Category Archives: Scaling

From LeSS Toolbox: Causal Loop Diagrams to visualize System Dynamics


When it comes to scaling, there is a common misconception that “bigger always means better”.  This misconception is also traceable to agile arena, where companies look for ways to expand their agile practices beyond a single organizational domain (e.g. many teams, numerous departments, multiple lines of business, etc.).  Usually, it is an existing (inherited) organizational complexity that becomes the main reason why companies look for complex, multi-tiered scaling solutions.  And of course, if there is a demand, there will be a supply: there is a number of frameworks out there that hand-hold companies to comfortably “embrace” their existing complexity and not feel too uncomfortable about their own internal dysfunctions.

However, not all scaling solutions are as “forgiving”J.  There are some agile frameworks that intentionally expose and boldly challenge organizational deficiencies. One of such frameworks is Large Scale Scrum (LeSS).  In order to set a stage for the rest of this discussion, I would like to summarize a few points about LeSS here.

I also would like to express my appreciation and acknowledgement to Craig Larman (one of co-founders of LeSS) for helping me deepen and broaden my understanding of organizational design and improve my system thinking that I have been developing over years.


Brief Overview of LeSS:

LeSS is a very easy to understand.  I like to speak metaphorically, so in describing LeSS, I sometimes use analogy with a legendary assault rifle AK-47 that has the following, well-known characteristics:

  • it has very few moving parts and, therefore, its internal friction is pretty low; also not too many small pieces that can jam or break
  • it is simple to disassemble, inspect and reassemble (inspection & adoption)
  • it is very reliable and adoptable under tough conditions (rarely fails in action)
  • if necessary, it can be modified and “expanded”, at low cost/low effort

But there is something else about LeSS that makes its analogy to a weapon (probably, not just to AK) appropriate: it assaults organizational dysfunctions.

LeSS also has two important characteristics:

  1. It is very simple in design and fully rests on core principles of basic Scrum (Effectively, LeSS is the same Scrum, as it is described in Scrum Guide, but performed by multiple teams)
  2. LeSS teachings rest on the pillars of:
    1. Lean Thinking: “watching the baton, not the runner”, visual management, cadence, time-boxing, managers being teachers, continuous improvement
    2. System Thinking: Weinberg-Brooks’ Law, Queueing Theory, indirect benefits of managing batch size and cycle time, being customer-centric, explain differences between local and system optimization).

Thanks to these two key characteristics, LeSS is a very powerful mechanism that helps seeing an organization systemically/holistically, while identifying and exposing (analogy, to a high power rifle scope is suitable here) its pain points that need to be addressed.

As a framework, LeSS is lean and transparent. It does not have any “secret pockets” or “special compartments”, where organizational problems can find safe heaven. No dysfunctions escape sharp focus of LeSS: ineffectively applied processes or tools, ill-defined roles and responsibilities, unhealthy elements of organizational culture and other outdated norms – all of this gets vividly exposed, when using LeSS. Interestingly, while LeSS is a scaling framework that allows to scale-up (roll-up) efforts made by multiple scrum teams, it requires organizational de-scaling to be performed first.  The metaphor that I often use at here is: “you can get more with LeSS”.  To put it another way, in order to build-up Scrum effectively, an organization must remove whatever extra/unnecessary “muda” (waste) it has already accumulated that gets in a way of scaling Scrum.  It is almost like this: LeSS prefers thin but very strong foundational layer, over thick and convoluted but unstable foundational layer, with the ladder, usually being a characteristic of an orthodox, archaic organizational design.

Another metaphor that I use to describe LeSS is that it is an organizational design mirror.  By adopting LeSS, an organization sees its own reflection and depending on its strategic goals and appetite for change, decides on necessary improvements. Similarly, to a person who takes his personal fitness training seriously and uses a mirror for “course correction”, an organization may use LeSS to decide if any further re-shaping or “trimming” is required to get to a next maturity level.

LeSS is also a great guide to technical excellence.  I have used LeSS teachings extensively to coach the importance of continuous integration, continuous delivery, clean code, unit testing, architecture & design, test automation as well as some other techniques that make agile development so great.  LeSS stresses that mature engineering practices are paramount for effective adoption of agile across multiple organizational domains, not just IT.



So, how can an organization take advantage of both: simplicity of LeSS construct, on one hand, and its deep systemic views, on the other hand – to improve its organizational agility beyond a single team? How can principles of lean and system thinking – together, and along with understanding ‘beyond-first-order’ system dynamics be leveraged to implement true scrum, without reducing, minimizing or downplaying importance of its core values and principles?

As an organizational and agile coach and someone who has been using LeSS extensively in his daily coaching work, I frequently witness situations when companies have to deal with this serious dilemma.  Here, I want to share the magic “glue” that helps me bring my thoughts together and deliver them to my clients.  This “glue” is one of the most effective tools that I have discovered for myself inside the LeSS toolbox.  It is called Causal Loop Diagrams (CLD).

CLDs – are a great way to graphically illustrate cause & affect relationships between various elements of an organizational ecosystem.  CLDs help me effectively uncover second and third order system dynamics that may not as apparent to a naked eye, as first order dynamics.  CLDs help me brainstorm complex organizational puzzles and conduct deep analysis of system challenges.  Ultimately, I have found that CLDs are a great way to communicate ideas to my customers, particularly, to senior leadership.

