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Scaling Agile and Scrum for Large, Complex Projects

There is a lot of confusion and some fairly polarized opinions about scaling Agile and Scrum for large, complex projects involving multiple teams. There are a number of different competing approaches for doing this.

Scaling Agile and Scrum

Scrum-of-Scrums and LeSS

  • Some people think that it can be done simply by adding a Scrum-of-Scrums approach to provide a mechanism to coordinate the efforts of multiple teams.
  • A more comprehensive approach for integrating the efforts of multiple development teams is Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS).
  • A Scrum-of-Scrums approach is a loosely-coupled approach that only provides for basic coordination of the work between teams – each team still operates fairly independently.
  • Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) is a much more tightly-coupled approach that goes beyond the very basic level of coordination of work that the Scrum-of-Scrums approach provides.

The table below shows a comparison of the two approaches:

Coordination of WorkFormal Scrum-of Scrum’s MeetingInformal, “Just Talk”
Product Backlog Management
(Single or Multiple Backlogs)
Not SpecifiedSingle Product Backlog
Sprint Planning
(Separate or Joint)
Not SpecifiedJoint
Sprint Review
(Separate or Joint)
Not SpecifiedJoint
Allocation of Work
(Component or Feature)
Not SpecifiedFeature

Selecting the Right Approach

The right approach will depend on the project and the need for a more loosely-coupled or tightly-coupled approach for integrating the development efforts. However,

  • Both of these approaches only address integration of the teams from a technical, development perspective and do not explicitly provide any mechanism for integration of the efforts from a business perspective.
  • It is assumed that the normal Product Owner role provides that level of integration but that may not be very realistic for very large, complex projects. This is really a multi-dimensional problem involving:
    • Business Integration and
    • Development Integration
    • The Planning Approach (Adaptive or Plan-driven)

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and other enterprise-level Agile frameworks recognize the need to provide this level of business integration with an appropriate level of program management and/or product/project portfolio management to ensure that the development efforts are well-integrated and well-aligned with the company’s business strategy.

Overall Summary

The ability to scale Agile to handle large, complex enterprise-level projects is a relatively new area that has a lot of confusion and conflict associated with it. It also poses some very significant challenges.

Confusion and Conflict

There is a lot of confusion and conflict in this area:

  • A number of people who see this from a development perspective tend to think that SAFe and other enterprise-level frameworks that address the problem of business integration are just unnecessary overhead and bureaucracy
  • Many people who see this from a business strategy perspective don’t understand the need for integrating development efforts from a technology perspective


There are three major challenges that need to be considered:

  1. Integrating the efforts of multiple teams from a development perspective
  2. Aligning the efforts of all teams with the organization’s business objectives
  3. Coordination with other related efforts outside of the project team and providing tracking and progress reporting to management

Both the development integration perspective and the business integration perspective have merit and need to be considered when scaling Agile/Scrum to large, complex projects and all of the above challenges may need to be addressed to make a large, complex, multi-team Agile project successful.

Related Articles

You can find related articles on the topic of “Enterprise-level Agile” here:

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

3 thoughts on “Scaling Agile and Scrum for Large, Complex Projects”

  1. The article posted is very effective.The description given above is nice. I also like to share with you the AGILE process The term “agile” refers to being able to move or respond quickly and easily, also being nimble. In any kind of management discipline, agile as a quality should therefore be a good thing to aim for.More details can be get from http://www.scrumstudy.com/blog/.

    1. Thanks for your comments. The word “agile” has a lot of different connotations in actual use and that can be very confusing. What you’ve mentioned is only one possible connotation of the word.

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