Virtually every organization in the world is going through some sort of transformation, whether it’s digital, cultural, or agile. Atlassian customers (and non-customers) come to us for guidance in navigating these changes because they understand that what got them to where they are today won’t get them to where they want to be. They want real-life examples from people on the ground of how to drive their transformations. We’re operating in a new era of commercial enterprise, where low barriers to entry mean near-limitless competition from traditional and non-traditional businesses; consumers are more selective than ever before; and there’s an ongoing war between companies to hire the best-of-the-best talent.

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This landscape demands a departure from traditional service delivery models (read: waterfall) in favor of more nimble practices that are conducive to change – in people, practices, and tools – and innovation. Simply put, agile at scale means breaking up large projects into smaller pieces, so you can release to the market faster, run experiments, get customer feedback, and end up delivering something the market wants rather than waiting to ship one big risky bet.

We talked to Atlassian’s Work Futurist, Dom Price, about the dos and don’ts of scaling agile, how Atlassian can help organizations find their agile footing, and what a work futurist actually does.

Dom’s role at Atlassian is two-fold. Internally, he helps the company understand how to continually scale and evolve – because our biggest existential threat is standing still when the world around us is changing. Externally, under the banner of our core value “Open Company, no Bullsh*t,” he shares our growth story with other organizations, not only due to a sense of professional altruism, but to inform our own approach to scaling.

“My job boils down to an agile feedback loop,” he tells us. “We experiment ourselves, ship the experiments, learn from the experiments, and go again. And we’re doing that with scaling and pioneering the future of work. And when we share with other organizations, like ANZ Bank, how we’ve scaled, we hear what’s worked exceptionally well and what’s failed, which we can bring back internally.”

So what are scaling enterprises getting right – and getting wrong – in their agile journeys? As Dom emphasizes, there’s no one path to success, but we have a few generally applicable best (and worst) practices to share.

3 “dos” of scaling agile

  1. Realize that agile at scale is a never-ending path. It’s not a certificate that you receive and then you’re done. There’s no goalpost or finish line – just a lot of milestones along the way.
  2. Work out who you’re solving for – ideally it will be the customer. “Agile at scale is about working across the organization to delight your customers (whether internal or external), with the best thing, in the quickest way possible,” says Dom.
  3. Work with other teams. If all you do is optimize the way your own team works, you won’t be successful. You may have to compromise to benefit the whole system. Find a way to work laterally across the organization with shared goals, shared outcomes, and shared backlogs, finding ways to experiment and see success together.
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These points all boil down to unlearning the old ways of working. Most organizations want to buy and implement the answer, but if they don’t give themselves the capacity to jettison those old habits and rituals, they won’t have the time or freedom to practice new ones. “The whole rationale of agile at scale is inherent uncertainty,” Dom explains. “If you have inherent uncertainty in what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and who you’re doing it for, agile at scale lets you experiment and learn a lot quicker than in a monolithic big bang launch.”

3 “Don’ts” of scaling agile

  1. A training course is not the answer. We hear the tale all too often: a senior leader laments “But I sent 1,000 people to an agile course and nothing changed!” Remember that your organization’s people and environment need to be congruent. If you send employees to a training course on how to be agile, but don’t foster an environment conducive to agile, you’ve probably disengaged them more and made your journey more difficult.
  2. Senior leaders think agile is something other people do; they’re wrong. Dom says: “The best results I’ve seen are when senior leaders take on the mantle of modeling agility.”
  3. Avoid the agile compliance regime. Sometimes, when leaders decide that agile is the answer, they create a checklist to “make everyone agile” – do a morning standup, implement an agile sprint – and while these exercises may look agile on the surface, they mean nothing without a deeper understanding of the agile spirit, philosophy, and intent. Don’t measure your agility based on rituals, but rather the intent of those rituals.

You’re going to struggle if you expect to get it right the first time. A misstep doesn’t mean you should stop; it means you should persevere. “Give people the time and freedom to turn agile at scale into a real muscle for the organization,” Dom says, “and you’ll be successful.”

What value does Atlassian offer organizations looking to scale agile?

Simply put, we’re scaling agile ourselves. We’re living and breathing it every day, and we’re happy to share our experiences about what’s working and what isn’t. We’re also listening to hundreds of thousands of organizations going through this experience right now and sharing what’s working.

At Atlassian, we don’t just think about our tools, but the mechanisms of working together well. Yes, we’ll provide you with best-in-class software to enable you to think about and implement agile at scale, but tools will only take you so far. We’re also here to impart the human-to-human ways of working to amplify the power of those tools.

And we know it’s an ongoing challenge – but believe whole-heartedly that it’s worth it. “While agile at scale can feel like quite a scary thing to embrace,” Dom says, “it’s incredibly valuable once you start on that journey.”

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The dos and don’ts of scaling agile...