7 Successful Agile Methodologies Cases in Big Companies

agile methodology case study

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Agile methodologies are increasingly among the most talked about subjects when it comes to business management. Many organizations are changing their mindsets to focus on efficient development, expanding value delivery.

These cutting-edge methodologies help increase productivity within employees and create a cultural way of working. Although these giant companies have enormous amounts of revenues, they keep growing financially.

Even though Agile Methodologies made a huge impact on the development of their employees’ works, these companies had already customers awareness.

In this article, you will see 7 cases of big companies that implemented Agile Methodologies and got incredible results from using them.

7 Giant Companies that use Agile Methodologies

The agile methodology provided by Sony greatly supports establishing a modern software development and project management process. It works based on the Scrum approach in a project that has a highly complex project context and risks.

Sony looked for easy-to-understand software development and project management process that was lightweight.  It would help cultivate teamwork and would conduct a brief survey of potential consulting firms through the Internet search.

The introduction of Scrum led to the goal of having a defined project managemen t and development process. Sony’s teams achieved a high level of teamwork by collaborating with project partners.

The famous LEGO toy company started its agile approach starting with teams. 20 product teams were working across the organization at the start of the Agile implementation and it turned to 5 of them into self-organizing Scrum teams. Gradually the other teams were being progressively transformed as Scrum took effect.

Initially, although individual teams had become agile, they were still unable to cooperate effectively. LEGO followed the SAFe structure pattern and from there began to see results.

At LEGO, the team of teams met every 8 weeks for a big room planning session, which lasted a day and a half. The teams presented their work, worked out the dependencies, estimated the risks, and planned the next release period.

There is also the portfolio level, which is the top layer of the system. This is where you have long-term business plans, stakeholders, and senior management. This division into organizational levels is typical of the SAFe structure.

The agile implementation was placed in a Siemens Digital Factory with around 50 employees. The function of this plan is to develop software automation systems used by manufacturers all over the world.

The situation was ideal for agile methods because they were designed to meet the challenges the company was going through.

The results already appeared in the first review after just 2 weeks. Seeing empirical control of the process in practice gave everyone a morale boost.

These changes not only inspired behavior change but also began to nurture deeper attitudes and culture more suited to an iterative and incremental approach; cooperation, experimentation, trust, and responsibility.

The agile implementation at CISCO addressed a specific product: the Subscription Charging Platform.

The team held the Daily’s, a 15-minute meeting every start of the day to align progress and determine work items. With SAFe, they gained greater transparency.

Each team knew what the other teams were doing and the teams were able to manage themselves . These activities made the team promote accountability through updates and status awareness.

At Google, several sectors are betting on agile methods of software development, such as Scrum, creating and testing services and products. Each team chooses the technology and method that can best be applied to problem-solving.

One of the projects in which the Scrum methodology was used was in the development of  GoogleAdwords, for example.

Yahoo! has bet on reducing time spent developing software while managing team size.  And they were successful with Agile Methodology, especially using Scrum.

They plan, create, and test different products and services over a certain period of days, to improve and increasingly leverage the technology used by them and offered to the public.

This company operates in more than 120 countries in aerospace, semiconductors, power generation, and distribution, among others.

The Agile approach started in Japan, although the company knew that it would take time to adapt to Agile forms and integrate with other departments. At the company’s headquarters,  teams helped to continue the approach until it extended to other factories.

The Agile approach was made through workshops on an agile methodology that taught practices and approaches to the methodology, where employees were involved and were able to implement in each of the company’s departments.

How to start an agile culture in the company

  • Don’t skip the simple things: Before adopting the methodology, you need to think about why you want it in your company. Being an agile company is not just about studying and relying on experts, but talking to executives who are already mature in this approach.
  • Start with a pilot project: Launching pilot projects can help the company understand what real gains the chosen area has made. Thus, the organization can launch agile teams that will help, based on the success case, in the construction of an operating model that works remotely.
  • Promote changes: mainly in the human aspects. Agile development is not about new reporting structures and post-its, but about having engaged people and technologies that enable them for dynamic modeling and quick decisions.
  • Putting people above processes: Agile is a fundamental shift in culture and expectations. For employees, this journey needs to be transformative rather than disruptive. Remote work increases the need to double communication, support connections between humans, and provide practical support to people during this transition.

Agile methodologies allow continuous delivery of value

One of the main differentials that agile methodologies provide for companies that decide to adopt them is the continuous delivery of value.

Learning is one of the strengths of agile methodologies because, with continuous deliverables, any mistake is no longer a simple mistake and becomes something to add as an observation for the next deliverables, even in the project itself.

You save time and it is also possible to reduce production costs. Of course, all the scaling of resources is designed for the possibilities of change. Thus avoiding an emergency effort that could generate future expenses.

Not to mention that, in the case of a common delivery, there is a chance that the entire project will fail, which would mean a significant cost for the rework.

Agile companies become more prepared for the market

Companies that use them are more adaptable, and can better handle changes as needed. Digital transformation involves systems integration and other views of business management, among which stands out.

In addition, an agile company places the customer as the main focus for value delivery , inserting it more directly into the development chain.

Thus, it is possible to get to know them better and find out what they want. Also, you can adapt organizational processes, and offer more assertive services and products to the market.

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Agile Case Studies: Examples Across Various Industires

Home Blog Agile Agile Case Studies: Examples Across Various Industires

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Agile methodologies have gained significant popularity in project management and product development. Various industries have successfully applied Agile principles, showcasing experiences, challenges, and benefits. Case studies demonstrate Agile's versatility in software development, manufacturing, and service sectors. These real-world examples offer practical insights into Agile implementation, challenges faced, and strategies to overcome them. Agile case studies provide valuable inspiration for implementing these methodologies in any project, regardless of the organization's size or industry.

Who Uses Agile Methodology?

Agile methodology is used by a wide variety of organizations, including:

  • Software development companies use Agile to improve collaboration, increase flexibility, and deliver high-quality software incrementally.
  • IT departments use agile to manage and execute projects efficiently, respond to changing requirements, and deliver value to stakeholders in a timely manner.
  • Startups use agile to quickly adapt to market changes and iterate on product development based on customer feedback.
  • Marketing and advertising agencies use agile to enhance campaign management, creative development, and customer engagement strategies.
  • Product development teams use agile to iterate, test, and refine their designs and manufacturing processes.
  • Project management teams use agile to enhance project execution, facilitate collaboration, and manage complex projects with changing requirements.
  • Retail companies use agile to develop new marketing campaigns and improve their website and e-commerce platform.

Agile Case Study Examples

1. moving towards agile: managing loxon solutions.

Following is an Agile case study in banking:

Loxon Solutions, a Hungarian technology startup in the banking software industry, faced several challenges in its journey towards becoming an agile organization. As the company experienced rapid growth, it struggled with its hiring strategy, organizational development, and successful implementation of agile practices. 

How was it solved:

Loxon Solutions implemented a structured recruitment process with targeted job postings and rigorous interviews to attract skilled candidates. They restructured the company into cross-functional teams, promoting better collaboration. Agile management training and coaching were provided to all employees, with online courses playing a crucial role. Agile teams with trained Scrum Masters and Product Owners were established, and agile ceremonies like daily stand-ups were introduced to enhance collaboration and transparency.

2. Contributions of Entrepreneurial Orientation in the Use of Agile Methods in Project Management

This Agile project management case study aims to analyze the degree of contribution of entrepreneurial orientation (EO) in the use of agile methods (AM) in project management. The study focuses on understanding how EO influences the adoption and effectiveness of agile methods within organizations. Through a detailed case study, we explore the relationship between entrepreneurial orientation and Agile methods, shedding light on the impact of entrepreneurial behaviors on project management practices.

A technology consulting firm faced multiple challenges in project management efficiency and responsiveness to changing client requirements. This specific problem was identified because of the limited use of Agile methods in project management, which hindered the company's ability to adapt quickly and deliver optimal outcomes.

Entrepreneurial orientation (EO) is a multidimensional construct that describes the extent to which an organization engages in entrepreneurial behaviors. The technology firm acknowledged the significance of entrepreneurial orientation in promoting agility and innovation in project management. 

The five dimensions of Entreprenurial orientation were applied across the organization.

  • Cultivating Innovativeness: The technology consulting firm encouraged a culture of innovativeness and proactiveness, urging project teams to think creatively, identify opportunities, and take proactive measures. 
  • Proactiveness: Employees were empowered to generate new ideas, challenge traditional approaches, and explore alternative solutions to project challenges. This helped them to stay ahead of the competition and to deliver the best possible results for their customers.
  • Encouraging Risk-Taking: The organization promoted a supportive environment that encouraged calculated risk-taking and autonomy among project teams. Employees were given the freedom to make decisions and take ownership of their projects, fostering a sense of responsibility and accountability.
  • Autonomy: Agile teams were given the autonomy to make decisions and take risks. This helped them to be more innovative and to deliver better results.
  • Nurturing Competitive Aggressiveness: The technology firm instilled a competitive aggressiveness in project teams, motivating them to strive for excellence and deliver superior results.

3. Improving Team Performance and Engagement

How do you ensure your team performs efficiently without compromising on quality? Agile is a way of working that focuses on value to the customer and continuous improvement. Integrating Agile in your work will not only make the team efficient but will also ensure quality work. Below is a case study that finds how agile practices can help teams perform better.

The problem addressed in this case study is the need to understand the relationship between the Agile way of working and improving team performance and engagement. We see that teams often face challenges in their daily work. It could be a slow turnover due to bad time management, compromised quality due to lack of resources, or in general lack of collaboration. In the case study below, we will understand how adopting agile practices makes teams work collaboratively, improve quality and have a customer-focused approach to work.

How it was Solved:

A number of factors mediated the relationship between agile working and team performance and engagement. 

  • Create a culture of trust and transparency. Agile teams need to be able to trust each other and share information openly. This will help to create a sense of collaboration and ownership. This in turn can lead to increased performance and engagement. 
  • Foster communication and collaboration. Effective communication within the team and with stakeholders helps everyone be on the same page.
  • Empower team members. Agile teams need to be empowered to make decisions and to take risks. 
  • Provide regular feedback. Team members need to receive regular feedback on their performance. This helps them to identify areas where they need improvement. 
  • Celebrate successes. By celebrating successes, both big and small, team members are motivated. This in turn creates a positive work environment. 
  • Provide training and development opportunities. help the team to stay up to date on the latest trends and to improve their skills. 
  • Encourage continuous improvement: Promoting a culture of continuous improvement helps the team to stay ahead of the competition and to deliver better results for their customers. 

It was concluded that agile ways of working can have a positive impact on employee engagement and team performance. Teams that used agile methods were more likely to report high levels of performance and engagement.

4. $65 Million Electric Utility Project Completed Ahead of Schedule and Under Budget

Xcel Energy faced a significant challenge in meeting the Reliability Need required by the Southwest Power Pool in New Mexico. The company had committed to constructing a new 34-mile, 345-kilovolt transmission line within a strict budget of $65 million and a specific timeline. Additionally, the project had to adhere to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) environmental requirements. These constraints posed a challenge to Xcel Energy in terms of project management and resource allocation.

A PM Solutions consultant with project management and utility industry experience was deployed to Xcel Energy.

The PM Solutions consultant deployed to Xcel adapted to the organization's structure and processes, integrating into the Project Management functional organization. He utilized years of project management and utility industry experience to provide valuable insights and guidance.

  • Collaborative and social skills were used to address roadblocks and mitigate risks.
  • Focused on identifying and addressing roadblocks and risks to ensure timely project delivery.
  • Vendor, design, and construction meetings were organized to facilitate communication and collaboration.
  • Monitored and expedited long-lead equipment deliveries to maintain project schedule.
  • Design and Construction milestones and commitments were closely monitored through field visits.
  • Actively tracked estimates, actual costs, and change orders to control project budget.
  • Assisted functional areas in meeting their commitments and resolving challenges.

The project was completed eleven days ahead of schedule and approximately $4 million under budget. The management team recognized the project as a success since it went as planned, meeting all technical and quality requirements. 

5. Lean product development and agile project management in the construction industry

The construction industry, specifically during the design stage, has not widely embraced Lean Project Delivery (LPD) and Agile Project Management (APM) practices. This limited adoption delays the industry's progress in enhancing efficiency, productivity, and collaboration in design.

  • Integrated project delivery and collaborative contracts: Collaborative contracts were implemented to incentivize teamwork and shared project goals, effectively breaking down silos and fostering a collaborative culture within the organization.
  • Lean principles in design processes: Incorporating Lean principles into design processes was encouraged to promote lean thinking and identify non-value-adding activities, bottlenecks, and process inefficiencies. 
  • Agile methodologies and cross-functional teams: Agile methodologies and cross-functional teams were adopted to facilitate iterative and adaptive design processes. 
  • Digital tools and technologies: The organization embraced digital tools and technologies, such as collaborative project management software, Building Information Modeling (BIM), and cloud-based platforms. 
  • A culture of innovation and learning: A culture of innovation and learning was promoted through training and workshops on Lean Project Delivery (LPD) and Agile Project Management (APM) methodologies. Incorporating Agile management training, such as KnowledgeHut Agile Training online , further enhanced the team's ability to implement LPD and APM effectively. 
  • Clear project goals and metrics: Clear project goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) were established, aligning with LPD and APM principles. Regular monitoring and measurement of progress against these metrics helped identify areas for improvement and drive accountability.
  • Industry best practices and case studies: industry best practices and case studies were explored, and guidance was sought from experts to gain valuable insights into effective strategies and techniques for implementation.

6. Ambidexterity in Agile Software Development (ASD) Projects

An organization in the software development industry aims to enhance their understanding of the tensions between exploitation (continuity) and exploration (change) within Agile software development (ASD) project teams. They seek to identify and implement ambidextrous strategies to effectively balance these two aspects.

How it was solved:

  • Recognizing tensions: Teams were encouraged to understand and acknowledge the inherent tensions between exploitation and exploration in Agile projects.
  • Fostering a culture of ambidexterity: The organization created a culture that values both stability and innovation, emphasizing the importance of balancing the two.
  • Balancing resource allocation: Resources were allocated between exploitation and exploration activities, ensuring a fair distribution to support both aspects effectively.
  • Supporting knowledge sharing: Team members were encouraged to share their expertise and lessons learned from both exploitation and exploration, fostering a culture of continuous learning.
  • Promoting cross-functional collaboration: Collaboration between team members involved in both aspects was facilitated, allowing for cross-pollination of ideas and insights.
  • Establishing feedback mechanisms: Feedback loops were implemented to evaluate the impact of exploitation and exploration efforts, enabling teams to make data-driven decisions and improvements.
  • Developing flexible processes: Agile practices that supported both stability and innovation, such as iterative development and adaptive planning, were adopted to ensure flexibility and responsiveness.
  • Providing leadership support: Leaders promoted and provided necessary resources for the adoption of agile practices, demonstrating their commitment to ambidexterity.
  • Encouraging experimentation: An environment that encouraged risk-taking and the exploration of new ideas was fostered, allowing teams to innovate and try new approaches.
  • Continuous improvement: Regular assessments and adaptations of agile practices were conducted based on feedback and evolving project needs, enabling teams to continuously improve their ambidextrous strategies.

7. Problem and Solutions for PM Governance Combined with Agile Tools in Financial Services Programs

Problem: The consumer finance company faced challenges due to changing state and federal regulatory compliance requirements, resulting in the need to reinvent their custom-built storefront and home office systems. The IT and PMO teams were not equipped to handle the complexities of developing new systems, leading to schedule overruns, turnover of staff and technologies, and the need to restart projects multiple times.

How it was Solved: 

To address these challenges, the company implemented several solutions with the help of PM Solutions:

  • Back to Basics Approach: A senior-level program manager was brought in to conduct a full project review and establish stakeholder ownership and project governance. This helped refocus the teams on the project's objectives and establish a clear direction.
  • Agile Techniques and Sprints: The company gradually introduced agile techniques, starting with a series of sprints to develop "proof of concept" components of the system. Agile methodologies allowed for more flexibility and quicker iterations, enabling faster progress.
  • Expanded Use of JIRA: The company utilized Atlassian's JIRA system, which was already in place for operational maintenance, to support the new development project. PM Solutions expanded the use of JIRA by creating workflows and tools specifically tailored to the agile approach, improving timeliness and success rates for delivered work.
  • Kanban Approach: A Kanban approach was introduced to help pace the work and track deliveries. This visual management technique enabled project management to monitor progress, manage workloads effectively, and report updates to stakeholders.
  • Organizational Change Management: PM Solutions assisted the company in developing an organizational change management system. This system emphasized early management review of requirements and authorizations before work was assigned. By involving company leadership in prioritization and resource utilization decisions, the workload for the IT department was reduced, and focus was placed on essential tasks and priorities.

8. Insurance Company Cuts Cycle Time by 20% and Saves Nearly $5 Million Using Agile Project Management Practices

In this Agile Scrum case study, the insurance company successfully implemented Agile Scrum methodology for their software development projects, resulting in significant improvements in project delivery and overall team performance.

The insurance company faced challenges with long project cycles, slow decision-making processes, and lack of flexibility in adapting to changing customer demands. These issues resulted in higher costs, delayed project deliveries, and lower customer satisfaction levels.

  • Implementation of Agile Practices: To address these challenges, the company decided to transition from traditional project management approaches to Agile methodologies. The key steps in implementing Agile practices were as follows:
  • Executive Sponsorship: The company's leadership recognized the need for change and provided full support for the Agile transformation initiative. They appointed Agile champions and empowered them to drive the adoption of Agile practices across the organization.
  • Training and Skill Development: Agile training programs were conducted to equip employees with the necessary knowledge and skills. Training covered various Agile frameworks, such as Scrum and Kanban, and focused on enhancing collaboration, adaptive planning, and iterative development.
  • Agile Team Formation: Cross-functional Agile teams were formed, consisting of individuals with diverse skill sets necessary to deliver projects end-to-end. These teams were self-organizing and empowered to make decisions, fostering a sense of ownership and accountability.
  • Agile Project Management Tools: The company implemented Agile project management tools and platforms to facilitate communication, collaboration, and transparency. These tools enabled real-time tracking of project progress, backlog management, and seamless coordination among team members.

9. Agile and Generic Work Values of British vs Indian IT Workers


In this Agile transformation case study, the problem identified is the lack of effective communication and alignment within an IT firm unit during the transformation towards an agile work culture. The employees from different cultural backgrounds had different perceptions and understanding of what it means to be agile, leading to clashes in behaviors and limited team communication. This situation undermined morale, trust, and the sense of working well together.

The study suggests that the cultural background of IT employees and managers, influenced by different national values and norms, can impact the adoption and interpretation of agile work values.

  • Leadership: Leaders role-modeled the full agile mindset, along with cross-cultural skills. They demonstrated teamwork, justice, equality, transparency, end-user orientation, helpful leadership, and effective communication. 
  • Culture: Managers recognized and appreciated the cultural diversity within the organization. Cultural awareness and sensitivity training were provided to help employees and managers understand and appreciate the diverse cultural backgrounds within the organization.
  • Agile values: The importance of agile work values was emphasized, including shared responsibility, continuous learning and improvement, self-organizing teamwork, fast fact-based decision-making, empowered employees, and embracing change. Managers actively promoted and reinforced these values in their leading and coaching efforts to cultivate an agile mindset among employees.
  • Transformation: A shift was made from a centralized accountability model to a culture of shared responsibility. Participation in planning work projects was encouraged, and employees were empowered to choose their own tasks within the context of the team's objectives.
  • Roadmap: An agile transformation roadmap was developed and implemented, covering specific actions and milestones to accelerate the adoption of agile ways of working. 
  • Senior management received necessary support, training, and additional management consultancy to drive the agile transformation effectively.

Benefits of Case Studies for Professionals

Case studies provide several benefits for professionals in various fields: 

  • Real-world Application: Agile methodology examples and case studies offer insights into real-life situations, allowing professionals to see how theoretical concepts and principles are applied in practice.
  • Learning from Success and Failure: Agile transformation case studies often present both successful and failed projects or initiatives. By examining these cases, professionals can learn from the successes and avoid the mistakes made in the failures.
  • Problem-solving and Decision-making Skills: Case studies present complex problems or challenges that professionals need to analyze and solve. By working through these cases, professionals develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills. 
  • Building Expertise: By studying cases that are relevant to their area of expertise, professionals can enhance their knowledge and become subject matter experts. 
  • Professional Development: Analyzing and discussing case studies with peers or mentors promotes professional development.
  • Practical Application of Concepts: Teams can test their understanding of concepts, methodologies, and best practices by analyzing and proposing solutions for the challenges presented in the cases. 
  • Continuous Learning and Adaptation: By studying these cases, professionals can stay updated on industry trends, best practices, and emerging technologies. 

In conclusion, agile methodology case studies are valuable tools for professionals in various fields. The real-world examples and insights into specific problems and solutions, allow professionals to learn from others' experiences and apply those learning their own work. Case studies offer a deeper understanding of complex situations, highlighting the challenges faced, the strategies employed, and the outcomes achieved.

The benefits of case studies for professionals are numerous. They offer an opportunity to analyze and evaluate different approaches, methodologies, and best practices. Case studies also help professionals develop critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and decision-making capabilities through practical scenarios and dilemmas to navigate.

Overall, agile case study examples offer professionals the opportunity to gain practical wisdom and enhance their professional development. Studying real-life examples helps professionals acquire valuable insights, expand their knowledge base, and improve their problem-solving abilities.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Three examples of Agile methodologies are:

Scrum: Scrum is one of the most widely used Agile frameworks. It emphasizes iterative and incremental development, with a focus on delivering value to the customer in short, time-boxed iterations called sprints. 

Kanban: Kanban is a visual Agile framework that aims to optimize workflow efficiency and promote continuous delivery.

Lean: Lean is a philosophy and Agile approach focused on maximizing value while minimizing waste. 

