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Michael Withers: Agile at Scale

Scaling Agile teams across a company is challenging, but those who are successful can reap big benefits.


Michael Withers: Agile at Scale

Agile teams are increasingly in demand due to changing technology, evolving customer preferences and insurgent competitors. Michael Withers, a partner with Bain's Agile Innovation practice, describes four steps that enable an organization to establish hundreds—or even thousands—of Agile teams wherever it needs rapid and ongoing innovation.

Read the Bain Article: Agile at Scale

Read the transcript below.

MICHAEL WITHERS: Most executives today have experience with Agile teams, and many have in fact experienced the benefits of these cross-functional entrepreneurial teams delivering improved innovation, increasing speed to market, and reducing delivery risk. However, as more and more industries are disrupted by the increasing change in technology, the changes in customer preferences, and the insurgent competitors, they're starting to think, is it possible to scale Agile across the organization to address this disruption? Is it possible to have hundreds or even thousands of teams working across the organization? And if so, how do we get there?

Yes, actually. For most companies, it does make sense to have Agile teams established everywhere where you need rapid and ongoing innovation. And for large companies, that means having hundreds or even thousands of these teams. But the answer is also, it's hard. It's hard to know exactly where you're going to need Agile teams versus not. It's hard to work out what parts of the organization do you need to change so that these teams can work with a high degree of autonomy, but so you don't create chaos.

It's also just hard to work out, where do I start? There are four things that leaders need to do in order to scale Agile across their organization. The first thing is, they need to role model Agile as a leadership team as a way of driving culture change through the organization.

The second thing they need to do is they need to get very clear on the operating architecture for the Agile organization. And by that, we mean you need to form an initial view of where you're going to have Agile teams versus where you're not, and how you're going to group those teams in a way to facilitate coordination, manage overlaps and dependencies across those teams.

The third thing they need to do is think about the changes that need to be made to support functions to ensure they don't become the bottleneck for these Agile teams. And the fourth thing they need to do is develop the right transition plan. And we think of this as being the Goldilocks plan—not too fast so that the initial teams don't have time to mature and you don't have time to remove the impediments that stop these teams from being successful, but also not too slow, so that you're forever in this transition state where large parts of the organization are working and supporting traditional methods while increasing parts of the organization are working in Agile.

So for companies that get it just right, it is possible to scale Agile effectively, and to use this as a mechanism for addressing the disruption within their industry.

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Agile at Scale

Agile innovation teams are more productive, higher in morale and faster to market. Here’s how to launch hundreds, even thousands of them.

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