AllFourMethods-182x182… in combination in one company!

What a radical thought, especially when we can still see the flames of the agile methodology wars!

It all started with Scrum versus Scrum. Then Scrum versus Kanban. Then of course everybody against DSDM. And finally late last year things escalated with the global take-up of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). And what about DAD?

Agile Fundamentalists are the Most Un-Agile People

So sadly some people continue to see one of the four approaches as the solution to all their problems. This is not the case, as we shall see. None of them are the silver bullet.

Personally, I would just like to remind everyone that this way of working – Agile and Lean – has made a massive difference to people’s lives. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of IT professionals and hobbyists benefit daily from these approaches.

So let us put our ego and status to one side and remember that Agile and Lean approaches are not about a particular methodology.

They are about people and results.

So by putting people and results first we will illustrate in this article how and where all four approaches (Scrum, Kanban, DSDM and SAFe) are applicable. Incredibly we will also see that a certain type of organization should consider using all four!

Thus, when choosing an appropriate approach, it comes down to three critical factors:

  1. Are you developing a product or are you are in a project environment?
  2. Do you have internal or external users / clients / customers?
  3. Just how much cultural change can your organization take?

To support this discussion, we will examine four types of organization, each with their own set of characteristics.   For each type we will explore which Agile or Lean approach would be the most appropriate now and perhaps in the future plus any risks.

1) The Internet is the Sales Channel (eCommerce)

With companies such as eBay, Amazon and there is one product. Albeit a massive product that is continually enhanced and maintained by numerous teams, often in various locations.

In addition, these companies do not have direct access to end users. They are external. They must therefore, perform A/B testing and continuously learn about their end-user’s behavior with extensive tracking of analytics. Typically a product manager or product owner will be coordinating this work and deciding what to do next, quickly.

The Best Choice

As such Scrum is often seen to be the best choice for new features with Kanban for small changes and defect resolution all of which produces a sense of continuous product “flow” with frequent delivery.

Scrum-Framework Kanbanboard-1024x540

To Consider

Once the Scrum teams become mature, they may consider switching to Kanban to eliminate planning, estimating and scoping “waste”.

Something else to Think About

At some point, the organization will want to create and launch a new product (such as the MailChimp’s sister-product Mandrill). This could be done in a “Lean-Startup” approach where the product is created as the customer’s unfulfilled desires are discovered.

Or if the need is clear, then a more structured approach may be necessary to make sure firm foundations are in place before development starts. This would lead to the adoption of DSDM’s early phases (Feasibility & Foundations). Yet once the MVP is delivered, the work should be merged into the existing product flow.

Risk: SAFe Could Slow You Down

To address scaling it could be natural to place SAFe on top of the teams. However, SAFe has the concept of “Release Trains” being planned in cross-team periodic “Release Planning” sessions. This could result in delivery every 2-3 months, not every 2 weeks. As such SAFe could slow down key learning cycles.

2) A Corporate IT Environment

These environments are usually dominated by a project culture filled with Project-, Program- and Portfolio-Managers. One typically sees PRINCE2© and PMP certificated project managers with matrix line organizations providing the resources and monthly status reporting into a steering board. Change Request Boards are often a necessary frustrating evil. Projects also have to comply with high degrees of governance, legal, compliance and regulatory constraints.

Corporate IT environments are no doubt complicated with numerous projects running in parallel with new and legacy systems, all interacting. To control this, there are often only a few “windows” to release into a productive environment.

Yet a glorious advantage for these organizations is that end-users and key business representatives are part of the organization and project (or at least should be). A proxy Product Owner simply will not do.

The Best Choice

In such an environment DSDM would prove to be the most appropriate approach for such a project environment (with Kanbanfor maintenance) for four reasons:

05-DSDM-Atern-Lifecycle Kanbanboard-1024x540
  1. It would immediately eliminate the need for a Change Request Board
  2. DSDM Projects have a begin- and end-date, there is no “flow”
  3. Existing roles are kept such as a Project Manager and Business Analyst
  4. It also has all the necessary project governance, built into the approach

All of these will help to reduce the risks associated with cultural change.

To Consider

Many corporate IT organizations have tried pure Scrum or Kanban. They have found out that the change is, although possible, extra-ordinarily difficult and prone to failure.

Something else to Think About

DSDM will “sit on top” of Scrum teams whilst keeping the Project Manager and maintaining governance. Therefore, some organizations that have tried Scrum will find this step relatively simple.

Ultimately, once the transition to Agile with DSDM has been completed, it may make sense to further rationalize by migrating then to SAFe. Going straight to SAFe will be culturally far too dangerous.