  • People over process: Agile values the people involved in software development, and emphasizes communication and collaboration.
  • Working software over documentation: Agile prioritizes delivering working software over extensive documentation.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation: Agile values close collaboration with customers and stakeholders throughout the development process.
  • Responding to change over following a plan: Agile recognizes that change is inevitable, and encourages flexibility and adaptability.

The six phases in Agile are:

  • Initiation: Define the project and assemble the team.
  • Planning: Create a plan for how to achieve the project's goals.
  • Development: Build the product or service in short sprints.
  • Testing: Ensure the product or service meets requirements.
  • Deployment: Release the product or service to the customer.
  • Maintenance: Support the product or service with bug fixes, new features, and improvements.


Lindy Quick

Lindy Quick, SPCT, is a dynamic Transformation Architect and Senior Business Agility Consultant with a proven track record of success in driving agile transformations. With expertise in multiple agile frameworks, including SAFe, Scrum, and Kanban, Lindy has led impactful transformations across diverse industries such as manufacturing, defense, insurance/financial, and federal government. Lindy's exceptional communication, leadership, and problem-solving skills have earned her a reputation as a trusted advisor. Currently associated with KnowledgeHut and upGrad, Lindy fosters Lean-Agile principles and mindset through coaching, training, and successful execution of transformations. With a passion for effective value delivery, Lindy is a sought-after expert in the field.

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Large-scale agile transformation at Ericsson: a case study

  • Open access
  • Published: 11 January 2018
  • volume  23 ,  pages 2550–2596 ( 2018 )

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  • Maria Paasivaara 1 ,
  • Benjamin Behm 1 ,
  • Casper Lassenius   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-4192-7024 1 &
  • Minna Hallikainen 2  

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Many large organizations are adopting agile software development as part of their continuous push towards higher flexibility and shorter lead times, yet few reports on large-scale agile transformations are available in the literature. In this paper we report how Ericsson introduced agile in a new R&D product development program developing a XaaS platform and a related set of services, while simultaneously scaling it up aggressively. The overarching goal for the R&D organization, distributed to five sites at two continents, was to achieve continuous feature delivery. This single case study is based on 45 semi-structured interviews during visits at four sites, and five observation sessions at three sites. We describe how the organization experimented with different set-ups for their tens of agile teams aiming for rapid end-to-end development: from component-based virtual teams to totally cross-functional, cross-component, cross-site teams. Moreover, we discuss the challenges the organization faced and how they mitigated them on their journey towards continuous and rapid software engineering. We present four lessons learned for large-scale agile transformations: 1) consider using an experimental approach to transformation, 2) consider implementing the transformation step-wise in complex large-scale settings, 3) team inter-changeability can be limited in a complex large-scale product — specialization might be needed, and 4) not using a common agile framework for the whole organization, in combination with insufficient common trainings and coaching may lead to a lack of common direction in the agile implementation. Further in-depth case studies on large-scale agile transformations, on customizing agile to large-scale settings, as well as on the use of scaling frameworks are needed.

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1 Introduction

Increasing pressure to reduce cycle time, improve quality, and swiftly react to changes in customer needs are driving companies, large and small, to adopt agile software development (VersionOne 2016 ). Agile development can improve efficiency and quality (Livermore 2008a ), and enable shorter lead times and a stronger focus on customer needs (Petersen and Wohlin 2010 ).

Even though agile software development methods were originally designed for single, small teams, during recent years, large organizations have increasingly adopted them (Hossain et al. 2009 ; Larman and Vodde 2010 ; Leffingwell 2007 ). A recent systematic literature review (Dikert et al. 2016 ) revealed the lack of systematically conducted studies on large software development organizations adopting agile methods. The review identified only six scientific studies on large scale agile transformations, as almost 90% of the included papers were experience reports. According to the State of Agile Survey (VersionOne 2016 ), 43% of the self-selected respondents worked in development organizations having more than 50% of teams using agile, while only 4% of respondents stated that none of their teams were agile, and 62% of almost 4000 respondents came from an organization with over a hundred people in software development. While the survey is non-scientific, and problematic from a methodological point of view (Stavru 2014 ), it is the largest reoccurring survey on agile adoption, and it indicates that a significant number of big organizations use agile. Moreover, practitioners at the XP conference in 2010 listed the topic “Agile and large projects” as the number one top burning research question (Freudenberg and Sharp 2010 ). In recent workshops on large-scale agile development, the introduction of agile methods was one of the highlighted themes needing more research (Dingsøyr and Moe 2013 ; 2014 ).

Large organizations often have big projects executed by large and distributed development organizations, requiring agile methods to be scaled. According to (Leffingwell 2007 ), scaling involves many challenges, including coordination between several agile teams, lack of up-front architecture, lack of requirements analysis, as well as all the challenges of distributed projects, as many large organizations are distributed. Despite these challenges, many large companies have chosen to adopt agile methods, even though research on how to scale agile methods to large-scale projects (Hossain et al. 2009 ), and on successfully conducting agile transformations in large organizations is largely missing (Dikert et al. 2016 ).

The purpose of this paper is to start filling the gap in the literature on large-scale agile transformations. We investigate how one large-scale R&D product development program within Ericsson adopted agile methods at scale. We present the motivation for the transformation, the steps taken, the challenges encountered, as well as the mitigating actions taken to tackle the challenges.

The case organization was a new R&D product development program at Ericsson developing a XaaS Footnote 1 platform and a set of services. Ericsson’s customers, telecom operators, can provide a number of services to their customers using the platform.

The development organization wanted to develop the capacity for continuous delivery (Rodríguez et al. 2016 ). As a step towards that goal, the organization adopted agile methods (Schwaber and Beedle 2002 ). The planning of the agile adoption started in late 2012 and the full-scale roll-out took place during 2013. By spring 2014, the development organization had grown from two team at the end of 2011 to 15 development teams, distributed to five global sites. Thus, this can be viewed as a large-scale agile adoption according to the definition used in (Dikert et al. 2016 ), which states that large-scale agile is software development organizations with 50 or more people or at least six teams .

In our previous work, we presented the initial results of the transformation (Paasivaara et al. 2014a ) and how the case organization had used Value Workshops as to facilitate organizational alignment during the transformation (Paasivaara et al. 2014b ). This paper elaborates on and extends the previous papers by presenting an in-depth analysis of the case, including an additional research question (RQ1), a more detailed description of the research method, with an additional validation interview, a significantly extended results section going deeper into the results, and a completely new discussion section.

The paper is structured as follows: Section  2 provides an overview of the previous literature, Section  3 describes the case background, research goals and methods, Section  4 presents our results, Section  5 discusses the results, and finally, Section  6 concludes the paper.

2 Related Work

In this section we present relevant previous work. First, we explain what we mean by large-scale agile software development, and why it is important to study. Second, we discuss why large organizations are interested in large-scale agile, as well as challenges and success factors of the transformations.

2.1 Large-Scale Agile Development

Agile methods were originally developed for small organizations, and despite success stories, large-scale application has proved challenging (Dybå and Dingsøyr 2008 ). Challenges in large-scale agile adoptions relate partly to organizational size bringing inertia, which slows down the change process (Livermore 2008b ). Another challenge is the need to interface with and integrate existing processes and organizational structures (Boehm and Turner 2005 ).

Agile methods focus largely on intra-team practices, which work well in small organizations. A challenge in large organizations is that it is necessary to coordinate and communicate between several development teams, and also between different organizational units. Agile methods provide little guidance on how agile teams should interact with the environment at large. Because of this, large organizations must tailor the methods to fit their specific needs. As a consequence, practices requiring additional formal communication may need to be put in place, which might reduce agility (Lindvall et al. 2004 ).

Large organizations are often globally distributed, which brings the need to apply agile in distributed projects. During recent years agile practices have gained a foothold in global software engineering projects, and there is evidence of benefits of agile use (Hanssen et al. 2011 ). However, agile methods are largely based on frequent internal and external collaboration and communication (Highsmith and Cockburn 2001 ), and such close collaboration is inherently challenging in global work, which complicates the use of Agile in global software engineering (Hanssen et al. 2011 ). On the other hand, Agile has qualities that brings remedy to the challenges caused by distance in global work. Suitable agile practices may bring distributed sites closer each other by improving coordination and communication (Holmstrom et al. 2006 ).

During recent years frameworks for scaling agile software development have been suggested by several consultants, e.g., the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) (Leffingwell 2015 ), Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) (Larman and Vodde 2015 ), and Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) (Ambler 2012 ). However, documented experiences on the usage of these frameworks is still scarce, e.g., how they are used, to what kind of circumstances they are best suited, and what the challenges and success factors of their usage are. The State of Agile Survey (VersionOne 2016 ) shows that a large number of companies seem to be using some framework, as 27% of the respondents reported using SAFe, 6% LeSS and 4% DAD. In addition, most respondents (72%) stated using Scrum or Scrum-of-Scrums to help to scale (respondents could make multiple selections).

A recent systematic literature review on large-scale agile transformations (Dikert et al. 2016 ) reported that only six, or 12% of existing 52 reports were scientific. Most of the selected papers were experience reports published in the XP and Agile conferences, showing practitioner interest in the topic, and that academic research is lagging behind.

None of the scientific studies included in the systematic literature review by (Dikert et al. 2016 ) focused directly on the transformation process, even though they briefly described it. Two of the papers (Abdelnour-Nocera and Sharp 2007 ; 2008 ) reporting on the same case concentrated on the effects of the agile transformation. A study about Ericsson R&D Finland (Rodríguez et al. 2013 ) Footnote 2 focused on how Lean thinking is implemented, however the focus was mostly on the current state instead of the transformation process. A paper from Nokia Siemens Networks (Korhonen 2012 ) studied whether the visibility, reaction speed, quality, or motivation had changed, comparing the situation before and after the transformation. (Murphy and Donnellan 2009 ) studied the good and bad aspects of communication during an agile transformation and (Vlaanderen et al. 2012 ) in their multiple-case study of two cases analyzed the Scrum introduction paths. While evaluating the relevance of each of the research papers regarding how well they provide information on large-scale agile transformations on scale a 1-5 (1: some sentences revealing factors relating to transformation, 5: the entire paper focuses on describing how the transformation proceeded). (Dikert et al. 2016 ) gave two of the papers (Abdelnour-Nocera and Sharp 2007 ; 2008 ) (reporting on the same case) the rating 3, while the rest received only either 1 (one paper) or 2 (3 papers). This reveals how the current research on large-scale agile transformations is lagging behind the state-of-the practice.

2.2 Motivation to Initiate an Agile Transformation

According to the literature one of the top reasons for a large software development organization to start an agile transformation was to reduce the time to market (Gat 2006 ; Goos and Melisse 2008 ; McDowell and Dourambeis 2007 ; Prokhorenko 2012 ; Silva and Doss 2007 ), as the competition and market situation was changing towards speedier deliveries (Greening 2013 ). Companies want to improve their competitiveness, or even fear that they are losing competitiveness. Thus, their response is to improve delivery speed and responsiveness to change.

Another significant motivator was software project management related reasons. Many companies had experienced problems related to project management (Long and Starr 2008 ), people management, and managing schedules (Chung and Drummond 2009 ) that they were hoping to correct.

The old process and the whole way of working was considered problematic due to overhead, seen in extra bureaucracy causing needless costs in the form of unproductive meetings (O’Connor 2011 ), process gates (Chung and Drummond 2009 ), change management overhead (Vlaanderen et al. 2012 ) and excess documentation (Hansen and Baggesen 2009 ; Murphy and Donnellan 2009 ). Slow processes with long cycle times led to late feedback (Beavers 2007 ; Ranganath 2011 ).

2.3 Challenges and Success Factors of Large-Scale Agile Transformations

Any organizational transformation that involves numerous individuals will face challenges. A systematic literature review (Dikert et al. 2016 ) identified 29 success factors for large-scale agile transformations grouped into 11 categories and 35 challenges in 9 categories. The review identified the following main challenges for large-scale agile transformations: other functions unwilling to change (mentioned by 31% of the reported cases), lack of guidance from the literature (21%), reverting to the old way of working (19%) and misunderstanding agile concepts (19%). The top challenge categories mentioned were agile difficult to implement, integrating non-development functions, change resistance and requirements engineering challenges.

The most salient success factors identified were: coaching teams as they learn by doing (29%), ensuring management support (29%) and customizing the agile approach carefully (26%). The top success factor categories listed are: choosing and customizing the agile approach, management support, mindset and alignment, and training and coaching.

The State of Agile Survey (VersionOne 2016 ) reports the following tips for large-scale agile transformations: consistent process and practices (mentioned by 43% of respondents), implementation of a common tool across teams (40%), agile consultants or trainers (40%), executive sponsorship (37%), and internal agile support team (35%).

3 Methodology

3.1 background.

This paper uses a single case study methodology (Yin 2009 ) in a software development organization at Ericsson developing a XaaS platform and a related set of services. We subsequently refer to this whole as the “product”.

The product provides a set of services to business customers, who use it to provide services to their clients. Originally, the platform was designed for a single customer. At the time of our interviews, the product was in its early life-cycle with tens of customers, the number of which was expected to grow rapidly, and the product was considered to have a vast market potential.

Architecturally, the product consisted of modules, subsequently referred to as components. Some components were developed by third-parties and some by Ericsson. The development of the components required highly specialized expertise due to their complexity.

Ericsson acquired the product in 2011. Before the acquisition, approximately 30–35 people, including external contractors and consultants, developed the whole platform. As part of the acquisition, Ericsson hired around ten domain experts from the previous development organization and took over the further product development. Directly after the acquisition, the newly built organization had to focus on knowledge transfer from the external consultants to Ericsson’s employees and to the newly hired consultants.

The development organization at Ericsson grew rapidly: from two teams at the end of 2011 to 10 teams in spring 2013 and 15 teams by the spring of 2014. New developers and teams were added to the organization gradually. The biggest increases happened in late 2012 and during 2013. In the fall of 2012 an external consultancy provided personnel to the project (at site E), and both internal and external recruiting was done. During the summer and fall 2013, five agile teams were added to Site A, part of which were reassigned from another project at Ericsson.

During this time, the size of organization increased from a few dozens to around 200. In spring 2014 the development organization consisted of agile teams (typically consisting of 7-9 persons), Product Owners, architects, agile coaches, line managers, product managers and other managers. In addition, the organization included sales personnel, and customer support and operations.

At the time of our data collection (Fall 2013 - Fall 2014) the development organization was distributed to five sites in three countries as illustrated in Fig.  1 . Four of the sites were in Europe (sites A, B, C, D) and one (site E) in Asia. Site E was a subcontracted site, not Ericsson’s own. In addition, customer support and operations were located at a sixth site (site F), which was not considered as part of the development organization, and was therefore not included in this study.

Project sites and distribution at the time of our data collection (Fall 2013 - Fall 2014)

After the acquisition, when moving the development to Ericsson, experts on specific components were hired both internally and externally to several sites. As each component required deep expertise, learning new components takes a lot of time. The competences for each component were in many cases not located at a single site, but distributed to several locations. Moreover, a single feature could span several components, requiring different expertise to develop, see Fig.  2 . Thus, matching features spanning several components to the component-based competences located at different sites provided significant challenges for rapid end-to-end development. This feature-component structure remained the same during the transformation, even though the organization structure around was changed.

Features vs. components

Ericsson has traditionally used a plan-driven software process. However, during recent years the company started a global adoption of agile software development. The studied organization started its transformation, or “the agile journey”, as they call it, in late 2012 and the first agile pilot team was formed in early 2013. This transition has been particularly challenging, as the organizational growth has been significant and rapid during the transformation, which is still ongoing.

3.2 Research Goals and Questions

Our research goal was to investigate how this large, globally distributed organization reorganized its development and processes by taking agile methods into use.

We purposefully selected this information-rich case (Patton 1990 ), as we had the possibility to gain access based upon participation in a joint research program, and we had previously studied another agile transformation in the same company (see (Paasivaara et al. 2013 )), thus we knew that this case would provide us rich data on the studied phenomenon. We selected a revelatory case (Yin 2009 ), which enabled us to study a yet unstudied phenomenon. This case enabled us to study, over a longer period of time, how a large, globally distributed organization developing a complex product takes agile into use, the steps of the transformation, as well as challenges and mitigating actions. As discussed earlier, this is a topic that has not been studied scientifically almost at all, thus we saw this as a unique research opportunity. The case setting provided us with access to an industrial real case setting in a rarely studied empirical context and allowed us to follow the transformation over a period of time, thus proving us a unique dataset.

We posed the following research questions:

Why did the organization initiate an agile transformation?

How did the transformation proceed?

What challenges did the organization encounter?

How did the organization mitigate the challenges?

3.3 Data Collection

The data collection took place between September 2013 and September 2014. We used three sources of data: 1) interviews, 2) observations, and 3) company internal documents.

The first three authors collected the data together. The fourth author, a representative of the organization, was our main contact person during the study, as well as one of the key informants. She helped us select the interviewees and arranged access to the events we observed. She also validated the findings of this paper by reading and commenting on the paper draft. Figure  3 shows the data collection timeline.

Timeline of the data collection

3.3.1 Interviews

We conducted a total of 45 semi-structured interviews in three rounds: 1) 31 interviews on the transformation journey, 2) twelve interviews on value workshops (which were one of the major steps during the transformation journey described later on), and 3) two validation interviews after analyzing the data.

The goal of the transformation interviews was to study the large-scale agile adoption. During that first interview round we conducted 31 interviews of altogether 34 persons at four sites.

The roles of the interviewees included development team members (i.e., members of agile teams such as developers and testers), Product Owners, coaches and managers. We aimed to interview a broad representation of the organization, talking to informants in different roles, with various backgrounds and representing different organizational levels in order to gain as complete a view of the situation as possible. We mainly selected persons with long experience with the organization to be able to reflect the whole transformation journey, but also a few persons joining later on to give us another perspective. Many of the interviewees had a long background at Ericsson. About half had joined Ericsson over ten years ago. 2/3 of the interviewees had joined the studied case project over a year before our interviews and only 1/3 had less than a year of experience from the case project. A bit more than half of the interviewed persons had a background in agile methods before joining the project, and around half of them had transferred to the project from the first agile project at site A, reported in (Paasivaara et al. 2013 ). All interviewees were selected with the help of case organization representatives. The interviews typically lasted one hour, but the length ranged from half an hour to two hours. Especially for the few first interviews, we reserved more time, as we asked more background questions in order to understand the history of the organization and the starting point of the transformation. These early interviewees were managers and coaches, who had a broader overview of the organization. The subsequent interviews were focused on the transformation and were somewhat shorter. During the first interview round, two researchers participated in all interviews, one being the main interviewer (Author 1, in a few interviews Author 3) and the other one taking detailed notes, as well as asking additional questions (Author 2).

During the first interview round we learned that the organization had started to define common values, and would be working further with these values in workshops. The common values and the related value workshops were an important step during the transformation journey, which was the reason why we decided to study them further. We had a possibility to participate as observers in both workshops and, after the second workshop, interview 12 participants from three different sites. This formed the second interview round. These interviews were short, ranging from 15 to 30 minutes each. The interviewees ranged from team members to managers. These interviews were conducted by a single researcher (Author 1), who selected the interviewed persons amongst the workshop participants.

During the third interview round two interviews were done to validate our results after we had analyzed the data. The first interview took place after we had analyzed the data from the first interview round and the second one after analyzing the second round interviews. The main purpose of these interviews was to deepen our understanding about topics that emerged when analyzing the data, as well as validate that we had understood particular issues correctly, e.g, the product structure. In the first of these interviews two researchers and two interviewees were present and in the last one, one researcher and one interviewee. These interviewees were selected as they had a broad view of the whole organization and were actively involved in the transformation in the whole organization in their roles as line manager, project steering committee member and organizational coach.

The number of interviews and interviewees differ, as in two interviews we had two interviewees and in another three. The multi-person interviews during the first interview round were due to interviewee time limitations. For example, we could have interviewed only one of the three coaches (who had been doing exactly the same work) and only one of the consultants (also working tightly together), but the interviewees suggested group interviews to which we agreed, as we thought it would give us a broader picture than conducting single person interviews. In addition, in the last validation interview we had two interviewees, with whom we checked our results and asked clarifying questions.

During the two first interview rounds we used an interview guide approach with predetermined topics as suggested by Patton ( 1990 ). The main topics were the same for each interviewee but the questions were adjusted based on their position and background. Table  1 shows the roles interviewed and the interview guides can be found in Appendix  A and  B .

All interviews were conducted face to face in the organization’s facilities and recorded. The recordings were transcribed by a professional transcription company.

As part of this study, we visited all the European sites (A, B, C, D). Unfortunately, due to budgetary restrictions, we were not able to visit the Asian subcontracted site (E), but were able to interview one representative of that site who temporarily was located at site D. Except for that one interview, the data we have on site E are the descriptions given by people at sites A, C, and D who closely collaborated with that site. However, our results focus on the main internal sites (A, B, C and D), as this was where the large-scale agile transformation took place. Site E as an external site, was not actively included in the transformation, and the plan was to drop the site in the near future.

3.3.2 Observations

To support the interviews, we conducted five observation sessions of altogether 31,5 hours during seven days. The events observed were selected carefully to support our study: 1) to see in practice how the basic Scrum practices were implemented in the case organization we observed how a Scrum team performed the activities related to a sprint change: sprint review, retrospective and sprint planning. 2) To understand how the major coordination events worked in practice, we observed the weekly Product Owner meeting, as well as two common bi-weekly demos, where a team or teams who have finished something that might interest others demonstrated their work. 3) To follow major transformation events, we observed both 2-day value workshops (arranged at sites A and D) and one continuous integration (CI) roadshows (arranged at site A). As explained later on, common values and the related value workshops were one of the major transformation steps. They were organized to unite the globally distributed organization. Building the CI system and spreading the CI knowledge and CI mindset in the organization was another major transformation step. During the CI roadshow sessions the persons who had participated in building the first CI system presented the current situation of CI and the goals of CI to the other teams, as well as discussed current challenges in the area. Similar CI roadshow events were organized at three other major sites.

