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Scale Most Effectively with Organic Growth

Many organizations hire outside expertise to help with scaling agility, and we’ve seen an uptick in interest from large organizations. As we mentioned in “How Do You Know When to Scale?” we hope this is being driven by organic growth and the fact that demand is outstripping the ability of a single, well-performing team to […]

By Paul Boos

September 11, 2020

Many organizations hire outside expertise to help with scaling agility, and we’ve seen an uptick in interest from large organizations. As we mentioned in “How Do You Know When to Scale?” we hope this is being driven by organic growth and the fact that demand is outstripping the ability of a single, well-performing team to deliver.

When scaling agility, it is important to recognize that how you organize and structure your teams will need to change. Traditional development approaches that emphasize up-front planning introduce significant inefficiencies and rework. Agile teams can be leaner and more streamlined. For example, the needs of a traditional 200-person program may be able to be met by a 50-person network of Agile teams. You can discover if this is possible, along with how best to structure your teams, by growing your Agile program organically to match demand.

But what does organic growth look like? It begins with more customer demand. This can come in a variety of forms. Here are some of the possibilities.

Demand Typical Symptoms
More Customers
  • Unable to handle the increasing number of requests.
  • Increasing amounts of work; more of it than you can possibly do.
More Products and Solutions
  • Unable to replicate established success with new products.
  • Need for more products and solutions than you can adequately develop and support.
More Product Features
  • Unable to meet the demand for new features and keep pace with the competition.
  • Need for more new features than you can possibly create.
  • The increasing complexity of your product offerings is elevating your support burden.
More Service Demand
  • Unable to keep pace with service requests.
  • Need for more services than you can handle.

These symptoms are signs that your organization is being successful—there is increased demand for your products and services—and that you should consider scaling up or out to meet demand. What possible scaling approaches could you take? We’ll start with the creative work of product development teams and then discuss other possibilities.

Accelerating Product Delivery without Scaling

Before scaling, it is best to maximize the capacity of your existing teams. If you are getting demand for more products or more features, then focusing on the work of your current teams may be a more successful strategy than attempting to scale. Check to see if you are getting the most out of automation; are you using automated builds, testing, and deployments? If not, then increasing capacity and accelerating feedback loops through automation is a good place to start.

It is also important to examine bottlenecks across your work system. If you have any, you can improve throughput and get a better understanding of capacity by limiting work in progress (WIP) at the bottleneck and slaving the rest of the system to its delivery rate. Once you’ve done so, you can add capacity at the bottleneck and see how that effects flow, resetting the WIP limit as appropriate. This should improve throughput, but if you’re still not meeting demand, there are some additional steps you can take.

Additional Value Delivery

If you’re getting more new customers or increased service demand, the challenge might be more complicated. Growth patterns can vary significantly, and while it might be steady, variable and unpredictable demand is more common. It can vary significantly throughout the year, with large volumes during some periods and just a trickle in others. You can be more confident in delivering successfully if you do the following.

The first bullet will help customers and/or managers understand why they might have to wait. This is aligned with the principle of radiating information in the Manifesto for Scaling Agility. The last two help prevent your teams from getting overloaded. It’s necessary to maintain some slack in the system. How much slack? That depends on the nature of the work—how large requests are, how long they take, and how many can be serviced in parallel. When demand is repeatedly and consistently overwhelming your slack capacity, it’s time to scale to preserve that excess capacity and meet current demand.

Not All Growth Happens Organically

Some organizational growth isn’t organic. If a company decides to gain new products, customers, and/or talent through an acquisition or merger, that will be well planned and occur all at once. In these cases, it’s still important to keep the values and principles of Scaling Agility in mind; applying them can reap significant benefits. Those challenges are complex enough to warrant its own future post; for now, the important thing is to use those values and principles to inform your approach.

Scaling Out Other Parts of the Organization

Other parts of the organization may need to scale as well. The intake process—maybe a team of salespeople or a call center—often needs to grow to keep up with demand. Identifying their bottlenecks and limiting their WIP can help accelerate the flow of information and requests to product teams. Increasing capacity in one section of the organization often leads to a need to increase capacity somewhere else. To grow a delivery or intake team, you may need to increase capacity in recruiting first. These increases may be smaller because of the different nature of the work. Recruiting teams often grow one person at a time, while product delivery often grows as whole teams.

As you look to increase capacity within your system, think about what can be done with what you currently have. Ask yourself, “What could I change that would allow us to do more and still maintain customer expectations of value and quality?” Delegation and decentralized decision-making can often unlock new capacity by accelerating decisions and creating better options for customers. This is where the Scaling Manifesto’s value of “shared vision over aligned process” comes into play. Even if you still need to increase capacity, creating extra degrees of freedom gives you greater flexibility with the capacity you have.

What Are Your Signals?

What signals have you seen or are you using to drive your scaling decisions? When you added a team or grew organizational capacity, what triggered it? We’d love to hear from you. If you have seen different signals, or if you handled them differently, what results did you get? We look forward to hearing from you!

Category: Agile

Tags: Scaling, WIP

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