LeSS “Construction”: What is it like?

[also, cross-posted on less. works]

Large Scale Scrum (LeSS).  It is the framework for scaling agile development, done by multiple teams, as they work on same product and work for a single Product Owner.   In order to be effective, LeSS requires organizational descaling that means simplification/flattening of organizational design.

What is Organizational Design?  To understand it better, let’s look for analogy in construction industry.  What is required to erect a building? In our analogy, we shall stay simple: bricks (foundation block) and cement (connective material that holds bricks together).

Imagine two buildings: Building A and Building B.

Building A uses brick as its main foundation block.  In fact, when looking at the building’s facade, the most prevalent object, caught by a naked eye, is a brick.  Bricks are positioned next to one another, with just enough cement in-between to glue them strongly together. There is no excess of cement anywhere: the connection layer is very thin/lean.

Architectural design of building A is simple and flexible: the structure is flat (one-story high) and it sits on strong foundation, also made of brick.   Because of its design, architectural adjustments are possible in various sections of the building, independently, with little additional labor.  Due to such modular structure, the building can be expanded laterally, just by adding more bricks to the wall.  Of course, due to its flat structure, the building is also very stable and can withstand a strong wind, flood or an earthquake: practically nothing can be shaken off or washed off the building.

When waste is produced inside the building, it becomes noticeable immediately. Waste disposal is also very simple: it does not require complex chutes or automated waste ‘packaging’ systems.  Waste removal can be mostly done manually, by building residents.  Any necessary supplies (e.g. food, water, furniture, other materials) can be easily delivered to any building area, without the need of advanced technology or mechanics.

Finally, building inspection and maintenance is a very easy process, because of flat structural design: foundation, walls and floor assessment – all can be performed with a naked eye; corrections can be done timely and efficiently.

This is what building A looks like:


Building B is made of a very few bricks and a lot of cement in-between that holds bricks together. In fact, the ratio (by weight) of bricks-to-cement is very low.

Architectural design of building B is rigid. It has many floors, with top floors made primarily of cement.  The building represents a heavy and monolithic structure, and although it also sits on brick foundation, as building A, the bricks are widely spaced with lots of cement in-between.  This means that the overall weight of building B is dangerously high (foundation can crack).  The building’s expansion limit, to accommodate growing occupancy demands, is low: it cannot be easily extended (scaled) horizontally with a couple of extra bricks added to the side, because the bottom brick layer would require multiple horizontal cement layers added on top – to follow the originally intended building design.  If additional cement layers are added on the top of foundational brick layer this will further increase risks of foundation cracking.

Waste disposal is a serious issue for Building B.  While waste can be relatively easy removed from the bottom floor (it is also not in abundance there) and, to some extent, from top floors (by taking it to the roof and using a waste removal chopper 😊), there is a huge amount of waste that gets accumulated at middle floors – and it sits there.  It is extremely challenging to remove this mid-section waste and what building management does from time to time, is ordering for this waste to be moved from one floor area to another (the building is very compartmentalized).  Sometimes, waste gets moved to floors above; sometimes – below.  This creates an illusion of waste removal. But waste remains.

Delivery of supplies and food to Building B occupants is a real challenge, especially if elevators are out of order.  This makes occupants angry and frustrated and sometimes they turn onto each other; become competitors and rivals.

Finally, building inspection and maintenance is a nightmare for Building B.  Many living units are out of compliance with building codes, but violations (and violators) are hard to identify and remove because true facts are well concealed and numbers are gamed by building occupants.

This is what building B looks like:

Large Scale Scrum requires organizational design that is analogous to the construction represented by Building A.


In LeSS:

Team represents the main building block (a brick). Selected team representatives (developers) and mentors-travelers–ensure effective coordination/connection between teams.  There are no additional roles required for coordination.  Cross-team events are minimal (Overall Product Backlog Refinement, Sprint Review, Overall Retrospective).