The first and second author conducted the observations as non-participants. During the breaks they discussed with the participants. The observers took detailed notes during the observation sessions on what happened, what was presented and discussed, who were present, and how the participants behaved. For confidentiality reasons, the observation sessions were not recorded, as during those sessions details of new product features were discussed. Such details were, naturally, highly confidential, and as a result we were not allowed to record the sessions. The information gathered during the observations was used to support and complement the interviews. Table  2 shows the details of the observations.

3.3.3 Documents

We received a number of documents from our interviewees, e.g., slides discussing the process, working practices, product and organization structure, as well as a fictional story called the “Showcase”, created by the agile coaches together with the management team to describe how this organization would look like in two years. These documents were used to triangulate and complement the information received in the interviews.

3.4 Data Analysis

We analyzed the data qualitatively, using the Atlas.ti software package. We coded the data in six main categories: four main themes according to our research questions, and two context categories, i.e. organization structure and case background. The research question-based themes were motivation for the transformation, phases of the transformation, transformation challenges, and mitigations and success factors. We then proceeded with detailed coding, resulting in 605 codes, such as Business flow definition , Daily Scrum , and Domain owner meeting participants . Following this, we grouped the detailed codes into a total of 58 code families, such as Development Practices , Coaching Community of Practice , and Cross-site teams . The qualitative coding of the transcriptions of the first interview round was done by one researcher (Author 2), while two researchers (Authors 1 and 3) instructed and closely followed the process discussing together daily. The second round interviews were coded by one researcher (Author 1).

3.5 Limitations and Validity

We discuss the validity of our research from four viewpoints: internal validity, construct validity, external validity and reliability (Yin 2009 ). The fourth type of validity, statistical conclusion validity, is not relevant to this study.

Internal validity concerns the validity of the causal relationships observed in the case (Yin 2009 ). As this is a descriptive case-study, we refrain from theory building, and the reported causal relationships represent the views of our subjects. The threat that this might not perfectly represent reality remains.

In case study research, construct validity concerns how well the description of the case represents reality. We interviewed people who were actively involved in the ongoing transformation. Therefore, it is likely that their views and recollections reflect reality as the events discussed were contemporary. However, there are always risks related to respondents’ bias due to personal opinions or social pressure. The construct validity of a case study can be increased by the triangulation of data sources, investigators, theories and methods (Jick 1979 ; Yin 2009 ). We used several types of triangulation: we collected data by several methods, from several subjects and by several researchers. First, as it is not recommended to conduct a case study by relying on a single data source (Yin 2009 ), we collected data by three different methods: interviews, observation, and document analysis. Second, we interviewed a large number of subjects in different roles, with varying backgrounds, from different sites, and with differing length of experience in the organization to get as broad representation as possible. Third, the data was collected by three researchers, who all conducted interviews and two participated in the observation sessions. 32 of 45 interviews were conducted by two interviewers and one observation session, a two-day value workshop was observed by two researchers. All three researchers participated in data analysis and writing. In the feedback session, we received no corrections to our findings. Of these, we employed the investigator, method and data source triangulation. Three different investigators collected and analyzed the data. We employed three data collection methods: observations, interviews and document collection. Our data sources included observation notes, interview transcripts, and company documents.

The external validity of research concerns the domain to which the research results are generalizable (Yin 2009 ). To help the reader to understand the contextual factors of the case organization, we have described the context in detail.

Reliability concerns whether different researchers had produced the same results if they had studied the same project (Yin 2009 ). The main threat to reliability in this case is the variability in data collection. We minimized this threat by involving several researchers in the interviews, and having the analysis results checked by both other researchers and company employees. This triangulation makes our results robust against threats to reliability (Jick 1979 ; Yin 2009 ). Most data collected converged between the investigators, methods and data sources and revealed no notable threats to the construct validity or reliability of our results.

After analyzing the data, we arranged a feedback session in March 2014 to validate our results. The feedback session took place in the site A team area with a videoconference connection to the other European sites: B, C, and D. The whole organization was invited to the session and around thirty people participated actively in the session. We received positive feedback: the organization had already started implementing some of the suggested improvements and would take into account our findings when planning the next improvement steps. No corrections to our findings were presented. Feedback we gave to the organization did not affect our results, as the session was organized after our main interview rounds and only one validation interview took place after the feedback session. Finally, the fourth author of this paper, a representative of the case organization commented on the final draft of this paper.

4.1 Motivation

In this section we answer our first research question, RQ1: Why did the organization initiate an agile transformation?

According to our informants, there were three main motivators for the transformation in the case organization: 1) Agile software development was becoming an important part of Ericsson’s corporate strategy, 2) a dissatisfaction with the current way of working, and 3) a need to enable rapid end-to-end flow of features and continuous deployment.

4.1.1 Agile as Part of the Corporate Strategy

At the corporate level, Ericsson had identified the need to be more agile, and had made the adoption of agile methods a strategic priority. Several successful agile transformations had already taken place in various units withing the company. However, each unit inside Ericsson was given the freedom to choose whether and how to adopt and apply agile. At site A, the biggest site of our case organization, a previous, still ongoing project, had started the transformation earlier (see (Paasivaara et al. 2013 )). A large group of people from that project were gradually transferred to the case organization, and to them, agile was already a natural way of working. Thus, given their exprience with agile, it became natural also for the case organization to start thinking about adopting agile.

4.1.2 Dissatisfaction with the Current Way of Working

After the product was acquired, the case organization started to implement Ericsson’s traditional, waterfall process framework, even though the first development teams did not use any well-defined development process. The early development teams were simply assigned new features with preassigned deadlines.The teams then implemented the features as they saw fit. Our interviewees reported that development was slightly chaotic at this time, but features were finished on time. The lack of a defined process was not considered a major problem, because there were only a couple of small teams working on the product, in addition to a group of external consultants.

However, as the organization started to grow in 2012, it became necessary to implement at least somewhat orderly process. The first step, in 2012, was to implement a component-team based model, which seemed natural, as the product was composed of several components, each requiring specialized technical knowledge. The component teams had members with deep expertise on their individual components. When developing features spanning several components, virtual feature teams were used. In these, specialists from different component teams collaborated on a specific feature. There were several issues with the component based structure: it was challenging to plan and coordinate work, as features depended on several components, and experts were not always available when needed; the work was not considered efficient; development lead-times were long; teams had difficulties in finishing promised features on time; and team members felt that this way of working was stressful and somewhat chaotic. The rapid organizational growth from around twenty persons to over one hundred exacerbated the situation. Thus, they felt that change was needed.

4.1.3 The Need to Enable Rapid End-to-end Flow and Continuous Deployment

At the time of our study, the product was released every eight weeks, the same rhythm as when it was acquired by Ericsson. However, this was considered too slow, and the goal of the organization was to transition towards continuous deployment. The idea was that anew feature could be taken as part of the product instantly when ready.

My dream is that we shouldn’t have releases at all, but that afeature goes to production right away when it is ready. It means that what we do here should include coding and verification in the team, as well as continuous integration and automatic regression tests so that we can trust that when they [the team] say it’s ready, we can just push it to the system.— Manager

Thus, the hope was that going agile would enable them to implement each feature in across-functional team as efficiently as possible, from requirement until delivered as part of the product. Moreover, by using agile practices, Ericsson aimed to optimize the whole end-to-end flow:

Our goal is that we can make this whole end-to-end chain work in anew way, to remove all waste, all unnecessary handovers, and [...] to optimize the whole flow, from customer requirement until deployment.— Manager

Optimized end-to-end development would help the organization to respond quickly to changing customer requirements, as well as to provide customers constant visibility on what is coming out next.

To achieve these goals, a wide spectrum of organizational improvement actions were undertaken, as described next.

4.2 Phases of the Transformation

In this section we answer our second research question, RQ2: How did the transformation proceed?

The overall approach to the transformation was experimental — based on their previous experience in transitioning another product program to agile, the managers had learned that it is impossible to plan the transition in detail and execute it with a “waterfall mindset”. Instead, the managers and coaches took an experimental approach, purposefully focusing on a single key change or improvement target at a time. This way, the main transformation steps were not planned beforehand, but were decided one at a time on a need basis. Thus, the phases we report below are the researchers’ construct that we present as a way of structuring the discussion rather than as a prescription for conducting agile transformations.

We discuss the transformation organized by three main phases: 1) introducing agile, 2) finding common ground through value workshops, and 3) towards continuous integration and deployment. In addition, we describe the situation before the transformation as Phase 0: knowledge transfer and component-based teams. The main phases, as well as some major events are presented in Fig.  4 . As illustrated in the Fig.  4 , the phases were somewhat parallel and most did not have clear ending dates. Next, we describe each phase in detail.

4.2.1 Phase 0: Knowledge Transfer and Component-Based Teams

Knowledge transfer from the original development organization, including external consultants, started soon after the acquisition. The first two teams were built in fall 2011. During winter 2011-2012, these teams worked partially collocated at site Dand partially as distributed teams, as part of the team members came from sites Aand B. However, during the most intensive knowledge transfer period, most members worked collocated at site Dfor longer periods. These first teams were working without any specific process. Instead, team members collaborated informally aided by “agile seating”, i.e. they shared asingle large table:

As Isee it, we had no process in the beginning that we would have been following... So no Agile processes, nor [any] traditional waterfall model.— Team Member

When growing the organization from the initial two teams, the idea was to hire experts with knowledge of specific system components. In particular, they intended to use internal recruiting as far as possible. As aresult, the experts were located at different Ericsson sites. In addition, aconsultancy company offering experts with specific domain knowledge was hired at site E. Even though the organization had started talking about agile already in late 2011, they decided to go for acomponent-based team structure in early 2012. The main reason for this was that each component required highly specialized knowledge and it was time-consuming to learn even asingle component.

You cannot really ask people to learn more than one component in two years. — Product Owner

Furthermore, Ericsson had a long history in using a waterfall type process. Thus, this initial organization structure was based on component teams and a sequential, waterfall type, process. Typically, a single component team comprised of 10–20 people, was distributed to multiple sites, and communicated through weekly or daily teleconferences.

Experts from these component teams were selected to virtual feature teams, as illustrated in Fig.  5 , whenever the development of a new feature would start. Virtual feature teams were loosely structured—team members performed their own feature-related tasks for their component, and then passed the work further. Usually, a new virtual team was established for every feature.

Virtual feature team

This component-based organization structure had several challenges, e.g., suitable resources for anew feature were not always available, and virtual feature team members simply performed their own tasks individually, and did not actually work together as ateam.

Setting up the virtual teams was challenging because we had the feature and then we found three guys [with competence A] but we don’t have [competence B] because they’re all busy with other features. So here we have the resources [with competence A] available but then we cannot wait for three weeks, so the guys start with something else. So it’s like apuzzle all the time.— Manager

Furthermore, the team members considered it challenging to work in virtual teams. The people you were supposed to collaborate with changed constantly and it took time to make the acquaintance of new people, hindering the development of trust and slowing down team building. The interviewed team members reported that at that time they identified themselves more with the component teams, rather than with the constantly changing virtual feature teams.

As a whole, the organization structure based on component teams and virtual feature teams created on top of them was seen as too rigid and not being able to answer market requirements fast enough. It was not efficient nor predictable enough.

4.2.2 Phase 1: Introducing Agile

When the organization decided to move to Agile software development, the idea of creating cross-functional, cross-component teams was born. Here, we focus on the organization and team structure while moving to agile, as it turned out to be both important and challenging. The structure was tested and modified several times.

At the team level agile, teams were given the freedom to themselves decide the practical agile implementation, guided by the coaches. Thus, no common agile framework was prescribed or used.

The organization structure evolved into the current agile team structure through four phases:

Building a pilot cross-functional agile team

Full-scale roll-out of cross-component, cross-functional agile teams

Creating a competence pool providing team members to cross-component teams according to the needs of each feature

Cross-component, cross-functional teams specializing on specific business flows

The first pilot team was created in early spring 2013 to evaluate the new concept. This team was formed of volunteers from two sites, who had an avid interest in adapting agile ways of working. According to our interviewees this team both collaborated remarkably well, using the agile practices and achieved good development results. However, one problem was that some of these volunteers had a central role in their previous component team, and their absence affected the work of those teams. Therefore, management decided to dismantle the pilot team after a few weeks and start a full-scale agile rollout with cross-component, cross-functional teams.

Full-scale Roll-out:

All European sites were involved in forming the teams. Line management set the frames for the new teams, and the coaches worked on developing guidelines. Team formation was discussed in several videoconference sessions involving the future team members. Based on these discussions, the teams were formed so that in Country Alpha the teams were either site-specific (in site A) or distributed within the country to be able to allocate experts on one specific component located at one of the sites (site B) to different teams. The other set of teams were created between Countries Beta and Delta to mix in highly experienced product architects and technical coaches from sites C and D (usually two persons from sites C and D per team) with experts on third party components from an external consultancy company at site E (around ten persons from site E per team). Altogether 10 teams were created.

Competence Pool:

However, this setup between Countries Beta and Delta had to be slightly adjusted as the optimal mixture of knowledge on different components depended highly on the specific feature to be developed. All features did not involve all components, thus how much knowledge on each component was needed in a team depended on the feature. Moreover, consultants had quite narrow focus areas, and the case organization did not see having them broaden their knowledge on other components as cost-efficient due to high attrition rate at the consultant company. Thus, the five quite large teams between Countries Beta and Delta were rearranged into four smaller teams of 7–9 core team members, while the rest of the consultants at site E formed a competence pool, from which suitable resources were chosen to teams according to the needs of the next feature, as illustrated in Fig.  6 . Teams at the other sites (sites A and B) remained the same.

Cross-component teams (between countries Beta and Delta) with a competence pool. People at site E who are not allocated to teams form the competence pool (19 persons)

The permanent cross-component teams were complemented with component-based Communities of Practices (CoPs). CoPs are groups of experts who share a common interest or topic and collectively want to deepen their knowledge (Wenger et al. 2000 ; 2002 ). In the case organization, the CoPs were open to anybody interested in the topic. The CoP culture was also dynamic. New CoPs were founded when an active individual took the initiative. When a CoP was not needed anymore, or had difficulty attracting participants, it ceased to exist. Most CoPs met on a regular basis, as well as had discussion forums, wiki pages etc. for communication. The usage of CoPs at Ericsson is described in more detail in (Paasivaara and Lassenius 2014 ). In the Component CoPs, the experts for different components collaborated across teams inside each component. Forming the CoPs was easy, as they consisted mainly of members from former component teams. Thus, most members had previously collaborated closely. The daily or weekly component meetings were replaced by weekly Component CoP virtual meetings. Most CoPs started to function well with the help of the coaches. The biggest problem was how to transfer the component-specific improvement items, e.g., refactoring, agreed in CoP meetings, to the team backlogs. In addition to Component CoPs, other CoPs on specific topics were formed, e.g., a CI CoP and a Coaching CoP.

While forming the permanent cross-component teams during the spring and summer of 2013, the organization was both hiring new team members externally and adding whole teams by moving them from another, still on-going project that had been using Agile for several years at site A. Thus, the number of teams grew quickly during this phase: from 10 teams in spring 2013 to 15 in fall 2013.

Specialization in Business Flows:

In the beginning of the transformation, the goal had been to create teams that would be both cross-component and cross-functional, and that any team would be able to implement any feature that happens to be at the top of the backlog. However, the organization soon learned that this would never work in practice.

The product included alarge number of components, many of them developed using different technologies, and each component required deep technical knowledge. To solve this problem, the case organization created teams specializing in use cases spanning several components, or business flows as they called them, with afew teams working in each business flow. This would not require the members to have deep knowledge on all the components of the product. Within the business flows each team could implement end-to-end functionality, from requirement to deployment. The most important of these were Service Exposure, SIM Footnote 3 and subscription management, Billing and Rating Services and Connectivity Services. This was the structure when our study ended. The features developed within these business flows were mainly done by one team each, however regarding big features several teams could collaborate. The size of the features varied from small ones that one team could implement in aweek to bigger ones that could take half ayear to develop. Before being called business flows, some managers referred to them as domains:

We have broken down the system into domains [business flows] now, different areas. The idea is to have aPO [Product Owner] for the domain, and this is also the product manager for the domain...and maybe the backlog should be for that domain only...It is five functional domains, and one cross-functional one.— Manager

4.2.3 Phase 2: Finding Common Ground Through Value Workshops

The development organization grew quickly from 10 (spring 2013) to 15 teams (fall 2013), while introducing agile development at the team level. Even though the goal had been to form predominantly site-specific teams, due to the knowledge differences between the sites, approximately half of the teams ended up as cross-site teams. There were lots of people who had never met. In addition, people at one site did not necessarily know what was happening at the other sites regarding the development and the transformation. There were clear borders between the sites:

I see site politics as one of the problems. It’s difficult to communicate between the sites. So we build up some kind of, us vs. them feelings. That hinders our way of working. We don’t have aperfect flow in the system. Because we don’t really trust each other. And that’s aproblem.— Coach

Moreover, management noticed that the organization lacked acommon direction, regarding both the future direction of the product, as well as the way of working, and there were site-based and history-based opposing views. Thus, management and coaches decided that the next step in the transformation journey would be to define acommon direction and build a“we spirit” to help people identify themselves with the single product organization rather than with their competing sites.

Why we have started with values, [...] is that we would have acommon baseline to continue further, [...] abaseline on which we build this common understanding and common direction. That we have something common to discuss together. Ihave seen as aproblem in this whole project that different sites and different people have taken abit different direction.— Manager

The work on the common organizational values started in early 2013. The first step was the Futurospective , a workshop where the agile coaches and managers created a vision for the organization a couple of years ahead. Based on the results of the Futurospective, the coaches wrote a Showcase , a fictional story of how the organization would look like and how it would work in two years time, after tight collaboration and joint creation of a success story. The idea of the values was born during a workshop on how to make the organization “more agile”. Thus, the values were based on the one hand on the ideas and principles of agile, and on the other hand on the three core values of whole Ericsson: professionalism, respect, and perseverance. The five core values were created in collaboration between the coaches, the management team and a few developers, and are: One organization , Step-by-step , Customer collaboration , Passion to win , and Fun .

To share the values with the whole organization, a series of Value Workshops were organized during winter 2013–2014.

The goal of the value workshops was twofold: 1) to create a common vision for the whole organization in the form of common values, and 2) to create contacts and collaboration, as well as building a “we” spirit across the sites by having people meet face-to-face.

The value workshops were held as two 2-day workshops at the biggest development sites, A and D, with around 20 people traveling from three other European development sites. The whole management team, all coaches, as well as a few team members traveled. The only site that did not have workshop participants was site E, the consultant firm, with the exception of a few consultants who were working on the sites where the workshops were arranged. The aim was that all team members from sites A, B, C and D would participate in one of the workshops, as well as meet all managers and coaches face-to-face. The results from the first value workshop organized at site A was shared with the other sites by having a videoconference call during the result presentations between the sites A, C, and D (site B participants were at site A already).

Besides meeting face-to-face, the goal of the value workshops was to jointly discuss and elaborate the values. Purposefully, the values were not defined beforehand, but the managers and coaches presented the values in both workshops using examples. What each value really means were discussed in small groups. In Table  3 , we have collected some examples of what these values could mean based on the Showcase, examples provided and the value workshop discussions.

The workshops included different kind of group activities and exercises: within the whole group, within individual cross-functional teams, as well as in highly mixed teams with people from different roles and from different sites. For example, in one exercise, the teams considered what the values would mean in practice in that specific team, and what kind of concrete behaviors they would lead to. The coaches from different sites planned and facilitated these workshops as a collective effort. For more detailed description of the activities during the value workshops see (Paasivaara et al. 2014b ).

The first impression of the value workshops was highly positive. In particular, participants felt that the organization took ahuge step closer to the goal of being asingle organization building acommon product. Especially, meeting with people from other sites and talking face-to-face was abenefit that all interviewed participants mentioned.

The value this event brings, that Isee, is that we are no longer just names and faces behind the screen. You see real people and talk to real people.— Team Member

Regarding the values, most workshop participants seemed to feel that the chosen values were good:

I completely agree with these values. [...] [the values are] not so easy as before to forget, or ignore in the daily work, Ithink that’s the main benefit of the workshop. — Team Member

Several interviewees agreed that they would personally act differently in the future and that the events had clarified the values and made them meaningful.

I will probably do alot of things differently. [...] I’m gonna try to collaborate more, between the teams. Because Ithink that’s one of the biggest flaws we have right now. — Team Member

Some participants worried that the values would be forgotten after the events, expressing that good intentions formed during the workshops are not enough to implement the values in the normal working environment. The plan to tackle this was to have the coaches help the teams work towards the common values and exhibit the behaviors they had planned. Many of our interviewees also suggested some kind of acommon follow up for these events after half ayear or so.

I would say afollow-up in maybe six months or something like that, just to have arecap of what has changed, what has happened, what Ihave done. Just akind of retrospective, just to see what is happening and what kind of next steps we can take. [...] All sites should be involved with that follow-up, [...] because we should fight for this one [name of the product].— Team Member

Even though the values were considered good and the workshops beneficial by all of the interviewed participants, some were still hoping to have an even more concrete vision than what the values and the showcase provided. Especially, a concrete product vision or roadmap was asked for. However, that was not a goal of these workshops this time.

4.2.4 Phase 3: Towards Continuous Integration and Deployment

The lack of continuous integration (CI) and test automation were major challenges on the way towards continuous deployment, as the integration and testing phase took several weeks before each release. The goal was to get rid of the integration and testing phase, and having the teams integrate and verify the system functionality immediately.

I think [that] the goal is that we should be able to...when something is ready...it should...pass through and be deployed directly into production. If we can deploy something...maybe the first user (story), Imean not acomplete thing and deploy it and test it with akey customer.— Manager

The work towards this goal started in fall 2013 by creating three new teams concentrating on implementing CI and test automation. Most team members came from another product developed by the same organization, and in which agile methods had been in use for several years. In that product CI and test automation had been a major and extremely successful effort. Thus, the teams had ample relevant knowledge and experience.

