Scaling agility (doesn’t) make sense if you (don’t) know how to


In their 2021 study, researchers Uluda ̆g et al. examined the evolution of over twenty of these agile frameworks.

They discussed the advantages and challenges of the scaled models – with a conclusion that applies equally to all of them.

By Sara Ivers-Tiffée



Whether Scrum, Kanban or Crystal – agile methods have been introduced in many organizations over the last decade, especially in companies with rapidly changing market environments such as the software or automotive industries. However, these agile approaches were often established in small organizations or organizational units with fewer than 50 people, mainly to develop software products.

The goal of agile product development is usually to increase transparency and speed in the product development process. This should lead to faster deployment of the product while minimizing risks and errors. In the early stages of agile, teams usually had direct access to the customer. This allowed them to implement the basic idea of fast development cycles, building on the collected customer feedback.

The success that organizations have had with the application of agile methods in small, delimited areas has inspired many to apply them in larger areas as well or even to set up their entire organization in an agile manner. But what exactly it means to set up an entire organization in an agile manner and how meaningful this is has been little tested and researched (Uluda ̆g et al.).


Agile methods for large projects and organizations

In order to scale agile methods, and thus apply them to large projects and organizations, various scaled agile methods such as SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) or LeSS (Large Scale Scrum) have been developed in recent years, each with a different focus and orientation (Uluda ̆g et al.). SAFe and ETF (Enterprise Transition Framework), for example, came on the market to deal with increased complexity that inevitably follows when agile frameworks are to be applied to entire enterprises. Both approaches serve to break down product organizations that have grown large into smaller independent parts of the company, making them easier to manage. Frameworks such as LeSS were created, among other things, to carry the agile approach further into the organizations, i.e., beyond product development, into other teams and organizational units. As a result, these scaled agile frameworks partly depart from their basic idea of optimizing product development as such.


Challenges in the initial phase

The researchers found that the introduction of agile frameworks is already frequently characterized by challenges, for example, it fails due to the complexity of the models (Uluda ̆g et al.). Ultimately, the introduction of a scaled framework can be compared to a comprehensive transformation project: A lot of knowledge about the respective frameworks is needed to be able to apply them properly. The introduction is therefore often too expensive and costs too many resources. Users lack knowledge because the appropriate transformation support and training are missing at the beginning. And often the management team is not fully behind the decision and does not live the agile mindset itself. After all, working agilely means redistributing responsibility and letting go of old structures.


Example of a successful start of agile methods

Nevertheless, there are examples that show that the introduction of agile methods in larger organizations can also be successful. Junker et al. supported a company with more than 4,000 employees in its agile transformation and established agile methods in all departments of the company, including human resources, finance and IT services. The transformation was divided into four phases. It was up to the teams themselves to decide at what pace they would go through the four phases. At the end of each phase, the teams had to go through a so-called “quality gate,” an internal evaluation process, before moving on to the next phase.

The goal of Phase 1 was to demonstrate commitment to the change process and to show that the team had begun to implement agile ways of working. After phase 2, roles and core tasks should be clarified. After Phase 3, teams should be integrated into a network of other teams in the company and should have clarified their professional development needs. In the final phase, internal and external customers should confirm the team’s effectiveness (Junker et al.).


More effective work and better performance

In the more structured approach taken in this agile transformation, it is exciting that in addition to the introduction of agile methods, i.e., the “what,” the “how” also played a major role. The fact that the teams proactively accompanied their transformation to an agile organization meant that their commitment to and acceptance of the change was high. This is clearly reflected in the results of the study, in which Junker et al. show that the teams work more effectively and perform better than the comparison cohort.
Scaling agile methods in organizations therefore only makes sense if it is cleverly introduced and accompanied.


Aghina, W., Handscomb, C., Salo, O., Thaker, S., (2021) “The impact of agility: How to shape your organization to compete”, McKinsey Global Publishing.

Ö. Uluda ̆g, U. Putta, A., Paasivaara, M., Matthes, F., (2021) “Evolution of the Agile Scaling Frameworks”, Agile Processes in Software Engineering and Extreme Programming. Springer, p. 123 ff

Junker, L.T., Gorgievski M. J., Derks, D., (2022) “Agile work practices and employee proactivity: A multilevel study”, Human Relations 2022, Vol. 75(12) 2189-2217.