If product definition widens and more developers are included, another team can be formed and positioned laterally to existing teams – just like a brick.  Should product definition become too wide and the number of required developers exceeds 50-60 people (8 teams), another product area can be identified (new independent module, made of bricks).  Now, LeSS becomes LeSS Huge.  The only additional coordination that would be required in LeSS Huge is between Area Product owners and Overall Product owner – for strategic planning of Potentially Shippable Product Increment (PSPI) at the end of every sprint.  In both, LeSS expansion from 2 to 8 teams, and LeSS Huge expansion beyond 8 teams, there is no need for additional coordination that is different from what is described above (no extra cement needed to keep bricks together).  Also, in LeSS Huge, when one Product Area expands and another one shrinks, moving the whole team from one area to another, does not require expansion or shrinkage of any additional “supportive” organizational layers.

By design, LeSS foundational structure is very lean: flat, fungible and cross-functional.  There is no waste or overhead with roles, responsibilities, events or artifacts.  Everything is very minimalistic.  If any waste is generated in LeSS, it has practically nowhere to hide.

Because there is so much transparency in LeSS, waste is seen immediately.  Any findings of waste or any other required improvements to individual teams or LeSS framework, can be effectively done in Team Retrospective or Overall Retrospective, respectively.  Thanks to its flat organizational structure, LeSS (and LeSS Huge) don’t have to worry about waste removal from additional organizational layers – they [layers] just don’t exist.   There are fewer layers that sit between LeSS teams and LeSS Product Owners and these layers are much thinner.

What happens with LeSS organizational structure during rough times: slow down in business, increased market competition? Arguably, because LeSS is so lean and there is continuous learning, it is much less likely that LeSS people will be displaced. LeSS is also more likely to withstand other types of reorgs and shake-ups because LeSS has very few moving parts, loose pieces or weak links.

Organizational designers that support LeSS think like building architects that want to build strong, reliable, easily-maintainable, low-waste, cost-effective and long-lasting structures!!!

Many thanks to all LeSS Trainers, Coaches and Practitioners building reliable structures 😉.

Signed: ____________The Organizational Building Management 😉

You Get What you Ask For: Agile Coaches-Centaurs

Why are there so many failed agile “transformations”?  We frequently hear the following answer: “because companies lack senior leadership support”.  True.  And let’s not trivialize this: without strong and genuine support by senior leadership (beyond slogans and “support in spirit”), without selecting a deep, systemic approach to problem resolution, companies can only expect localized, peripheral and, most likely, short-term improvements.

But is there anything/anyone else that can be conveniently held accountable for failed agile transformations?

How about ineffective agile training and coaching?  [Note: If you are interested in learning more about some of the most common challenges with agile training, please visit this page.  This post is about coaching .]

…There is a vicious cycle that hurts so many companies (can be also considered as a self-inflicted wound):

initially, companies set a low bar for coaches, based on poor understanding of a coaching role  low quality coaches are hired (most of them are not even coaches, but rather people that have mastered agile jargon and know how to impress HR and uninformed hiring managers) weak coaches (most of whom have minds of conformists, not challengers) cannot effectively guide companies to fix systemic weaknesses and dysfunctions  teams and departments  don’t really improve; rather create a superficial appearance/illusion of progress (often, to impress senior management)  companies lose faith and stop seeing value in coaching → companies start trivializing a coaching role  companies decide not to spend more money on high quality coaching cheaper, even less effective, coaches are hired (or internal, misplaced people are refurbished into coaches, overnight, as per Larman’s Law # 4) initially, low-set coaching bar, is lowered even further…and so on….

As a result, what was initially meant as a strategic organization- improvement effort, now takes on a form of just another system-gaming change management fad that ultimately leads to a failure and responsibility/blame-shifting.

What are some of the reasons why the above happens?  Here are some suggested reasons:

  • Companies don’t understand the essence of agile coaching role: it is viewed as another “turn-on switch” management function
  • Leadership does not feel a sense of urgency (p. 14) to make changes and exempts itself from being coached: people are too busy and too senior to be coached; they find coaching trivial
  • Certain organizational pockets are genuinely resistant to/feared of changes that can be brought about by real coaches (as per Larman’s Laws 1 – 3)
  • Market over-saturation with unskilled recruiters that hunt for low-quality coaches and contribute to the above cycle: this further lowers a company’s chances to find a good coach
  • This list can be extended….