Here are some elements of CLDs that I use in my graphics:

  • Goals – high, overarching/strategic goal that needs to be achieved
  • Variables – system elements that have effect/make influence on other system elements (other variables)
  • Causal links – arrows that connect two related variables
  • Opposite effects – “O” annotation near an arrow; suggest that effect of one variable on another variable is opposite to what could be expected
  • Delayed effect – “||” annotation that disrupts a causal link (arrow); it implies that there is a delayed effect of one variable by another variable
  • Extreme effects – one variable has an extreme (beyond normal) effect on another variable; it is represented by a thick arrow
  • Constraints – “C” annotation near arrow; implies that there is a constraint on a variable
  • Quick- Fix reactions – “QF” annotation near an arrow; action that brings about short-term, lower cost effect


At this point, I would like to provide an example of using CLDs, to visually illustrate second and third order dynamics between key system variables that I often see cause harm and unrest to organizational: performance-driven, discretionary monetary incentives.  

I would like to follow through the process of interaction between system variables as they come to play with one another and uncover the impact they have on the overall system.

Every year, a company (hypothetical Company X) has to distribute a large sum of money to many of its employees in the form of discretionary bonuses.  In order to make a decision-making process less subjective, a company ties it to employees’ individual performance: reviews and appraisals.  People that have demonstrated better performance, get more money, people that have demonstrated poorer performance – get less (or nothing).  This requires that every employee gets evaluated by her line manager, usually, twice every year, at which time an employee gets some rough idea about “how much she is worth as resource”.  This serves as a guide to how much discretionary money an employee might be expecting to get, as a bonus.  While at its surface, the process of performance evaluations and appraisals may seem to be more objective, than a line manager just simply deciding on his own, it is still very subjective as an employee’s opinion is disregarded, when making decisions.  Furthermore, the process is harmful and causes deterioration of individuals’ morale and relationships, on multiple fronts.  Undesirable effects and short-/long-term damage of performance evaluations and appraisals have been studied for years; lots of research and statistical data is available today.   If a reader is not well familiar with this topic or requires additional background information to deepen his understanding, he may refer to the following resources, prior to proceeding with reading:


Moving along with this discussion, I would like to highlight the following three downstream “system variables” that are directly (first order dynamics) impacted by individual performance reviews.  This type of system variables integration is mainly observed among technology groups.  Once we understand a first order dynamics, we shall proceed to some other downstream (“beyond first order”) variables.


Employee Happiness Factor

Many research studies have proved that employees don’t like to be appraised.  An appraisal is equivocal to slapping a price tag on someone and is hardly an objective process, as the only opinion that really matters is that of a line manager.  Yet, an official version at almost any company is that an appraisal helps an employee grow and mature professionally and offers a way to improve her individual performance towards some arbitrarily set target.  Truth to be told: was the intent of appraisals to help employees grow and continuously improve, the process would not be implemented once or twice a year, but rather, more frequently, in ways that would allow an employee to make a necessary course correction more iteratively.  After all, why wait for 6 months to tell a worker that she needs to improve?

At the time of appraisal, a manager delivers to an employee her final and practically undisputed decision.  An employee has practically no effective way to challenge or dispute such decision.  Frequently, even a line manager does not have control of the process (although, this is rarely admitted): he or she is presented with a fixed “bag of cash”, coming from management above, and this bag, somehow, has to be distributed among lower-ranking workers.   And just to be fair to line managers that are not delusional about the dysfunction they have to entertain, most of them also dislike the process as it makes them annihilated and resented by their own employees.


So, as time goes by, employees become less and less pleased with evaluations and appraisals.  The impact may not be observed immediately due to the fact that it usually takes time for an employee to mentally mature to the point, where she becomes conscious and begins comprehend the unfairness and lawfulness of the process.  (Of course, exceptions exist among people that have longer experience of dealing with this process and understand its ineffectiveness and harm.)


While leveraging, CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I use the following graphic representation and annotation to convey the concept:

This graphic suggests that annual appraisals have delayed and opposite effect on employees’ happiness.


Peer to Peer Support

Peer-to-peer support, willingness to share knowledge with colleagues, collective ownership of assignments and shared responsibility for deliverables – these are the hallmarks not only of feature teams’ dynamics but of any agile environment.  In order for employees to be mutually supportive, they must operate in non-compete environment, where they don’t view each other as competitors or rivals.  This is practically impossible to achieve when every employee perceives another employee (at least within the salary ranking tier) as a competing bonus collector.  And this is exactly what is observed in environments, where bonuses are distributed, based on individual performance: employees compete for the same, limited pool of cash.  But everyone cannot be a winner: even if a group of brightest individuals, working together, someone within that group would have to be ranked higher and someone – lower (and btw, people are frequently explained this upfront).  How could we expect people to be supportive of each other if, effectively, underperformance of one employee and her inability to collect extra money increases chances of another employee to bring home more cash?  Performance appraisals and discretionary moneys drive employees apart, not together.

Again, the adverse results of appraisals may not be immediate: pain points become more obvious after bonuses are actually paid (end-of-year/early-next-year) – this is when employees start developing resentment and jealousy towards each other over paid bonuses.


While leveraging, CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I use the following graphic representation and annotation to convey the concept:

This graphic suggests that annual appraisals have delayed and opposite effect on peer to peer support.


Both variables above, directly (first order) define employees’ Intrinsic Motivation to work and their willingness to stay with a company.  After all, can we expect that an unhappy employee, while being in constant competition with his peers and being deprived of an opportunity to safely experiment, would want to dedicate himself to a company for a long time?  Probably not, and as a result, Employee Retention should not be expected to be high, and as it has been seen in many cases: good employees that always leave first.


