing Scaling Agile Frameworks, start by asking yourself the following questions:

Why do you want to go Agile@Scale? 

What are your transformation goals? Do you want to become more customer-centric, speed up delivery, raise quality, reduce cost or something else? Your primary focus will always be decisive and guiding.

How fast do you want to transform?  

Are you operating against a deadline? Building your own framework with plenty of bottom-up feedback will create the highest buy-in and tailoring qualities, whereas frameworks rolled-out in a top down fashion will often produce faster results.

What is your executive buy-in?

Is the entire executive team on board or are you dealing with political tension? Be mindful of who wants to tread new paths, and who would rather stay the course. Stakeholders can strengthen or undermine your design choices.

What is your leadership & management culture?  

Would you describe your organisation as centralised or decentralised? Organisations with a historical sense of control and departmental hierarchy have very different needs in comparison with flat organisations who boot an entrepreneurship culture.

What is the size of your organisation? 

Are we dealing with a small start-up or a large corporate? Smaller organisations may feel at ease with simpler and flexible solutions, whilst complex and traditional organisations may prefer a more heavily structured way of working as it is recognisable.

How fragmented is your organisation? 

Do you need to manage large amounts of dependencies? Based on the number of departments and how autonomous they operate, you may benefit from dependency orchestration that ranges from loose to formal.

Do you prefer standardisation over customisation? 

Is there a benefit to having everybody work in the same manner? Based on team and work homogeneity, it may be beneficial or destructive to allow only one way of working.

Are people ready for a new challenge?

Are you willing to rethink roles and responsibilities? Organisation can continue with their current functional roles or adopt a whole new set that require a (partial) recasting of the workforce.

How complex is your architecture? 

Are we dealing with a monolithic or legacy (IT) architecture? This can prevent independence of service or product development. Having access to state-of-the-art technology allows for autonomous teams.

While these questions are in no means holistic, and additional data-points based on organisation and industry may be required, the insights gathered will help tremendously in identifying the Agile practices that fit your DNA.  Mastering their importance, weighing each and prioritizing them will be key for defining your own Agile way of working.

Authors: Sonja Noben, Anne-Marie Zeghers, Laurence Jourdain

Making it all fit together

Combinations of Scaling Agile Frameworks are possible and are in most cases valuable. The history and the structure of the organisation must drive the model development, making the transformation bridge easier to cross. This may very well be the reason why many large and complex organisations implement prescriptive Agile models in the first place. However, one should make the constant reflection on how much can be taken out of these prescriptive rules in order to simplify the Agile model.

Any Agile Operating Model should be adapted to the DNA of the organisation, to the “smell of the place”, and to the inherent way of thinking and habits. DigitalScaler Logo White Sonja Noben

DigitalScaler strongly recommends having a transformation team in place, one that combines (external) experts who have hands on experience in different frameworks and (internal) employees who know the organisation inside out. This approach ensures that the model will stick to the company’s DNA. 

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