A future goal was to spread the CI knowledge, goals and mindset to the whole organization: from teams up to the management by Continuous Integration Road Shows arranged during spring 2014. These consisted of information events and trainings for the whole personnel, e.g., on the selected test framework.

One of the Lean principles (Poppendieck and Cusumano 2012 ), optimizing the whole, is behind the goal of end-to-end development. In this case, end-to-end development meant developing system functionality from a customer requirement to new functionality being part of the product and used by the customer. One way to shorten the lead time of end-to-end development is to develop each functionality in a single team. This removes extra handovers and non-value adding waiting. CI and automated testing aims to optimize the last part of the end-to-end flow before the release.

Another action the case organization took to optimize the flow was to involve the teams in the early phases, i.e., in planning and design. The idea was that the teams would themselves conduct initial studies on new features: Feature Investigations (FI) and Feature Concept Studies (FCS). The purpose of these studies was to quickly investigate whether a feature is doable, how much effort it might require and how it could be implemented. Previously, experts such as architects had conducted the studies during the planning phase of the waterfall model. However, now the aim was to perform less profound studies quickly whenever new feature requirements appeared. The expected benefits were threefold. First, as the studies are not that profound, quick feedback can be received. Second, when teams are involved they learn more about the features, thus speeding up implementation since no extra handovers or documentation are needed. Third, as the number of experts doing these studies was limited, reducing their work with FIs and FCSs would free them up to focus on more profound issues. At the time of our research, the studies were already assigned to the teams. However, in-team experts, e.g., architects or subsystem responsibles, normally took the main responsibility for conducting the studies.

At the end of our study period, the organization had six releases per year but the goal was that the teams would be able to deploy new features into production immediately when they are finalized.

4.3 Challenges and Mitigations

In this section we answer the last two research questions, RQ3: What challenges did the organization encounter? and RQ4: How did the organization mitigate the challenges?

Overall, our interviewees considered this agile transformation very successful: they had taken major steps towards their target—a unified agile organization having the capacity to deliver value continuously. However, the journey had not been without problems. Next, we discuss the major challenges encountered (see Table  4 ), as well as how the organization attempted to solve them. All challenges were not yet resolved by the end of our study period, however, the transformation journey continues as the organization continuously attempts to solve new challenges as they emerge and continuously improve their way of working, following their experimental approach to the transformation.

4.3.1 Change Resistance

The first initial attempts to start the transformation were in 2012, but they did not lead anywhere as the issue polarized the organization. Some did not want to change the way of working at all, and those willing to change had different views on how the transformation should be conducted. Initially, the leadership team was not willing to sacrifice deliveries in order to support the transition. Several leadership team members found it more important to deliver new features than to focus on amajor organizational change.

The top operative management was located in [site C], and they hadn’t adopted the Agile philosophy. There was so much resistance that it was absolutely impossible to drive the change from bottom up.— Team member

During summer and fall 2013, the leadership team was reorganized, and new members having previous experience in agile transitions and strongly supporting the transformation were added. After this change, the transformation was rolled out full-scale, with less resistance.

However, at the time of the interviews, there were still groups of people in the organization, who had not yet adopted agile thinking. For example, the product management had still aquite plan-driven mindset, as illustrated by the following quote:

In product management there’s still some belief that aplan is the truth and trying to fulfill that is agood thing.— Coach

The evidence related to change resistance was strong in both the sense that it was mentioned and discussed in depth by many respondents, as illustrated in the quotes above, as well as in the fact that it was the explicit reason for changing the membership of the leadership team.

4.3.2 Significant Technical Debt

One bottleneck that prevented the transformation was a high degree of technical debt in the system. Technical debt is a metaphor originally referring to “not quite right code which we postpone making it right” (Cunningham 1992 ) but that since has expanded to include a spectrum of issues from bad coding to architectural issues (Kruchten et al. 2012 )

The system was originally designed for a single customer. Additionally, the development in the previous organization had occurred within strict deadlines. Together, these two factors had resulted in a situation where lots of shortcuts had been taken in development, and the system was not stable enough to be scaled up for a larger pool of users. Improvements had to be made before new features could reasonably be implemented. Moreover, in the beginning, when working in component teams, adding new features had the highest priority, while the quality of the underlying system suffered. That happened partly because the overall architecture was not well understood by the new developers. All this led to increasing technical debt.

During 2012, many system improvements took place and a few components were replaced by Ericsson’s own components.

Furthermore, when working in component teams, management used to make the feature implementation decisions according to ever changing customer requirements. Feature prioritization could change constantly, causing major challenges in design, coding and testing. However, this was improved after establishing a common backlog and assigning subsystem responsibles and architects to the development teams.

The technical debt was a pervasive issue that despite its importance was raised only by few technical experts. However, the importance of dealing with it was reflected in the urgency of getting a working CI system in place to harness the product, and the fact that it required serious architectural changes to the components.

4.3.3 Lack of a Common Agile Framework

The organization had decided not to use any common agile framework guiding the teams’ day-to-day working practices. Instead, each team could itself decide how to work. The only commonalities between the teams were the common bi-weekly demos, coaches, and the use of Jira as a backlog management tool. In the common demo, usually one team demonstrated their achievements. This demo was open for everyone in the organization and it was organized as a video/audio-conference between the sites. The teams having finished something of interest to others would give a demo. Some Scrum trainings were arranged in the beginning, but participation was voluntary, thus not all participated. Some teams and team members had already agile experience from their previous project, some not. Thus, taking agile into use at the team level was not systematically organized.

Many interviewees expressed that starting with acommon agile framework that teams could later on tailor to their needs would have been preferable, as that was how it was done for example in another still on-going agile project at site A, from where many managers, coaches, and team members had been moved to this project. Several interviewees commented that having acommon framework, like in that previous project, would have been abetter solution to this project as well.

I think it’s good to start with acommon [framework], like start with Scrum or anything. That’s where you start, and everybody has to go through that or whatever and then you can go from that. But now it’s really difficult. [...] We have to really go back to [the basics] so it’s really difficult to do coaching or advice because we are, Idon’t know where we are. Iagree it’s kind of aproblem.— Coach

Many interviewees from teams even commented that their team had some agile practices in use, but not aspecific process to follow. For example, most teams did not use sprints and many teams did not have regular retrospectives or planning meetings. At the time of our study, each team had their own ways of working, often combining Scrum and Kanban, e.g., all teams had aScrum or Kanban board to visualize their workflow.

I came from acompany where we followed Scrum exactly, but here Ifeel that we are doing things, but we have no process to follow.— Team Member
I think Scrum is avery good start, and when you know Scrum then you can shift into other stuff. My feeling here is that we are kind of trying to take ashort cut and doing other stuff immediately, so some of these ground pieces are actually missing in quite many teams.— Coach

A few interviewees suggested having acommon pulse for the organization:

I think we need apulse in [name of the project]. We should have, like, every second week we could have acommon planning, acommon retrospective, and Ireally miss that. [...] It’s actually on our [Coaches’] Kanban board to start up this pulse, this heartbeat.— Coach
Some sort of timeboxing could help to push us to work harder and to help us to prioritize our work so that it is done in the right order.— Team Member

The common demo every second week was a start for this pulse and our interviewees found it useful. However, they did not consider this sufficient.

A few interviewees explained that one reason for not starting with acommon agile framework was, surprisingly, due to that above mentioned still on-going agile project at site A. This other project had started their agile transformation afew years back with strict Scrum that they later modified towards Scrumban and gave the teams alot of freedom to choose their ways of working. As part of the personnel from that project had moved to the case project, some interviewees suspected that the managers and coaches moving from that project did not consider it necessary to go back and start with acommon Scrum framework and Scrum trainings, as they had done that and were “past that phase”. They explained that the persons probably assumed that the rest of this project would be as mature in agile as their old one, making it possible to directly apply the same kind of practices and thinking.

So they probably tried to short-cut this path through Scrum. So they kind of tried to start where the old organization was.— Coach

However, in practice this was not possible, as a large part of the personnel in this new project was new to agile or had little familiarity with agile, and thus needed basic training and a framework to start with, before they could start modifying it. Interviewed developers that had moved from that other project to the case project, found having a common agile framework with common Scrum trainings a much better way of starting the transformation than giving quite free hands to the teams.

As the new organization was composed of persons from several internal organizations and sites, none of the groups actually wanted to say that “this is the way we should work”. Instead, they tried to come to a joint understanding and a way of working. However, achieving such an understanding takes time. Actually, the managers and coaches coming from that other on-going agile project at site A explained to us that they did not want to “push” too much the ways of working in their previous project, as in the beginning they had done that, but the other sites clearly did not like it, but instead always answered in style “but this is a totally different kind of product”. Thus, instead of following the good practices from the previous project, they decided to find together a common way of working for this project.

A major step towards this goal was the creation of across-site Coaching Community of Practice (CoP). Having aCoaching CoP that meets regularly aims at helping coaches to establish acommon way of coaching and to guide the teams to work in similar ways across the sites. This would be helpful also for people changing teams, e.g., the floating resources in the competence pool.

I think that’s [Coaching CoP] really important. And it must be cross-site, so that we can coach in the same direction, at the same time and have the same view on coaching and the ways of working. So, instead of going into control mode we should coach in the same way. And say the same things about what’s good and bad.— Coach

The evidence regarding the problems related to the lack of a common agile framework came from a few respondents, who had participated in an earlier agile transformation within Ericsson. While small in the number of respondents, their insights were deep, and they discussed the issue at depth in our interviews. They very strongly recommended that a common framework should be used instead of giving teams too much autonomy too soon.

4.3.4 Lack of Coaching and Coaches

At the time of our interviews, the organization had both team and organization level coaches. Approximately athird of the teams had their own team coaches. The organizational coaches supported the rest of the teams, each having several teams to coach. However, they were also responsible for helping with agile issues at the organizational level and developing the whole organization and its way of working further. Thus, the coaches lacked time to concentrate on helping individual teams. For example, they could not always participate in their teams’ daily meetings or retrospectives. The interviewees found coaching they had received extremely useful, but thought that the number of coaches was not sufficient.

Last week the coach participated in our daily meetings only once. And during the previous week maybe twice. [The coach] wasn’t involved in other things. — Team Member
Currently we have so many teams and there’s only afew of us, so we are not able to support teams very well.— Coach

During our study period, the organization slightly increased the number of both organizational and team coaches. As the number of teams grew at the same time, the situation improved only slightly.

The data related to the lack of coaching and coaches came from a few coaches and a few team members, and is not as strong as for the previous categories. While coaching is important, the lack of it did not seem to be one of the most important challenges in this case, as coaches were available.

4.3.5 Lack of Agile Training

The agile knowledge was not yet at a sufficient level despite the fact that the organization had experienced people with knowledge on agile methods. The level of agile knowledge varied a lot from person to person, as some had used agile in their previous organizations while some had never used agile. Even though a few agile trainings had been organized, not all employees had participated in these, as participation had been voluntary and they had prioritized other tasks. The knowledge of agile experts was not spreading as well as it could have been.

A few interviewees even mentioned that the basic terms, such as feature , story or definition of done were not known or understood similarly by all, which is abasic requirement for working together in an agile way.

Sometimes Isend out mail or call people and discuss these, what Ifeel is basics. And then, for example, Italked to somebody about definition of done. But then, yeah they kind of agreed some of them, but acouple days later you get back some questions, “What is the definition of done?”. And then you realize, okay. We have to really go back to, so it’s really difficult to do coaching or advice because Idon’t know where we are. Iagree, it’s kind of aproblem.— Coach

The organization had plans to arrange trainings on a need basis. Moreover, the collaboration of coaches across sites and unifying the coaching would in time increase the agile knowledge in the teams.

The evidence related to the lack of agile training came from a few respondents, in particular coaches. Many people in the organization had already earlier received agile training, but the coaches noted clear differences in the knowledge, e.g. across site borders. While the data supports the importance of agile training, the lack of it was not one of the main concerns in the organization.

4.3.6 Cross-Site Teams

Even though one of the principles when forming the cross-component agile teams was to build site-specific teams, ca 50% of the teams were distributed between two or three sites at the end of our study period. Many interviewees commented that this was not agood solution for high quality team work. However, due to knowledge asymmetries between the sites this structure was deemed necessary.

Q: Do you feel that you are really ateam? A: No, Idon’t. Iam ateam player and Ilike working in teams, but Idon’t feel that we have ateam spirit. And, Iguess it’s hard, when you have multiple sites. As long as you don’t know the people, you can’t possibly care for them either.— Team member
It would be nice if we could work with local teams, if we didn’t have any dependencies, for example. [...] But we do have dependencies between each other, so in that case it’s better to have distributed teams, even though it is less efficient on the team level.— Coach

This distribution was mitigated by site visits, e.g., single team members located at site B visited the rest of their team at the site A at least once a week. From site E, there were visiting engineers constantly working with teams at sites A and D, as the “eyes and ears” of the site E.

Moreover, high quality videoconference equipment was used between sites A, B, C and D for most meetings. The videoconference connection between the distributed team members at sites A and B, was mentioned to be open sometimes all day to enable ad-hoc communication. Unfortunately, site E, a consultancy company, did not have compatible videoconference equipment. Thus, personnel at that site usually participated in using only audioconferencing.

Many interviewees emphasized that the team members should travel even more, and that they should arrange exchange visits and work co-located, at least for short periods.

We don’t talk to each other that much. So you do not trust each other. If you don’t know somebody, it’s difficult to trust them. [...] My solution is to travel more. To actually see each other. The teams [should travel]. The ones who really should cooperate. [...] Once you have met each other and worked together for awhile, then it’s much easier. And that sticks for awhile.— Coach

One goal of the value workshops was to increase trust, and make people know each other to lower the threshold for contacting. However, most cross-site teams spanned sites E and C and/or D, and as team members from site E, the consultancy company, did not travel to the workshops, they did not help with building team cohesion as much as they could have.

The use of cross-site teams with members from organizations that had not been tightly integrated before arose as one of the major problems in the case project. It was mentioned by most respondents, and also was the reason for arranging the value workshops.

4.3.7 Working as “A Real Team”

All cross-component teams had experts from several components. As each expert had deep knowledge on his or her component only, some of the interviewed team members felt that all teams were not yet working as “real teams”. The global distribution of many teams made this even worse.

Q: You said that you do your tasks mainly all alone so, what do you do with the other team members? A: Idon’t do anything with them. Idon’t work... Q: So you don’t have any collaboration? A: Sometimes they come with questions, and Itry to answer.— Team member

Due to the deep technical knowledge required team members could not really collaborate, e.g., help other team members working with other components when done with their own tasks. Thus, at times some team members had a too high workload, while others might not have work at all. During one of the value workshops, one team member worked on a task, while the rest of the team participated in the workshop. The team members explained that this individual was doing a critical task that no-one else from the team had knowledge of and thus could not help with. They explained that otherwise the whole team would be solving the problem together instead of participating in the workshop.

One of the goals the organization had was to broaden team member’s knowledge on other components, e.g., by working as a pair with an expert of another component in the own team. The goal was to add collaboration between the teams, e.g., pairing teams, so that they could learn from each other. Moreover, an exchange program across the sites was suggested to enable team members and teams from different sites to learn from each other. Exchanges were going on at the time of our study, even though it was not systematic.

Many components were quite complex, requiring significant effort to learn. This learning was not structured or organized, leaving it mainly to individuals to organize their familiarization.

Teams distributed between sites C, D and E had a couple of very experienced members, e.g., subsystem responsibles, sub-system architects or technical coaches from sites C and D, while the rest of the team was located at site E. As site E was located in Asia, and sites C and D in Europe, there were significant cultural differences between the sites. At the time of this study the technical coaches had taken the role of team leaders and the rest of the team performed individual tasks. These teams seemed to have a long way to go before turning into real agile teams.

The problem related to part of the teams not being “real” teams was mentioned in particular by coaches and line managers, working with teams with members on site E. This can be explained by the fact that we did not interview team members at site E (the consultancy company). The significance of the problem was evidenced by the fact that the organization actively planned for how to make the project succeed without site E.

4.3.8 Any Team Cannot Implement any Feature

The initial goal was to have fully cross-functional and cross-component teams that could implement any feature from the top of the backlog. However, the organization realized that this might never work in practice, as the different components required very specialized knowledge that would take long time to learn.

For at least half ayear ago they said that one team should be able to do any feature, end-to-end. That’s impossible. [...] Idon’t think we will ever get one team who can do end-to-end of all features.— Coach
It’s proved that it’s almost impossible to have across-functional team that could do any features. We don’t have asituation where developers would have competences of many components, and that’s why it’s easier for teams to focus on aspecific area. — Product Owner
We work alot with third-party products. And Icannot possibly help someone else working on another platform. And the other way around. They can’t help me, so there’s not really any point in having cross-functional teams in that sense. — Team member

Thus, the initial idea of fully cross-component and cross-functional teams was discarded, as it was not seen reasonable that any single team could be able to implement just any feature from the backlog, not even after some time of working and broadening the knowledge. At the end of our study period teams started to focus on specific business flows, which would not require knowledge on all the components of the product, but only from a few. Within these business flows, teams would still be cross-functional and able to develop end-to-end features.

The fact that the agile ideal of any team being able to implement any feature was impossible to meet in this project turned out to be one of the main problems, which explains many of the organizational changes done. The evidence for this is strong both as it came up in many interviews, and in the visible actions taken trying to deal with it. Indeed, it can be considered one of the main findings of our study that there can be cases in which trying to meet this agile ideal might not be feasible.

4.3.9 Lack of Continuous Integration and Test Automation

At the time of our first interviews, most of the testing was still manual, as appropriate CI and test automation systems had not been implemented. Therefore, the development teams had only three to four weeks for implementing new features until the code freeze, when the integration and verification team would start testing it. The testing phase took three to four weeks, after which it took approximately three weeks until the system could be released.

One thing that is in heat, that is due to that we don’t have this CI and the setup. We’re living in this waterfall mechanism so four weeks before we go into deployment, then we’re more or less locking the code, the mainstream.— Manager

As the organization was building CI and test automation, this challenge would be mitigated. However, the initial effort to build the systems had required a huge effort: three teams focusing on it for several months. The next major effort, Continuous Integration Road Shows for the whole organization took place at the end of our study period. The aim of this effort was to train the personnel in CI practices, as well as build a CI mindset in the whole development organization.

The lack of continuous integration and test automation was mentioned in particular by managers and coaches, as well as the active team members. The organization viewed the existence of a strong CI pipeline as a major facilitator of agile, and its importance can also be seen in the resources dedicated to building it, as well as in the actions taken to spread the understanding.

4.3.10 Agile Teams in a Waterfall Organization

A few interviewees commented that the most of the organization was still in awaterfall mode—only the development teams were agile: product management, release management and integration and release testing were seen as working in awaterfall mode.

We have teams that try to work in agile, but the rest of the organization is not that agile. We have this, release management, Idon’t see this as an agile setup actually. — Manager
We still have too much waste. We’re still doing waterfall. We have different phases, we have to have PowerPoint slides, we have different checkpoints and meetings, before we can move on.— Team Member
Product line management is still quite strongly in the waterfall world, that everything should be planned beforehand, and they expect that the feature they ordered will come out as such.— Manager

This was quite true, as the organization had only recently started to involve teams in the early planning activities and the integration and release verification activities took a long time at the end of each release cycle. The organization had recognized this challenge, and actions to remove the rest of the waterfall had already been taken, e.g., building the CI and automated testing systems, and involving teams in the early planning activities: feature investigation and feature concept studies.

The challenges related to product management not being agile, and the need to have teams involved more in the upfront activities were mentioned mainly by managers and a few enlightened team members. Actions to solve these problems were in the early phases, and this did not strike us as one of the main problems in the project. On the other hand, people strongly commented on the need to reduce the release verification time, and as far as possible integrate that activity in the development cycle.

4.3.11 Challenges in Defining the Product Owner Role

Defining the Product Owner (PO) role has not been straightforward. During our first interviews POs were not responsible of the backlog, nor did they participate in backlog prioritization. Instead, the product line organization took care of that.

We have aseparate prioritization meeting where it (backlog) is prioritized. [...] And I’m not sure who are participating in that, but [the] POs aren’t there. — Product Owner

Moreover, afew interviewees complained that the POs did not know enough about the new features to be able to answer the team member’s questions. Instead, they were more like messengers.

It is pretty hard to explain [the role of aPO], but we have had aportfolio manager on one site, who has been sitting on the backlog and is responsible of it. But on the other hand, we have this kind of PO function. And these POs have been more like technical coordinators and messengers of the product management, so they have not been able to do independent prioritization decisions.— Developer

The situation improved during our study period, when a new PO team, called the PO Cloud was established. The PO Cloud comprised all POs, a portfolio manager, a test manager, and a user experience lead. The PO Cloud has an end-to-end understanding of the system, making it possible to develop clear functional requirements for the teams based upon a deep understanding of the business requirements from the customers’ point of view. Moreover, a workshop was arranged in which the responsibilities of the POs and the product management organization were clarified.

In addition to the PO role, there were many other roles, partly overlapping with the PO role, such as sub-system responsibles and sub-system architects. To our interviewees it was not clear what the responsibilities of these different roles were. Even persons holding these roles complained that the roles and responsibilities were not clear.

We have way too many overlapping roles, we have architects, POs, portfolio management and others. [...] There’s too much discussion that’s preventing us to get forward. — Developer

Even though Scrum does not recognize an architect role, the rapidly growing organization with a complicated product considered it important to have persons responsible for the sub-systems and their architecture. At the time of our interviews, these persons were located in the teams, and some sub-system responsibles and sub-system architects took care of the team coach role, as well. At the end of our study period, there was on-going discussion, on how to clarify the PO and architecture roles, as well as the responsibilities of these roles in the new team structure based on business flows.

The evidence related to the Product Owner role problems came in particular from the Product Owners, sub-system architects and the sub-system responsibles, i.e., the people who felt that their roles and responsibilities were unclear. The issue was addressed during the study, indicating the importance of having well-defined and understood roles.