While leveraging, CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I use the following graphic representation and annotation to convey the concept:

This graphic suggests that both, employees’ happiness and their willingness to support each other, are directly related to their intrinsic motivation to work and willingness to stay with a company, and as a downstream effect – this increases employees’ retention.  The opposite would be true as well: lowering values of upstream (left-side) variables will lower values of downstream (right-side) variables.



“Environmental Safety” and Desire to Experiment

Innovation and experimentation are paramount for success in software development. This is what drives feature teams towards improvement.  Scrum, for example, requires continuous inspection and adoption.  It is expected that, while experimenting, feature/scrum teams may run into roadblocks or have short-term failures, at which point they will learn and improve.  But in order to be willing to experiment and take chances, teams need to be sure that they are safe to do so.  Another words, they need to be sure that they will not be judged and scrutinized for their interim failures.  Such “environmental safety” will be always jeopardized by individual performance appraisals. Why? Because individual success (high individual performance) of an employee is defined by her ability to precisely meet individual goals, set in stone early-on in a year.  The need to follow a “script” precisely kills any desire of an employee to experiment.  After-all, why would a person want to take any chances if her failures will be perceived by line management as underperformance?

Since appraisals make working environments unsafe and kill individuals’ desire to experiment, as soon as an employee is presented with her annual goals, she reacts self-protectively, by starting to “work to the script”, while trying to document every personal achievement “for the record” (a.k.a. “CYA”)


While leveraging, CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I use the following graphic representation and annotation to convey the concept:

This graphic suggests that when employees are safe and are not feared to experiment, innovation and experiments take place in a workplace.  Inversely, lack of safety in a work place and absence of desire for experimenting reduces chances of innovation and improvement.

In the sections below, I would like to take a closer look system dynamics that are beyond the first order of interaction, by tracing some additional downstream system variables:


Team synergy & stability:

In scrum, we would like our teams to be stable and long-lived.  We would like to see team members enjoy being a part of the same team, and do so as happy volunteers, not as prisoners, constantly looking for opportunities to escape.  In fact, best feature teams known, have been created as a result of voluntary self-organization, not as a result of a managerial mandate.

Why do we want our scrum/feature teams remain stable?  Here are some good reasons:

  • Collaborative environment and desire to work together
  • Shared domain expertize and cross-pollination with technical knowledge
  • Predictable team Velocity and ability to plan/forecast more accurately


So, how does team synergy and stability get impacted by performance evaluations and appraisals? Here is how this happens, indirectly:

Via low Employee Retention – as employees leave a company, feature teams disintegrate.  This brings together new team members that have never worked together and require time before they can ‘form, norm and storm’.  As feature teams get dis- and re-assembled, velocities drop/become less reliable and system variability increases (estimation becomes less accurate).  The effect is usually immediate.  In my personal experience, I have seen many feature teams breaking lose and falling apart shortly, after companies have announced annual bonuses.

While leveraging CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I use the following graphic representation to convey the concept:

This graphic suggests that high employee retention will lead to elevated team synergy and stability.  Inversely, low employee retention in a work place lowers teams’ synergy and stability.


Via high Internal Competition and Rivalry – once employees realize that they have to compete with their own teammates for discretionary dollars, collaboration deteriorates dramatically.  Individuals stop supporting each other in pursuit of common goals. Instead, everyone strives to be a super hero and solitary performer, while trying to demonstrate her own efficiency and hyper-productivity to a manager.  Everyone wants to look better than other peers and teammates.  Race to demonstrate best individual performance has a high cost: it happens at expense of overall team performance.   Since collaboration, swarming and shared ownership of work are critical for healthy scrum, the obvious downstream effect of performance evaluations and appraisals not becomes clearer: lowered team synergy and instability.

While leveraging, CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I use the following graphic representation and annotation to convey the concept:


This graphic suggests that internal competition and rivalry will have an extreme and opposite effect on team synergy and stability.


Healthy Scrum Dynamics:

There are many known system variables that interact with one another and define effectiveness of basic Scrum.  Assuming that most readers of this post are familiar with Scrum and in order to keep my focus on other important downstream system variables, I am going to leave detailed discussions of basic Scrum dynamics out. It would suffice to mention that the following classic Scrum-specific variables have to be always considered: feature velocity, # of defects, $ rate at which developers are hired (low vs. common), # low skilled developers, cash supply, ability to guide and improve the system, etc.  If the reader is interested in exploring this in-depth, “Seeing System Dynamics: Causal Loop Diagrams” section of site greatly describes these system dynamics, with the use of CLDs.

However, when leveraging CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I still use the following generalizing graphic representation and annotation to convey this common-sense, overarching concept:

This graphic suggests that team synergy and stability lead to healthy Scrum dynamics and a feedback loop is positive (value increase on left leads to value increase on right).  In my experience, the effect is sometimes delayed.  A time lag is usually due to previously gained momentum.

So far we have used CLDs to explore system dynamics that primarily impact technology teams.  At this point, would like to shift my focus on business side of the house and explore the part of system dynamics that involves customers.  In particular, I would like to provide some examples of how CLDs can expose the adverse impact of individual performance appraisals and discretionary monetary incentives on Product Ownership in Scrum.


Identification of GREAT Product Owner:

Finding a good candidate for the role of Product Owner has been one of the most challenging tasks in Scrum. Why?

