Scaling Agile with Scrum: Challenges and Lessons to Learn

Developed at the intersection of two management concepts: Scrum and Agile, it allows to scale the development process in the company and to make sure that the changes made really work.

Agile methodology in software development has radically changed the way business works over the last few years. The simple idea that every significant stage of development (sprint) should be coordinated with the customer so that the end result is exactly what they want has by now grown into a plethora of supporting ‘best practices’, technologies, supporting software and standards.

However, until recently there was no effective solution for scaling Agile practices for technology companies that have suddenly significantly expanded and whose business processes have become more complex in a short time. The solution turned out to be the sought-after Scrum@Scale (Scrum at Scale) framework that emerged a few years ago.

Developed at the intersection of two management concepts: Scrum and Agile, it allows to scale the development process in the company and to make sure that the changes made really work. ‘The framework has been already proven to be helpful, based on the experience of dozens of top organisations known to specialists, which have solved problems arising in business growth with its help—’ stated, talking to our correspondent, Yevgen Balter, an authoritative evangelist and coach of the Agile universe. Y. Balter is a recognised business technology leader with a proven track record of success in leading SDLC and product innovation across B2B, B2C, eCommerce, eGrocery, POS, Tech, SME and corporate markets. In the following article, we reveal the main trends, which Balter formulated while analysing several successful Agile cases, known in the market.

Insurtech platform case study: scaling Agile with minimal investment

‘The process of working on a project in Agile is like a spiral movement. At each stage, you need to move forward, capturing more and more aspects of the tech solution you are creating. The result of going through this or that phase of development is the so-called ”Potentially Shippable Product Increment” (PSPI). Unfortunately, as business grows, you need to take into account the increasing complexity of processes in order for Agile practices to remain effective’, said Balter. According to the expert, ‘depending on business characteristics and goals, networks of scrum teams that form Agile ecosystems are starting to use Scrum at Scale to seamlessly transition to working at a larger scale.’ Balter reveals that a typical situation in companies is when several separate engineering teams work on different aspects of the same product. When the production process overlaps with changes in the organisation itself, the synchronised rhythm of Agile development begins to break down as a result of information loss, between processes controlled by different departments and business units and other breakdowns in corporate communication. ‘Scrum at scale helps teams on projects to work rhythmically and establish exactly the kind of productivity and throughput that will not cause problems. The Scrum paradigm contains all the necessary tools to coordinate the efforts of development teams with different features. You, as a manager, will be able to make sure that development teams are still working towards the same goal and are provided with the necessary resources’, said Yevgen Balter.

The expert recognised a 2018 project at Insurtech, an American company specialising in automating the purchase of insurance services, as a good example of Agile with Scrum@Scale scaling that illustrates all of these advantages.

Challenges: Yevgen Balter also emphasised: ‘the company had been operating in a familiar insurance market situation for more than 30 years, but began to feel the pressure of tech startups and losing market share. The decision was made to work on improving the efficiency of development activities and to implement Scrum in combination with Agile, although there was almost no budget for training and implementation. The plan was to respond to the growing claims of the shareholder company and maintain market share despite increased competition. The trouble is that neither the shareholders nor the company’s management were in a hurry to take an active part in the changes. They were supported only by a part of the hired management, to which the owners gave carte blanche to change.’

Transition to Scrum@Scale: Yevgen Balter said: ‘With the help of an external consultant, they relied on a framework that scales Agile using Scrum methods. The automated tools provided in the framework, made it possible to divide the company’s programmers into scrum groups, to establish Scrum of Scrums management, i.e. meetings with one representative from each group. A representative of management in the work was selected, which in the language of Agile is called a champion, who helped organise effective training. Employees have mastered the Scrum Guide.’

Results: Yevgen Balter concluded: ‘Two months after the project started, there was a 55% increase in overall customer satisfaction calculated by the sales and marketing departments using their own criteria. There was a 37% increase in customer satisfaction calculated by management. Satisfaction of development teams increased by 34%. The number of defects in the provision of services to customers of the company’s products decreased by 15%.’