4.3.12 Challenges in Breaking Down the Requirements

The organization was still learning how to break down the requirements small enough to implement within one release by one or acouple of teams. At the time of our interviews, most features still took over one release to implement. Starting abig feature, that would require over one release cycle to implement was challenging according to our interviewees, as that team or teams would no contribute to the next release.

We have been struggling when we have something that is very big and we can see that this is not fitting into our next release. Then it’s too big to start and then it’s difficult to start.— Manager

The organization had started a discussion on minimum marketable features, but this idea had not yet been implemented in practice.

At the team level the interviewees found it challenging to split the features into user stories small enough to be implemented in atwo week sprint.

The ability to chew it [feature] into smaller subareas, so that we could do something visible in two weeks is still quite bad.— Manager
Now they [user stories] are huge to implement. Iwish they could be smaller, so that they could be implemented during one sprint, preferably even afew stories [per sprint].— Team Member

Moreover, as different team members still had quite specialized knowledge, the teams often had to start several stories at the same time so that each team member would have work that would fit his or her competences. This indicates that teams worked hard on optimizing resource usage, i.e. minimizing developer downtime rather than optimizing the flow.

While maybe conceptually a serious problem, the fact that the organization was unable to create user stories small enough to be finished in a single sprint did not seem to cause many problems. Interestingly, it seemed rather to be a minor nuisance that would be nice to solve than a major issue. Except for thinking about the concept of a minimum viable product (MVP), no clear actions were taken related to this issue.

4.3.13 Backlog Challenges

A common backlog was considered as one of the most important improvement targets. Thus, it was one of the first improvement actions taken. It was expected to support the new agile way of working, to help streamline the end-to-end flow, to improve visibility and to help to define the lead time of new requirements.

Earlier, several different backlogs had been in use: an electronic backlog management tool was used for issue tracking, and different stakeholders had their own spreadsheets for managing requirements, features and improvements. This led to poor transparency, and made it impossible to define the cycle time of a single requirement and to see the whole end-to-end flow.

Building a common backlog started in early 2013 and was finished in summer 2013. At the time of the interviews, every new feature and improvement was to be added to this single backlog. The common backlog was for high-level features and improvements. Each team had their own backlog where chosen features and improvements were split into user stories.

Our interviewees expressed favorable opinions about the common backlog:

The good thing is that we have acommon backlog.— Manager

However, some challenges were seen, as well. The common backlog was big, i.e., it had alot of items. In addition, the original idea that any team could pick the next item from the top of the backlog was not seen feasible.

I don’t like this common backlog because it’s just abin of ahuge amount of features and improvements. [...] Ithink they have cut it down to 200 (features) now. So they have to wait afew years to get it out.— Manager
We actually had problems as someone says that we have acommon backlog, but when ateam starts going through the first items of it, they couldn’t understand anything. They simply don’t have the right competences. An item they were able to do was about the twentieth on the list and they were told that they aren’t allowed to do that yet. — Product Owner

As mentioned, the reason for this difficulty was the lack of often very specialized knowledge needed to implement a specific backlog item. To help solve this, teams were starting to specialize in specific business flows, and the idea was to have business flow based backlogs, and each business flow having a few teams.

4.3.14 Constant Change

The journey towards agile had been challenging and stressful for everyone as avast number of changes had been implemented, while working under high pressure from the customers who continuously expected and demanded new features. The product structure, team structures and the process had been changed in parallel with the rapid organizational growth. Moreover, the development organization was globally distributed to five sites.

From my point of view, we’re currently shooting at amoving target, constantly ... It means that, we try to, or someone changes the organization, in order for it to work better, in alean and agile way. And after acouple of months, they realized that it didn’t really work. So they make another change, and so on.— Team member

Moreover, activities not directly contributing to feature development, like the development of the CI and test automation systems, had tied up several teams, leaving fewer resources to work on new features. As the organization aims to constantly improve its way of working, the constant change might never be over, even thought the biggest changes towards agile adoption seemed to be almost done.

The fact that change was constant came up in most interviews, and was thus strongly supported. However, most respondents did not consider it a big issue, and preferred to focus on the fact that the constant change mostly brought improvements to their work.

5 Discussion

In this paper we presented motivation, phases, and challenges and mitigations related to a large-scale agile transformation in a single case organization. As the first in-depth study of an agile transformation, we think that the case study adds significant value both to research and to other organizations with a similarly challenging set-up, needing to customize agile. Next, we discuss our main findings and lessons learned.

5.1 Motivation for Agile Transformations

In this section we discuss the first research question, RQ1: Why did the organization initiate an agile transformation?

The organization had three main motivations for the transformation: alignment with the corporate strategy, dissatisfaction with the current way of working, and a need to enable rapid end-to-end deliveries of features and continuous deployment.

The two last motivations have been widely reported in the literature as well. Several cases discuss problems and dysfunctions with their old processes as a motivator for adopting agile, (e.g., O’Connor 2011 ; Chung and Drummond 2009 ; Vlaanderen et al. 2012 ; Hansen and Baggesen 2009 ; Murphy and Donnellan 2009 ). The need for rapid deliveries and continuous deployment were related to a need of getting new features to the market faster, i.e. reduce the time-to-market, reported previously (e.g., Gat 2006 ; Goos and Melisse 2008 ; Greening 2013 ; McDowell and Dourambeis 2007 ; Prokhorenko 2012 ; Silva and Doss, 2007 ).

The corporate strategy to adopt agile, naturally had an impact on the program, and helped make the decision to adopt agile. While we think this motivation is becoming increasingly common, in particular with the popularization of ”Enterprise Agile”, we did not find cases in the literature that explicitly reported this.

5.2 Large-Scale Agile Transformation Phases

In this section we discuss our second research question, RQ2: How did the transformation proceed?

The transformation started with a pilot phase with volunteers working in an agile team. This worked remarkably well, which was not unexpected, as the importance and benefits of piloting in agile transformations has been reported by several authors (e.g., Berczuk and Lv 2010 ; Chung and Drummond 2009 ; Fecarotta 2008 ; O’Connor 2011 ). The pilot team was dismantled and a full-scale transformation was started after only a short time for two reasons: the team quickly was able to show that agile could work well in the organization, and the other parts of the organization started to suffer. The volunteers for the pilot were highly skilled and active developers, and their absence from their component teams was dearly felt, as they now became an ”all-star” team, which was not optimal from the organization’s point of view. This pilot related problem has been discussed in (O’Connor 2011 ).

Due to the distributed nature of the organization, different sites had diverging views regarding both the future of the product and the way of working. Thus, there was a need to align the various parts of the organization to make agile work, and to create a strong product and organizational identity. To this end, the organization arranged ”value workshops”, in which common organizational values were discussed, and people from the various sites were able to meet face-to-face. These value workshops were considered critical from the point of view of transformation success. We are not aware of other reports discussing how to align various parts of a large, distributed organization in relation to, or as part of, an agile transformation.

Continuous integration is a cornerstone of agile, and particularly important for scaling (Gat 2006 ; Moore and Spens 2008 ). Implementing CI became the main focus after the value building work. The organization had three dedicated teams working on implementing CI, a known good practice reported in other large-scale agile transformations (Beavers 2007 ; Fry and Greene 2007 ; Gat 2006 ). This amounted to a significant investment in getting CI working, also reported in (Gat 2006 ; Moore and Spens 2008 ; Rodríguez et al. 2013 ). As implementing CI requires not only suitable tools, but also a change in the mindset of developers, e.g., to start implementing automated tests for new code, a series of CI roadshows were organized. We are not aware of other reports on how to get developer buy in and change the mindset in a full-scale CI rollout.

5.3 Challenges and Mitigations in Large-Scale Agile Transformations

In this section we discuss the third and fourth research questions, RQ3: What challenges did the organization encounter? and RQ4: How did the organization mitigate the challenges?

During the transformation, the organization encountered several challenges that they tried to mitigate. Next, we discuss the challenges and mitigations according to the challenge classification by (Dikert et al. 2016 , Table 11, p. 95) to facilitate easy comparison with the literature.

The first category, “change resistance”, a common problem in large-scale agile transformations (Dikert et al. 2016 ), was also visible in our case. The transformation had challenges in the beginning, as all members of the leadership team did not fully support going agile, and wanted to focus on deliveries rather than transforming the organization. The situation was resolved by reorganizing the leadership team to involve more people with agile experience.

The category “lack of investment”, contains the items lack of training, lack of coaching, too high workload, old commitments kept and challenges in rearranging physical spaces. In the current case, we identified lack of training, lack of coaches and coaching, as well as trying keep existing commitments, all of which have been previously reported by other organizations. However, the workspaces had already been completely renovated to support agile development, which explains why we saw no problems related to that.

The category “Agile difficult to implement”, contains the items misunderstanding agile concepts, lack of guidance from literature, agile customized poorly, reverting to the old way of working, and excessive enthusiasm. In our case, the organization mentioned the lack of guidance from the literature. Similarly to (Benefield 2008 ), the organization struggled with finding a good balance between control and autonomy, giving teams too much freedom, as a common agile framework was not emphasized.

According to the literature, the category “Coordination challenges in a multi-team environment” contains items like interfacing between teams difficult, autonomous team model challenging, and global distribution challenges. Cross-site teams posed problems in our case, as half of the teams were distributed between two or even three sites. Surprisingly the case did not experience significant problems with coordination between the teams. This might be partly explained by the existence of the PO team, in which the product owners closely collaborated, well-functioning communities of practice, and the team specialization into business flows.

A particularly prevalent category of issues in our case was “Different approaches emerge in a multi-team environment”. The two main issues in this category, according to (Dikert et al. 2016 ) are that the interpretation of agile differs between teams, and problems in using both old and new approaches side-by-side. The lack of a common framework led to a situation in which teams had different practices, making it difficult to switch teams. Moreover, the surrounding organization was still in a “waterfall mode”. For example, product management and release engineering was done mostly in a traditional way. For product management, this was much of a mindset issue. In release engineering the lack of agility could partly be explained by the lack of a working CI system in the early phases of our study. However, the situation improved during our study period when investing in building functioning CI and automated tests. Furthermore, there were challenges in defining the Product Owner role, as product management was unwilling to give the POs the power to actually prioritize features. This made the POs feel like messengers between product management and the development teams rather than real POs. This situation improved with the implementation of the PO team, and maturation in the understanding of agile in product management.

We were, perhaps surprisingly given the organization’s age and business, not able to identify any clear issues related to the category “Hierarchical management and organizational boundaries”. Items in this category include the role unclarity for middle managers in agile, management remaining in waterfall mode, keeping the old bureaucracy, and keeping internal silos. Many of these issues were encountered and solved at the biggest site (site A) already during an earlier large-scale transformation.

The category “Requirements engineering challenges” was, not unexpectedly quite visible in the case. The literature study mentions problems with high-level requirements management, challenges of refining requirements, difficulty of defining and estimating user stories, as well as a gap between long and short term planning. In our case, most salient was the challenge of breaking down large features into suitably sized epics and user stories. In the beginning, the organization did not have a common backlog, but several largely independent ones. This issue was resolved in the early phases of the transformation by rolling out a common tool and implementing a single backlog for the whole organization. From the requirements engineering point of view, a large technical debt created problems, as work on it had to be prioritized against development of new features. The common backlog helped to alleviate this problem, as well.

Regarding “Quality assurance challenges”, which refers to items accommodating non-functional testing, lack of automated testing, and requirements ambiguity affects QA, our organization faced significant challenges. In the beginning, the lack of test automation and CI created problems, as a huge amount of manual testing had to be done, which reduced the time available for actual development in each iteration. The mitigating actions included serious investment in building a working CI system, as well as CI roadshows to raise awareness about CI and help instill the right mindset in the teams.

In the category “Integrating non-development functions”, we have the items other functions unwilling to change, challenges in adjusting to an incremental delivery pace, challenges in adjusting product launch activities, and rewarding model not being teamwork centric. Our organization did not report big issues related to this category. One reason might by that the quite frequent delivery cycle remained the same during the whole transformation.

One particular problem that we identified that we did not find reported in the literature was the fact that the organization was unable to attain the agile ideal of any team being able to work on any item. In addition, teams in the case organization found it difficult to work as ”real teams” as they were formed of experts of different components, and learning to work on new components would take a long time. They were gradually mitigating this problem by broadening the knowledge of team members to other components by pair work. Moreover, both of these issues were mitigated by letting teams specialize in specific business flows.

5.4 Lessons Learned

In this section we have collected four lessons that we can learn from this case organization.

5.4.1 Lesson 1: Experimental Transformation Approach

The case organization espoused an “agile mindset” in their experimental transformation approach. The reason for this was that it was difficult to determine up front how to perform the transformation, despite the fact that part of the organization had previous experiences in transforming a large product development program from waterfall to agile.

In this case, the situation was different from the previous experience: The R&D product development program was not developing a traditional telecom product for operators, but a XaaS platform and services that the customers would not buy, but use as a service. The system consisted of several components, and the organization developing it was new, rapidly growing and highly distributed. In comparison, one previous transformation in the same case company (Paasivaara et al. 2013 ; Hallikainen 2011 ) was for a traditional, over ten years old telecom product developed at two sites with a stable organization size. Thus, the set up was quite different. For this reason, the organization felt they could not follow the steps of any previous transformation.

In practice, the experimental approach meant that the organization open-mindedly tried solutions to see if they would work in their setting. If something did not work, it was quickly changed. For example, the organization tried different team set-ups and made changes quickly when problems occurred.

The organization had a mindset that it is good to try and ok to fail , since that is the only way to learn. This mindset was pervasive and what we consider an agile way of implementing agile . We believe that this is an important aspect of succeeding in large-scale transformation that is widely transferrable to different contexts. The literature review supported this approach (Dikert et al. 2016 ) as several companies reported that customization of the agile approach is an evolutionary process, see e.g. (Rodríguez et al. 2013 ; Ryan and Scudiere 2008 ).

While the literature contains little empirically based guidelines for large-scale agile transformations, the literature on lean and lean software development contain some prescriptive guidelines, e.g. in (Poppendieck 2007 ; Hibbs et al. 2009 ; Womack and Jones 2010 ). Looking at Ericsson’s approach, it seems to embody several of the principles suggested by this literature. In particular, the focus on mindset and experimentation is well in line with the suggestions of the proponents of lean.

Mirroring the discussion about this, while this lesson here was learned in the context of large-scale adoption, as evidenced e.g., by the discussion above about the lean principles, it is likely to be valid also in other, i.e., small organization contexts.

Lesson 1: Consider using an agile mindset and taking an experimental approach to the transformation.

5.4.2 Lesson 2: Stepwise Transformation

As a large-scale lean and agile adoption is a big undertaking, our case organization performed it step by step. Instead of trying to change everything at once, they focused on one change at a time. First, they focused on teams: they experimented to find out a working team set-up and get all agile teams to work well. Second, they aimed to unify the highly distributed organization and to find a common direction by creating and working with common values. Third, they invested in building CI and test automation systems, as well as training the whole organization to be able to contribute to this new way of working.

A big bang transformation approach would probably not have worked well in this case, as the organization had to continue delivering releases to the customers at the same pace as previously during the transformation. Thus, the gradual adoption of practices and structures was considered as a necessity. In this case the step-by-step approach was clearly a successful choice, as it facilitated adoption as everything could not be planned beforehand. The stepwise approach is closely related to the experimental approach, as when starting the transformation they did not have a plan of the future steps. Instead, they reacted and experimented when changes were needed.

The literature contains reports of both big bang and step-by-step transformation approaches, with step-wise being more commonly used. Often, step-by-step transformations started by piloting, which was reported as one of the success factors (Dikert et al. 2016 ). Piloting was the first concrete action in our case project, even though it was used for a shorter duration than expected, due to the problems experienced in the rest of the organization, as the component teams lost too many central persons to the pilot team. Still, it was seen as a necessary step in the transformation.

We observed clear high-level transformation steps in our case organization. However, in the literature review, besides piloting, we did not identify clear steps that would be common to all transformations. Thus, this could be an interesting topic for future research.

It could reasonably be argued that stepwise organizational transformation is a widely useful strategy for all kinds of transformations and process improvements initiatives, and indeed, even the venerable CMM(I) takes such an approach. Thus, it is likely that this idea of stepwise improvement is widely applicable, and this case clearly seems to validate such a statement through the success seen here.

Lesson 2: Using a stepwise transformation approach is good in complex large-scale settings, where the transformation takes place during an ongoing development effort. Concentrating on one major topic at a time keeps the attention on the most important change topics.

5.4.3 Lesson 3: Limited Team Interchangeability

In the beginning of the transformation the case organization had a goal that any agile, cross-functional and cross-component team would be able to implement any feature from the top of the common backlog. However, they soon noticed that this was infeasible, due to the product complexity and the asymmetry of competences. The product was composed of several components, each requiring deep technical knowledge. Component specialists were not distributed evenly to different sites. Moreover, each feature would not touch all the components, but only a limited set. Of course, agile teams and individuals can and should broaden their knowledge, but there are limits to what is reasonable and doable.

We believe that also other large organizations implementing agile might find it useful to take into account that the goal of “any agile team being able to implement any feature on top of the backlog” might not be fully feasible.

The solution our case organization identified was to have teams specializing in use-cases spanning several components, or business flows as they called them, with a few teams working in each business flow. Within the business flows, each team could implement end-to-end functionality, from requirement to deployment. This was seen as very important for achieving a fast product development flow, and the end-to-end flow was not compromised. The teams would not need to have deep knowledge on all the components, as the features in a business flow did not touch all components. This solution seemed to work well. Unfortunately, the change took place close to the end of our study period, thus we could not observe whether any further improvements to the setup were needed.

Practitioners have suggested the division of large products into product areas , in which teams can specialize (Larman and Vodde 2010 ). Our previous research has confirmed this (Paasivaara et al. 2013 ). In this case, however, the difference is that the components in a way formed logical product areas, whereas the use-cases could better be specified into business flows, crossing several product areas. One can think of this as a matrix structure, as illustrated in Fig.  2 .

Lesson 3: In a large-scale complex product any cross-functional team might not be able to work on any item from the product backlog, instead team specialization might be needed.

5.4.4 Lesson 4: Lack of a Common Agile Framework

The organization gave the teams a lot of leeway in how they implemented agile—perhaps too much. The organization started by opting for Scrum, and arranged trainings that, however, everybody did not participate in. The agile background of the project members varied both between and inside distributed sites, as some had participated in trainings and agile projects before, while others had not.

Despite the fact that Scrum was chosen as the basic framework for all teams, only a few actually implemented the majority of the Scrum practices. For example, most teams were not using Sprints, but many did have daily Scrums. As there was a lack of coaches, nobody “forced” the teams to think about the best way for them to work in an agile way. This led to a situation in which some teams, having strong “agilists”, conformed quite well to Scrum, but others with less agile experience did not, focusing more on implementation tasks and more or less ignoring the process. Moreover, as people from different sites had not worked together before, and came from different cultures, they did not feel comfortable suggesting: “let’s work our way”.

Part of the interviewees had experience from another, still ongoing, project at one of the sites (reported in (Paasivaara et al. 2013 )). There, the agile transformation had started a few years earlier with heavy support from an external consulting company with common trainings for all, as this was the first agile project at that site. A common Scrum framework was used by all in the beginning, and later on modified towards Scrumban. After the common start the teams got more freedom and took responsibility also in customizing their own way of working. Thus, persons coming from this background to our case project, like many of the coaches and managers, knew that pure Scrum needs to be customized. Moreover, as part of the team members had some agile knowledge already, the teams were given quite free hands to customize, which however did not lead to perfect results.

Close to the end of our study period the coaches were planning to implement similar ways of coaching between the teams and sites, as that would, e.g., make collaboration and changing team members between the teams easier. Thus, they aimed to encourage creating similarities of ways of working in different teams.

Literature emphasizes team autonomy in the way team implements agile practices. Allowing teams to self-organize was one of the success factors of large-scale agile transformations (Dikert et al. 2016 ). On the other hand, Conforming to a single approach was mentioned as a success factor as well (Dikert et al. 2016 ). Finally, common trainings and open events were suggested for delivering the same message to everybody to ensure that agile understanding across the organization was consistent (Dikert et al. 2016 ).

When comparing the literature findings to our case, we may hypothesize that the lack of common trainings across the sites, the lack of sufficient and unified coaching and the lack of a clear common approach led to a lack of unified agile mindset and understanding. Thus, giving teams autonomy without enough coaching led to a suboptimal agile implementation in the teams. Interviewees with background from the other transformation within Ericsson, asked for a common framework, as they thought that model had worked well in the previous transformation. Such a framework with common and similar trainings across the sites could have supported the organization in finding a common direction in agile, and thus providing a common ground for teams to customize the practices later on.

In retrospect, starting with a common agile framework and common trainings seems rather self-evident, and indeed that seems to be the presumption behind any agile implementation, for both large and small organizations. However, the fact that our case organization did not do this, and subsequently run into problems seems to validate this idea, which is increasingly important as the organization grows, as inter-team coordination otherwise becomes very difficult or impossible.

Lesson 4: A lack of common agile framework to start with, a lack of common trainings across sites, and a lack of sufficient and unified coaching may lead to a lack of common direction in the agile implementation.

6 Conclusions

In this paper, we described the large-scale agile transformation of an Ericsson product development program developing a XaaS platform and a set of services towards their future goal of continuous feature delivery. We presented the steps taken, the challenges faced, and the mitigating actions taken, as well as four lessons learned that we think could be applicable to other organizations.

As noted in (Dikert et al. 2016 ), large-scale agile transformations are seldom easy, and literature provides little advice on how to successfully proceed. Thus, case studies like this one can help provide a basis for a deeper understanding of agile transformations in various contexts that can be used for synthesizing, theory building research.

There is little systematically conducted research on large-scale agile adoption (Dikert et al. 2016 ). Practitioner literature suggests several scaling frameworks that are actively promoted by their developers. However, independently documented experiences on the usage, customization and benefits of these frameworks is still lacking. Thus, finding validated solutions on what the end result of a transformation should look like or what steps to take is difficult.