The role of Product Owner combines certain characteristics that are not easily found within the same individual, and it is organizations of high organizational complexity and Tylorian culture, where this challenge is seen most. On one hand, Product Owner is expected to have enough seniority and empowerment to make key strategic business decisions.  On the other hand, Product Owner is expected to get intimately involved in day-to-day, and sometimes, hour-by-hour interaction with technology groups.  When these two sets of characteristics come together in the same person, we hit a jackpot: we get a great Product Owner – a person who is both Empowered and Engaged.  But truth to be told that it is often challenging to identify a person that possesses both “Es”.  In most Orange organizations (the predominant color of most modern corporations, as per Laloux Culture Model), definition of every job includes a fixed set of responsibilities that individuals are obligated to fulfill.  If we look at most job descriptions, as they are defined by HR departments of Orange companies, we will hardly ever see a job spec that has ”slack time” for an person to take on responsibilities of Product Owner, in addition to his primary job, let alone a job spec that in fully dedicated to the role of PO.  For most organizations, Product Owner is still not a well-defined role and as such, it is not perceived by employees as a step towards career advancement.  Today, many organizations that use scrum have to experiment with the role of PO, by looking for right individuals, internally.  Individuals that step up for the role if Product Owner have to make a conscious decision, with full acknowledgement that they will be taking a very wide spectrum of new responsibilities.  For most people, this is risky, because, effectively, it means that attention and focus on primary activities (as per job specs) will be diluted by secondary activities – fulfilling the role of PO.  Of course, this problem could be easily mitigated with full backing and support, from senior leadership and HR, by redefining job specs and explicitly recognizing criticality of Product Owner role.  But it hardly ever happens (and mostly, at product development companies).

It is hard to argue that people have to be recognized for the work that they do.  I doubt that anyone would object to the following statement: nobody should be working two jobs for the same pay check.  People have to “feel safe” about stepping into a new territory, learning new activities and developing work dynamics that they have not experienced before.  This brings us to the same concept that we discussed earlier, when we looked at technology groups: individuals need to feel safe, in order to be willing to experiment with a new role. It would be unreasonable to expect an employee to take on more work that would not be “counted in” when a person gets evaluated for his contribution to an organization.

So again, while leveraging CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I use the following graphic representation and annotation to convey the concept:

As the graphic suggests when employees are safe and are not feared to experiment, it will be less difficult to identify a good Product Owner. Inversely, the opposite is true as well: lack of safety and inability to experiment makes the process of Product Owner selection much more challenging.

At this point, it is worth mentioning one very common Quick Fix that organizations frequently make to compensate for shortcomings in finding a good Product Owner:

Empowerment usually implies that a person occupies a senior organizational position.  As such, a business person’s career has progressed beyond a certain point; she no longer has enough bandwidth (nor desire!) to deal directly with technology. Once reaching a certain level of seniority, a person gets a “bigger fish to fry” and collaborating with individual technology (feature) teams is no longer her priority. So, while still retaining one of the “Es” (Empowered), a person is not able to demonstrate another “E” (Engaged).  In order, to compensate for the missing “E”, another person needs to be “inserted” into the system, to fill in the gap between a real Product Owner and technology teams.  This, poorly-defined (undefined) role is sometimes labeled “PO-proxy” – a surrogate person tries to act as PO but does not have the power. This role is usually occupied by someone from a lower organizational layer: a business analyst, system analyst or another person – someone who is more accustomed to work directly with technology and for whom the activity itself is not perceived as “below pay grid’.  This creates a serious dysfunction in scrum operating model, as communication between a true customer (empowered Product Owner) and technology is now hindered: a surrogate role of PO-proxy usually lacks strategic/holistic product vision and power to make important business decisions within short timeframes, as it is required by Scrum.

It is worth noting that functional expertize of a business analyst or systems analyst are both welcomed in Scrum and usually reside within teams (although single-specialty individuals are viewed as less valuable than multi-skilled, a.k.a., T-shaped individuals).

The reason why delegation of responsibilities described above is problematic is because it artificially creates unnecessary communicational layers between end customers and technology. This type organizational design causes a variety of additional dysfunctions (miscommunication, hindrance to information flow, confusion of priorities, etc.), and therefore strongly not recommended.


While leveraging CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I use the following graphic representation and annotation to convey the concept:

As the graphic suggests, difficulty to identify a good candidate for the role of Product Owner creates the need to look for quicker and cheaper solutions; introduction a powerless surrogate role of PO-proxy is commonly seen, undesirable ‘Plan B’.

The reason why this fix is “quick” – because it usually does not take too long for a real Product Owner to realize that he/she is not able (or willing) to handle additional responsibilities of the role.  In my practice, risks of losing a real Product Owner and getting a proxy instead, did not take too long to materialize: usually a few weeks after Scrum was introduced.


Effectiveness of Product Backlog management:

Effective Product Backlog management is paramount in agile product development.  This is the fundamental concept that has been introduced in simple Scrum and it remains as valid in scaled Scrum.  In fact, when an organization scales its Scrum, by involving multiple technology teams, Product Owners and lines of business, effective product backlog management becomes even more critical: work coordination, resource management, impediment removal, alignment of business priorities etc.

As we can guess, effective product backlog management, including work prioritization, story decomposition etc. can be done most effectively with participation of a real Product Owner.  And oppositely, if an organization is missing the critical figure of Product Owner, product backlog management will become ineffective.

While leveraging CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I use the following two graphic representations and annotations to convey these two related concepts:


As the graphic suggests, product backlog management suffers from both: lack of true Product Ownership and presence of ineffective surrogate roles.  In my personal experience, the effect is usually extreme.