Risk: The Matrix

The value being created by Corporate IT is not in the matrix. Value is created as a result of projects enabling benefits.

Thus it will become necessary to create groups of projects that deliver value to the business units using DSDM. These groups will become independent from one another. This allows the IT department to scale. Managers of Developers, BAs or Quality should lead Special Interest Groups or a project. This is usually not an issue and they usually take the opportunity as they were probably promoted because they were good at business analysis but actually, they dislike the line management responsibilities.

3) Digital Media or Internal Communications Department

This is usually a small to medium size organization. There is usually a single concept but multiple products. New products are being tried constantly.

These organizations have two clients: The internal “content” providers such as editors plus the consumers of information such as employees or external readers and consumers.

These organizations have to engage their internal clients and for external customers they perform A/B testing and analyze website usage extensively. As such they often have a mix of proxy product owners and real end-users.

The Best Choice

Such an organization does not need SAFe; and DSDM would be inappropriate. Thus a combination of Scrum and Kanban would be ideal.

Scrum-Framework Kanbanboard-1024x540

To Consider

Once the Scrum teams become mature, they may consider switching to Kanban to eliminate planning, estimating and scoping “waste”.

Something else to Think About

Decommissioning old products is vitally important. If such an organization does not do this, more and more effort will be spent on maintenance. Key resources should be used to develop more valuable modern products that impact the goals of the business more effectively. Such organizations should therefore use tools such as “Impact Mapping” to aid prioritization.

Risk: Management of an Efficient Lean Product Portfolio

The key to an organization such as this is to keep the product portfolio lean. Have a number of value teams that decide for themselves how they are to build products using Kanban or Scrum. Each value team would have its own product owner.

The whole portfolio flow would be managed using a Kanban system with strict Work In Progress (WIP) limits to prevent teams and team members as well as the team’s product owner from taking on too much work.

4) Software Product Company

Here we see large products such as ERP solutions or Core-Banking platforms being produced in cycles and delivered periodically (e.g. every three months). Usually these products are split into multiple domains maintained and enhanced by multiple teams.

(hopefully companies have learnt that having dedicated maintenance teams may help in the short-term but the move is drastic for the organization’s health in the middle- to long-term).

Demand will usually come from existing clients, prospects or from strategic product management.

The Best Choice

All of this clearly requires scale. SAFe is the optimal solution for continuous lean product development with individual teams using either Scrum or Kanban or a mix, delivering releases to multiple clients.

SAFe Scrum-Framework
SAFe will allow the company to release quarterly as required by clients and the “Release Planning” ceremony will help to co-ordinate multiple cross-domain teams to identify dependencies. The HIP sprint at the end of a release will also improve quality across the product. Kanbanboard-1024x540

To Consider

DSDM would not be appropriate for continuous product development. However new products could be started using DSDM by integrating the DSDM work into the SAFe release planning once the DSDM “Feasibility and Foundation” phases are complete.

Something else to Think About

DSDM would also be appropriate for the development of a new front-end. Feasibility would be used to test the technical stack (it may be “pure” research) then a set of “Exploration” timeboxes could be used to develop a mockup/clickable prototype with real-end users and finally “Engineering” timeboxes used to develop the real solution. These timeboxes should be synchronized with the main product flow.

Risk: Agile Core “Product” Development versus “Project” Implementation

The product itself has to be implemented at a client site. This implementation work has a start and an end. This is by definition a project. The client will want a fixed price, fixed scope and fixed date.

Yet, if this implementation project is done using waterfall, there is poor synchronization between the project and the development of the core product.

05-DSDM-Atern-LifecycleAs such, DSDM should be used as the basis for implementation projects. This will ensure the required governance with for the client and will help address the fixed price, fixed scope and fixed date challenge ever-present in the sales process.

DSDM will also ensures active participation by the client in governance and delivery.

The implementation project’s DSDM time-boxes can then be synchronized with the SAFe core development sprints. The project team members must then also be involved in the “Release Planning” to make sure project’s needs are included in the release.



click on the image to enlarge

What about DAD (Disciplined Agile Delivery)?

This is perceived to be very similar to DSDM. So where you see DSDM, you may use DAD.

And Finally

There is clearly, with the above arguments, no silver bullet. No one solution fits all. The challenge is to select the most appropriate ones for you, your people, the work and your organization. And then to continue to challenge the people to become more and more Agile and Lean.

This is leadership.

Want to Know More?

Then please contact us. We are more than happy to explore with you the various worlds of Scrum, Kanban, DSDM and SAFe.

External Links

DSDM Consortium
Scrum Alliance