As the current agile approaches do not provide good blueprints for what a scaled agile organization should look like, and the recent scaling frameworks are largely unvalidated, there seems to be a need for the organization to tailor its agile approach to fit its own organizational, business and product context. In our case study, for example the various approaches to team organization and the introduction of business flows can be viewed as successful customizations.

This need to customize the agile approach has been reported by other organizations adopting agile in-the-large — successful customization of the agile approach was mentioned as one of the top success factors in an SLR on agile transformations (Dikert et al. 2016 ).

While all organizations might feel the need to customize their agile approach, issues related to the surrounding organization, the complexity of a large product and the need for specific competences seem to increase the need for method customization. Thus, we think this need is specifically salient in large-scale agile contexts.

For future research, we suggest to conduct additional case studies on large-scale agile transformations, as research in this area is scarce. As the literature review showed (Dikert et al. 2016 ), only a few case studies exist, even though the topic seems to be highly relevant to large software development organizations moving to agile. Especially, tailoring and customizing of an agile approach to suit different kinds of large-scale organizations would be interesting. In addition, the usage of agile scaling frameworks, such as SAFe, LeSS and DAD, suggested by consultants, interest companies. However, almost no scientific studies on their usage or suitability to different environments exists.

XaaS: “anything as a service” or “everything as a service” The acronym refers to an increasing number of services that are delivered over the Internet rather than provided locally or on-site. (Banerjee et al. 2011 )

A different case project from ours

subscriber identity module

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The authors would like to thank Ericsson and in particular the interviewees for participating in the study. This work was supported by TEKES as part of the Need for Speed (N4S) SHOK program.

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Communicated by: Hakan Erdogmus

A Interview Guide - Round 1 - Transformation Journey

2.1 a.1 general questions.

Interviewee background (e.g., role and tasks in the organization, history in the organization)

Overview of the transformation (e.g., reasons for transformation, goals of the transformation, starting the transformation, agile trainings and coaching, transformation steps)

Agile methods and practices (e.g., agile principles followed, agile methods used, agile practices used, your personal opinion about agile)

Communication and collaboration (e.g. division of work, inter-team communication and collaboration, collaboration with other sites, interaction with other people in the company, knowledge sharing, Scrum-of-Scrums, communities of practice, successes and challenges in communication and collaboration)

Testing and continuous integration (e.g. testing practices, testing levels, test environment, CI goals and practices, releases, release practices, challenges and successes in testing/CI)

Challenges and solutions (e.g., biggest challenges of the transformation, solutions implemented/tried, challenges remaining at the moment, solution suggestions)

Successes and drawbacks (e.g., successes achieved, benefits of the transformation, benefits of agile, possible drawbacks of agile)

Plans for the future (e.g., plans for the next steps, your opinions on what should be done, possible stumbling blocks)

Final comments (e.g., anything you would like to comment or add)

2.2 A.2 Role Specific Topics and Questions

2.2.1 a.2.1 managers.

Overview of the organization (e.g., history of the organization, organization structure earlier, current organization structure)

Planning the transformation (e.g., how the transformation was planned, how did you participate in planning / executing the transformation, roadmap for transformation)

2.2.2 A.2.2 Product Owners

The role of a Product Owner (e.g., tasks and duties, collaboration with the teams, your role as a Product Owner for remote teams, interaction with other people in the company)

Feature handling (e.g., the flow of requirements, interaction with customers or users, interaction with product line, working with backlog, prioritization)

2.2.3 A.2.3 Coaches

The role of an agile coach (e.g., how do you work with teams / the rest of the organization, how much time do you spend with teams, how much help teams ask from coaches, how do you promote learning, innovation, and self-organizing, how do you motivate teams)

Agile teams (e.g. team formation)

Agile methods and practices (e.g., Are teams using text-book Scrum or have you modified Scrum practices to fit better to teams’ needs? Are teams allowed to select frameworks they use (e.g., between Scrum and Kanban)?)

Coaching Product Owners (e.g., how do you support Product Owners as a coach, how much time do you spend with Product Owners, how much help Product Owners ask from you)

Organizational coaching (e.g. how do you participate in organizational coaching, what do you personally do to build a uniform agile the organization, what are the challenges in adopting organization wide agile)

Collaboration with other coaches (e.g., what, why, how, how often)

2.2.4 A.2.4 Architects

The role of an architect (e.g. tasks and duties, collaboration with development and testing, collaboration with the rest of the organization)

The role of architecture (e.g., how is architecture seen in your organization, how is architecture created in practice, how much effort is used to it)

2.2.5 A.2.5 Product Managers

Backlog and release (e.g., requirements handling, who makes the decisions of the content of backlogs, backlog prioritization, how do you decide what to include in a release)

Relationship with Product Owners (e.g., the division of responsibilities between product manager and Product Owners, collaboration with Product Owners, challenges, good practices, improvement suggestions)

Releasing (e.g., release management process in the organization, release frequency, release practices, release team, challenges and successes, improvement goals, improvement suggestions)

2.2.6 A.2.6 Developers

Transition to agile (e.g., biggest changes to you as a developer)

Agile team (e.g., your teams’ tasks/responsibilities, describe your team, team structure, is you team self-organizing, how is your team taking responsibility, team collaboration, team space, trust among team members)

Coaching (e.g., help/coaching received, do you / your team get enough support from the coaches, improvement suggestions)

Meetings (e.g., meetings that you have / meetings that you or your team members participate, usefulness of the meetings, improvement suggestions)

Inter-team coordination (e.g. how it is done, who, when, how often, visibility to what other teams are doing, challenges, successes, improvement suggestions)

2.3 B Interview Guide - Round 2 - Value Workshops

Beforehand knowledge about the values (e.g., What did you know about values before the value workshop? Do you know why the value workshops were arranged? Do you know where the values come from?)

Value workshops (e.g., What do you think about this event? The contents, the way it was arranged, what was good / not good, what could be improved / done differently, benefits of the value workshops for you))

Values (How do you feel about the values? Good / bad)

After the value workshops (Are you going to do something differently? What should be done after the workshops?)

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Paasivaara, M., Behm, B., Lassenius, C. et al. Large-scale agile transformation at Ericsson: a case study. Empir Software Eng 23 , 2550–2596 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10664-017-9555-8

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Discover the Spotify model

What the most popular music technology company can teach us about scaling agile

Mark Cruth

Spotify is the largest and most popular audio streaming subscription service in the world, with an estimated 286 million users. A key part of Spotify's success is driven by the company’s unique approach to organizing around work to enhance team agility. As Spotify’s engineering teams traveled down the path towards improved agility, they documented their experience, shared it with the world, and ultimately influenced the way many technology companies organize around work. It is now known as the Spotify model.

What is the Spotify model?

The Spotify model is a people-driven, autonomous approach for scaling agile that emphasizes the importance of culture and network. It has helped Spotify and other organizations increase innovation and productivity by focusing on autonomy, communication, accountability, and quality.

The Spotify model isn’t a framework, as Spotify coach Henrik Kniberg noted , since it represents Spotify's view on scaling from both a technical and cultural perspective. It’s one example of organizing multiple teams in a product development organization and stresses the need for culture and networks.

…the Spotify model focuses on how we structure an organization to enable agility.

The Spotify model was first introduced to the world in 2012, when Henrik Kniberg and Anders Ivarsson published the whitepaper Scaling Agile @ Spotify , which introduced the radically simple way Spotify approached agility. Since then, the Spotify model generated a lot of buzz and became popular in the agile transformation space. Part of its appeal is that it focuses on organizing around work rather than following a specific set of practices. In traditional scaling frameworks, specific practices (e.g. daily standups) are how the framework is executed, whereas the Spotify model focuses on how businesses can structure an organization to enable agility.

The Spotify model champions team autonomy, so that each team (or Squad) selects their framework (e.g. Scrum , Kanban , Scrumban, etc.). Squads are organized into Tribes and Guilds to help keep people aligned and cross-pollinate knowledge.

Now, let’s demystify some of these terms…

Key elements of the Spotify model

The Spotify model is centered around simplicity. When Spotify began organizing around their work, they identified a handful of important elements on how people and teams should be structured.

Similar to a scrum team, Squads are cross-functional, autonomous teams (typically 6-12 individuals) that focus on one feature area. Each Squad has a unique mission that guides the work they do, an agile coach for support, and a product owner for guidance. Squads determine which agile methodology/framework will be used.

When multiple Squads coordinate within each other on the same feature area, they form a Tribe. Tribes help build alignment across Squads and typically consist of 40 - 150 people in order to maintain alignment (leveraging what we call Dunbar's Number ). Each Tribe has a Tribe Lead who is responsible for helping coordinate across Squads and for encouraging collaboration.

Even though Squads are autonomous, it’s important that specialists (e.g. Javascript Developer, DBAs) align on best practices. Chapters are the family that each specialist has, helping to keep engineering standards in place across a discipline. Chapters are typically led by a senior technology lead, who may also be the manager for the team members in that Chapter.

Team members who are passionate about a topic can form a Guild, which essentially is a community of interest. Anyone can join a Guild and they are completely voluntary. Whereas Chapters belong to a Tribe, Guilds can cross different Tribes. There is no formal leader of a Guild. Rather, someone raises their hand to be the Guild Coordinator and help bring people together.

The Trio (aka TPD Trio) is a combination of a Tribe Lead, product lead, and design lead. Each Tribe has a Trio in place to ensure there is continuous alignment between these three perspectives when working on features areas.

As organizations scale, sometimes multiple Tribes need to closely work together to accomplish a goal. Alliances are a combination of Tribe Trios (typically three or more) that work together to help their Tribes collaborate on a goal that is bigger than any one Tribe.

Spotify model image

That’s it. There are not a lot of practices that need to be followed or ceremonies that need to happen. Squads may have ceremonies like sprint planning and retrospectives, but the focus of the Spotify model is on how teams organize around work. It’s up to Squads to figure out the best way to get the job done.

The benefits of the Spotify model

When Spotify changed the way they scaled agile they wanted to enable Squads to move fast, ship software quickly, and do so all with minimum pain and overhead. They realized these benefits and more as they took their model and evolved it. The organizational benefits of implementing the Spotify model include:

Less formal process and ceremony

The Spotify model focuses on organizing around work and not necessarily processes and ceremonies. This gives an organization greater flexibility when it comes to how Squads work. Instead of requiring Squads to change how they do their work (“you must do scrum”), it focuses on aligning them with each other and driving towards individual team outcomes.

More self-management and autonomy

The Spotify model encourages autonomy and creativity by trusting people to complete the work they are doing in the way they see fit. Do you need to ship software? That’s up to the Squad. Do you need to change direction? That’s also up to the Squad. The Spotify model focuses on decentralizing decision making and transferring that responsibility to Squads, Tribes, Chapters, and Guilds.

“Control leads to compliance;  autonomy  leads to engagement.”

- Dan Pink, Author, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”

The Spotify model can offer increased transparency across the work being done and grow a more experimentation-based approach to problem solving in a high trust environment. All this can lead to things like better products, happier customers, and more engaged employees. However, not everyone will experience these outcomes.

The challenges of the Spotify model

The Spotify model was based on one organization's way of working. Many organizations desire the same benefits of the Spotify model, so they attempt to emulate what Spotify did. Some organizations experienced more success than others, but it’s likely no organization experienced the same success as Spotify. The reason? Like any way of working, an organization's current culture and structure need to be taken into account. The model is simple, but the environment it's implemented in is complex.

Wise executives tailor their approach to fit the  complexity  of the circumstances they face.

- Dave Snowden, Management Consultant

Unfortunately, many organizations try to copy the Spotify model. To some, it may seem like a simple matrix organizational structure where people report to a functional area (Chapter), but work with a cross-functional team (Squad). However, it’s more complex than that. Although it may look like a matrix organization, the key cultural elements of the model need to be in place to allow the structure to thrive, such as trust and autonomy. If an organization doesn’t shift its behaviors (and ultimately its culture), the benefits of the Spotify model will never be realized. If you simply rename teams to Squads, you’re just putting lipstick on a pig.

Spotify model best practices

If you’re looking to enable a culture of trust, autonomy, and rapid learning, you can’t go wrong looking to the Spotify model for inspiration. If your organization is looking at the Spotify model as a means to help you approach agile at scale , the following is a list of best practices to keep in mind.

Don’t copy the model

Seek to understand the structure, practices, and mindset behind Spotify’s approach. With that understanding, tweak the aspects of the model to fit your own environment. Your goal is not to be Spotify, but to leverage their model to improve how your organization works together.

Autonomy and trust is key

Spotify gave as much autonomy as possible to their people in order to help them pivot quickly. Allowing teams to pick their own development tools and modify another team's code are just some examples. Within your organization, determine if there are decisions that can be pushed to the teams instead of being mandated by parts of the organization that are disconnected from the day-to-day work.

Transparency with community

Spotify’s success is credited to their focus on building community and transparency around their work. Establish your first Guild around the Spotify model adoption and encourage participation from everyone in the organization. Build trust by creating transparent, inclusive ways to gather feedback, and gain alignment on how your organization wants to work in the future.

Encourage mistakes

You will fall down and stumble in this journey. But that’s okay. Improvement involves experimenting and learning from both our successes and failures. Spotify went through many iterations before they attained the model we know today, and have since continued to experiment to constantly look for new ways to improve the way they work. Encourage the same within your organization!

If you focus on these practices you’ll see positive impacts on how your organization collaborates and aligns, whether or not you use the Spotify model as a guide.

In conclusion…

The Spotify model is a great source of inspiration if you’re looking to build an organization focused on moving quickly with autonomy and purpose. Even more formal scaling frameworks, such as Scrum@Scale , have gained inspiration from the model (and vice versa). It's important to remember that the Spotify model is not a destination. Ironically enough, Spotify doesn’t leverage the original implementation of the Spotify model anymore; they evolved and adapted the model to fit their changing organization. Trios and Alliances are actually newer elements in Spotify as they were brought about to solve new problems the organization faced as it grew larger. Starting with the key elements of the Spotify model can get you moving, but true agility comes with evolving the model to fit your context.

Taking the next step

Are you hungry to learn more about the Spotify model? Check the two-part video posted on Spotify Labs about the engineering culture at Spotify ( Part I and Part II ). You can also learn how the Spotify model compares with other scaling framework by visiting the agile at scale page on the Agile Coach.

If you’re looking to implement the Spotify model within your organization, it’s important to have the feedback mechanisms and transparency in place to generate and sustain a culture of trust and autonomy. Leveraging Atlassian’s Jira Align , organizations can organize Squads into Tribes, form Guilds and Chapters, and make product decisions transparent across the organization.

Mark Cruth is Atlassian’s resident Modern Work Expert. Focused on practice over theory, Mark spends his days coaching both Atlassian and customer teams on new ways of working, then sharing what he’s learned at events around the world.

Joining Atlassian in 2019, Mark brings over a decade of experience experimenting with work and helping people, teams, and organizations transform at places like Boeing, Nordstrom, TD Ameritrade, and Rocket Mortgage. Mark has made it his mission to inject modern ways of working, a transformation mindset, and the power of expert storytelling into everything he does.

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Sony and PRINCE2 Agile® Case Study


  • Project management
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  • Project progress

June 26, 2017  |

  7  min read

This Case Study shows how Sony used PRINCE2 Agile® to manage the development and delivery of enhanced functionality for their file-based workflow programme. The driver behind the project was the need to be more responsive to customers’ demands.

As Sony was already a PRINCE2®-aligned organization and wanted to adopt a Scrum-based agile approach, PRINCE2 Agile was chosen as the project management method.

This case study is also available to read in Japanese (PDF, 754KB) .


The organization.

Sony Corporation is a multinational organization with its headquarters in Japan. The business includes consumer and professional electronics, gaming, entertainment, and financial services and is one of the leading manufacturers of electronic products for the consumer and professional markets.

The Media Solutions Department is part of Sony Professional Solutions Europe and delivers broadcast equipment, software and media solutions into organizations across Europe. The Media Solutions Department has three key business areas:

  • live production, incorporating studios, outside broadcast vehicles and production facilities
  • news, covering newsroom editors, agency newswire systems and playout systems
  • content management and archive solutions.

Summary of the project and its outcomes 

This Case Study shows how Sony used PRINCE2 Agile® to manage the development and delivery of enhanced functionality for their file-based work flow programme. The driver behind the project was the need to be more responsive to the Media Solutions Department’s customers’ demands.

The system was built around Sony’s Media Backbone Conductor and Navigator products. An infrastructure with base functionality was delivered in the early phases of the project and Sony wanted to continue the development of the product with enhanced features and services. They identified a requirement for a more flexible way of selecting the next features to be developed that would ensure that the needs were always assessed and prioritized.

What was the problem?

Keeping pace with change .

The initial phases of the project involved a long design period, followed by delivery and then deployment of the software. This was usually three to six months after the requirements had originally been agreed, during which time some had changed.

The need for process and technology transformation was driven by the need to realize the benefits of the true end-to-end file-based operation. It was very important to keep all stakeholders involved and part of the process. This included prioritizing features with the user community, measuring return on investment (ROI) and introducing changes in a controlled manner. Key to the success of this project has been the creation of a culture of continuous improvement.

It was essential to improve the sharing of content and automate some of the processes to free up valuable user time for core production activities.

The proposed solution 

As Sony had identified a need to be able to respond to user requirements faster, they decided to consider an agile-based methodology.

The solution had to ensure that:

  • new developments are always relevant to the current business needs
  • there is flexibility to reprioritize future software deliveries without the need to raise change requests and seek top management approvals.

Project Governance 

The project followed the PRINCE2 governance structure and had a project board with user, supplier and business representation, see Figure 2.1. The structure illustrates how local role names can be mapped onto the overall PRINCE2 governance framework, retaining customer/business supplier representation. For example, the Director of Technology effectively approved decisions around the backlog and was ultimately responsible for acceptance of the product.

Figure 2.1 Project governance structure

Figure 2.1 Project governance structure

Communications, progress and issue reporting were strongly based on the management by exception principle and PRINCE2 reporting guidance. End stage and highlight reports were still used as communication channels between the project manager and the project board.

Aims and objectives

The major objective for the Media Solutions Department was to reduce project delivery time and reduce project risk by increasing product quality. The aims of this work were to create and adopt a workable agile approach under PRINCE2 and to prove it on a real project.

Sony already had PRINCE2 elements in place and delivery teams familiar with agile development. The approach was to combine the two, using the PRINCE2 Agile approach, to make sure that the strengths of PRINCE2 were not lost in using agile: in particular, the governance, communication and quality management aspects.

The adoption of a PRINCE2 Agile approach has been phased into the organization, partly through training and partly through adoption and implementation of the method.

We started by involving the delivery project managers, but then realized that all the stakeholders across the business needed to be engaged to achieve the desired improvements and flexibility in delivery.

The approach required more user involvement during development than the previous development method, but provided better business value because the solutions solved the business problems of the user stakeholders. Frequent demos took place involving the user stakeholders which encouraged discussion of the product features during development. The user acceptance process was much easier than in previous projects as the users were already familiar with the products and had been involved in their evolution through the project.

The development team used automated tools to support agile activities such as backlog management (Figure 4.1), progress tracking (Figure 4.2, sprint report) and Kanban boards (Figure 4.3).

Figure 4.1 Backlog velocity chart

Figure 4.1 Backlog velocity chart

Figure 4.2 Sprint report

Figure 4.2 Sprint report

Figure 4.3 Kanban board

Figure 4.3 Kanban board

The project used the PRINCE2 Agile guidance about contracts to help build agreements with their clients based on throughputs rather than end products alone. Traditional fixed price and scope or time and materials contracts were not suitable, so a new model based on throughput of functionality was established. Developer estimates based on planning poker sessions fed directly into this mechanism, and the customer was directly involved in the sessions to ensure confidence and integrity in the process.

Sony has been a PRINCE2-aligned organization for some time and is used to delivering predominately hardware/software application solutions in a traditional design, build, and commission approach.

We quickly realized the limitations of this process, as our software offerings became more customizable and projects started to exceed a three to six month turnaround. Therefore we needed to look at:

  • the end-to-end lifecycle
  • how we identify agile-based opportunities, and when agile might not be applicable
  • contracts for agile projects
  • manage the sprints of specification and delivery
  • supporting a continuously evolving live environment through new services, changes in workflows, partners or integrated systems.

One of the key challenges was setting up a commercial and legal framework which supported the scope not being fixed until the start of each sprint, and without the overhead of using the existing change control process. This was addressed by using an agile approach to building agreements based on throughputs.

What was the biggest success factor?

From a Sony prospective, PRINCE2 Agile has enabled us to better manage the changes delivered to the users. The methodology has allowed us to reduce the overheads of change requests/impact assessments and to focus on delivering exactly what is needed and ultimately supporting the acceptance of the delivery and faster release back into the operation.

Benefits already realized

The project has already resulted in reduced delivery costs because of:

  • less upfront design
  • simpler contracting of projects
  • shorter time to completion, roll out
  • minimized rework
  • reduced administration through the use of automation tools.

All of which have contributed to increased customer satisfaction because of:

  • better customer engagement during the project
  • better alignment to business needs
  • more of the required features being delivered.

Lessons learned

1. Initially we took the decision that going agile would be mainly for project managers involved in product delivery and our in-house development teams. This proved to be far from reality. It is key to involve everyone from account management and sales, bid teams, architects, support, legal and procurement teams, so that the entire lifecycle can be assessed.

2. All parts of the organization need to understand the agile approach, not just the delivery project managers.

3. Sales and bid managers, support managers and engineers, need to agree on how to sell the approach and then support the solution as more features are being developed.

Axelos’ view

Combining the governance strengths of PRINCE2 with the flexibility of agile delivery was the driving force behind AXELOS’ development of PRINCE2 Agile. The Sony experience is a very good example of how the benefits of both PRINCE2 and agile can be brought together to provide a delivery solution that matches the project environment.

As experienced PRINCE2 users, Sony recognize the need for good project governance and have retained the strengths of PRINCE2’s controls but adapted for agile working. Agile was identified as the appropriate delivery approach to improve delivery times and engage with users. The synthesis PRINCE2 and agile has provided a delivery approach that is already realizing benefits.