Healthy Scrum dynamics (overall):

At this point, I usually provide senior managers with a partial summary of LCD, by showing how ‘healthy scrum dynamics’, while sitting much further downstream from individual performance evaluations, appraisals and bonuses are still impacted by the latter group via second order dynamics (through secondary variables). CLDs do a great job of bringing many aspects of system thinking together and presenting them visually.

Below is the combined view of how four upstream system variables that we have discussed earlier relate to ‘healthy scrum dynamics’:

As the graphic suggests, nature of the effect (positive vs. negative), time of onset (immediate vs. delayed) and impact (casual vs. extreme) are could be unique for each variable.


Scaling Scrum and Organizational Agility:

In this section, I want to describe how I, with the use of CLDs, bring my discussions with senior management to culmination, by painting a bigger picture of organizational agility.

For most large organizations, success by a single team is not the end goal.  Organizations look for “bigger” solutions.  And their reasons are obvious: huge IT departments, many lines of business, many customers, multiple competing priorities, multi-year strategy, and many other elements that make organizational needs nothing less of huge.  Luckily, most of organizational leaders that I have met in my practice, understand that the ability to effectively scale basic agile frameworks (e.g. simple Scrum) will ultimately improve organizational agility and ensure that both customers and employees are happy.

Below is the graphic that summarizes this last, ‘common sense’ relationship:


Tying it all back:

What I would like to do at this point, is to make one step back and describe what it takes to scale scrum effectively:

This is where another powerful concept of LeSS comes to rescue: in order to scale Scrum, an organization must be descaled first (please refer to “Less Agile or LeSS Agile?” by Craig Larman).  Other words, to construct a model of Scrum, performed by multiple teams, an organization must remove (deconstruct) its existing organizational complexly first.  As it was stated at the beginning of this post, scaling does not imply making things more complex, but unfortunately, this key concept is not always well understood.  Mistakenly, many people still think that in order to support existing organizational complexity they need to look for multi-tiered, complex agile frameworks that will provide “room and purpose” for every existing organizational element: roles, processes, tools and techniques.

The analogy that I frequently use to deliver the concept of scaling to senior management is that building a sky scraper on a wobbly, porous foundation is dangerous because it will eventually crumble. A surface must be cleaned up first, flattened and hardened, and only then there will be a chance to build something tall and strong.

Below is the graphic that summarizes this concept:


At this point, the most common request I get from senior leaders is to elaborate on what I mean by ‘de-scaling’ – and this is my favorite topic.  This question is natural but I usually resist on answering it immediately, since the topic is inherently large, complex and, at times, inflaming and therefore, I request a dedicated discussion for it.

However, I still produce CLD graphic illustration of the concept, as shown below, but offer a follow-up discussion to explore details:

Ultimately, when such discussion is held, I always tie it back to the present discussion and explain why Goal: distribute discretionary incentives” becomes so trivial with identification and removal of system/organizational waste.  This discussion is usually long and it requires challenging many outdated organizational norms and principles that some senior leaders are not willing to give up easily.


The CLD graphic illustration is a high-level generalization of the concept of the opposite (inverse) relationship between the two system variables:

As mentioned above, the variable in the dotted circle can be decomposed further into many, smaller system variables that have up- and downstream relationship with one another.



The best summaries are short.  Therefore, I would like to summarize this post briefly, with one comprehensive CLD diagram that brings together and variables, relationships and annotations that were discussed so far:

Although it may take hours, or sometimes days of brainstorming to produce CLD, when complete, it becomes a great communication vehicle.   A diagram like this one can be created real-time, in collaboration with others, on a white board.  Alternatively, it could be created ahead of time by a coach or trainer and then be used as a ‘cheat sheet’, when appropriate.  CLDs can be also shared with wide audience ahead of time, to solicit questions and provoke interesting discussions at later point.

Global SCRUM GATHERING® Orlando 2016

It was a great event, with more than 1200 people attending from all over the world.  Tons of great presentations and collaborative sessions.  Below, are some captured moments with my peers and colleagues – the people that made my personal experience at the gathering so rich and memorable.  The coaches and trainers of Scrum Alliance have always been the main driving force behind this and many similar agile events around the globe.

With Coaches and Trainers during Pre-Retreat

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Grafic work produced at Gathering

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April 16 – LeSS Talks: Discovery of System Relationships with Causal Loop Diagrams

Weinberg-Brooks’ Law

“More software projects have gone awry from management’s taking action based on incorrect system models than for all other causes combined.”  


Today’s session was about Causal Loop Diagrams (CLD).  You may read more about CLDs here.  We discovered why the behavior of a large development group (a system) not understood or guided skillfully.   We used principles of complex positive (+) and negative (-) feedback loops and nonlinear behavior to understand relationships in large systems.  We talked about Quick Fixes, Constraints, Opposite and Delayed Effects.

Here are some pics:








Please, join Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) Meet-Up group in NYC


Day 1

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Day 2

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Day 3

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March 29th -LeSS Talks: Agility at Scale: Component vs. Feature Teams in LeSS

Thanks to everyone who joined the event and participated. Some great and challenging questions!  Some Kodak moments are below.  Apologies for having most of images facing the wall, next time we shall have more facing our great audience :).

