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An Agile framework is a specific approach to planning, managing, and executing work. Agile frameworks typically fall into two categories: Frameworks designed for teams, and frameworks designed to help organizations practice Agile at scale, across many teams.
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There is no single “best” Agile framework. The best approach for your team or organization will depend on a variety of factors, including your industry, Agile maturity, number of Agile teams, and goals for Agile within your organization.
Below, we will briefly describe each of the most popular Agile frameworks and provide resources to help you choose the right Agile framework for your needs.
History of Agile Frameworks
Agile, as we now know it, technically began with the writing and release of the Agile Manifesto. The Agile Manifesto was what formally introduced Agile to the world of software development, though many of the ideas contained within it were iterations of prevailing practices in software development at the time.
Many of the principles that we refer to as Agile, or that we consider to be Agile, have deeper roots – for example, Kanban is a visual workflow method that is often used in Agile and is considered an Agile method, however, its roots far predate Agile.
Although Agile was originally designed as an approach to software development, it has since expanded to meet the needs of many team types.
The scaled Agile frameworks even include guidance for traditionally non-Agile functions, such as finance and HR (Human Resources). As the Agile movement continues to expand, and new applications of Agile continue to emerge, Agile frameworks continue to evolve as well.
Team-Level Agile Approaches
Scrum is one of the most well-known Agile frameworks for teams. The Scrum Guide defines Scrum as, “…a framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.”
By definition, Scrum is intended to be lightweight and easy to understand. Some would say, however, that it is difficult to master. The most recognizable element of Scrum is the use of time-boxed iterations: Scrum teams operate in set periods of time, called sprints, usually lasting between two and four weeks.
Operating in sprints allows teams to deliver quickly and predictably, while maintaining the agility to pivot as needed. You can learn more about Scrum here.
Extreme Programming (or XP) is another team-level Agile framework with roots in software development. As with most Agile approaches, XP allows for frequent releases in short development sprints that encourage change when needed.
XP is less regimented than many Agile frameworks, and follows a set of values, rather than steps. The core values of XP include:
- Consistent feedback
Extreme Programing requires developers to first plan and understand the customer’s user stories—their informal descriptions of features and feature requirements.
Kanban originates from the Japanese word for “visual signal” or “card.” Although Kanban’s roots are in manufacturing, this Agile framework has been applied broadly to software development and other types of knowledge work.
The methodology uses physical or digital boards to represent a team or organization’s unique process. The essential elements of Kanban are as follows:
- Work items are represented by cards on a Kanban board, like sticky notes on a whiteboard.
- Each step in the process is represented by a vertical lane or column. The most basic version of a process is “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done.”
- The cards are then moved from left to right across the board to show where each work item is in the process.
- Cards can contain a wealth of information about the task, including status, due dates, who is assigned to the card, etc.
Through providing shared visibility, Kanban allows teams to collaborate more effectively and operate with greater agility. Kanban is often used as a tool by Lean and Agile teams and can be incorporated into other Agile frameworks.
You can learn more about Kanban on this page.
Scrumban is an Agile framework that is a hybrid of Scrum and Kanban, that emerged to meet the needs of teams who wanted to minimize the batching of work and adopt a pull-based system. By combining elements of Scrum and Kanban, this Agile framework gives teams the flexibility to adapt to stakeholder and production needs without feeling overburdened by their project methodology.
Scrumban provides the structure of Scrum with the flexibility and visualization of Kanban, making it a highly versatile approach to workflow management.
Scrumban can also be used as a stepping stone for teams seeking to transition from Scrum to Kanban. Scrumban offers teams a way of learning how to practice continuous improvement in Kanban without abandoning the familiar structure of Scrum.
You can learn more about Scrumban here.
Scrum of Scrums
Scrum of Scrums aims to build upon the team-level principles of Scrum, as well as enable organizations to connect multiple Scrum teams that need to collaborate to deliver complex solutions.
Although Scrum of Scrums is a technique for expanding Scrum across multiple teams, it is not considered to be one of the true scaling Agile frameworks because it lacks the concrete guidance needed to scale Agile across an organization.
Like other Scrum-based frameworks, transparency, inspection, and adaptation are three key elements of Scrum of Scrums. This approach offers a path to help teams balance small team sizes with the need to deliver complex products.
Delivering complex products (or services) requires the coordinated efforts of many cross-functional teams, something Scrum does not provide guidance for. Scrum of Scrums allows organizations to build upon the success of their existing Scrum teams at scale without drastically changing their practices.
Frameworks for Scaling Agile
There are many factors that influence a company’s ability to scale Agile across their organization, including cultural, work management, and technology shifts needed to truly adopt Agile at scale. As a result, enterprise Agile frameworks have risen in popularity for organizations at this stage of their Agile journey.
Scaling Agile frameworks, like the ones listed below, offer structure and guidance to help enterprises at all phases of a transformation scale Agile to meet their business needs.
