A lot of us were lucky enough to attend NDC London this year, we even sponsored one of the food stalls. I often see one or more real themes coming from talks at conferences. At NDC London I saw three talks around scaling Agile. Indeed Dan North’s (@tastapod) talk was called exactly that. It is a topic OpenTable is trying to make happen. We are about 100 engineers on three continents which is a lot of teams working together.
I truly believe that the only way to make an individual team successful in an Agile environment is to have ownership of an area, a system or similar. That enables fast feedback, quick decision making and also a sense of pride and responsibility for what people are working on.
However, when you have a big project, you can’t give it to just one team. You need many teams working together. You can split it up and get teams to work on the parts of the project affecting the code they own. This will though mean certain parts of the project go faster than others, and if teams are autonomous, who is really responsible for bringing all those pieces together? Also, imagine you are the project owner and need to have a rough handle on when things can actually be delivered, who is going to give you that? None of the individual teams know, everyone is Agile and cool and so everyone hates estimates.
The point made by three speakers at NDC London, Dan North, Jez Humble and Gojko Adzic came down to the need for the coordination piece across the teams. One thing Dan North (more or less) said is “if your team is really fast and all the others are slow, the project is slow and your team haven’t achieved their goal”. That was not the exact words he used but the sentiment came across.
Indeed we have some big projects at OpenTable and as we have properly embraced Agile in many ways, we still had some pain points in this exact area. We were getting to the same conclusions but since these talks we have had some more solid programme management and in the third cross-team meeting as a result, things starting taking shape. It really is an important piece of the jigsaw.
I would also recommend a DevDay talk from Dariusz Dziuk on this and how Spotify make things scale. Slightly different content but a similar theme.