Agile Frameworks: Definition and 5 Types
At Agile By Design, we believe that Agile is not about unthinkingly following rigid frameworks but embracing a flexible and adaptable mindset that values customer focus and continuous improvement. But what are Agile Frameworks?
While Agile Scaling Frameworks like Scrum and SAFe can be helpful guides, in every instance, they should be customized to fit the particular needs and context of each organization and each team in those organizations.
The goal is to create a dynamic and ever-evolving approach to work, focusing on achieving meaningful outcomes rather than adhering to strict rules.
Agile is an ongoing journey of continuous improvement, not a fixed set of rules. The right approach allows for experimentation, feedback, and constant refinement, driving your organization towards success.
The true essence of Agile lies in its underlying principles of flexibility, customer focus, and continuous improvement. So, by embracing these principles, you can create a culture of learning and adaptation that will set your organization apart.
What Is an Agile Framework?
An agile framework is a structured yet adaptable system organizations use to implement agile principles and practices. However, it’s crucial to understand that these frameworks are not one-size-fits-all solutions. They are collections of methods, practices, and principles inspired by agile and adjacent bodies of knowledge such as Lean, Kanban, and DevOps.
We’ll emphasize that while frameworks like Scrum or Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) provide a starting point, they fail to help deliver value when they are viewed as being prescriptive or rigid methodologies.
Furthermore, the true essence of agile lies in the mindset and cultural shift toward flexibility, continuous improvement, and customer-centricity rather than in strict adherence to a particular framework.
Top 5 Types of Agile Frameworks Compared
When comparing agile frameworks, it becomes evident that each offers a unique approach to implementing Agile principles. Here is a list of some of the most popular agile frameworks that can help you decide which may be appropriate for your organization.
1. Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)
This is one of the most prescriptive agile frameworks. In addition, SAFe provides detailed guidance on roles, responsibilities, and processes for scaling agile practices to larger organizations. It includes various layers such as Team, Program, Large Solution, and Portfolio, each with its prescribed practices and processes.
The very reason for its allure and completeness is one of its most significant weaknesses. SAFe’s detailed, structured approach to scaling agile often leads to a bureaucratic and rigid system that stifles the flexibility and adaptability core to agile principles it attempts to foster.
Scrum is less prescriptive than SAFe. Actually, it includes the three following features that are reasonable and even good for teams getting started with Agile:
- Defined roles
- Artifacts (like the Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, and Increment)
- Events (such as Sprints, Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective)
Scrum believes you must do all these things, or you aren’t ‘doing scrum’ as if that even matters. Much of the reasoning for doing all of the scrum has arguably less to do with agility and more to do with being dogmatic about doing scrum.
One of the most significant issues we have with scrum is that it believes that when teams cannot follow scrum’s strict time-boxed approach, their failure will create demand for broader organizational change.
In our experience, the opposite happens with the Scrum framework. In fact, teams distort scrum to the organizational culture, using it as a tool for micromanagement with a narrow, siloed team lens, where roles and cadences are just another form of bureaucracy.
This usage can reverse the desired effect and get in the way of organizations trying to increase their agility.
3. Extreme Programming(XP)
Extreme Programming(XP) framework emphasizes technical excellence, customer satisfaction, and continuous improvement. Indeed, practices like pair programming and test-driven development can enhance software quality.
However, XP requires a high level of discipline and can be challenging to implement effectively, especially in teams not used to its intensive collaboration and technical practices. So, good luck using XP in most packages and most enterprise integration environments. It’s simply a nonstarter in so many situations, which is sad.
Kanban is not so much an agile framework but a method for teams and wider organizational groups to design, operate, and evolve their framework, all while increasing their use of lean and agile principles.
The ability of organizations to define their system of work is critical to agility. Indeed, Kanban achieves this by asking participants (team or other group) to optimize their process to achieve continuous flow focus on limiting work in progress (WIP), leading to efficiency and flexibility.
Moreover, it’s excellent for teams requiring adaptability and handling emergent work. That being said, without discipline, Kanban adoptees can get stuck in the more primitive stages, leading to context-switching and loss of focus on strategic goals.
After all, many teams struggle with the idea that they must be in charge of their process.