SAFe® is an acronym that stands for: Scaled Agile Framework ®. It is one of several Agile frameworks designed to guide enterprises in scaling Agile practices beyond individual teams. SAFe borrows concepts from many of the team-level Agile approaches discussed earlier in this article.
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More specifically, SAFe helps large organizations navigate the challenges associated with implementing, extending, and using Agile methodologies and practices across multiple teams and departments within an organization.
SAFe was developed by and for practitioners by leveraging three primary bodies of knowledge:
- Agile software development
- Lean product development
- Systems thinking
SAFe takes a prescriptive, structured approach to enable organizations to create alignment, improve collaboration, maximize flexibility, and boost predictability across multiple Agile teams.
DA (Disciplined Agile)
Disciplined Agile, or DA, is an Agile framework that supplies lightweight guidance to help teams practice Agile at scale. DA emphasizes a “people-first” approach to Agile and is typically thought of as a hybrid of XP, Scrum, Kanban, and other Agile frameworks.
Disciplined Agile is best for organizations who are already familiar with Agile principles, because it does not offer much in the way of teaching basic Agile principles or practices. But for mature Agile organizations looking for a lightweight, hybrid approach to scaling, DA can be a winning approach.
You can learn more about Disciplined Agile on this page.
LeSS (Large Scale Scrum)
Scrum is a true team-level Agile framework, in that it offers little guidance on how to scale to more than one team. Many teams find success with Scrum, and want to scale it without abandoning the elements of Scrum that have worked for them. For these teams, LeSS, or Large Scale Scrum), can be a helpful Agile framework.
LeSS takes the basics of Scrum and so that they apply to multiple teams. LeSS works best when all the involved teams are working on the same product or within the same value stream but is not the right Agile framework for an organization looking to scale Agile across the portfolio.
To learn more about LeSS, check out this page.
Nexus is another one of the Agile frameworks that builds upon the basics of Scrum. It is designed for developing and sustaining product delivery initiatives at scale and emphasizes minimizing and managing dependencies between Scrum teams as a path toward agility.
In this scaled Agile framework, the term Nexus refers to approximately three to nine Scrum teams that collaborate to deliver a single product. Each Nexus has a single Product Owner who manages that Nexus’ Product Backlog.
The creators of Nexus insist on staying true to the core elements of Scrum, and only expand the scope of Scrum in the areas where it enables multiple Scrum teams to work together on a product.
You can learn more about Nexus and download the Nexus Guide on the Scrum.org website.
Spotify, the audio streaming platform, has introduced many to the world of Agile – so much so that a specific configuration of Agile they once applied and popularized is referred to as the Spotify Model.
The Spotify Model is a people-driven, autonomous approach to scaling Agile. Technically, it is not a framework so much as it is a shining example of practicing Agile at scale. Spotify engineers documented their approach to scaling Agile (in a now-famous document called Scaling Agile @ Spotify, and shared it with the world – and many organizations have aimed to emulate it ever since.
Many Agile thinkers, including the author of Scaling Agile @ Spotify, have concluded that the Spotify Model is really an early version of Scrum@Scale.
For a more comprehensive overview of the Spotify model, read Scaling Agile @ Spotify.
Jeff Sutherland, a well-known Agile expert who wrote the Scrum Guide, is credited with the development of Scrum@Scale, another one of the Agile frameworks designed to help organizations practice Scrum (you guessed it!) at scale. Scrum@Scale combines elements of:
- Complex Adaptive Systems theory
- Game theory
- Object-oriented technology
To learn more about Scrum@Scale, download the Scrum@Scale guide on the Scrum@Scale website.
How Companies Choose Agile Frameworks
There is no single “best” Agile framework. The right Agile framework for your organization will depend on a variety of factors, including (but not limited to):
- Your organization’s Agile maturity
- Your organization’s goals for Agile implementation
- Your organization’s value streams/product lines
- Your industry
We hope that this overview of the most popular Agile frameworks has encouraged you to learn more about the variety of team-level and scaled Agile frameworks available.
When selecting an Agile framework, it can be helpful to learn from examples of organizations who follow those frameworks to see the framework in action.
A quick internet search of “examples of (insert Agile framework)” will lead you to real-life examples that can help you determine whether a specific Agile framework could work for your team.
Many organizations have released similar documentation about their Agile processes since Spotify, which can also be a helpful source of insight.
Embracing Agility Within Agile Frameworks
Whether you’re an Agile-curious team looking for a more structured approach to your Agile practice, or in an organization with several Agile teams looking for a way to scale Agile sustainably, it’s important to remember that true agility requires leaving room to evolve.
All teams and organizations encounter opportunities to adapt existing Agile frameworks to best suit their unique needs. What makes Agile frameworks agile is that they can be modified as needs evolve and conditions change.