Scaling Agile for Enterprises: A Comparison of SAFe Agile, Nexus, Disciplined Agile 2.0 (DAD), and Large Scale Scrum (LeSS)

By Kate Eby | November 22, 2016

Large enterprises face many challenges when moving from a linear and traditional project management strategy (a strategy that is likely already embedded in the culture of the organization) to an Agile framework. However, the reality of constantly changing consumer expectations, the demands for quick time to market, and finding innovative ways to gain competitive advantage can be great reasons for adoption of today's Lean-Agile frameworks.
Developers of frameworks devoted to the principles of Scrum, Lean, and Agile redefine the organizational role of teams and individuals. These frameworks are geared to provide faster, scalable, and improved delivery when transitioning from traditional (“Waterfall”) style project delivery.  These Agile methodologies work to create integrated processes that promise to create value, find problems and solutions faster, and improve competitive edge.
Large enterprises have recognized the success of Agile, but a key problem still remains: Agile frameworks are not necessarily designed for large enterprise projects/products, especially for those organizations that worry about losing control without defined processes and extensive documentation. Fortunately, alternative frameworks have been developed to scale Agile for larger enterprises. This article will look at four different frameworks that support the Agile philosophy while taking into consideration the structure, processes, and goals large enterprises hold near and dear.

The New Kid on the Block: Nexus – Developed by Ken Schwaber

Nexus was released in 2015 by Ken Schwaber, the co-creator of the Scrum framework. It is closely based on the Scrum framework, preserving many Scrum elements including the iterative and incremental approach to developing software. The intention of Nexus is to support scaling up to nine teams. The main difference between Nexus and Scrum is the addition of an integration team that is focused on facilitating the dependencies and integration issues between the teams. Compared to the other frameworks discussed in this article, Nexus is the most minimal and lean framework, which allows for plenty of agility.
Adrian Lander is a Lean-Agile Transformation and Executive Business Coach with over 20 years of experience. According to him, “Nexus is the least prescriptive of scaled Agile frameworks. It’s common to borrow from other frameworks, such as XP and Kanban, to ‘tune-up’ Nexus to enterprise-ready usefulness. A software-centric company that is lean will likely find Nexus easier to apply, but an enterprise organization may find it more difficult because the framework is not enterprise-ready on its own.”

Agile Project Management E-book

How can Agile PM help you do more with less?

Agile project management empowers teams to adapt to change with increased speed and flexibility. Learn how to implement Agile PM and get the most out of the methodology.

Get the free e-book

Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) – Developed by Craig Larman and Bas Vodde

Emphasizing that this framework is true Scrum and not a new concept, Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) puts an emphasis on the process of scaling up while maintaining the original Scrum philosophies. LeSS supports the ability to scale above one team in order to support environments (common in large enterprise organizations) that encompass multiple teams with hundreds of development team members. The goal is to take the single team Scrum principles and adjust them to work in larger enterprise environments.
Organizations that scale Scrum to fulfill the needs of larger teams tend to add more people and overhead. By contrast, LeSS supports the concept of "descaling." This idea centers on reorganizing and rethinking resource usage - in an effort to use resources differently and more efficiently. The stated value system and structure focuses on empirical process with transparency, doing more with less, and keeping focus on the whole product.
The "LeSS" (two to eight teams) and "LeSS Huge" (more than eight teams) frameworks advocate a "customer-centric" approach on a foundation of systems and lean thinking to provide a continuous improvement model. Like the other frameworks, a focus on learning and a cultural shift for adaptation are cornerstones of the process. They also provide variability in the queue systems for work in progress (WIP), multitasking, and variability.
Enterprises interested in adopting the LeSS framework are advised to first focus on single team level Scrum and then work to apply the same Scrum principles as they scale to larger and larger number of teams. LeSS tends to involve a certain level of internal experimentation. Hubert Smits, Management Consultant and Scrum Trainer, states that “although experimentation may seem risky, it is also the heart of LeSS – if you don’t mold Scrum to your needs then you are simply following a recipe, which is not going to work in the long run.”  
Adrian Lander has been part of several LeSS implementations and finds that “although LeSS provides more guidance than Nexus, the looseness of the framework (‘try this, try that’) is one of its limitations, making it more difficult to apply in an enterprise environment. The framework assumes that teams will automatically self-organize, but this will not happen easily if the teams have been working in a traditional environment for years and requires intensive coaching and organizational change, not addressed in LeSS or any current scaling framework. The looseness becomes a danger and can create quite a bit of overhead and become inefficient. On the business outcome side, you have to be solid. Another factor is that LeSS ignores the portfolio level assuming everything can be de-scaled.” 


Disciplined Agile 2.0 (formerly DAD) – Developed by Scott Ambler and Mark Lines

This developmental framework is a hybrid Lean-Agile approach, combining various Agile principles including Extreme Programming (XP), Unified Process (UP), Kanban, Lean, Outside In, and Agile Modeling strategies. Scott Ambler developed Disciplined Agile Delivery while working at IBM Rational from 2006-2012 in an effort to provide an enterprise-level framework for delivering IT solutions. The current version of the framework, Disciplined Agile 2.0, was released in August 2015. The name change occurred due to a more broad focus on IT processes in general. DA 2.0 focuses on the entire development lifecycle, from commencement to customer delivery. This is the only framework that includes three phases: inception, construction, and transition. 

