Agile at Scale – An interview with Richard Wilson of Jarow Digital

As part of the research for Martin Seibert’s newest book - We Run on Agile - he had the opportunity to speak with Richard Wilson of Jarow Digital. With over twenty years of implementing Agile at scale, Richard co-founded the company with Mark Richards - a SAFe fellow who has launched between 30-50 trains over the last decade.  

Building a bridge with the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

Martin admits to having been put off by SAFe initially - feeling it was a curtain, using Agile to hide old processes. When trying to explain SAFe to a customer, how do you help them get over the apprehension they might have?

Richard explains that SAFe was designed to be a bridge. It’s not a destiny. It’s a framework to help guide you get to a certain point, and when you outgrow it, you could just leave it behind.

“So it was a bridge, effectively, because if you don’t understand why you are doing a lot of things, then you can quite easily go down a path that is not as agile as you would like it to be.”  -  a bridge between the old and the new.

Begin crossing that bridge

Is it enough to just start with a team that has some sort of experience? Martin asks, “If I’m completely new - is there a book I can read or a certification course I can take? Where do I start?”

“Depends on where you’re starting from!” Richard says with a laugh.

Martin offers the following scenario: What if you’re a manager with five years of business experience but not in software development? You’re a traditional business, but you’ve heard a lot about SAFe, and you’re ready for it to take your company’s processes to the next level.

The first question Richard will have for you is why? A company can adopt the framework, train the right people, and leadership can take on the role of servant leaders, but all those people need to know the “why” of this transformation, or it won’t work.  He warns against jumping on bandwagons - don't just adopt Agile to be trendy.

“Start small,” he advises. Begin with the SAFe 5 Program Consultant (SPC) certification, which is a solid place to start. But don’t just leave it at that. Learning has to be continuous for the transformation to be a success. 

Richard also recommends the book - The ART of Avoiding a Train Wreck: Practical Tips & Tricks for Launching and Operating SAFe Agile Release Trains - by Em Campbell-Pretty and Adrienne Wilson. The book will give you insight into launching Agile Release Trains and discusses the successes as well as the failures and how to avoid them.

Where to from here?

You’ve delved deeper into how you could start, and you’re sure that Agile is the way to go. So what now? 

Start by getting people at the team level on board - not your high-level managers. If you can’t do Scrum or basic agile, you will run into all sorts of difficulties when you try and scale that. Richard says, essentially, you’d be setting yourself up for problems and challenges. Start with a Scrum team and understand how Scrum works before you add in an Agile Release Train. He explains further...

“You might have a couple of scrum teams working in your organization [...]  start with them. If those scrum teams have got dependencies on each other, they need to learn how to work together. How do you get two scrum teams talking to each other? You just get a scrum master talking to another scrum master. Start to have those conversations.”

Richard emphasizes that moving forward, the servant leader's role is vital during a SAFe transformation. A good servant leader has some battle scars on them but understands the basic agile principles.

And what does Richard think about hiring consultants?

“Yes, you can hire consultants to do this, but they are just guides. You need to own it, and you need to have that experience to bring forward. That’s a hard thing. How do you get experience when you haven’t done it before.”

The takeaway here being that experience from within the company is vital. 

Ready to implement Agile at scale and SAFe?

Now you’ve had some insight into where to begin, are you curious about learning more about SAFe or the software-supported implementation of SAFe? Ask us about Agile Hive!  We would be happy to discuss your requirements for enterprise-wide agile product development and product management with you. Take a look at our Implementation Project documentation to see an overview of what an implementation would entail.

Get in touch with us today, and let us demonstrate how it works in a personal session.

Scaled Agile Partner

On that note, we'd like to Richard for his time and his insights!

Further Reading

Agile Hive Implementation Project
Scaled Agile: SAFe 5.0 changes and how Agile Hive maps them
SAFe with Atlassian tools: Agile Hive is a Scaled Agile Platform Partner|
SAFe Implementation Roadmap Part 1: Getting started and reaching the tipping point

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