Lessons Learned: According to Yevgen Balter, ‘It turned out that in conditions of lack of support for Agile and Scrum projects in the management environment, it is possible to do without the formation of a full-fledged EAT—a kind of commission of the company’s establishment, supporting the introduction of new technologies of development management. Previously, the presence of such a structure was considered a prerequisite for successful project completion. Top management dumped this function on two vice presidents, i.e. on persons with less authority in the company. Nevertheless, the project was able to be driven to victory. Another lesson was that if the resources for training are modest — make sure that the team at least masters the Scrum Guide — this will lay the foundation for a positive result. Also, their experience has shown that if the team of developers who work on Agile methodology includes at least 4-5 scrum teams, it is better to go straight to Scrum@Scale, as there is already a need for scaling. If you do not, the team may start reverting to old ineffective practices right after the hired coach finishes training and employees are left alone with their tasks’.

BAC Credomatic bank case study: reducing business process confusion through scaling up

‘I consider the story of the Nicaraguan bank BAC Credomatic to be a good example of a company growing too fast, after which Agile processes lost their effectiveness,’ Balter stated. According to him, to debug the work after the rapid development, the company decided to switch to Scrum@Scale.

Challenges: Reported by Yevgen Balter: ‘The staff of this large banking company totaled 20,000 with employees and developed technology tools serving customers in five Central American countries. Because the bank grew too fast, its financial performance began to resemble a parabola. When enough process problems accumulated, profits, which had previously been growing, began to fall. The Scrum at Scale implementation project had to turn the tide.’

Transition to Scrum@Scale: Yevgen Balter: ‘The staff of all IT departments of the company was divided into 100 scrum teams, deciding to cover not only programmers but also marketing and HR departments for greater integration. They created the necessary Agile and Scrum project management bodies, EAT and EMS, and applied key scrum patterns, in particular an interrupt buffer. Problems signalled by each small development team flocked to one place, Metascrum, a system management authority that was common to all bank branches.’

Results: Balter concluded: ‘They managed to fine-tune Agile and the rhythm of developers’ work to fit the more complex business processes. As a result, BAC Credomatic won the World Finance award for best online banking and best mobile app.’

Lessons learned: Yevgen Balter reveals: ‘Scrum teams should be cross-functional. Integration of development departments with HR and marketing under Agile can yield high results.’

Teamflow technology company case: saving corporate culture by scaling Agile and Scrum@Scale

‘An interesting situation for an Agile specialist occurred in the German company Teamflow—’ Balter recalled. According to the expert, this company maintained a small staff and formed a unique corporate culture of personal responsibility of specialists and trust. Relationships began to crumble when, as a result of the company’s growth, Agile processes began to fail and old employees were dismissed as a result of disagreement with management policy. Sales plummeted. Soon, it was also decided to implement the Scrum@Scale framework.

Challenges: Yevgen Balter: ‘Many employees solved work issues on their own and were able to act with full personal initiative. This was the usual way of working of the organisation, of which the management was proud. What was required was to implement Scrum at Scale in a way that preserved this characteristic, while still solving the problem of uncoordinated actions in the larger team.’

Transition to Scrum@Scale: Narrated by Yevgen Balter: ‘To ensure that employees retained personal initiative, they disabled a number of framework features. The focus of the implementation was to create a centralised SDS (Software-defined storage) data warehouse for eight scrum teams of developers. All workers were trained on this storage and had a common language when implementing new sprint preparation cycles.’

Results: According to Yevgen Balter, ‘the shared SDS not only made the actions of programmers and other developers more transparent but made the actions of all users traceable, while everyone retained autonomy.’ He also added: ‘This restored the spirit of trust and collaboration in the organisation, recreating the corporate culture of its founding. The increased process efficiency boosted the company’s profits by 8.87 times, making it competitive.’

Lessons learned: Reviewed by Yevgen Balter: ‘To fine-tune Agile scaling to unique needs, sometimes you need to carefully select the Scrum at Scale functionality that will be useful without plugging in the universal but disastrous in a particular situation.’


In a conversation with our correspondent, Yevgen Balter recommended companies to scale Agile using Scrum tools, as this method has recently demonstrated the greatest effectiveness in rapidly growing organisations.