About the author

Yucel Timur

Yucel Timur is Head of Project Management for Sony Professional Solutions Europe, with over 15 years’ project delivery experience in the Broadcast and Media Industry. Yucel has built a Project Management group that is delivering a variety of complex projects across Europe. As Sony’s solutions have become more customizable, the Project Management group continues to adapt processes, techniques and skills to improve project delivery and quality. This supports Sony with the objective of always being at the forefront of delivering solutions into the broadcast industry and is leading the way in providing feature rich tools and applications to customers across the globe.

For more information, visit pro.sony.eu

Camilla Brown

Camilla Brown has 15 years’ experience in software product development and solution delivery in the broadcast and media industry. During the last few years, Camilla has ventured into the world of project management while still holding on to agile software development processes, bringing change to the way Sony delivers some of its professional solutions.

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Examples of Scrum Case Studies

With almost every Scrum class I offer, one or two students always seem to ask for Scrum case studies examples.  I have resisted their calls for case studies since to me a case study is mostly irrelevant to an individual’s learning more about Scrum.  IMO, the best way to learn about Scrum is to do it yourself and then inspect-and-adapt, rather than read about how someone else did Scrum in their environment.

However, today I have decided to succumb to this student request and offer up these seventeen examples for your reading pleasure.

  • Distributed Scrum Project for Dutch Railways : summary of how a distributed team (Netherlands and India) successfully executed Scrum after a traditionally managed project failed to deliver after three years.  This case study discusses topics such as architecture, requirements, documentation and more.
  • Agile Project Management at Intel – A Scrum Odyssey : detailed case study describing how Intel used distributed Scrum within a traditional management culture to reduce cycle time by 66% and eliminate schedule slip within a year.
  • Agile Case Study – H&R Block : short summary of how one company helped a very traditional, time-sensitive, consumer tax preparation service transform their business using Scrum.  The real value in this case study are the links to the high-quality, short video testimonials from the participants to explain the benefits of Scrum.
  • How to Implement Scrum in an Interrupt Environment: if this sounds like your organization, then you have got to read how Intronis, a leading provider of online backup services, was able to double productivity of their call center in six months.  Scrum Inc. has shared the five steps they followed to help this organization tame the interruption beast.
  • Scrum Boosts Effectiveness at the BBC :  in this thirty-eight minute video presentation, the Head of Development of the BBC’s New Media Division discusses their multi-year journey to effectively use Scrum.
  • Owning the Sky with Agile: this case study describes the results of Jeff Sutherland’s effort of helping Saab Defense adopt Agile practices to develop an advanced fighter jet.  While the title says “Agile”, this is definitely a case study of Scrum’s effectiveness to build mission critical software.
  • Effects of Scrum Nine Months Later : case study author, Richard Bank, identifies the lasting benefits of Scrum after a disastrous, piecemeal introduction of Scrum.  Be sure to read his candid assessment of how he failed.
  • Effective Practices and Federal Challenges in Applying Agile Methods : the Government Accountability Office (GAO) provides a review of the challenges and success factors for Agile projects within the federal government based on their investigation of four successful programs.
  • Adobe Premiere Pro Scrum Adoption : Adobe explains how they used Scrum to successfully coordinate the actions of a distributed Scrum Team within an environment composed of non-Scrum Teams.
  • Mayden’s Transformation from Waterfall to Scrum: the Scrum Alliance offers this short case study of how a young, UK provider of cloud-based software used Scrum to break away from old habits to improve code quality and customer service.
  • Rolling Out Agile in a Large Enterprise : this case study from 2006 discusses how Yahoo! used Scrum to support over 100 software teams.  Provides interesting metrics on how to evaluate and monitor Scrum Teams in a large enterprise.
  • Borland’s Agile Journey – A Case Study in Enterprise Transformation : in this 2009 case study, the Senior Vice President of R&D at Borland talks about benefits they received and the key lessons learned in their three-year journey to apply Scrum to their business.
  • Business Analysts and Scrum Projects : short description of how a business analyst’s role changes when they are embedded full time on a cross-functional Scrum Team.
  • My Experience as QA in Scrum : detailed experience report of the day-to-day activities of a tester on a Scrum Team.
  • Moving Back to Scrum and Scaling to Scrum of Scrum in Less Than a Year : this fifteen-minute video presentation explains how one Brazilian company struggled with Scrum, failed and then eventually succeeded.
  • Introducing Scrum in Companies in Norway: Nordic researchers provide this case study of the factors which point to a successful adoption of Scrum and which factors lead to failure and frustration.
  • A CIO’s Playbook for Adopting the Scrum Method of Achieving Software Agility : this 28-page whitepaper from 2005 describes step-by-step how Ken Schwaber envisioned a Scrum business transformation might unfold.

In order to qualify for my list, the case study authors had to 1) do “out-of-the-box” Scrum with very few modifications; 2) they had to write a document or blog entry describing their experiences; a powerpoint presentation without a narration did not qualify; and, 3) they had to make freely available on the Internet their case study, i.e., you don’t have to give them your email address to read the content.

Editors Note: This blog was originally published in 2012 and has been revised repeatedly since then, most recently in January 2022. If you have suggested additions or updates to any of these case studies, please drop us a note!

Hi Carlton,

Sad but useful succumbing I guess. Would you consider “Scrum & XP from the trenches” a case study?

Cheers, Alan

I have found when the students consistently ask for the same thing over a long period of time (more than 4 months), the request reflects something missing in my class.

As for “Scrum and XP from the trenches, I consider that a book. The goal of this list are short articles that are quick to read. I highlight Henrick’s book in my course.

[…] are plenty of case studies and examples of Scrum and its events. Many of them are listed here, on the Applied Frameworks […]

Carlton Nettleton

Carlton Nettleton is the SVP of Product at Applied Frameworks, and co-creator of the company's Online Academy. Carlton has over eighteen years of industry experience working with clients to improve quality, increase productivity, build great teams, and launch new products using Agile software development practices and techniques. Today, Carlton’s focus is directed at mentoring and supporting Scrum and Agile practitioners who work in less than ideal conditions. He shares his energy and enthusiasm with our learners so they can achieve their personal and professional goals. Carlton is fluent in both English and Spanish, has written a short book on Scrum and has been Certified Scrum Trainer® since 2012.

Check Out More Applied Frameworks Posts

Adapting scrum: know your limits, onshore scrummaster offshore team does not work, we need 10000 agile coaches, want to be notified when new content is added.

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Useless Agile Metrics

JUNE 26, 2023

TL; DR: Useless Agile Metrics Ideally, a metric is a leading indicator for a pattern change, allowing your Scrum team to analyze the cause in time and take countermeasures. What if these useless agile metrics lead you in the wrong direction while providing you with the illusion that you know where your team is heading?

agile methodology case study

Vodafone New Zealand's Agile Transformation Case Study

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Agile Delphi methodology: A case study on how technology impacts burnout syndrome in the post-pandemic era

Fuensanta medina-dominguez.

1 Computer Science and Engineering Department, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Leganés, Madrid, Spain

Maria-Isabel Sanchez-Segura

Antonio de amescua-seco, germán-lenin dugarte-peña.

2 Universidad Francisco de Vitoria, Madrid, Spain

Santiago Villalba Arranz

3 Unidad Técnica de Diseño, Innovación y Desarrollo, Instituto Regional de Seguridad y Salud en el Trabajo de la Comunidad de Madrid, Madrid, Spain

Associated Data

The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.


In the post-pandemic era, many habits in different areas of our lives have changed. The exponential growth in the use of technology to perform work activities is one of them. At the same time, there has been a marked increase in burnout syndrome. Is this a coincidence? Could they be two interconnected developments? What if they were? Can we use technology to mitigate this syndrome? This article presents the agile Delphi methodology (MAD), an evolved version of the Delphi method, adapted to the needs of modern-day society.

To drive Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) experts to reach a consensus on what technological and non-technological factors could be causing the burnout syndrome experienced by workers in the post-pandemic era, MAD has been used in a specific case study. This study formally presents MAD and describes the stages enacted to run Delphi experiments agilely.

MAD is more efficient than the traditional Delphi methodology, reducing the time taken to reach a consensus and increasing the quality of the resulting products.

OHS experts identified factors that affect and cause an increase in burnout syndrome as well as mechanisms to mitigate their effects. The next step is to evaluate whether, as the experts predict, burnout syndrome decreases with the mechanisms identified in this case study.

1. Introduction

It is difficult to ignore the extreme social and economic shake-up that we have been experiencing since early 2020. The global health crisis caused by COVID-19, which has enveloped the entire planet, has changed our work habits, among many other things. According to Moss ( 1 ), in April 2020, 81% of workplaces were closed, leaving 2.6 billion people (knowledge workers) locked up and working from home. However, not only did they lock themselves up to work but they also spent their leisure time online, that is, first-world citizens were suddenly living their whole life through information and communication technologies. An example was the growth in popularity of the Zoom platform, which increased from 10 million to 200 million daily users over a few months.

In 2018, the Spanish National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety developed an interesting study ( 2 ) to analyze the psychosocial impact of the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the workplace. This study concluded that they had both positive and negative effects but, of course, did not account for the situation experienced over the last few years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the situation is no longer as extreme as it was in 2020, COVID-19 certainly triggered and left important changes in its wake that have made us consider our hyperconnected society and its potential connection to the exponential increase in one of the most important psychosocial risks that affect workers, which is the well-known burnout syndrome.

This is not a new syndrome. Much has been written about burnout syndrome since 1974, but it was not until 2019 that it was finally included by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its 10th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) and described as a syndrome conceptualized as a result of chronic work-related stress that has not been successfully managed . It is now classified in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon ( 3 ).

Although different methods for measuring burnout syndrome have been used since 1981 ( 4 ), the landscape has changed a great deal since then. We want to put it on the table and reanalyze this psychosocial risk considering the new landscape left behind by the precipitous change suffered as a consequence of the above health situation. We aimed to explore a potential relationship between burnout syndrome and the use of digital technologies, given the exponential growth that both are experiencing. This interest raises the following questions: Could the prominent role of technology in the lives of working people by increasing the number of people suffering from this syndrome? If this is the case and we cannot avoid the use of technology, what could we do to make technology less of a problem? What could we do to convert technology itself into an instrument to mitigate burnout syndrome?

Based on the reliability of its results, one of the best-known and most used techniques to determine whether or not there is consensus among a group of experts on certain criteria is the Delphi method ( 5 ). This method requires some adaptations to the agility of 21st-century demands for more efficient and effective adoption. Therefore, we present a series of adjustments made to this method in the “Research method” section. In the “Case study” section, we report the results of its application with the specific objective of determining whether or not there is consensus regarding the use of technology affecting workers in such a way as to cause burnout syndrome.

2. Literature review

This section first describes burnout syndrome and related works that pinpoint the factors and causes that may potentially exacerbate this syndrome, followed by the traditional Delphi methodology used as the baseline for this case study.

2.1. Burnout syndrome

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced burnout syndrome as the disease of the century. It is not a new syndrome. In 1974, psychiatrist Herbert J. Freudenberger started to investigate burnout. His studies focused mainly on the medical sector. He observed that his colleagues tended to lose empathy with their patients and suffer from exhaustion ( 6 ). The syndrome was, in its early days, related to the health and emergency sectors, such as police and firefighters. However, the syndrome is no longer confined to specific sectors ( 7 , 8 ). There were early warning signs of burnout before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, during and after the pandemic, the incidence of burnout has increased significantly, and, consequently, the syndrome has come to be known as a “second” or “silent” pandemic ( 8 ).

In 2019, the WHO classified it as an occupational risk, and it was included in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11), which came into force on 1 January 2022 ( 8 ). The WHO defined burnout as a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed ( 3 ). However, according to the foremost expert on burnout, Christina Maslach, the new WHO classification in the ICD-11 is concerning because categorizing burnout as a disease was an attempt by the WHO to provide definitions for what is wrong with people instead of what is wrong with companies ( 9 ). This should lead us to consider the organization that employs the worker, and not the worker, as responsible for burnout.

Additionally, when we analyzed the impact from not only the human (health) but also the economic point of view, we came across interesting statistics. In the United States, burnout costs $500 billion, and up to 550 million days are lost due to work stress. Every year in Europe, mental health costs between 3 and 5% of the GDP of the region. Burnout has a very big impact on the world economy, which is set to increase in proportion to the burnout trend.

To better understand the impact of burnout syndrome, several studies analyzed the factors that are affecting and causing an increase in employee burnout syndrome. Some of the identified factors are high-stress levels ( 10 ), workplace conflicts ( 11 ), social support among colleagues ( 12 ), job satisfaction ( 13 ), work–family reconciliation ( 14 ), the sense of control and autonomy ( 15 ), personal skills, training in communication skills ( 16 ), earnings from employment ( 17 ), unfair treatment at work, unmanageable workload, role ambiguity, deficiencies in communication and support from managers, unreasonable time pressure, and so on. However, none of these studies reflect technology as a cause of burnout. In contrast, the advantages of technology use at companies (productivity, efficiency, job satisfaction, etc.) are widely acknowledged ( 18 ). However, it was recently found that technology may also have a negative connotation and be synonymous with techno-stress, leading to burned-out employees whose performance drops ( 19 – 21 ).

The identification of the factors that increase burnout is just as important as analyzing the mechanisms that mitigate this syndrome. Therefore, we present a study carried out with experts in occupational risk prevention. We analyzed and explored the organizational factors that affect employees, increasing their burnout, as well as the mechanisms that they consider companies should implement to mitigate this syndrome.

Although there are other bodies of research identifying factors and methods, the difference and originality of this investigation in comparison to other studies with the same or similar objectives are that we used a technique called the Delphi method, where the participants, who are recognized experts with a lot of knowledge and experience on the subject, attempted to reach a consensus based on anonymous reflection and sharing of opinions.

2.2. Delphi method

The Delphi method was created in the United States in the 1950s. It has its origin in the philosophical field, where group knowledge is valued over individual knowledge, that is, considering that the relevant information accumulated by a group of experts is always equal to or greater than that of the individual in particular ( 5 , 22 ). The Delphi method is based on the recognition of the superiority of group judgment over individual judgment. Therefore, the objective of the method is to obtain the most reliable consensus opinion from a group of experts ( 5 ).

The special characteristics of this method are as follows:

  • - Highly efficient expert selection process: A mechanism has been created to easily identify potential experts. Everyday jobs are performed by workers in physically distributed spaces. Therefore, it is very important to consider the opinions of a broad spectrum of experts from different countries and organizational cultures to assure the maximum possible diversity.
  • - Iterative process: The process is divided into several rounds. Participants express their opinions in each round. In between rounds, they have the opportunity to reflect on both their own opinions and those issued by the other experts.
  • - Regular feedback: The opinion of the experts on the problem being analyzed is communicated before each round.
  • - Anonymity: The experts do not know the source of each response. Anonymity has the advantage of preventing dominant members of the group from influencing or inhibiting other participants. Additionally, none of the experts communicate directly.
  • - Availability of group statistical results, if required. Statistics have been associated with response types to maximize efficiency and ensure that the results are analyzable.

Although there are different approaches to organizing Delphi activities ( 23 – 25 ), they all follow the same philosophy, consisting of the steps shown in Figure 1 .

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Traditional Delphi method.

It is a methodology that is currently used in many scientific fields, like health sciences ( 26 , 27 ), tourism ( 28 ), and emerging technologies ( 29 ) because of its advantages over other techniques. These advantages, related to methodology and method application, are that the methodology is verifiable, understandable, and holistic ( 30 ); bridges the gap between qualitative and quantitative methods ( 31 ); has a controlled feedback process; and accommodates various statistical analysis techniques to interpret the data ( 32 ), among many others ( 33 ). However, it also has limitations. Li et al. ( 34 ) identified several limitations of the method, one of which is that a Delphi study is time-consuming to complete because the process includes multiple iterations or rounds. Additionally, the Delphi technique is very sensitive to design characteristics and the clarity of the question formulation. Furthermore, as the procedure depends on the quality of the feedback provided, the result must be carefully and responsibly analyzed ( 35 ).

To overcome the identified limitations, we modified the traditional Delphi process and propose the agile Delphi methodology, which will be explained in the “Research method” section.

3. Research method

This section explains the MAD, which adopts some original contributions designed to overcome the deficiencies identified in the traditional Delphi method. We modified the traditional Delphi method by adding specific techniques based on the agile philosophy to some steps of the traditional method. These modifications aimed to improve method efficiency and efficacy and overcome the limitations identified in the “Literature review” section.

The transition from the traditional Delphi method toward an agile methodology requires a cultural change. We propose the use of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) methodology that underpins the agile philosophy ( 36 , 37 ). Figure 2 illustrates the agile Delphi methodology, where the agile methodology (PDCA) is combined with the steps of the traditional Delphi methodology. Each step of the agile methodology includes the unmodified steps of the traditional Delphi method (black type), the modified steps of the traditional Delphi method, including the techniques and mechanisms that we contributed (blue type), and new steps not existing in the traditional Delphi process but needed in MAD (red type).

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Agile Delphi methodology.

This methodology, MAD, is agile (it follows an agile philosophy), iterative (it repeats the loop or cycle, called rounds in traditional Delphi, where three rounds are recommended), and incremental (it gradually increases the level of detail of the results about whether consensus is reached or not).

Agile Delphi methodology (MAD) defines two work teams:

  • Delphi process owner team. This team is composed of three experts on OHS, one woman and two men who are experienced in OHS, specifically burnout syndrome. This team is involved in the following MAD methodology steps: identify the topic and objectives, establish the action plan, select and form the panel of experts, design the questionnaire, collect questionnaire feedback, review the modified questionnaire, interpret results, and make decisions.
  • Delphi expert team. This team is composed of four Delphi process experts, two women and two men, who all have experience with and knowledge of methodologies and processes. This team is involved in the following MAD methodology steps: identify the topic and objectives; establish an action plan; design a questionnaire, review a questionnaire, collect feedback on the questionnaire, review the modified questionnaire, start communication, collect questionnaire responses, analyze response data, interpret results and make decisions, and prepare and communicate the results.

In addition, there are two well-established roles:

  • Experts: A group whose responsibility is to issue judgments and opinions, which is the core of the method.
  • Coordinator: A group that coordinates the process with a variable number of members ranging from two to five people. They coordinate each work team.

Each step of the agile Delphi methodology is described as follows: First, each step of the methodology is framed within the respective PDCA phase ( 36 , 37 ) and then described according to the following descriptors:

  • Type: either “traditional” if it was already part of the Delphi method, “modified” if an agile technique has been added to the Delphi method to carry out the step in MAD, and “new step” if this step was not previously part of the Delphi method.
  • Description: description of the step.
  • Activities: activities to be performed in the step.
  • Teams and roles involved in the step.
  • Deliverable: deliverable of the step.

3.1. Phase 1: Plan

The purpose of this phase is to describe the problem on which the experts are to reflect. For this purpose, the activities performed in this phase are to identify the topic and study objectives, establish the action plan, and select and form the panel of experts. The following lists the steps of the Plan phase.

3.1.1. Step 1-MAD: Identify the topic and objectives

Type: Modified step.

Description: In this step, the topic, goal, and objectives are defined. The recommended technique for use in this step is SMART (ER) ( 38 ). The Delphi process owner team identifies the topic, the goal, and the objectives to be studied, making sure that the objectives are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound, engaging, and rewarding.

Activities to be carried out:

  • Activity 1: Briefly describe the topic.
  • Activity 2: Identify the general goal.
  • Activity 3: Break down the general goal into specific objectives.
  • Activity 4: Check if each goal is SMART (ER).

Team and roles involved:

  • Team: Delphi process owner team and Delphi expert team
  • Role: Coordinator

Deliverable: Table 1 stores the information from this step.

Description of the topic and objectives.

3.1.2. Step 2-MAD: Establish an action plan

Type: New step.

Description: In this step, the action plan is described, defining the activities to be developed as part of MAD, the timeline (start, finish), the person/s responsible for each activity, and deliverables. The recommended technique for use in this step is the GANTT chart ( 39 ).

  • Activity 1: Define activities, sequence activities, estimate resources, estimate durations, and develop a schedule.
  • Activity 2: Prepare the GANTT chart with the above information.
  • Activity 3: Review the GANTT chart (both teams).

List of experts.

Deliverable: A GANTT chart stores the information from this step.

3.1.3. Step 3-MAD: Select and form the expert panel

Description: The panel of experts who are to share their knowledge and experience for the study is selected and formed.

The Delphi process owner team identifies the potential experts that are to participate in the Delphi process. The topic to be studied must be taken into account to identify and select the most suitable experts. The expert selection criteria document is available at: https://www.promiseinnovatech.com/images/files/MAD-Methodology/ExpertNetwork.pdf .

  • Activity 1: Define the areas of expertise.
  • Activity 2: Define the typology of experts: type of expertise (occupational hazards, etc.), academic qualifications, and years of experience.
  • Activity 3: Identify and brief experts. Select 15 to 20 experts on the subject under study from different disciplines. For topic evaluation, representativeness is based on the quality rather than the quantity of the experts.
  • Activity 4: Contact the experts to ask them to participate in the MAD. To be able to confirm or refuse participation, they must be sent the following information: topic, description, and objectives of the process to be carried out, as well as the number of rounds to be implemented and the estimated time of the process.
  • Activity 5: Complete Table 2 .

Team and actors involved:

  • Team: Delphi process owner team
  • Actor: Coordinator

Deliverable: Table 2 stores the information from this step.

3.2. Phase 2: Do

The purpose of this phase is to conduct a questionnaire round. Therefore, the questionnaire for the round is designed, and the expert responses to the questionnaire are reviewed. The steps of the Do phase are detailed as follows.