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Agility at Scale: Component vs. Feature Teams in LeSS

Tuesday, Mar 29, 2016, 5:30 PM

Gordon International, New York Design Center, Suite 1401 and 1412
200 Lexington Ave, New York, NY New York, NY

51 LeSS Adopters and Supporters Went

Greetings Everyone!Thanks to everyone who attended the previous session (see pics) on Large Scale Scrum Discussion on March 15th.Our next meetup is scheduled for March 29th: same place & same time.Based on the volume and type of questions, in the next session we will take a deeper dive into the discussion of Component Teams vs. Feature Teams (ne…

Check out this Meetup →


Agility at Scale: Component vs. Feature Teams in LeSS

Tuesday, Mar 29, 2016, 5:30 PM

Gordon International, New York Design Center, Suite 1401 and 1412
200 Lexington Ave, New York, NY New York, NY

20 Agile Adventurers Went

Greetings Everyone!Thanks to everyone who attended the previous session (see pics) on Large Scale Scrum Discussion on March 15th.Our next meetup is scheduled for March 29th: same place & same time. You can RSVP here or at: on the volume and type of questions, in the next …

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March 15 – LeSS Talks: LeSS Overview and Q&A


A barrage of great questions made tonight’s session a long non-stop engaging dialogue.  As annual performance appraisal “specialists” say (I am being very sarcastic now 😉  ), the intensity of today’s discussion “EXCEEDED my expectations”, so maybe someone will give me a bonus  ;).  The collaboration system Nureva that I used in place of a slide deck was really helpful.  My personal retrospective: If I had just fewer slides on the wall, I could’ve made my presentation even more interactive.  So, for me, another lesson learned: LeSS is more.  And I promise to do it next time.  The next LeSS discussion will be a deep dive into one of LeSS topics.   Please, post questions or initiate discussions below.

And keep in mind:






Below is the screenshot of Nureva virtual board with the set of questions that were captured.  They will become an input for our next meet-up(s):

after-LeSS questions

Note: Many thanks to Adventures with Agile – UK-based Community of Practice for scaling agile and organisational change,, for organizing this great event.

“How to make your teams faster” – with Dr Jeff Sutherland & Scrum Inc


Last night, Dr. Jeff Sutherland, the co-creator of jeffsutherlandScrum and CEO of Scrum Inc., gave an energizing presentation of the Bank of Mellon NY.

The following topics were covered:

  • How to make your teams faster
  • The competitive secrets behind high-performing organizations
  • How to create value that wins using the Power of Disruptive Leadership.

If you attended, the event, have any additional questions for Dr. Sutherland or after-thoughts that you would like sharing with others, please feel free to post your comments here.  We shall consider your feedback to organize future events with Dr. Sutherland.

Note: Many thanks to Adventures with Agile – UK-based Community of Practice for scaling agile and organisational change,, for organizing this great event.








Coach’s Experience Report: Putting LeSS Teachings to Work


craig_gene_reducedThe following Coach’s Experience Report describes various teachings of Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) framework in the context of their practical use by Agile Coach. What is below does not represent a single case with a single organization or company. Rather, experiences with multiple organizations, under different conditions are being described. By the same reasoning, not for every organization, whose experience is being drawn upon in this report, all of LeSS teachings that are described below, have been experimented.

Coach’s Discovery: Scrum teams have been struggling to gain autonomy and independence due to close monitoring and constant involvement of line management. Teams’ decisions, made during sprint planning were continuously overruled by management. Mandatory requests coming from management were frequently in conflict with priorities coming from Product Owners. Teams – were unable to conduct sprint retrospectives privately and safely, with management insisting on its presence in ceremonies and/or reviewing retrospectives’ outcome.

LeSS Teaching by Coach: Tylorian Carrots & Sticks used to be effective during American Industrial Revolution, when they were applied towards people that performed mundane, unskilled, manual labor. But in modern work settings of the 21st century (for the most part) don’t work, if applied toward intellectual workers. Command & Control behaviors suppress individuals’ willingness to explore and innovate, discover and experiment; they demotivate and demoralize workers, and therefore lower productivity.

Senior management needs to order fist-level line management to step back and allow teams norm and gain autonomy and independence. Close oversight and supervision will not allow teams to fully explore their potentials and achieve higher productivity.

Overall Result: Positive. Many teams have been liberated from Management Type X and have been treated with Management Type Y, instead.

Coach’s Discovery: Team members were expected to work closely together, share knowledge, help each other grow complimentary expertize. Teams were also asked to deliver together, “as a whole”, at the end of each sprint, and demonstrate shared ownership and swarming during sprints.   Team members were expected to take turns in a driver’s seat during showcases, to equally gain visibility in the eyes of Product Owners and customers.

But at the same time, each team member was being stack-ranked, during an individual performance appraisal, against his/her own team members, as well as against members of other, neighboring teams. Each ranked individual understood that he/she competed with other team mates for discretionary money that would have to come in the form of a bonus at the end of year. As it came closer to mid-year reviews and end-year reviews, teams dynamics worsened and bad behaviors were observed, practically, inside every team: less collaboration, emphasis on private ownership and individual deliverables, selfishness, blame-gaming and finger-pointing. As a result, teams’ velocities dropped, quality went down, and customer satisfaction was lowered.

LeSS Teaching by Coach: “The idea of a merit rating is alluring (as per S. Deming)”. Individual performance appraisals, linked to monetary incentives lead to demotivation, loss of enthusiasm and bad behaviors, such as internal competition, rivalry, selfishness and organizational degradation. Having individual performance appraisals, linked to distribution of discretionary monetary incentives, such as bonuses and salary increases, worsen a situation even further.

Overall Result: Mostly Negative. Line management did not except the fact that merit rating and individual appraisals had such harmful downstream effect on teams’ dynamics and cause organizational degradation. Senior management seemed to understand that the problem existed and was serious, but was still too hesitant to ‘rock the boat’, as many fundamental organizational norms and policies, many of which set by HR, would be challenged. In rare situations, however, management was able to emphasize team performance and collective results as main attributes of individual performance/results.

