LeSS Principles for Enterprise Agility

By Doug Rose

At the core of LeSS is a set of principles that govern the way organizations apply LeSS in their specific context. While some enterprise agile frameworks, such as the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®), provide more structure and more roles, LeSS calls for less structure and fewer roles, leaving decisions up to the organization itself as to how to implement LeSS. The guidance the framework offers comes more in the form of its ten principles

Large-Scale Scrum is Scrum

LeSS creators stress that Large-Scale Scrum is no different from Scrum. Unlike SAFe, which adds processes and roles, Scrum simply provides principles, rules, and guides for the application of Scrum in a multi-team context. LeSS doesn’t change the way Scrum teams function; it only provides guidance to facilitate how those teams scale or descale (see “More with LeSS”) to larger enterprise-level products.

Transparency

The dictionary definition of “transparent” is “easy to perceive or detect.” Transparency is a core concept in all agile frameworks, because it’s what drives continuous improvement through discovery and adaptation. Product owners, Scrum Masters, team members, and other participants are expected to be open and honest with one another. In addition, the sprint model creates short feedback loops that dramatically increase visibility into problems in the product, process, team, and organization overall.

More with LeSS

The More with LeSS principle stresses simplicity over complex organizational solutions, such as increased layers of management and complicated structures and processes. The idea is that complicated solutions cause more problems than they solve. In this respect, LeSS is a descaling framework to remove large organization complexity. With LeSS, the emphasis is on developing greater insight into problems at the product development level and addressing them at that same level with simpler solutions.

Whole product focus

LeSS encourages cross-functional teams by focusing their efforts collectively on developing a whole product instead of having individual teams focus solely on whatever part of the product they’re working on. Teams are advised to function according to the following guidelines:

  • Your team’s part has no value until it’s integrated into the whole product.
  • Your team isn’t done until its part is integrated into the whole product.
  • Given the choice to optimize the team or the whole product, optimize the whole product.

Customers buy a product, not parts of it.

Customer centric

When multiple teams are involved in product development, each team tends to become so involved in developing its part that it forgets how the customer will use the product. LeSS encourages a closer connection between teams and customers by recommending that organizations do the following:

  • Form feature teams instead of component teams to maintain a focus on end-user needs.
  • On very large products, group teams into customer requirement areas instead of architectural subsystems.
  • Have the product owner connect teams directly with customers instead of serving as an intermediary.
  • Have teams get most of the clarifications about the product directly from customers, which frees up more time for the product owner to focus on the big picture.
  • Share the product backlog among all teams working on the product and continuously reprioritize the backlog to optimize the system for customer delivery.

Continuous improvement toward perfection

Continuous improvement toward perfection is one of the pillars of Lean thinking, the other being respect for people. The purpose of this principle is to encourage organizations to embrace change and for everyone in the organization to challenge everything and continue to develop his knowledge and skills. Improvement stops only when the product, the process for creating it, and the organization and the people who develop it have achieved perfection — which essentially means never.

Lean thinking

Lean thinking is a business methodology in which an organization’s management is committed to continuously investing in its people and giving each employee the opportunity to identify problems in his own way of working, solve those problems, and make improvements. As you can see, the two principles of Lean thinking and continuous improvement toward perfection are closely aligned.

Systems thinking

Systems thinking is a management discipline that sharpens awareness of whole dynamic systems and how the components of those systems interrelate. Certain tools such as flow charts and simulation models are often used, but the scope of systems thinking often encompasses processes, limits, delays, behavioral patterns, and anything else that may affect the productivity of the system overall. With LeSS, systems thinking has two primary purposes:

  • To ensure long-lasting systemic improvement in an organization through experimentation and empirical analysis instead of standard best practices and quick-fix solutions that commonly suffer from lack of insight or are based on false assumptions.
  • To extend value beyond the product development teams and out to the entire organization to look at ways that the organization can be improved overall to deliver greater value to the customer.

Empirical process control

Empirical process control is an approach to product and systems development that relies less on up-front planning and more on experimentation, transparency, inspection, and adaptation. In short, teams are encouraged to innovate and experiment in order to continuously improve the product and the systems for building it.

Think of it this way: Every so often I’ll get a contract to work in a different part of the city. I live in an area where it’s extremely important to plan out your commute to work. If you come up with a bad plan, you could get stuck for hours in traffic. So I use an empirical approach to determine the best process for my commute to work. One day I try the bus, another day I try the train. I may try driving or riding my bicycle to the train station and then taking the train. Each time I try something new I record how long it takes for me to get to work. After a while I figure out the quickest commute.

That’s how LeSS improves your enterprise agile approach. It encourages you to inspect and adapt how you deliver your product and find the way that works best. In many ways it takes the empirical approach of Scrum and applies it to the whole enterprise agile process.

Queueing theory

Queuing theory is a mathematical study of wait lines used to predict and reduce wait times. It’s used in all agile frameworks to reduce wait times inherent in the traditional linear product development processes. In LeSS, many teams working in parallel and together, develop different parts of a product and then integrate the parts near the end of a sprint to create a potentially shippable product increment.