Scaling Agile: Competition and Cultural Debt

Scrum and Agile movement crossed 12 years mark (I count from Agile Manifesto in 2001).
It became an industry standard for software development in one way or another.

What if we look at Scrum as a product?

Product: Scrum (work management framework)
Market: software development organizations.
Vendor: Agile gurus to sell their services (business reason) and improve industry (noble purpose).

Starting from individual teams Scrum eventually gets its way into mid-size and big-size organizations.

Competitive landscape: fight for transferring Enterprise customers to Agile

What typically our executives expect from new new process/management model?

My opinion:

  1. Repetitive outcomes (business continuity: no worse than now, better or even much better in short-medium term)
  2. Flat learning curve (to have reasonable/fair price tag on adopting new process)
  3. Recognized experts (to get new management model seriously we want to believe that there is a metric which tells how good or bad our people understand it)
  4. References and case studies (to follow the leaders, get inspiration from success stories with context similar to ours, assuming that we can copy-paste their success, we are not pioneers, we have bold facts to convince our stakeholders and shareholders).

What Scrum/Agile movement used to provide?

  1. Yes, for team level for sure.
  2. 2 days Scrum course and start practicing.
  3. Ken, Jeff and Scrum Alliance.
  4. Scrum ventures, blog posts with case studies, conferences, etc.

What about market segmentation?

  • Legacy: Used-to-be-waterfall: trust to PMI => get PMI-ACP – Agile certification as a help from PMI towards Agile.
  • Big Companies: trust to PMI, CMMi, Prince 2, RUP, waterfall => wants proven framework which works at scale => ???
  • Mid-size, small companies: whatever brings results faster and make clients happier => Scrum by the book, CSM, CSPO.

Market creates demand, eventually show up people who are satisfying that demand.

How to monetize Scrum?

  • Make standard
  • License it
  • Promote & Sell it
  • Build partnership (Gold, Silver, Bronze…) and scale by building MLM

And here it comes competitiveness:

Provider Certifications Comments
Scrum Alliance CSM, CSPO, CST, … Historically the oldest one. Typically aimed at team level. Large network. Many conferences. Industry leader.
Scaled Agile Framework SPC, SA, SP, … This vendor show up to “ride the trend” for “scaling” agile and enterprise agile. Simply creating manual how to scale agile and training consultants to make “the leap”.
Project Management Institute PMI-ACP, … PMI – well known, trusted organization, but… in waterfall world. Trying to keep up with trend in software development: produced Agile educational product and supporting services

Interestingly, segments are not created equal (in terms of potential revenue).

The bigger company, the more money it is willing to spend. If you come to them with “affordable” price, they can consider it “cheap solution” and reject even w/o looking into details. Value proposition (in their minds) is typically connected with price tag.

The lower the price on your solution => lower the value proposition of your solution => lower corporate interest to your solution.

Thus while Ken Schwaber was collecting good practices to scale Scrum (CIF) and eventually created ‘Agility Path‘,

Dean Leffingwell converted his knowledge, experience and networking/connections into SAFe and SAFe Academy.


I believe we are observing competition here and here in Agile field for enterprise customers.

If you are choosing your path in transforming your Enterprise into Lean/Agile Enterprise with scaled agile practices, then I would suggest finding right people and apply critical thinking about CIF, AgilityPath or SAFe or “Do-It-Yourself”.

Regardless of frameworks, best practices depends on context. That’s why right people with agile mindset are more important than predefined The Book/The Framework/The Standard. Those right people (who lives Agile principles and values) will take the most valuable and relevant practices from different sources and built them in for quick start/early wins, and focus on breeding the Agile culture to outperform competitors and oneself in never-ending continuous improvement cycles…

Agile has no brain! Use your own!

Agile has no brains. Use your own.

Some more critics/thoughts of SAFe:

– Dominik Maximini:
– Ken Schwaber:
– David Anderson:
– Ron Jeffries:

Some alternatives:


Ken Schwaber made interesting post in his blog about Evidence Based Management. Regardless of processes and frameworks: look for simplicity – what are the brutal facts that your organization improving? Seeing the whole value chain – do we see improvements when looking at the big picture?

Eventually enterprise leaders will have to make conscious a choice:

  1. continuously improve organization towards Agile and Great company by building The Culture based on values and principles passionately shared by Core People,
  2. or buying quick fix “silver bullet” to win your last “gold medal” on finish line.

Again, it is not good or bad, that is a matter of choice… and accepting the price of that choice in short and long term.

Note: interestingly, this reminds me a technical debt, but about culture: Cultural Debt.

How much does your organization loose in a longer run by accumulating Cultural debt?

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