Who is responsible for initiating this vicious cyclic dysfunction?  Does it really matter if we identify guilty ones?  Maybe it does, but only, as a lessons-learning exercise.  What probably matters more is how to break out of this cycle.  Where to start: discontinue low-quality supply (coaches) or raise a bar on demand (by companies)?  Usually, demand drives supply and if so, for as long as companies remain victims of their own complacency and keep relying on body-staffing, head-hunting agencies, cold-callers that solicit for job requisitions they don’t understand, and untrained internal HR-screeners – to procure cheap “agile” resources or treating real professional coaches, as “requisitions to be filled”,  a coaching bar will remain low, and companies will be getting EXACTLY  what they have paid for: coaches-centaurs (p.17).

Big question

What should companies be looking for when hiring a coach?”

An organization should be looking much father and beyond of what is typically presented in a resume or a public profile of a candidate: usually, a chronological list of an employment history or a long list of google-able terms & definitions,  popular jargon or claims of experience in resolving deep, systemic organizational challenges with Jira configurations 😊.  Much more attention should be paid to the following important quantitative characteristics of a coach:

Coaching Focus: What is an approach and/or philosophy to coaching does a coach have?  This will help a company understand an individual mindset of a coach.

Coaching Education AND Mentorship: What active journey through education, mentorship and collaborative learning in coaching and related activities over significant period has a coach taken?

Formal Coaching Education: What has contributed significantly to a person’s coaching journey, including courses on topics of facilitation, leadership, consulting, coaching, process, and other related activities which have influenced a person’s coaching practice? Such education may not have to be degree-related (training and/or certification from any recognized institution could be sufficient).

Coaching Mentorship & Collaboration: How a coach developed a skill/technique or received guidance to a coaching approach and mindset?  Respect and recognition of mentors – matters here.

Informal Coaching Learning: What important topics outside of Agile/Scrum literature have impacted a person’s coaching philosophy?  This increases chances that a coach is well-rounded, beyond standardized book learning.

Agile Community Engagement & Leadership:  Does a coach engage in agile user groups, gatherings, retreats, camps, conferences, as well as writing, publishing, reviewing, presenting, facilitating, training, mentoring, organizing, and leading agile events?  An active participation and leadership in the agile community is a good demonstration that a coach has not developed herself within a unique organizational silo, by self-proclaiming and self-promoting, but rather has diverse and ‘tested’  industry experience.

Agile Community Collaborative Mentoring & Advisory: Does a coach mentor or advise other individuals (not for pay) on how to increase their competency or development?  Is a relationship on-going, purposeful and bi-directionally educational?

Coaching Tools, Techniques and Frameworks: Does a coach develop awareness and understanding of tools, techniques and frameworks while engaging with organizations?  Has she customized or developed anything that was client/engagement-specific?

In addition to quantitative characteristics , here are qualitative characteristics of a good coach:

Coaching Mindset
  • How does a coach react when an outcome of coaching was different from what she had desired? In the past, how did a coach address this situation?
  • How, based on clients’ needs, a coaching mindset had to change? In the past, what compromises did a coach make? What was learned?
  • What new techniques or skills did a coach learn, to meet a client’s needs?
Coaching Competencies
  • Assess – Discovery & Direction
  • Balance – Coaching & Consulting
  • Catalyze – Leadership & Organizations
  • Facilitate – Focus & Alignment
  • Educate – Awareness & Understanding
Coaching Specialties
  • Lean / Kanban
  • User Experience / Design
  • Scaling Agile / Enterprise Agility
  • Technical / Quality Practices
  • Organizational Structures
  • Lean Startup
  • Product / Portfolio Management
  • Organizational Culture
  • Learning Organizations
  • Non-Software Application
  • Business Value / Agility
  • Technical / Product Research
  • Multi-Team Dynamics
  • Organizational Leadership
  • Organizational Change

[Note: The above, is based on guidelines provided by Scrum Alliance application process for CTC and CEC.]

While running some risk of sounding self-serving (very much NOT! the intent here) : please, be mindful and responsible when you select guidance-level professionals in your agile journey 😉.