DAD also falls into the ‘not a framework’ camp. DAD, like Kanban, also asks you to define your Way Of Working (WOW). Additionally, DAD provides a complete process decision framework with a comprehensive approach to Agile, addressing areas often left out in other methodologies, like architecture, data management, and governance.
Actually, it offers flexibility in choosing practices from Scrum, Lean, Kanban, and other methodologies, aiming to guide large organizations in implementing agile. DAD’s comprehensiveness can be a double-edged sword. Some mistake it for prescriptive advice.
DAD can be overwhelming for teams new to Agile due to its complexity and the wide range of choices available. The risk here is in potentially reverting to a ‘process-heavy’ approach, which can stifle the adaptability and responsiveness central to Agile philosophy.
Going Beyond Agile Frameworks
Many types of Agile frameworks and adjacent bodies of knowledge need to be included when we restrict our discussions of Agile to Agile frameworks.
Lean Startup, DevOps, Software Craftsmanship, Design Thinking, Beyond Budgeting, and others are excellent resources for principles and practices that can help organizations increase agility and are crucial to Agile’s broader landscape.
It’s important to note that these are more movements and bodies of knowledge with principles and associated practices rather than structured frameworks like Scrum or SAFe.
1. Lean Startup
Lean Startup emphasizes rapid market development cycles through a build-measure-learn feedback loop, primarily aimed at startups and innovation in established companies. Moreover, Lean Startup provides tangible advice on experimentation, customer feedback, and pivoting when necessary, fostering an environment of business-focused learning and adaptability. Therefore, it’s essential for anyone serious about business agility.
Unified software development (Dev) and software operation (Ops), emphasizing communication, collaboration, integration, automation, and cooperation. In fact, DevOps is all about breaking down silos between development and operations, resulting in faster development cycles, higher-quality software, and more responsive service delivery.
There is an emphasis on technical practices, but practices with the intent of blowing up siloes, reducing churn, and increasing team autonomy.
3. Software Craftsmanship
Software Craftsmanship stresses the need for highest technical excellence in software development skills, advocating for well-crafted software and a community of professionals. Software Craftsmanship promotes a culture of skill and quality, emphasizing the importance of the developer’s technical and professional growth.
4. Beyond Budgeting
Beyond Budgeting is a management mindset that challenges traditional budgeting processes. In particular, it advocates for more adaptive and decentralized budgeting practices that align with modern businesses’ dynamic and fast-paced environment.
Also, it ties planning and financing into the agile world. Organizations can empower teams by granting them more autonomy in spending and resource allocation decision-making.
5. Design Thinking
Design Thinking is a user-centric approach to problem-solving, emphasizing empathy, ideation, and prototyping. Further, design Thinking enhances core agile concepts by fostering true innovation in organizations.
It’s worth mentioning that it’s a human-centred approach to problem-solving that emphasizes understanding the user’s needs and experiences. Hence, through an empathize, define, innovate, prototype, and test cycle process.
Which Agile Framework Is the Best for Teams?
Teams must decide which way to start and how to advance, picking parts from different agile frameworks, methods, and distinct practices. For example, at Agile By Design, we often help teams with a ‘foundational suite’ that we feel is a good starter kit. This includes:
1. Story Mapping
Story mapping visually represents the customer journey support system behaviour and ties the big picture to prioritized increments of user value.
Kanban aims to help teams define what agility means for them by defining and visualizing their flow of value, setting limits to work-in-progress, and optimizing that flow of value. Furthermore, Kanban is easy to implement and adapt as the team grows in its agile maturity.
(Team Practices of) There are many good bits to use in scrum. Cross-functional focus, team autonomy, and cadences like regular standups and retrospectives to ensure continuous improvement. Many of our client organizations have already internalized the roles of scrum and product owners, whether you like it or not. So it is best to get on that train and make the best of it. Additionally, using the right parts of scrum helps maintain momentum, encourages team collaboration, and facilitates a culture of reflection and adaptive improvement.
4. Lean Metrics
I like the lean family of metrics, e.g., lead time, cycle time, throughput, defect density, etc, over the agile variant of sprint conformance and velocity. Lean metrics allow you to look at the entire picture or drill down on a smaller piece than the naval gazing ‘how did the last two weeks go’ approach.