Coach’s Discovery: Recently trained teams fell under close surveillance and scrutiny by line management. Line management viewed agile/scrum, as a magic wand that would miraculously resolve all their existing problems. Management started paying too much attention to metrics (e.g. Velocity) and set unreasonable expectations for teams’ productivity during initial sprints. When teams initially failed, management blamed agile/scrum for failures, instead of treating it as a “mirror” that just painfully reflected existing broken processes.


LeSS Teaching by Coach: In Scrum, when a team just gets trained and is set sail, Private Sprints with “Fake” Product Owners (if a real one is identified yet) are recommended. Why? A team may want to practice/dry run scrum dynamics (roles, artifacts, ceremonies, feedback loops) but may not necessarily want this information be publicly disseminated across an organization, to avoid premature judgments and “mis-measurements of success”. A team is not obligated to announce to the rest of the world that they are experimenting new ways of working UNTIL everyone who is involved is ready and comfortable.

Overall Result: Positive. Teams no longer viewed the last day of scrum training as a commitment point, at which they had to announce to the rest of the organization that “they were agile now”. Teams became more comfortable to transition into new dynamics, and did it gradually, while “playing it safe”, before publicizing their intentions or results. In cases, when a real Product Owner was not immediately available, teams used another surrogate to play this role (e.g. Senior BA or SME).

Coach’s Discovery: A team was experiencing a lot of distraction, coming from stakeholders and customers. Instead of going to Product Owner with requests, customers went directly to the team. Frequently, competing priorities arose: a solution that addressed one request conflicted with a solution that addressed another request. Product Owner, took advantage of his overly proactive clients, stepped back and did not do his job.

LeSS Teaching by Coach: When it comes to feature (scrum) team communication, there are three main types exist:

  • Requests: From Customers/Users and Product Owner
  • Prioritization: From Product Owner to Team
  • Clarification: Between Customers/Users and Team (also can come from PO)

Effectively, this allows for business requests to flow from various areas/departments of an organization to Product Owner but then to be prioritized and fed to a team/backlog by Product Owner himself, in a controlled fashion. While a team is shielded from Customers’/Users’ ad hoc requests, sometimes competing, it still has a right to go to Customers/Users for clarifications.

Overall Result: Positive. The Team learned how to say ‘NO’ to customers and defer their requests to stakeholders. Product Owner was ‘forced’ to step up to the plate and practicing one of his key responsibilities – being voice of a customer, facing a team.

Coach’s Discovery: An organization had wide geographic distribution, with technology resources present in India, Eastern Europe and South America. The long-standing goal of outsourcing was to find the cheapest resources for a single specialty. For example, front-end Java developers were all sourced from India, Flash and UI experts – from Eastern Europe, architects – from Argentina. This has caused a lot broken communication and unnecessary coordination between feature team members: language barriers, geo- time-zone distribution, etc.  Also, end-customers were from the US, and this further added to complexity. Inefficiency of highly distributed teams, trying to coordinate ceremonies and optimize time overlap, was painfully noticeable.

LeSS Teaching: Given today’s global market place, geographical distribution of skilled workers is practically inevitable, for most companies. However, when it comes to teaming it is critical to avoid geographical distribution within a single team. Companies should support collocation of members of the same cross-functional team (note: even with the latter approach, doing this with componentized teams presents other problems). Also, bringing business (stakeholders, SMEs, Product Owners) closer to teams, is highly desirable.

Overall Result: Partially Positive. The leadership agreed to reconsider the current geographic collocation strategy. Having a group of single specialty experts located in one place, communicating across many time zones, with another group of single specialty experts, became a less preferred option. The leadership started to see more value in collocating individuals, based on their needs to work together, on same features. At first, it became more expensive, to procure certain expertise, where it was not as abundant and its cost was higher (e.g. Flash developer in India), but over time, increased efficiency and higher rate of business value output by each team made changes worthwhile.

Coach’s Discovery: During initial stages of agile transformation, senior leadership came to realization that by restructuring their organization to improve overall organizational performance, some internal “waste management” activities had to be done. Specifically, it became clear that certain processes, artifacts and roles were redundant, unnecessary and costly. As such they had to be reduced or removed from the system, altogether. This raised a particular concern for senior management, as removing certain elements of organizational structure could become too politically inflaming. For example, an excessive amount of business analysts and project managers (PMO) represented two pretty thick organizational layers that were primarily focused on producing heavy documentation and less- than-reliable reporting, respectively. Reducing these two layers would effectively mean downsizing certain individuals – something that could loudly resonate across the rest of the organization.

LeSS Teaching: Organizational Leadership needs to understand the difference between Local Optimization (e.g. improving performance of a single organizational layer, functional silo, reporting structure) and System Optimization (e.g. improving performance of an entire system). Looking at an organization from a stand point of System Optimization, an organization should care to provide Job Security to its employees, not Role Security. Ultimately, the goal of any organization is to continuously strive towards improving its efficiency, not providing safe haven for roles that make it [organization] less efficient.

Further, from System Optimization perspective, it is wiser to support the idea of not having individuals that are all just Specialists in a particular field or domain; an organization needs to have a good amount of Generalists to avoid workflow management dysfunctions and workflow bottlenecks. Presence of T-shaped individuals are highly desirable.

Overall Result: Positive but WIP. While removing organizational waste, senior leadership tried to strike a happy balance between simplifying organizational structure and removing redundant/unnecessary roles on one end, while trying to provide job security and alternative career paths for some knowledgeable and highly qualified individuals.