Adrian Lander has found that, “The inception phase can be controversial in the Agile community because Scrum does not believe in a phase prior to working on the product. However, this phase is like a very disciplined short step - just enough - and thereby welcome in an enterprise environment because they are used to sorting out key enterprise blockers, ensuring enough stakeholder support, setting up the team for successful delivery, etc. usually in just a few days that will actually reduce bigger waste.”
Disciplined Agile 2.0 is more enterprise-ready than Nexus or LeSS.
Scott Ambler and Mark Lines wrote a book on Disciplined Agile 2.0 that focuses on the following:

  • "People first," cross-functional teams
  • Continual learning
  • Quick Agile delivery
  • Providing business value
  • Goals without being overly prescriptive
  • Reducing risk while delivering value

Disciplined Agile 2.0 is enterprise aware – working closely with enterprise stakeholders and leadership, following enterprise guidelines, utilizing existing systems, sharing with enterprise teams, and adhering to compliance and governance procedures. This awareness and focus on the best interests of the enterprise ensures that the enterprise goals are top of mind. Disciplined Agile 2.0 practitioners and proponents say that these values are the core elements that provide strong, focused support for providing customizable agility while also maintaining discipline.
The Disciplined Agile 2.0 framework is useful for both small, co-located and large, distributed teams, and provides guidance so that organizations can adapt to differing situations. Adopting Disciplined Agile 2.0 can lead to decreased time to market, improved quality, greater flexibility, and improved competitive advantage.
According to Lander, “Enterprise organizations find Disciplined Agile 2.0 to provide much more guidance than other scaled-Agile frameworks and it addresses the complications of moving software into production. However, unlike traditional Scrum, there are quite a few specialist roles and this can introduce hierarchy that works against the team intelligence approach. One of Lean-Agile’s goals is to reduce handoffs, moving to more T-shaped roles with less hierarchy. Disciplined Agile 2.0 can be tuned-down to only utilize the roles necessary as it provides options.”

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) 3.0 and 4.0 – Developed by Dean Leffingwell

SAFe was released in 2011 and is based upon a Team, Program, and Portfolio approach that has a foundation of nine core principles to support a Lean-Agile culture. These principles are built into all levels of the framework and are supported by continuous training and certification. They are also upgraded as the systems evolve to support small and large scale teams. A recent upgrade from SAFe 3.0 to 4.0, in January 2016, allows for greater support for larger teams with enhanced scalability and a modular framework. This system is more adept than previous versions and can be better tailored for flexibility. Compared to other frameworks discussed, SAFe is the most prescriptive.
The nine core principles of the SAFe framework are:

  • Take an economic view
  • Apply systems thinking
  • Assume variability and preserve options
  • Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles
  • Base milestones on objective evaluation of working systems
  • Visualize and limit WIP, reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths
  • Apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain planning
  • Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers
  • Decentralize decision-making

Similar to Disciplined Agile 2.0, SAFe is enterprise-aware, focusing on the goals and values of the enterprise. The SAFe approach is geared to help large-scale enterprises make meaningful large-scale organizational changes by providing customizable, scalable, and flexible solutions.
According to Adrian Lander, “SAFe is the only framework with four levels, Team, Program, and Portfolio - and since SAFe 4.0 the Value Stream level. This has been criticized, but enterprise organizations are drawn to the familiarity to their organization structure. In some cases, the prescriptiveness of SAFe may not enable the organization to change enough to experience the full benefits of Agile. But, SAFe can be tuned-down by capable coaches to what is actually needed.”

How Scaling Agile Frameworks Helps Enterprises

With the growing need for enterprise organizations to quickly move product to the consumer, multiple industries are embracing the cultural changes and philosophies of these Lean-Agile approaches. Banking, pharmaceutical, telecommunications, and manufacturing are among those that are enjoying faster time to market, margin improvements, and an improved competitive edge.

In Lander’s experience, “Many enterprise organizations look at Agile as a method to cut development costs, but Agile is not necessarily less costly at first. In fact, it will initially cause disruption - like any organizational change for the better - and may require a higher level of skills. Focus should be on overall business outcomes, not just costs. In addition, the rule that scaling teams on the same product should be avoided when possible, still holds. Independent teams run faster.”
Today, scalability and customer-focused systems have emerged to provide flexibility for teamwork in size, scope, and outcome. And while most of these frameworks have similarities (for example, the need for enterprise cultural change and continuous learning), viable onboarding processes, support, and flexibility are also needed to integrate smoothly into large-scale operations. Another way to ensure an even high success rate is to hire a qualified Agile Coach who will combine frameworks openly, without vendor lock-in. Start somewhere, but embrace evolution to somewhere else. Adoption through a process of "test driving" parts of each approach could be pivotal for success. The reality is that the end customer expects dynamic, exciting, and quick changes. Adapting to this reality can be a key to a viable competitive advantage.


Benefits of Using Smartsheet for Adopting Agile in the Enterprise

From simple task management and project planning to complex resource and portfolio management, Smartsheet helps you improve collaboration and increase work velocity -- empowering you to get more done. 

The Smartsheet platform makes it easy to plan, capture, manage, and report on work from anywhere, helping your team be more effective and get more done. Report on key metrics and get real-time visibility into work as it happens with roll-up reports, dashboards, and automated workflows built to keep your team connected and informed.

When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time. Try Smartsheet for free, today.




Discover a better way to streamline workflows and eliminate silos for good.

Try Smartsheet for Free Get a Free Smartsheet Demo