In other words, Lean metrics have fundamental management theory behind them, whereas agile metrics are, at best, a naive implementation.
What Do Agile Frameworks Have in Common?
Agile frameworks, despite their differences, share several core principles:
1. Iterative Development
They break down work into smaller, manageable segments, allowing for frequent reassessment and adaptation. This contrasts with traditional, linear approaches, enabling teams to refine and adjust as they go.
2. Collaborative Teamwork
Agile frameworks emphasize the importance of cross-functional teams working in close collaboration. These teams are often self-organizing, focusing on collective accountability rather than hierarchical control.
A key aspect is the intense focus on delivering value to the customer. In fact, regular feedback loops with stakeholders and users ensure that the product or service evolves in line with customer needs and expectations.
4. Embracing Change
Agile methodologies are designed in order to be flexible and responsive to change, whether it’s changing customer demands, market conditions, or technological advancements. This adaptability is seen as a strength, allowing organizations to pivot quickly when necessary.
5. Continuous Improvement
Agile frameworks encourage regular reflection and learning. Also, teams regularly review processes, outcomes, and dynamics to identify areas for improvement, fostering a culture of continuous development and education.
These commonalities form the backbone of the Agile mindset, focusing on delivering value quickly, effectively, and in tune with changing needs.
Frameworks for Scaling Agile
Agile Scaling frameworks are designed to extend Agile principles and practices from small teams to more extensive, enterprise-level operations. In other words, prominent frameworks like SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework), LeSS (Large-Scale Scrum), and Nexus focus on coordinating multiple Agile teams, aligning them with organizational goals, and ensuring consistent practices across large projects.
However, as stated earlier, agile at-scale frameworks can have limitations. They often bring a one-size-fits-all approach that may not fit every organization’s unique context. Over-emphasizing scaling through more methods and structures can lead to bureaucracy and a loss of the flexibility and adaptability core to Agile.
Furthermore, they might prioritize process adherence over delivering value, potentially leading to decreased team autonomy and innovation.
How Can You Scale Agile without Relying on Scaling Framework?
You can scale agile without relying on any scaling framework. Some ways to do this include:
1. Going Beyond Sprint Planning to Encompass More Strategic Planning
This extends the sprint-level planning concept with overarching strategic goals, ensuring agile team efforts align seamlessly with the organization’s long-term vision.
2. Reorganizing around Workflows
Our approach involves reshaping team structures to align with specific work streams, enhancing organizational flexibility and responsiveness to changing demands.
3. Custom Cadences for Teams
We advocate for customizing work cadences to fit the unique needs of various groups and projects, moving away from one-size-fits-all sprint models.
4. Expanded Work Visualization
We emphasize the importance of visualizing work at an organizational scale, employing tools that offer insights into progress and resources across the enterprise.
5. Organizational Structure and Dunbar’s Number
When we align team sizes with Dunbar’s Number to foster more efficient communication and collaboration, we end up with a more agile and cohesive organizational structure.
This approach represents a flexible, adaptive method for scaling agile, prioritizing long-term value and effectiveness over rigid framework adherence.
Agile frameworks can guide teams and organizations through approaches they can take to navigate complexity. Whether you’re experimenting with Scrum, the comprehensiveness of SAFe, the technical excellence of Extreme Programming, the adaptability of Kanban, or the comprehensiveness of Disciplined Agile Delivery, the Agile mindset should always steer the way.
Beyond these frameworks lies a vast landscape of principles and practices from Lean Startup, DevOps, Software Craftsmanship, Design Thinking, Beyond Budgeting, and more. Together, they form a toolkit for organizational agility, fostering innovation, adaptation, and excellence.
Ultimately, all Agile frameworks are committed to customer-centricity, adaptability, collaboration, and continuous improvement. These principles serve as the guiding stars leading organizations towards success in a rapidly changing world but are not solutions in and of themselves.
Whether you’re a small team or a global enterprise, remember that the Agile journey is marked by flexibility, creativity, and unwavering dedication to delivering value. Embrace change, evolve, and consistently seek improvement, for in Agile, the journey itself is as significant as the destination. Bon voyage!