When LeSS is More

Interview with Venkatesh Krishnamurthy in CA DevOPs Perspectives. First published in DevOps Perspectives, edition 4

“In this age of agile development, there’s an uncomfortable reality that needs to be acknowledged and that is that large scale development is still with us. That’s a problem that needs to be faced up to,” argues agile coach, Venkatesh Krishnamurthy.

“Modern product development is done through short cycles incrementally building up the product. Small teams are considered better. That said, a lot of people live in a world of large product development. I’ve not come across a smooth-sailing, large scale project or product development,” he states. “They are all plagued with funding, coordination, structural and cultural issues. With so many moving parts, it is difficult to come up with a single formula that could make large-scale program work.”

At the lower end of the spectrum, smaller teams are able to turn to Scrum. For smaller teams, Scrum based on empirical process control has not only proven itself but has become the most popular framework. But for larger scale programs, something more is needed. That more is LeSS. 

LeSS is Large-Scale Scrum, a framework created by Bas Vodde and Craig Larman based on their work in the telecom and finance industries. They worked around the basic idea of needing something that is based on Scrum but which could scale to meet the needs of larger product groups.

Where it differs from Scrum is it adds a more concrete structure with the aim of maintaining transparency while emphasizing the “inspect-adapt” cycle to allow groups to improve continuously their own ways of working. “From the learning perspective, LeSS provides a clear and concise framework,” explains Krishnamurthy. “LeSS is about taking Scrum and asking how we can apply the same concepts across multiple teams?”

LeSS consists of:

  • LeSS Principles
  • LeSS Rules (defining the LeSS Framework)
  • LeSS Guides
  • LeSS Experiments.

It also comes in two flavours: LeSS and LeSS huge. The former can be applied to up to eight teams, while the latter is appropriate for more than 8 eight teams, even couple of thousand people working on a product.

“LeSS also brings good ideas and principles from systems and Lean thinking,” says Krishnamurthy. There are several large scale frameworks out there trying to provide solutions only from a delivery perspective. They won’t address the root causes of the problems.

“LeSS does not promise a quick fix solution, but rather it provides the rules and frameworks to build a strong foundation for the organizations to succeed with large scale development.”

And at the centre of LeSS and its evolution is Scrum.  “Large-Scale Scrum is Scrum; it is not ‘new and improved Scrum,’” insists Krishnamurthy. “Rather, LeSS requires examining the purpose of single-team Scrum elements and figuring out how to reach the same purpose while staying within the constraints of the standard ‘Scrum rules.’

“Many practices from Scrum relevant for single teams are applicable in LeSS with multiple teams,” he adds. “For example, single product owner, single product backlog, one potentially shippable product increment at the end of each Sprint, cross-functional teams with the ability to deliver end to end work, stable teams and so on.

“There are minor differences in the way Scrum ceremonies are conducted in the context of LeSS and this is mostly to make it work in the multiple teams scenario. For example, Daily Scrum is done independently with each team, ceremonies like Sprint planning, review don’t need all the team members but key representatives with Product owner.” 

There are organizational implications that need to be factored in, advises Krishnamurthy. “The structure of the teams, groups and roles they play are critical in driving the team’s behavior. That is why, LeSS has a special place for structures. LeSS recommends organizations focus on structures first before rolling out LeSS.

“Some of the LeSS recommended ideas around structure include organizing the team by customer value as well as creating feature teams rather than component teams. A number of deep Lean ideas around management are also evident in LeSS, such as the concept of managers as teachers who create a culture of improvements for teams.”

Krishnamurthy is quick to point out that LeSS has not been conjured out of thin air as a response to a problem. Rather, it has evolved across decades of experimentation in different contexts. “I have personally been involved during the initial days of LeSS experimentation, working in a services industry with geographically distributed teams in USA, Germany, France and India,” he says.

There are several case studies worth looking at from different parts of the world, he adds, including J.P. Morgan’s (JPM) Global Core Processing Technology’s 3000 plus strong development organization which adopted LeSS in 2013., agricultural machinery firm [John Deere] (http://less.works/casestudies/john-deere.html) and Telecom Australia.

LeSS has been covered extensively in two books, and Krishamurthy highly recommends checking out Less.works and Scaling Lean and Agile Development.

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