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Agile at Scale: Large-Scale Agile Transformation

Most enterprises are stuck in old ways of operating, and that can negatively affect a company’s speed and adaptability to change. To be competitive in the digital age, businesses need to achieve agility at scale.

Many of the world’s biggest companies struggle to be nimble, efficient, and data-driven, which then makes them less productive than they should be. It’s not just their size that holds them back; much of the problem is created by a traditional business model that’s been created for scale and standardization, rather than for agility and innovation

While many organizations have teams working in an agile way, very few businesses have been able to implement this model across their entire enterprise. As companies move from implementing agile on individual projects to portfolios and, ultimately, to an entire business, more and more core processes need to be adapted—a significant operational challenge in itself. 

Large-scale agile transformation isn’t just about technology. It’s about a new way of thinking. It’s more collaborative, more open, more creative, and much more efficient than other business models. And it’s something that can be implemented across a company, not just in one or two departments. 

Companies can achieve agile transformation at three levels: the project level, which is relatively easy to accomplish; the portfolio level, which is more complex; and the organization level, which requires a complete rethinking of a company’s operating model. Moving effectively from the first level to the last can be difficult for a large organization, but companies that move in progressive steps can succeed.

Ultimately, creating a more agile way of working takes about two to three years to complete, but meaningful results can be achieved in as little as six months depending on an organization’s starting point and level of internal support.

Empowered Product Ownership

A functional agile team starts with a product owner who can make decisions about scope, timing, and allocation of budget without having to consult a steering group or governance body. In more complex organizations, this role may be filled by two or three individuals, such as a product manager, a business analyst, and a product executive who is responsible for overseeing the project.

Cross-Functional, Dedicated Team

Agile teams need dedicated employees from every part of the business, including operations, product management, and IT. While larger projects can have more team members, every group should abide by two rules. First, everyone must be fully dedicated to the effort. Second, team members must be doing the actual work—they can’t delegate tasks to others.

Iterative, Empirical Approach

Work should be completed in fixed-length iterations, and a working prototype should be created after each iteration. Design and prioritization decisions are then informed by the feedback and results from the demonstrations of the product. During the early stages of an agile transformation, allow for longer iteration lengths—four to six weeks instead of the usual two weeks—and limit the depth of testing. Both can help build the case for investing in critical technical enablers.

Continuous Improvement

Agile is, by definition, not static. Teams are constantly identifying ways to become more productive by tweaking and tuning their environment and the way they work. We often see teams continue to significantly increase their productivity, even four to five years after going through the initial agile transformation.

Featured Experts

Benjamin Rehberg

Partner & Managing Director

New York

  • Leads BCG's global work in software and agile
  • Digital banking and insurance
  • IT operating model and organization
  • Agile transformation
Martin Danoesastro

Senior Partner & Managing Director

Amsterdam

  • Agile transformation
  • Digital transformation
  • Agile in financial institutions
  • Digital organization
Technology & Digital

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