The world of agile scaling may seem like a jungle to the inexperienced. Richard Dolman and his colleague, Steve Spearman, decided to turn it into a well-tended garden in order to help organizations see which options and possibilities they have. And so the The ASK Matrix was conceived.

Nobody could deny that there are a lot of variations and opinions on scaling models out there. Just the task of defining “scaling” seems problematic. For some, it means going from a few Scrum teams to dozens or even hundreds of teams.  For others, it can mean expanding Agile or Scrum across other areas of the organization. In addition, a lot of organizations are distributed, with teams across the globe.  Some may be growing rapidly and need to assess what they need right here and now, versus what they’ll need next year.  

During a a group workshop at the 2013 Scrum Alliance Scrum Coach Retreat, the people in the room realised that there was a need to facilitate the conversation and offer a tool and knowledge base that allows people to contribute their ideas and get ideas from others.  The initial topic proposed for the open-space session was along the lines of “How is Scaling affecting Coaching?”  

Richard Dolman tells us: ”As the group formed around this topic, we quickly converged on this question: ‘As coaches, how can we help influence the selection and implementation of a scaling approach that is appropriate for an organization?’”

This was how the idea for the Agile Scaling Knowledgebase (ASK) was born. The team behind it set out to provide a simple tool in the form of a framework that both individuals and organizations could use to compare the various approaches, based on their specific needs and constraints. The intent was not to define the right approach or framework, but rather to provide a tool for decision making and a forum for discovery.

“We wanted to stay above the fray and refrain from any framework-specific cheerleading or bashing.  Instead, we wanted to offer an objective way to evaluate options and discuss scaling topics.”

Formated as a spreadsheet

Initially, the group chose just a few of the more widely known approaches to get their first draft out there. This included Scrum of Scrums (SoS), Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) and the Spotify approach. As the site and knowledge has evolved, other approaches that are gaining in popularity or that have emerged recently have been added.

“The important thing to remember here is that it’s not up to us to determine what approaches should be in the matrix.  Again it’s just a framework for evaluating and comparing approaches based on your needs. So, really it’s up to the person or organization using it to decide what to include or exclude.”

The ASK Matrix is formatted as a spreadsheet since as it is a simple, universally accepted tool that most people can easily update.  It should be easy for the user to download the spreadsheet and then re-enter or update the data based on their own discovery and assessment.   

How it works

  1. Download the matrix spreadsheet at: http://www.agilescaling.org
  2. Modify it as necessary. Start by defining a set of criteria that is important to your organization or situation.
  3. Once you add and update those rows in the spreadsheet, edit the content and add columns to include any of approaches that you feel should be evaluated relative to your defined criteria.

Each organisation unique

The ASK Matrix does not define right versus wrong or say that one way is better than another.  Each organization is unique to an extent and has its own constraints and drivers.  Only by understanding and defining the criteria relevant to the organization can you then have an objective analysis of approaches.

”For example, if sticking to Scrum is important, you may want to consider LeSS or Nexus.  If having more formality around Portfolio and Program level management is important, you may want to consider SAFe.  If your organizational culture is of a particular type and that drives how you want to evolve your teams and practices, then you may want to look at the Spotify approach.”

The “Custom Criteria Questions”.

Before deciding which approaches to look at and compare, you should discuss and identify what’s important to you and what problems you’re trying to solve. Are you growing rapidly or are you already very large and heavily structured? Do you need heavy compliance or do can you support truly autonomous, self-organizing teams?  

Once you identify these criteria, you can then consider which approaches may be best suited for your comparison and then how you want to compare them.

Read the article in Lean Magazine on Issuu

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