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Scott Ambler at IBM Innovate: Scaling in Agile

We spoke with Scott Ambler last week about his thoughts on organizational acceptance of agile.  Today, I was able to speak with him again, this time, in person, at the IBM Innovate 2010 conference.

Ambler is the chief methodologist for agile and lean for IBM Rational. He goes around the world helping organizations understand agile and lean and how to scale. “We’ve been working on the IBM agility  scaling model, the goal of which is to put projects in a context from a scaling point of view. If you want to be effective you need to tailor your processes and tools to reflect the situation you find yourself in.  Even simple practices like daily standup meetings will be very different if you’re a small team, large team, distributed team or regulated team so part of our observation is that there are several scaling factors,”  said Ambler

We mentioned agility within a “system of systems,” a phrase that was used often in the morning’s keynote presentations. Complexity can be a significant scaling factor. If you understand the context you can see that some of the mainstream agile advice may not work, warned Ambler.

When I asked about best practices of distributed agile teams, Ambler said that the majority of agile teams have some aspects of distribution. He said teams need to start using different types of tools and communication practices when they’re distributed. They may organize their teams differently. Each individual subteam will have their own product owners and architecture owners who will need to coordinate.

I asked Ambler about the difference in agile methodologies. “The important thing is to do the right thing for your situation.”

“But how do they know which is the right methodology?” I persisted.

“There are no silver bullets. You need to know what you’re doing,” Ambler said. He recommended that organizations do the research and find help from experienced consultants, making sure they are asking the right questions of the consultants.

In this video, Ambler talks about trends with agile including scaling and integrated systems.

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