Articles | July 8, 2021

Agile scaling frameworks –
Scrum and SAFe, LeSS, Nexus

Working in agile teams using Scrum is becoming more and more popular. Cross-functional teams consist of an independent, self-managing group of people with the competences required to develop a product for the client. What should we do when – despite all this – problems arise, the team does not deliver the increment, there are communication issues and team morale declines?

   

Instead of giving up on Scrum and going back to a more traditional approach, it is worth familiarizing yourself with other agile frameworks and checking which agile framework is a better option for your organization.

In this article you will learn:

  • Which agile and classic methodologies are used in project management.
  • The ways of working according to Agile frameworks: Scrum, SAFe, LeSS and Nexus.
  • How to choose the most suitable agile methodology for an IT project.

Traditional approach vs Agile frameworks

The traditional approach, or the so-called cascade approach, is related to planning and phasing among other things. It requires documentation and progress monitoring and the use of appropriate techniques in the field of risk or budget management. PRINCE2 or PMBOK are examples of traditional approaches to project management.
The agile approach has been present in everyday life for a very long time, for example in the production of cars in the early 20th century and in the area of quality assurance. It was not until the beginning of the 21st century that it was officially described by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber in a document called the “Scrum Guide”. Agile methodologies focus on a flexible approach and iterative project implementation, assuming that not everything can be predicted and planned, and reacting to changes is more important than sticking to a plan. According to the recent State of Agile 2020 study, Scrum and its variants are the most frequently used agile methodology in organizations (according to 58% of respondents). So what is Scrum?

Agile frameworks – Scrum

Scrum means:

  • A flexible and proactive approach to project management.
  • Dividing the project team into self-organizing independent Scrum teams.
  • An approach in which teams have all the competencies to complete tasks.
  • An iterative way of working based on the 3 pillars: inspection, adaptation and transparency.

The illustration below shows the roles and process in Scrum:

Agile scaling frameworks - Scrum

Scaling agile frameworks

How does this apply to the other Agile approaches, e.g. SAFe, LeSS, and Nexus? Why use a different approach? What are the similarities and differences and when will they work best?

Application

Simple, short projects, one or several products, a small number of people (several dozen people), with only a small number of dependencies between teams (or even none at all).

The name comes from a particular formation of players in a rugby game.

  • Scaled Agile Framework: SAFe (or scaled Scrum)

Complex projects or programs intended to be implemented over many years, an extensive product, a very large number of people (several hundred or even over a thousand people), and numerous dependencies between multiple teams (technical and substantive aspects).

  • Large scale Scrum – LeSS

Projects where all teams can use one Product Backlog, teams are small, and there is one Product Owner for multiple teams. The main goal is to simplify processes, roles and events.

Projects where there is a need to integrate and minimize the number of dependencies between the people involved. Nexus focuses on scaling teams in such a way as to improve processes and communication, e.g. by assigning fewer people to work on a given task. As with LeSS, in this approach there is one Backlog and one Product Owner. The framework also has an “Integration Team” that helps to synchronize the work of all teams and introduce improvements. The name Nexus means “link, connection”.

Scaled Agile Frameworks

Principles of scaled agile frameworks (differences)

Scrum

  • Independent work in small agile teams.
  • Teams have their own meetings, including planning and their own Review.
  • The implementation of the product is carried out independently.

SAFe

  • The scaled agile framework (SAFe) means the division of the project into Agile Release Train (ART) teams, which include several teams working on similar functionalities, e.g. product development, payments, integration, and accounting. This includes management levels:
    • Portfolio Level – the highest level, which contains rules, practices, and roles needed for project management. This is where the strategy is defined.
    • Value Streams – defines a series of steps in the organization that are used to build solutions allowing us to continuously deliver value to the client. It also defines and implements the Portfolio Level goals.
    • Backlog program – a prioritized list of business functionalities that have been analyzed and designed to be created by all project teams.
    • Team Backlog – part of the tasks from the list of business functionalities that come from the Backlog Program and are intended to be performed by a single team.
  • The review is held together with other teams within the same ART.

LeSS

  • One Product Backlog for all teams.
  • One Product Owner for all teams.
  • One DoD (Definition of Done).

Nexus

  • One Product Backlog for all teams.
  • One Product Owner for all teams.
  • One DoD (Definition of Done).
  • Introduces the “Integration Team” which coordinates and streamlines the work of development teams.

Agile frameworks: roles, events, good practices

 Scrum

  • Roles: The team consists of a Product Owner, Scrum Master and Development Team.
  • Events (also common for other frameworks): Sprint, Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Review, Retrospective.
  • Agile Practices: Teams meet to discuss new functionalities (Refinement), talk about past Sprints and select areas to improve in their daily work (Retrospective).

SAFe

  • Roles: Product Owner, Product Management, Solution Management, Portfolio Management, organizational: Scrum Master, Release Train Engineer, Solution Train Engineer, technical: Development Team, System Architect, Solution Architect, Enterprise Architect.
  • Events: The Increment Planning program – a meeting of all teams (usually 2-3 days) to plan work for the next release. Scrum of Scrums – a meeting for team representatives within each ART to synchronize work and provide information about dependencies and errors. Additional Sprint “Innovation and Planning” for personal development, training and planning the next release.

SAFe emphasizes the importance of the main functionalities (such as MVP) and introduces additional scope with lower priority for delivery as “secondary objectives”.

LeSS

  • Roles: the same as in Scrum.
  • Events: the same as in Scrum, but Sprint Planning is divided into two parts. The first part is for the Product Owner and team representatives, and in the second part all team members meet. One team member can optionally participate in the Daily Scrum on another team to share information on the progress of work.     

Nexus

  • Roles and events: in the Nexus framework they are very similar to the LeSS approach. Sprint Planning is where each team selects tasks from a common Backlog to work on as agreed with the rest of the teams. The framework introduces the Scrum of Scrums (similarly to SAFe) and Integration Daily to identify setbacks and resolve conflicts.
  • Additionally, an “Integration Team” is introduced, which consists of a Product Owner, Scrum Master, and one or more representatives of each of the teams. The goal is to coordinate the work and processes of all teams involved.

Agile frameworks – which one to choose?

The above information describes the details of Agile frameworks: Scrum, SAFe, LeSS and Nexus. Which one will be the best for your project? It depends. I deliberately do not indicate the dominance of any framework over the others. When choosing a method of working in your own organization, one should be guided primarily by the characteristics of the company, its purpose and plans for the future. When deciding on a given agile methodology, it is worth considering criteria such as:

  • The number of people.
  • The complexity of products.
  • The frequency of releases.
  • Project duration.

Scaling agile – summary

PROJECT MANAGEMENT


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Sometimes it is worth improving processes in an already existing agile framework, rather than completely changing the framework or going back to the “waterfall” approach.

Nowadays, there are many possibilities for scaling agile, and companies can add or remove individual elements (roles or events) to improve daily work. Scaling agile is a flexible approach – it does not mean rejecting Scrum’s principles, but rather using its potential accordingly to your needs.

Before deciding to change the approach into Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), Safe framework or Nexus, it is worth conducting a thorough analysis and talking to people who already use a given framework for scaling agile. This will allow you to review the current situation and identify the goal that you want to achieve through the change.

Sylwester Kułakowski
Scrum Master

The Scrum Master at JCommerce. In the IT industry from 2015. He has experience in the area of insurance, banking and public sector projects. Obtained certificates: Professional Scrum Master, Agile PM, Prince2, ITIL i ISTQB. In private life, he is involved in sports activities, such as cycling, football and volleyball.