Organization structure

Scaled Agile Approaches – SAFe vs SoS vs DAD vs Less

With Agile gaining popularity across various business fields, the usage of scaled approaches has grown steadily in the past few years. More and more organizations are looking for ways to turn their small team Agile successes into something that is company-wide. And as tensions between how teams are run and how the rest of the company operates rise, most go for scaled Agile methods. Often comparing SAFe vs SoS vs DAD vs LeSS.

However choosing the right one can prove to be difficult. When deciding on your way of scaling Agile, it is important to look at various factors. Company size, what sort of scaling you need and how experienced of an Agile user are you – are all very important to consider. Keeping this in mind, let’s take a look at the 4 most popular choices today.

According to the 14th Annual State of Agile report, Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Scrum of Scrums (SoS), Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) and Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) are the most popular choices among the respondents. Together their applications made up 59% of the overall scaled Agile usage last year. I am not saying you should also choose one of the four. However, it is worth exploring how they operate and what makes them so popular among the practitioners. SAFe vs SoS vs DAD vs LeSS – which would be your choice?

SAFe vs SoS vs DAD vs LeSS

Scaled Agile Framework

Most popular and the most complicated scaled Agile approach of the four is the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). With 35% of respondents, it takes the largest part of the pie and there is a good reason why. From the four applications I am discussing today, SAFe is the only true scaled method that can handle delivering Agile on the full enterprise level. This also means that it is not easy to implement, needs dedication and a company that is experienced in Agile.

I am not saying it cannot work if your organization is completely new to Agile. But it will in most cases to be a lot harder to accomplish compared to the other scaled Agile approaches. On that note, this is how SAFe works.

SAFe explained

SAFe model

Starting from the production level, teams of up 11 people work in traditional Scrum or Kanban manner. They plan iterations, hold meetings and deliver value, while product owner and scrum master guide the process. Since one team is rarely enough to finish a product, several teams working on the same goal are grouped together and called Release Trains (ART). The train works similarly to an iteration. However it takes longer (usually around 5 iterations of a single team) and the process is facilitated by a dedicated release train engineer. All teams take part in the planning, testing and retrospectives, while product management provide the vision and the backlog.

If one release train is not sufficient, multiple trains are grouped together into something called a solution train. Solution management is in charge of what gets build and solution train engineer monitors the solution train events. Strategic themes and portfolio vision are used to align solution development with enterprise strategy. Which allows to organize and release products that bring most value. Find more details on how a SAFe organization runs, watch this:

Choose SAFe if you already have experience in Agile and are determined to achieve a full organizational change.

Scrum of Scrums

Next up is the second most popular scaled Agile application – Scrum of Scrums (SoS). Significantly simpler way of expanding beyond one Scrum team, but just as effective when used in the right setting. SoS focuses on a much smaller organization with the main goal of providing an effective way to coordinate the work of several Scrum teams.

The way it works is quite simple – instead of changing the operations of a small Scrum team, it adds something to make it work when there is more of them working on the same goal. All the teams in the company practice the traditional Scrum. To make sure all the operations are coordinated a Scrum of Scrums is held. During the daily standup, each team delegates an ambassador to attend the Scrum of Scrums. Here each ambassador reports on the accomplishments and plans of their respective team. This meeting works just like a regular daily standup where each ambassador reports on the accomplishments and plans of their respective teams. Scrum of scrums has a separate backlog to track all of the changes and is aimed at solving coordination challenges between teams.

Scrum of Scrums

Scrum of Scrums is a simple, yet effective approach that is best for small companies wanting to coordinate several teams. It will work great if your company is on the smaller scale or has just outgrown one team numbers. If you are from a larger organization, Scrum of Scrums is more likely to be used on a department level or as a transitional device only.

Agile maturity test

Disciplined Agile Delivery

The third way of scaling Agile I am discussing today is Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD). Contrary to the previous two methods it does not focus on fitting Agile to all the organizational levels. But instead looks at scaling to fit the whole delivery cycle of a product. DAD does not only work in the construction and development phases, but includes enterprise architecture, portfolio and release management, operations and support. DAD covers everything from project conception to delivery to clients. Thus scaling for the process more than for the organizational levels.

It is also worth to mention, that DAD is not based on just one Agile method, but formed out of a collection of them. Among which there is Scrum, Kanban, XP, Agile Modeling, Unified Process and many others.

DAD process works in three stages – Inception, Construction and Transition. To make this regular process Agile, the method also weaves in four different life cycles that describe how to complete work at hand. Teams can choose which life cycle works best for them and an Agile coach helps them in understanding when to use the chosen cycle.

Lifecycles

  • 1. Agile delivery lifecycle is based on Scrum. It helps turning goals into a work item list and then into short milestones. No product backlog is used and the cycle continues throughout the project.
  • 2. Lean lifecycle creates a continuous stream of workflow throughout the project. It ensures the processes are optimized and there are little to no bottlenecks.
  • 3. Continuous Lean and Agile delivery lifecycle ensures that teams use iterations to work and deliver fast and often. Focuses mainly on the construction and transition phases.
  • 4. Exploratory lifecycle aims to brainstorm new solutions based on the gathered feedback. Done before inception and transition phases.
DAD lifecycles

DAD does not change the organizational structure or the layout of the company, but guides it in completing all the processes in an Agile manner. This approach is best used for medium sized projects, as it scales in order to oversee the whole delivery cycle, instead of scaling for the organization. A company that already has a good understanding of Agile will benefit most from DAD.

Large Scale Scrum

Lastly, the fourth of the scaled Agile approaches – Large Scale Scrum (LeSS). As it is clear from the name, LeSS is based on Scrum and aims to create a way for multiple teams to work like one. To keep the idea of one team, it defines a way to use a single backlog, product owner and only one shippable increment for all the teams working together. This is great when there is need for better coordination between teams without including the executive level.

To achieve this, all teams plan, refine and attend retrospectives together while the work is completed separately by each team. For planning and backlog refinement usually two meetings are held. First is attended by all team representatives and is sets the overall goal for the sprint. The second is held is held within each team separately and details the work each team is about to complete. The same definition of done is applicable to all teams. Daily Scrums are held by each team individually as well, but are open to any other team members. While the Scrum of Scrums, Sprint review and Retrospective are attended by representatives from all teams.

LeSS structure

This approach works great for multiple teams working on the same project or product. As it allows to keep focus on what is important while still working in smaller and more effective groups. LeSS can work for small to mid-sized companies as long as the teams and product backlog are coordinated. But just like SoS and DAD it will most likely fail to handle adding in a large organizational structure.

Final thoughts

As we have seen from these examples, there are a few ways of scaling Agile. You can scale to include the whole product, process or the organization itself. To make sure you choose correctly, it is important to not only know what your goals are, but also evaluate your capabilities. If you just started with one Scrum team and want to expand, something like SoS or LeSS is great. While for mature Agile users, a full on organizational change like SAFe may prove to be a natural progression.

Agile is about delivering value through incremental change – your Agile journey should be no different.

Here is the final SAFe vs SoS vs DAD vs LeSS comparison.

SAFe vs SoS vs DAD vs LeSS
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