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Slaying the Agile Scaling Lycanthrope with A Barrage of Silver Bullets, er Maturity Models

Scott Ambler became my new hero in an instant today when I reached the conclusion of his dazzling Scaling Agile: An Executive Guide, published on his Agility@Scale blog site in February, 2010, where he refers to corporate productivity challenges as "lycanthropes." [p. 19, if you want to skip right to it.]

I had been hoping to write about scaling agile to large organizations today and will doubtlessly do so immediately, heavily referencing Ambler, whose blog you really must visit early and often.  But I hadn't heard the word lycanthrope before, and I just had to pause and marvel at the aptitude of the metaphor, in a way I haven't done since I encountered Dan North and Martin Fowler describing the relationship between business and technical people in a software endeavor as the "Yawning Crevasse of Doom." 

If agile enthusiasts gain any traction at all in this world, and apparently we are (Ambler quotes a survey showing that 76% of American corporations were at least experimenting with agile techniques in 2009), I would like to think it's because we are so frequently able to reap a fiscally significant corporate harvest from the hours of effort we've invested in the colorful worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, StarCraft II (Wings of Liberty) and DragonQuest IX (Sentinels of the Starry Skies).

Back to the point, however, as agilists, we seem to have moved on since Martin Fowler's 2003 keynote on "Why Scaling Agile is the Last Thing You Want to Do."  Although his advice to "scale down projects" before "scaling up agile" is still true, by 2009, would-be organizational transformers had produced so many models to describe agile at scale that InfoQ had to publish a roundup.  The models annotated are either prescriptive, like CMMI or PMI, or purposefully heuristic and descriptive, as proposed by Ross Pettit

Now that the dust has settled a little and Ambler has produced his own model, I thought it might be time for a look at what he and two other practitioners offer, and how their models can help:
  • Ambler's Agility Scaling Model (ASM), referenced above.  Ambler's bottom line advice is going to be to retain IBM's Global Services and Rational teams to embed experts into your organization and help with the specifics of applying the model to your situation.  The framework itself is awesome in its own right, however, suggesting an evolution from:
    • "Core Agile Development" (a team iterating) to 
    • "Disciplined Agile Delivery" (an IT organization delivering a business solution from ideation to money-making production), and finally to 
    • "Agile at Scale" which describes a whole IT organization operating in an agile manner for all projects across all necessary continents.
A blurry approximation of Ambler's original.
  •  An earlier and also highly regarded framework has been developed by Ahmed Sidky and Greg Smith, and is included in their excellent book, Becoming Agile in an imperfect world.  The model, called the Sidky Agile Measurement Index (SAMI), is one which Sidky would ideally like you to engage his company, X2A Consulting (recently acquired by ubroadcast, inc), to help apply to your organization, but Sidky and Smith provide detailed information about how to do this for yourself in Appendix A of their book, "Readiness assessment tables by practice."  The book as a whole provides a helpful reference narrative describing steps you might go through in your own organizational transformation.  Like the ASM, the SAMI does not lend itself to intra-blog rendering at readable scale, but here is roughly what it looks like:
From Becoming Agile in an imperfect world--read the original!
  •  Michael Spayd has an interesting perspective on corporate agile conversions, and has developed methods for implementing XP within the framework of the CMMI, for companies who need to do so.  More recently, however, he has developed an agile-specific Seven-Layer Framework which usefully lays out the different layers of the organization which need to be addressed in order to successfully transform it.  Spayd, like Ambler and Sidky, can offer guidance on use of the framework through his company, CollectiveEdge Coaching.  Spayd's framework is useful in the way it helps you devise appropriate strategies for transformations of different demographics within a corporate environment:
    • Individual
    • Team
    • Management
    • Program
    • Strategy
    • Leadership
    • Organization
From Spayd's Agile 2009 Presentation -- read it in full!

The available published 2010 maturity models have in common that they do not provide a point-by-point guideline as to how to change your organization.  As my brief descriptions above suggest, the owners of these models want you to hire them, and there are other companies out there who have their own proprietary models as well.  And that is a good thing. 

Returning, as is my wont, to the Agile Manifesto, I suggest that organizational transformation, like so much in life, is going to be about a relationship between an owner of a corporate productivity problem of some size and one or more people who are going to help that person solve it.  We in the agile community, both suppliers and demanders of advice, are going to want to educate ourselves on different ways to think about the problem, and apply different lenses to evaluating how things are going.  In the end, maturity models won't increase corporate productivity, just as surely as silver bullets don't kill werewolves.  You need people to slay both figurative and literary lycanthropes.

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