Mode 2 Meetup: How to scale and remain agile

Blog by Laura Brown, Social Media Manager at Registers of Scotland.

After three and a half years working at Skyscanner, Greg Urquhart’s an expert at implementing Agile methods across big teams (we’re talking 650 staff here). His presentation for the Mode2 Meetup at the Registers of Scotland (RoS) in November focused on how to remain Agile when working at scale.

‘When people talk about scaling and agile, scaling dominates everyone’s thinking… and the bit about agility drops away,’ Greg explained via Skype. ‘This is fundamentally the wrong approach to take.’

So how do you approach this challenge within a large organisation? ‘You have to understand what agile means for you and your company,’ Greg says. There is clearly some confusion around this though. ‘People will tell you their framework is Agile when it really isn’t. The values and principles are only ideas, so they scale very well. Where we run into difficulty is when you put things into practice.’

 

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One of Greg’s key points is that – to effectively use Agile principles at scale – you need to figure out how to simplify your organisation. ‘It’s important to align people and resources to strategic objectives and key results.’ By taking a big organisation (or your team) and splitting it into small chunks, Agile will fit in more naturally. ‘If you stop thinking about your organisation as a hierarchy and start seeing it as a graph, you’ll see where teams are dependent on others.’ And it’s this dependence that, ultimately, prevents teams from being fully Agile.

Here’s six key steps that, in Greg’s view, can help your team be Agile:

  • Simplify the organisational graph over building a hierarchy
  • Give squads mastery, purpose and autonomy
  • Build tribe incubators for squads that need to work together closely
  • Create guilds to help share learning
  • Agree the responsibility of line management and delivery management
  • Commit to minimum viable bureaucracy

It’s also important to choose the right tool for the job. How did Greg succeed at Skyscanner? It was all about specifying objectives and key results over programme backlogs. ‘The first objective in Skyscanner was that all products have to be as good on mobile devices as they are on desktop. So our key result was the conversion rate on a desktop versus a mobile.’

Once you’ve got this objective, it’s time to share it. ‘Explain to people how you know what you want to achieve and how you’re achieving it. The next question is to the team – how can you best contribute to achieving this objective?’

Now it’s up to the team. ‘If you want your organisation to be Agile, you need the people in your organisation to be Agile as well,’ Greg says. This means that team members will be multi-skilled, or in other words, ‘polyglots over specialists.’

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