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Can an Entire Organization Be One Agile Release Train?

6 September 2016

Alhad Akole
Zensar Technologies Ltd

Agile is considered to promote a good work-life balance. Hence concepts such as relative estimates, capacity-based sprint, and release planning have come into existence. Many companies around the world have started on the road to becoming Agile.

But are organizations truly adopting Agile principles? We still see people working extra hours, causing their work-life balance to be disturbed. We see organizations working according to an employee's "available capacity." Trends include the following:
  • Practice and delivery silos still exist, and employees have to contribute to both (their individual performance KRAs [key result areas] say so!). On the delivery front, and employee has to work as per available capacity. He has no choice but to be available for eight billable hours. But he also has a KRA that talks about contributing to practice — which, at least in many companies, essentially means he has to work extra.
  • If delivery faces task-completion issues, since delivery dates are already committed and fixed, employees work extra to meet those deadlines. Organizations/customers still can't say "no" to committed delivery dates in light of new impediments teams are facing. We still carry the old mindset of commitments as "deadlines."
  • Team members often work on multiple projects, which causes context switching and also means that we can’t precisely distribute their efforts as per billable percentages, since they are knowledge workers and the boundaries are not so distinct.
In SAFe there is concept called the ART, or Agile Release Trains), which covers the company portfolio and teams. At the portfolio level, approved work is added to the portfolio backlog. And based on the actual capacity of the teams, program increments (generally periods of four sprints) are planned. Because the organization is working as one "train", there are no silos, so delivery-and-practice conflicts are greatly reduced (or are even absent altogether).

If enterprises adapt such a structure for the work they want to accomplish, I think it would help employees better maintain work-life balance, as all work will be funneled from the portfolio level and approved by the managers at that level (program portfolio management, or PPM). This will create visibility across the board to all stakeholders involved.

Also, all organization-specific events would be planned in the same manner, with visibility to all stakeholders. Team members can take advantage of what's called an "innovation and planning" (IP) sprint to either solve the delivery issues or innovate for practice.

In service organizations, teams can keep executing the work and deliver the products for customer A or B. Enterprises can reduce the costs of reallocating resources after one project (or even epic) per customer, reduce the cost of allocating and de-allocating teams from projects, and avoid breaking the rhythm of the teams that are trying to develop on a cadence. The teams exist; management needs to prioritize projects for them and involve the right stakeholders in all SAFe ceremonies.

Though this might be difficult based on certain terms and conditions, it still seems to me to be, to a large extent, feasible. Basing decisions on organization-level capacity (the capacity of teams rolled up to the level of the entire organization) can give a better picture to Lean-Agile leaders about what work they want to pull into the system — customer-based work or internal work, for example. The entire organization can work as one SAFe ART, consuming the work coming to them and innovating at appropriate intervals.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 3.5 (2 ratings)


Tim Baffa, CSM, 9/8/2016 4:14:14 PM
I am fond of a quote from Roger Brown in a recent InfoQ article:

“(In Agile), instead of creating work and moving people through it, we create teams of people and move the work through them. And we pull instead of push.”

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