Coach’s Discovery: After more than a dozen of sprints, a group of feature teams still could not show any progress in their ability to deliver potentially working software at sprint-end.   At the end of each sprint, teams still produced code that needed additional testing, test automation activities, integration with code of other teams, extensive UAT, and other “Udone” activities. The initially proposed Definition of Done (DoD), at the time when teams got trained, did not change much and before releasing to production, teams still required at least one ‘hardening’ sprint.

LeSS Teaching: As a feature team matures, gradually, it should extend it definition of “Done”, to bring itself closer to a point, where, upon finishing a sprint, it makes its deliverable production-ready.

Overall Result: Partial Success. The teams was encouraged to identify during retrospectives at least one or two elements of DoD that were either missing or needed an improvement. Based on this, the teams were able to gain some momentum and with every subsequent sprint improved production readiness of their code.   However, there were certain organizational impediments that still prevented teams from delivering faster: certain external dependencies on organizational layers that were “outside of agile sphere of influence” – they prevented DoD to become fully inclusive.

Coach’s Discovery: Individuals that have been elected (or appointed) to the role of Product Owner, did not have time to do the job. They were either too senior within an organization “to deal with IT directly” or had already too much on their plate to take on, yet another full time role of Product Owner. This created a serious gap that made scrum extremely ineffective and overall agility low. To fill this gap, Product Owners found other people, other person within their own reporting structure to fulfill this role. They delegated most of PO responsibilities to this new, artificially created role of Product Owner “proxy”.   This brought about a lot of dysfunction and hindrance to the process as “proxy” did not have the same level of empowerment as a real PO.

In some situations, existing terminology that had a completely different purpose and meaning was overloaded. For example, Area Product Owner (LeSS term) was used to describe a role that did not fit the definition of Area PO. Effectively, Area PO term was used to describe the role and behavior of PO “proxy”.

LeSS Teaching: A business person that represents a single area of a complex product is called Area Product Owner. Area PO is in close communication with other Area POs, responsible for other areas of the same product, as well as with Product Owner (main person) that oversees an entire product. Area Product Owner is not to be confused with an ill-defined role of Product Owner Proxy. The latter term is not really defined in Scrum. This term exists in places, where a real PO is not able or not willing to do his job (no time, not enough interest/motivation). PO-proxy, is PO’s surrogate that interfaces with team(s) to mimic PO (minus authority) – it is an unnecessary organizational layer.

Overall Result: Situational Success. In situations, where organizational structure (on business side) was relatively flat, the success of identifying an effective Product Owner and bringing him closer to teams was much higher.   In situations, where business organizational structure was more complex, with multiple reporting layers, the success of identifying Product Owner that would be equally knowledgeable, empowered and engaged were lower. Another consistent observation was that every time Product Owner came from middle organizational tier (e.g. Operations, a.k.a. not true end-customer) chances were higher that the role of “proxy” would emerge.

Coach’s Discovery: This was a large organization, with complex structure, heavy tooling and internal processes that was looking for scaled agile solutions to accommodate its “internet historic complexity”. The organization was looking for agile frameworks that would seamlessly fit its existing dynamics, while not requiring too many changes. The organization was not really trying to improve existing dysfunctions and repair problems. Instead, the organization was trying to look for ways to “improve” its existing condition by overlaying agile norms, terms and principles on the top of its current system. This included introducing more agile roles, ceremonies, processes, organizational layers, handovers and bureaucracy on the top of what existed already. Over time, it worsened the situation even further, not improved it.

LeSS Teaching: In order to improve organizational agility and be able to implement agile at scale (e.g. have more teams being involved in the same large scale Scrum, as opposed to having many unrelated teams attempting to do their own scrum), organizational De-Scaling is required first. This includes: removing organizational waste, lowering bureaucracy, flattening organizational structure, removing non-value adding roles, reassigning responsibilities to key roles, discontinuing norms and behaviors that have been statistically proved as harmful.

Overall Result: Partial Success. The organization understood principles of LeSS, especially, it core Lean Thinking. The organization understood that organization descaling (removing what exists, instead of adding more to it) should come before any attempts to scale agility across broader organizational boundaries. However…the organization was still not fully prepared to deal with all consequences of waste removal. There were concerns with political and legal implications of such bold actions.

To Be Continued:

TBD – more Coach’s Discoveries and respective LeSS Teachings that were used to remedy problems:

  • LeSS Teaching: The following elements and attributes lead to “The Contract Game”: componentized organizational structure, heavy/non-negotiable documentation, bureaucracy, functional silos, lack of cross-functional experts (T-shaped people), merit ratings/performance appraisals/bonuses or other forms of local optimization (e.g. harboring teams of BAs, PMs)
  • LeSS Teaching: Lack of proper understanding of cross-functional, customer-centric feature development, leads to creating fake “products” or “projects” (e.g. server-side work, back-end coding, database, UI). This further leads to creating fake project portfolios and fake project portfolios. This further creates needs for excessive coordination that mandates unnecessary roles of fake portfolio managers and alike.
  • LeSS Teaching: By analyzing system’s Feedback Loops: Velocity, Bugs, # of Developers, Budget Supply – it becomes clear that, for example, the increase in funding (budget) does not necessarily translate into increased velocity or improved product quality. Negative Feedback Loops are just as important to consider as Positive Feedback Loops: more money may help hire more developers that will produce more bugs.

January 2016 CLP/CLE LeSS Newsletter


Author: Bas Vodde

Since last newsletter, several case studies have been published:

Some LeSS related videos you might be interested in:

And then some LeSS related articles: