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In our essay, Can Agile (SAFe) Be Interfaced With Waterfall?, we identified three major areas that had to be addressed so that a multiple inter-related programs with different management approaches didn’t turn into a train wreck.  Keeping related programs moving in the same direction is important, and synchronization is critical. In a recent interview for a future SPaMCAST Alan Shalloway, CEO of NetDynamics, reminded me that the more complicated we make work, the more we reduce flow and increase the probability of making mistakes. Staking the organization’s success to integrating two programs moving at different speeds is complicated. Synchronizing successfully requires spending time and money to keep the programs synchronized. Three effective techniques used to implement synchronization are: (more…)

Bands need to sync up with the beat.

Bands need to sync up with the beat.

In music, cadence is the number of beats in a bar. When I was young I was in a band. Our drummer generally set the cadence with the beat. In classic rock, the cadence was based on four-four time. When anyone of band members slipped out of time they would use the beat to synchronize. Most songs that include solos leverage the beat to re-sync the band when the soloist returns to the melody. Projects with more than one team use sprint cadence and the ceremonies of Scrum or Scaled Agile Framework Enterprise (SAFe) to stay synchronized or to re-resynchronize. Techniques for synchronization include:

  1. Matching cadence. All techniques for intergroup synchronization begin with matching cadences. When projects teams need to act in a coordinate fashion either because the functionality they are creating has to integrate or because teams might have to help each other need to be on the same cycle. Matching cadences allows teams to more easily integrate, plan and demonstrate the overall functionality being developed.
  2. Joint Planning. When teams are on the same cadence, they can plan together. Getting groups in the same room to plan allows cross-coordination and communication. For example, SAFe uses two day planning exercises to synchronize the planning for program intervals. I have also seen and led planning exercises for smaller groups Scrum teams that fall below the scale SAFe should be used (yes . . . you can scale SAFe work with groups smaller than 50 if you know what you are doing).
  3. Joint Builds. In a perfect world all teams in a project would be operating on a single, unbranched code base so that daily builds and tests would expose any inconsistencies. In many organizations teams either have not matured to that level of coordination or have technical constraints that preclude continuous integration. Matching cadence allows teams to get to done at the same time and to integrate at the end of every sprint. Integration provides technical feedback that helps the overall project stay on track.
  4. Joint Demonstrations. Demonstrations are to stakeholders what joint builds are to developers. Joint demonstrations provide feedback to help the overall project stay functionally on track.
  5. Scrum of Scrums. The Scrum of Scrums is the meeting of Scrum masters (the concept can and should be used for product owners also) on a periodic basis during a sprint. SAFe suggest twice a week; I typically suggest starting at twice a week and then more often if significant issues or risks crop up that need to shared and coordinated. When teams use slower cadences I generally recommend having Scrum of Scrums meetings more often to ensure that teams stay coordinated.

Using Agile at scale for work that requires more than one team will require adopting some techniques for coordination. Matching the cadence is the first place to start. Teams with the same cadence start and end sprints at the same time, making it possible to plan and demonstrate together. Joint planning and demonstration makes it easier for everyone to hear the same story at the same time. We often apply the analogy of herding to coordinating large projects, however cadence and other Agile techniques can be as useful as a good cowboy and horse for keeping the herd together.