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Agile in a Big Company – is it possible?

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Aleks Yenin
Posted by Aleks Yenin
December 11, 2018

How to adapt to fast-changing economy and new business challenges on an everyday basis? This question is especially acute and painful for big companies. Detecting a new trend, a change of the wind, a shift in the micro- and macroeconomic state is a hard but realistic task, and can be performed with equal success by analysts from companies of every scale. Yet when it comes to implementation, small and middle businesses have a significant advantage – they are more flexible and responsive to change simply for having smaller number of facilities and employees. A corporation, in its turn, have always lagged behind because of its large scale. Yet things shouldn’t always be this way.

Big company also can be flexible, and Agile is that very framework that will uncover this potential. Over the decade of Agile existence in the business world it was implemented solely by mid- and small-scale enterprises, especially IT and high-technology, which quickly discovered its value. Large companies reserved to Waterfall approach, until very recently the most progressive among them began one by one implement Agile, fully or certain aspects, and these practices proved successful. Here are a couple of examples.

Agile in Corporations Cases

Company: Spotify

Business: music streaming

Scale: > 2,500 employees and > 100 million users around the world

Case: Spotify needed to improve user experience, in particular help them quickly find the music they would love among millions of tracks. They developed an algorithm that would deliver a fresh playlist to each of them weekly, yet they couldn’t test it in the waterfall environment. After a certain consideration, Spotify decided to implement Agile, which allowed them to successfully conduct a series of tests and launch the Discover Weekly innovation. It was that very feature that resulted in an influx of great number of new users, eventually making Spotify what it is today – the largest global music streaming corporation.


Company: Microsoft

Business: technology, computer software and hardware

Scale: > 100.000 employees

Case: since the moment when Microsoft began its rapid development, its biggest problem was feedback, both from employees and from users. It became especially apparent when they launched Microsoft Vista in 2007. After a lengthy research and testing period, the management began introducing Agile in the working process. This was a game-changer which allowed them to issue updates every week as well as receive a fresh batch of feedback on a regular basis.

From the examples of these, beyond doubt, industry leaders, you can clearly see that Agile can become a basic corporate framework. And since each company has individual environment, there’s really no skeleton key solution for each of them. However, we can outline the common features that apply to Agile in big companies in general. Let’s start with:

Focuses of Agile

  • Delivering customers value

Since the demand has long time ago overtaken the supply, to stay on top an organization needs to meet customer’s needs and do it quick, frictionless and patiently. The increased attention to clients should become a whole change in corporate philosophy.

  • Break work into smaller iterations

In this volatile environment we live today the only way you can control solution of a big problem is by splitting it in smaller batches and assign it to flexible cross-functional teams. What is more, this is the way to you get maximum relevant feedback from both employers and customers.

  • Organization-wide change

For Agile framework to really work, it must be recognized and accepted enterprise-wide, not solely in IT or other departments. It is especially important for large companies – they simply can’t allow discrepancies in performance and philosophy between units.

  • Shift of mindset

Basically, CEO and management need to nurture a whole new different culture, entrepreneurial mindsets and flexible behaviors. Such a change can’t be completed overnight, obviously, so it is highly advisable to conduct trainings and workshops on Agile framework – general ones, for all employees, and department- and even team-wise.

Of course, no matter how prepared you come, it rarely happens so that everything goes as planned – certain drawbacks will always occur. Sadly, you can’t protect you company from them entirely – still, being aware of them is much better than nothing. Therefore, let’s take a close look at

Threats of Agile

  • Work autonomy

The core of Agile framework lies the concept of autonomy and empowerment of each team; yet the transition from waterfall collective responsibility to team-wise and even individual responsibility and importance is usually hard to grasp. As Michele Sliger, The Software Project Manager’s Bridge to Agility author, mentioned: ” The control freak project managers do not let go of decision making and give no control to the members of team.” Another side of the coin is that team members are at a loss, not understanding their roles and not knowing how to adapt to them. As a result, you seemed to promote freedom with this framework, but on practice noone feels free and independent.

What is there to do? The initiative should come from C-suite themselves. Top-management that empower middle-rank managers promote atmosphere of independence and empowerment much more eloquently than thousands of guides and memos.

  • Framework compromise

Each big company has its specifics of work – some practice Extreme Programming, some implement Continuous Integration. These, already conventional for the enterprise practices, often cross or even contradict the Agile framework. Though Agile itself is highly flexible, it has a certain minimal set of artifacts, roles, and ceremonies at its core that are to be left intact.

If we’re talking about large company, the most wise solution there would be to hire an Agile specialist that will regulate all the discrepancies between the practices. His or her main advantage in this situation is not only knowledge, but impartiality. Agile specialist will analyze the workload, production and delivery specifics, culture, and will come up with an unbiased solution on how to balance Agile and other practices.

  • Unwillingness to change culture

Distrust, lack of responsibility and initiative, fear and respect – this intangible things in minds of your employees stand between you and successful Agile implementation. If top management is more open-minded, enthusiastic and thinks more strategically, then staff pays attention to only what’s happening how and what changes await them in the immediate future. Be ready to suspicion, panic, negative feelings, and don’t ever use coercion. Instead, schedule meetings with CEOs and Agile specialists, let everybody express their concern and ease their worries. People like to be talked to, and if you inspire them to follow you – they will.

How to implement Agile in scale on enterprise level?

If the overall philosophy of Agile is the same, be the company large or small, the implementation process for corporations would undoubtedly differ from common ways. At the moment there is a small, but sufficient number of Agile methodologies aimed at specifically large businesses. SAFe and Scrum of Scrums are the the most common of them all, so let’s take a look at them.

SAFe creates the environment where Agile teams and top-down decision-making meet and work together. According to its creator Dean Leffingwell: “SAFe promotes the core values of empowerment and decentralization of control, but not the decentralization of everything. The traditional models of centralized program planning and micro-technical-management are a thing of the past with SAFe. That is empowering.” To get more practical insight in SAFe, follow to our article where we described a couple of the most prominent of them.

Scrum is a significantly different framework, but aimed at the same Agile in the end. It is based on the notion of Scrum – practice of breaking development into smaller-scaled iterations, or sprints, allowing the team dedicate maximum precision and care to each aspect of work. Yet when there are a lot of Scrum-teams, the need for a uniting and facilitating management framework arises, and this what Scrum of Scrums basically is. To learn more about the methodology and how it is performed by Polontech specialists, follow the link here.

So this is all what awaits an enterprise that wants to adapt Agile. If you feel like you’re unable to handle the situation with Agile transformation on your own, you’re most welcome to turn to Agile specialists from Polontech.

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