5 Considerations For Scaling Agility Across a Distributed Enterprise

Distributed enterprises are a reality in today’s global economy. Agile ideals tell us that everyone must be co-located and working face-to-face, but when you have 3,000+ in your IT department the idea of co-location can starts to break down, even if they are on the same campus.

Today I want to spend time talking about five considerations that are critical when you start to scale Agile to the enterprise level in distributed organizations. Before we get into the list, let’s spend a moment on two points that are important to understand.

Agile Values, Principles and Fundamentals are Paramount to Success

“Being Agile” doesn’t mean that your organizations can demonstrate proficiency with Scrum, Kanban, XP, or SAFe. “Being Agile” means that the DNA of your organizational culture as well as the actions and communications of your leaders and associates are in alignment with Agile Values and Principles. Agile enterprises should ask, “Are we behaving in alignment with Agile values & principles?” on a regular basis.

For the distributed enterprise, the focus on these fundamentals of communication, transparency, self-organized teams, technical excellence, and more are even more important. With the absence of organizational propinquity (osmotic communication due to co-location), everything becomes just a touch harder. As a result organizational transformation at scale requires more dedicated and courageous leaders and change agents that are committed to breaking down the status quo to achieve the benefits that Agile has to offer.

Distributed Teams and Dispersed Teams are Two Different Things

There is a considerable amount of nuance wrapped into these Distributed vs Dispersed Teams-01two phrases, but let’s distinguish between these two different constructs for Agile teams.

Distributed teams are fully functioning teams in multiple geographic locations. Dispersed Teams have individual team members distributed across multiple geographic locations.

Here is a graphical representation of the difference between Distributed Teams and Dispersed Teams.


5 Considerations For Scaling Agility Across a Distributed Enterprise

Now that we have established context on those 2 points, let’s dive into the five considerations for scaling Agility across a distributed enterprise.

1.  Trend Towards Distributed Teams

When working on your Agile team staffing strategy for your distributed organization, focus on forming distributed teams (fully functioning teams in multiple geographies), not dispersed teams (teams have individual members dispersed across multiple geographies). This vastly reduces the number of coordination points across the organizations and allows for any given Agile team to achieve high levels of performance more rapidly.

2.  Organize Around Features

Full co-location of all Agile teams only have to coordinate dependencies with other teams and support groups. Heighten your Agility by ensuring teams have all the skill sets necessary to deliver fully functioning features. The tendency is to organize component teams. However, it is important to recognize that component teams have significantly more interdependencies. For example, component teams have timelines for completing integration activities. Therefore, it takes them longer to deliver value to the customer, who can provide valuable feedback. As a result, component teams run the risk of spending valuable time building the wrong thing. Feature teams, on the other hand, do not encounter the cost-of-delay associated with integration activities and deliver features to market quickly, and learn from actual customer feedback on how to make improvements

3.  Provide Available, Knowledgeable and Empowered Product Owners

You cannot have an Agile team without a Product Owner available to be the single source of truth about “what” should be delivered. If your Product Owner is supporting multiple teams or needs to coordinate with other Product Owners to ensure continuity across features and services, then it is a must for the individuals playing this role to be 100% allocated. It is even more important to create this availability when the Product Owner is separate from the rest of the team members.

4.  Be Patient, Things will Take Longer

It’s just a fact of life. When people and teams are not together, communication becomes asynchronous, confusion will occur, and things will take longer. Don’t try and rush teams or expect perfection on every first try. With an inspect and adapt culture, Agile teams can work together on improving communication and collaboration so that future breakdowns are more predictable, have less fallout and are easier to recover from.

5.  Leverage the Right Supporting Technologies

There are three categories of technology you want to think about when enabling Agility for distributed teams.

  1. Agile Lifecycle Management (ALM) – This platform enables enterprise-level planning all the way down through the team level. Consider vendors such as VersionOne, CA/Rally, HP Agile Manager, Atlassian, and more.
  2. Virtual Office Space – This makes distributed teams virtually unstoppable. A platform such as Sococo allows you visualize where people are working and who they are working with.
  3. Collaborative Authoring – Sharing documents on SharePoint, Box, or DropBox is good. Especially when they have version history built in, but nothing compares to having multiple people editing a document, spreadsheet, or presentation at the same time. Look to GoogleDocs or new features within Office365/OneDrive to enable this form of collaboration.

Of course there are additional platforms to consider, but these are three that are must-have for your distributed teams.

Three Things to Keep Mind

  1. There are a wealth of scaling patterns to choose from. Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), and Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) are the ones the Agile industry talks about most. But it really is up to your organization to determine the right approach for achieving true Agile at scale. That means taking the time to address aspects of Business Agility, Delivery Agility and Organizational Agility across an array of topics like Culture, Portfolio, Leadership, Teams, and (Physical/Development) Environment. There is never a one-size-fits-all approach to achieving Agility. If you keep focused on the values, principles, and fundamentals — and allow them to guide your daily decisions on how to shape your organization’s structure and processes — then you’ll be well on your way to success.
  2. Technology platforms and tools should enhance your Agility, not get in the way of it. Far too often we see teams constrained because they do not have proper ways to make their work easily visible to others, virtually author documents collaboratively, or easily have virtual face-to-face conversations.
  3. Don’t take short-cuts and make excuses. Decisions today can (and will) have long-lasting impacts on your Agility. These will be amplified when your teams are across multiple cities, time zones, and countries. All decisions should be focused on how teams can seamlessly work together, transparently communicate dependencies and plans, and get rapid (and hopefully automated) feedback on the quality and integrity of the solutions they deliver.


Take a deeper dive into this topic by downloading our webinar “Scaling Agile for Distributed Enterprise Teams” which we  partnered with Sococo to deliver.

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