Agile at Scale

How to go from a few teams to hundreds

by Darrell K. Rigby, Jeff Sutherland, and Andy Noble

Big-bang transitions are hard

To go from a handful of agile innovation teams in a function like software development to scores, even hundreds, throughout your company — to make agile the dominant way you operate? That’s a seemingly impossible but enticing proposition.

After all, established companies are furiously battling assaults from start-ups and other insurgent competitors. And that makes the prospect of a fast-moving, adaptive organization highly appealing. But turning it into a reality is just plain hard. It’s not unusual to see companies launch hundreds of new agile teams only to see them bottlenecked by slow-moving bureaucracies.

How the experts are doing it

Even the most advanced agile enterprises — Amazon, Spotify, Google, Netflix, Bosch, Saab, SAP, Salesforce, Riot Games, Tesla, and SpaceX, to name a few — operate with a mix of agile teams and traditional structures. To ensure that bureaucratic functions don’t hamper the work of agile teams or fail to adopt and commercialize the innovations developed by those teams, such companies constantly push for greater change in at least four areas.

Don’t fear the great beyond. SpaceX doesn’t.

Agile’s test-and-learn approach is often described as incremental and iterative, but no one should mistake incremental development processes for incremental thinking.  Look at SpaceX. They aim to use agile innovation to begin transporting people to Mars by 2024, with the goal of establishing a self-sustaining colony on the planet. How will that happen? Well, people at the company don’t really know…yet. But they have a vision that it’s possible, and they have some steps in mind.

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