3.2.1. Step 4-MAD: Design and review the questionnaire

This step is composed of five sub-steps:

  • Step 4.1 Design questionnaire.
  • Step 4.2. Review questionnaire.
  • Step 4.3. Collect feedback on the questionnaire.
  • Step 4.4. Review the modified questionnaire.
  • Step 4.5. Start communication. Step 4.1-MAD: Design questionnaire

Description: The Delphi process owner team designs the questionnaire for each of the rounds. The questionnaire must be aligned with the objectives specified in Step 1 and will include three types of questions:

  • Questions requiring numerical data as a response. For example, “How many hours do you spend answering email?”
  • [ ] Physical office location
  • [ ] Working hours
  • [ ] Telecommuting
  • [ ] Social benefits (tickets to theme parks and health insurance)
  • [ ] Salary”
  • Open-ended questions, that is, respondents can write whatever they regard to be relevant and give their own judgments.

Recommended number of questions: 15

  • Activity 1: Design questions aligned with the specific objectives of the Delphi process. The questionnaire must include (i) sociodemographic questions to provide an overall description of the group of people answering the questionnaire, and (ii) questions that cover the specific objectives defined in Step 1. The questions must be closed-ended, precise, unambiguous, and understandable, phrased in a language that is appropriate and understandable for experts. Each question must refer to a single objective or concept; that is, there should not be two questions in one. Each question should be aligned with a specific objective. Questions should be placed in a logical order, from easiest to hardest.
  • Activity 2: Design response. Depending on the questionnaire type, descriptive or analytic, the responses will be numerical values, categories, yes/no, an ordinal scale, or text (open-ended responses).
  • Activity 3: Test or pilot the designed questionnaire with a small number of people to analyze the adequacy of each question and evaluate the clarity of the approach, number of questions, and intelligibility of the content.
  • Activity 4: Make the appropriate modifications based on the conclusions of the test or pilot survey.

Draft questionnaire.

Deliverable: Table 3 stores the information from this step. Step 4.2-MAD: Review questionnaire

Description: The Delphi expert team reviews the questionnaire designed by the Delphi process owner team.

  • Activity 1: Analyze the adequacy of each questionnaire item, taking into account the objectives established in Step 1.
  • Activity 2: Analyze the clarity and approach of questions and answers, the number of questions, and the instructions for experts.
  • Activity 3: Analyze which statistics to apply with each question. We are aware that not just any statistic can be used with any type of response. If the statistic that can be used for each questionnaire item has not been previously analyzed, it may not be possible to statistically analyze the data at the end of the MAD process. For this reason, we related the type of response to the statistic to be used to ensure that the results are analyzable.
  • Activity 4: Recommend actions to solve the problems identified in the questionnaire.

Review of the draft questionnaire.

  • Team: Delphi expert team

Deliverable: Table 4 stores the information from this step. Step 4.3-MAD: Apply feedback on the questionnaire

Description: The Delphi process owner team will review the Delphi process actions recommended by the expert team and make the necessary modifications to the questionnaire.

  • Activity 1: Review Table 4 for each question.
  • Activity 2: Carry out the recommended actions on each of the questionnaire items, modifying the questions or answers in Table 4 .
  • Activity 3: After applying feedback, fill in the “ Has it been done? ” section of Table 4 with Y (yes) or N (no). If N is entered, specify why the recommended actions have not been carried out.

Deliverable: Fully completed Table 4 stores the information. Step 4.4-MAD: Review the modified questionnaire

Description: The Delphi expert team reviews the modifications made to the questionnaire and approves the final questionnaire.

  • Activity 1: Review the modified questionnaire.
  • Activity 2: Check if all the actions have been carried out.
  • Activity 3: Discuss the recommended actions that were not carried out and decide on the final questionnaire.

Final questionnaire.

Deliverable: Table 5 stores the information. Step 4.5-MAD: Start communication

The Delphi expert team informs the panel that round x is starting and provides access to the questionnaire with the instructions for completion.

Record of the round.

  • - Team: Delphi process expert team
  • - Actor: Coordinator

Deliverable: Table 6 stores the information.

3.2.2. Step 5-MAD: Answer the questionnaire

The experts answer the questionnaire before the finishing date of the round. The Delphi process expert team checks if all the experts have answered the questionnaire and sends a reminder of the date on which the round ends 3 days before the end of the round.

  • Activity 1: Answer the questionnaire (experts).

Record of communication with experts.

  • Team: Delphi experts team
  • Actor: Coordinator and experts

Deliverable: Table 7 is completed by the coordinator of the agile Delphi process expert team.

3.3. Phase 3: Check

The purpose of this phase is to check the expert responses. To do this, the data are analyzed. The steps of the Check phase are explained as follows.

3.3.1. Step 6-MAD: Analyze response data

The Delphi expert team conducts a statistical analysis of the expert responses to each of the questionnaire items.

Activities to be completed:

  • Mean, median, mode, maximum, minimum, standard deviation, and quartiles
  • The interquartile range: RQ = Q3 – Q1
  • Relative interquartile range RIR = (Q3 – Q1)/Q2 (median)
  • Percentage of responses in the range of the median ± 1
  • Kendall rank correlation coefficient
  • Chronbach's alpha
  • Activity 2: Provide summary statistics and plot graphs.

3.4. Phase 4: ACT

The purpose of this phase is to interpret the results. In addition, the Delphi expert team decides, based on the results, whether another round is needed, and the results of this round are reported to the experts. The steps of the Act phase are detailed as follows.

3.4.1. Step 7-MAD: Interpret results and make decisions

The Delphi expert and process owner teams analyze the results. They make decisions, interpret responses, and evaluate the actions to be taken in the next round.

  • Activity 1: Interpret statistical results.
  • Activity 2: Evaluate decision-making.

Conclusions and decision making.

3.4.2. Step 8-MAD: Prepare and report results

The Delphi process expert team reports the results and notifies the experts ahead of the next round.

The activities to be carried out:

  • Activity 1: Give feedback to the experts and design the questionnaire for the next round.
  • Activity 2: Communicate the feedback obtained from the round to the experts. Feedback should include information on the responses from the previous round, considering the type of questions asked in the respective round.

At the end of a PDCA cycle, an assessment of whether or not it is necessary to carry out a new round is conducted. If so, another PDCA cycle starts, with the exception that Phase 1 is not carried out from scratch: the objectives, experts, and action plan are reviewed, taking into account the actions of the previous round.

To apply the MAD methodology, companies do not need to invest in a specific tool. The methodology is designed for use with a spreadsheet and a form for the questionnaires. These are both tools that are fully accessible to companies as part of a Google or Microsoft package.

4. Case study

Now that the MAD methodology has been defined, we have to measure its efficiency against the traditional Delphi method. For this purpose, we developed a case study to test MAD. This section reports several findings related to:

  • The comparison of the agile Delphi methodology (MAD) with the traditional Delphi methodology.
  • The results of applying MAD to analyze whether SMEs are considering burnout syndrome as a psychosocial risk, what factors affect or increase employee burnout, and what mechanisms could be implemented to mitigate and reduce burnout syndrome at the workplace.

4.1. Research design

In this case study, three MAD rounds were carried out:

Round 1: The questionnaire was composed of nine questions. There were seven questions based on the sociodemographic and professional characteristics of the participants and two multiple-choice questions to check what the OHS risks and benefits of digital transformation are and discover if burnout is one. The estimated questionnaire response time was 6 min. Experts had 8 days to respond online and received one reminder by email.

Round 2: The questionnaire was composed of eight questions. The questions were devised to discover whether there was consensus about the following:

  • Whether enterprises consider burnout syndrome to be a psychosocial risk?
  • What ICT and non-ICT mechanisms mitigate burnout syndrome?
  • What factors affect this syndrome?

The estimated questionnaire response time was 8 min.

Round 3: The questionnaire was composed of nine questions. The estimated questionnaire response time was 15 min. The questions asked in this round were designed to prompt deeper reflections from experts on the factors and mechanisms that affect and mitigate burnout syndrome.

Participants: A total of 16 experts, experienced and knowledgeable in occupational risk prevention, participated; 56% were women and 44% were men. More than 90% of the experts were in the over 45 year age group, which denotes the extent of expert knowledge and experience. Participation was voluntary and kept confidential throughout the study. The participants do not know each other or know who is participating in the process.

Research questions: The research questions are shown in Table 9 .

Research questions.

ICT, information and communication technology.

Abbreviation: ICT for information and communication technology.

Results: The results are reported in Sections A and B below.

4.1.1. (A) Results of applying the agile Delphi methodology vs. the traditional Delphi method

We carried out two independent studies: Case Study A (CS-A) following the traditional Delphi method and Case Study B (CS-B) following the agile Delphi methodology:

  • The traditional Delphi method followed the iterative method that repeats the steps to try to reach a consensus among the experts on a topic, in this case, burnout syndrome.
  • The agile Delphi methodology took an agile approach, following the agile, iterative, and incremental methods explained in the “Research method” section.

Although the participants in the studies were different people, both studies were conducted according to the same research design using the same number of participants with the same profiles.

In CS-A, the Delphi expert team was composed of researchers from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid belonging to the IRSST-UC3M Chair: R&D for Intelligent Digital Transformation of Occupational Health and Safety. The Delphi process owner team was composed of two researchers from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid who did not belong to the IRRST-UC3M Chair.

In CS-B, the Delphi expert team was composed of researchers from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid belonging to the IRSST-UC3M Chair: R&D for Intelligent Digital Transformation of Occupational Health and Safety. The Delphi process owner team was composed of two experts in burnout syndrome from the Madrid Regional Health and Safety at Work Institute (IRSST) in Spain.

The number of experts in both cases was 14 for the CS-A group and 16 for the CS-B group. In both cases, the participant profile included experts in occupational risk prevention. The research design was the same (number of rounds and expert profile). The tools used to analyze the data and run the survey were Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Forms, respectively.

Several questions were formulated in order to compare both methods and check if the results of the agile Delphi methodology were better than those of the traditional Delphi method.

Question 1.A: Is the agile Delphi methodology really agile? Is MAD faster than the traditional methodology? How long does it take to build a case with the traditional Delphi method compared with the agile Delphi methodology? To check the time taken, we analyzed the planning of both case studies. Table 10 shows a comparison of both case studies. The panel of experts was different for each case study to avoid bias, but both had similar experience and profiles. Both case studies began on the same date, that is, 1 March (they were developed simultaneously), but CS-B (using MAD) ended almost a month earlier. Therefore, we can state that it takes less time to run the agile Delphi methodology than the traditional methodology. The activities that took less time were the steps for which we had recommended techniques or created mechanisms to improve their efficiency.

CS-B: agile Delphi methodology.

Question 2.A: What is the quality of the questionnaire? How many times do you have to redo the questionnaire or rework questions? Not only is it important to be more efficient from the point of view of the time spent performing the Delphi process, but it is also necessary to check the quality of the questionnaires. The question that we formulated was, “What rework effort was required in order to align the questionnaire items with the identified objectives?” To answer this question, we checked how much rework was required on the questionnaire for each round. Rework means how many times, on average, the questionnaire items had to be redone or revised before they were considered to be complete. As Figure 3 shows, the number of reworks was lower using the techniques and mechanisms defined in MAD, leading to higher-quality questionnaires in fewer iterations.

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4.1.2. (B) Results of the burnout syndrome study using agile Delphi

The dossier containing the information gathered at each step of the MAD methodology during case study development is available at https://www.promiseinnovatech.com/products/other-research-outputs .

Psychosocial risk: Although burnout syndrome occupies a prominent place on the list of psychosocial occupational risks, this research was conducted to find out if there is consensus among OHS experts on the following questions.

Question 1.B: Do enterprises consider burnout syndrome to be a psychosocial risk? As an OHS expert, do you consider burnout to be a psychosocial risk? The results in terms of consensus among OHS experts are clear and compelling: 75% of the enterprises employing the experts do consider burnout syndrome to be a psychosocial risk. In addition, there is a unanimous agreement among the experts that burnout syndrome is a psychosocial risk and that OHS must consider it as such.

Technology affects burnout syndrome: In view of the exponential growth of both digital technologies and burnout syndrome, we raised the following questions.

Question 2.B: Do companies have data to corroborate the fact that ICTs have a negative impact on burnout syndrome, that is, that technological resources and tools have a negative effect and help to increase burnout syndrome among employees? A total of 25% of the companies have data that support that ICTs negatively affect worker burnout syndrome.

Question 3.B: Do companies have mechanisms to mitigate the negative impact of ICTs on burnout syndrome, that is, technological resources and tools to help reduce burnout syndrome among employees? A total of 13% of companies do have mechanisms. Although this is a rather low percentage, it is encouraging in the sense that there is hope that ICTs can be used as a lever to reduce burnout syndrome symptoms.

Factors that increase burnout syndrome: There are a lot of studies exploring the factors that affect burnout syndrome. However, these factors have not been studied from an occupational risk prevention perspective. In this study, we formulated the following question.

Question 4.B: Which factors do experts currently consider to have the greatest impact on the increase in burnout syndrome among employees at the workplace?

Figure 4 shows the degree of consensus for the effect of each factor on burnout syndrome (Option 1—the most and Option 4—least) as prioritized by the experts. The y-axis shows the priority. For example, the percentage of experts that consider burnout syndrome to be exacerbated by an inappropriate organizational culture is 68.80%, 12.50% for poorly structured organizational policies, 12.50% for poorly defined processes, and only 6.30% for poor implementation of digital transformation. This result was elicited in round 2. Once the data had been analyzed, this information was delivered to experts in the next round (round 3). The objective of this feedback was for experts to reflect on their responses, considering the opinions of the other experts. In round 3, they were asked the same question to check if they had changed their opinion. They were also asked to think more specifically about each of the factors and provide specific actions to mitigate their effect on burnout. The actions identified for each factor are shown in Table 11 .

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Consensus on factors.

Actions for each factor.

Mechanism to mitigate burnout syndrome: Having identified the business factors that affect employee burnout syndrome, the next step was to ask the experts different questions related to reducing the impact of the identified factors. Do the companies have mechanisms in place to prevent and mitigate burnout? Taking into account that enterprises need both ICT and non-ICT mechanisms to mitigate burnout syndrome, which mechanisms, based on your knowledge and experience as an OHS specialist, are more effective for companies to prevent burnout syndrome?

Question 5.B: Does the company you work for have mechanisms to prevent and reduce burnout syndrome? A total of 63% of experts agreed that their enterprise did not have mechanisms in place, 13% stated that their enterprises did, and 25% said N/A (do not know or not applicable).

Question 6.B: Which are the most effective ICT mechanisms to prevent burnout syndrome at companies?

  • ICT mechanisms that favor adequate and effective communication channels for relationships between workers, middle managers, and managers of the organization.
  • Technological resources are adapted to jobs to facilitate the routine work of its employees. If this is not the case, technological media cease to be facilitators and become inhibitors, which is one of the causes that provoke burnout syndrome.
  • Continuous training. ICTs are constantly evolving, and employees need to be prepared for change. The only way to do this is through continuous training and online help systems.
  • ICT mechanisms to detect symptoms of mental fatigue and evaluate the state of the worker.
  • Digital disconnection tools and protocols. These frameworks will guarantee the right of workers to effectively enjoy their rest time as well as the right to preserve their personal and family privacy.

Question 6.B: Which are the most effective non-ICT mechanisms to prevent burnout syndrome at companies?

  • Work autonomy indicates that employees have time flexibility and can make decisions about how to organize their work.
  • Implementation of psychosocial and physical health strategies, like mentoring techniques and training to develop skills for emotional management on top of change management techniques from a psychosocial perspective.
  • Teamwork promotion, through the improvement of communication and the creation of safe spaces where communication is encouraged.
  • Worker reporting and action channels and protocols.

5. Conclusion

Although burnout is not a new syndrome, having been around for more than 40 years now, it is true that the number of cases has increased alarmingly in recent years, to the point that it is now considered to be the “second” or “silent” pandemic. Many studies have been conducted from the point of view of burnout sufferers. However, as psychiatrist Christina Maslach pointed out, we should not overlook the fact that, in the case of burnout syndrome, the organization rather than the individual is at fault; that is, burnout is the responsibility of the employer. To help companies reduce this syndrome, we carried out a study using the Delphi method, in which experts who have extensive knowledge and experience of burnout syndrome participated. The goal of the study was to reach a consensus on the factors that cause burnout and the mechanisms that should be used at companies to mitigate the syndrome among their employees. While there are other works with the same goal, this research is original in that we have used a method where the participants, recognized, knowledgeable, and experienced experts in burnout syndrome, have, across several iterations or rounds, reached a consensus on their responses. They have had the opportunity to reflect on both their own opinions and the viewpoints of the other experts and, if appropriate, modify their own responses in the next round. The traditional Delphi method has several limitations. For instance, it is time-consuming and has shortcomings with respect to the definition of questionnaires and statistics. To overcome these shortcomings, we defined the agile Delphi methodology (MAD), which combines an agile methodology with the traditional Delphi method. To do this, we added some steps and modified others. Additionally, we defined mechanisms or recommended techniques to make the method steps more agile and efficient.

The limitation of this study is that all the participating experts were Spanish. Although these experts are well-acquainted with burnout syndrome in the Spanish context, we cannot be certain that, being a psychosocial risk, it will affect workers equally regardless of the country in which they perform their work activity. To be sure that the results are independent of the country in which the study is carried out, it would have to be replicated in different countries or with experts of different nationalities. In this case, the results would be more generalizable globally. The findings of this study were validated in two ways: one validation compared the agile Delphi methodology (MAD) and the traditional Delphi methodology to check if MAD is more agile and efficient. As the results reported in the “Case study” section show, we can state that the agile Delphi methodology (MAD) is more agile and efficient than the traditional Delphi methodology. The time taken is reduced by increasing the quality of the products, that is, the questionnaires, in fewer iterations. For the other validation, OHS experts identified and discussed the factors causing an increase in burnout syndrome and the mechanisms to mitigate the effects of the identified factors. In this case, experts reached a consensus on the factors that most affect burnout, which are inappropriate organizational culture, poorly structured organizational policies, poorly defined organizational processes, and poorly implemented digital transformation. To help mitigate these factors, experts identified ICT mechanisms, such as creating communication channels, adapting technology to jobs, providing continuous training, online help systems, and digital disconnection tools, and non-ICT mechanisms, such as adopting work autonomy, as well as flexibility and conciliation protocols, and developing psychosocial and physical health strategies.

The next step in this research would be to implement the identified mechanisms at organizations and evaluate whether, as the experts claim, the burnout syndrome rate decreases.

Data availability statement

Ethics statement.

Ethical review and approval was not required for the study on human participants in accordance with the local legislation and institutional requirements. Written informed consent from the participants was not required to participate in this study in accordance with the national legislation and the institutional requirements.

Author contributions

FM-D has designed the work presented in this paper and guided its development. FM-D, M-IS-S, G-LD-P, AA-S, and SV have participated in the reviewing process, analysis, synthesis of the case study summarized in this paper, and writing process. All authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.

Funding Statement

This research was funded by the Instituto Regional de Seguridad y Salud en el Trabajo de la Comunidad de Madrid (IRSST), through the IRSST-UC3M Chair: R&D for Intelligent Digital Transformation of Occupational Health and Safety, with the participation of the Knowledge and Culture of Prevention Area at IRSST.


BS, burnout syndrome; MAD, agile Delphi methodology; PDCA, Plan-Do-Check-Act methodology; SMART (ER), specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound, engaging, and rewarding technique; ICD-11, International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems; ICT, information and communication technologies; IRSST, Instituto Regional de Seguridad y Salud en el Trabajo (Madrid Regional Health and Safety at Work Institute); OHS, Occupational Health and Safety; NA, I don't know; R&D, research and development; WHO, World Health Organization.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher's note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

5 Success Stories That Will Make You Believe in Scaled Agile

Enterprise Agile and SAFe case studies

Taking your company from Waterfall to Agile isn’t a trivial task. And it begins to look more like a “mission impossible” if we’re talking about large enterprises that have dozens of teams working towards a common goal.

Below we present five case studies that demonstrate just that – that scaling Agile is not only possible, but can also yield great benefits. We hope you’ll learn something new from these examples!

Agile framework used: Scaled Agile Framework ( SAFe )

Year started: 2015

LEGO began its journey to agility by introducing changes at the team level . There were 20 product teams working at the organization at the time. At first, just 5 teams were transformed into self-organizing Scrum teams. Then, bit by bit, the remaining 15 teams followed in their footsteps.

The result of that initial change was that although individual teams had become Agile, they still couldn’t cooperate effectively together. To make that happen, LEGO followed the SAFe framework pattern and added another level of abstraction – the program level .

At the program level, you’ve got a team of teams (also known as Agile Release Train, or ART for short). At LEGO, the team of teams was meeting every 8 weeks for a big room planning session, which lasted for one and a half days. During this meeting, teams showcased their work, worked out the dependencies, estimated risks, and planned for the next release period.

There’s also the portfolio level , which is the top layer of the system. This is where you’ve got long-term business plans, stakeholders, and top management. Such division into organizational levels is typical for the SAFe framework.

LEGO scaling agile study

  • Once you’ve empowered developers to manage their own work, say goodbye to the army of “managers with spreadsheets.” You can stop doing excessive documentation and other unproductive practices.
  • Developers now give more accurate estimates , and the outcomes have become more predictable. Previously, the person who shouted the loudest could get their work done faster. Now, with visibility taken to the extreme, decisions are based on real necessity.
  • Nothing beats face-to-face communication and the positive effect it has on team morale. Especially the communication that occurs during LEGO’s big room events.

LEGO scaling agile study

  • Visual, almost gamified planning helps focus , makes things obvious and easier to resolve. Giving people independence also makes them more motivated, and they do better work.

Agile framework used: Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

This case study has been written by Cisco’s Ashish Pandey. Please note that it concerns a specific Cisco product – the Subscription Billing Platform.

The project used to follow the Waterfall methodology. Cisco used to have separate focus teams responsible for design, build, test, and deploy. Defects were many, and deadlines were being frequently missed. People were working overtime.

Once they switched to SAFe in 2015, here’s what happened.

Cisco created three ARTs* (Agile Release Trains) for:

  • Capabilities
  • Defects/fixes

*In the SAFe framework, an ART (Agile Release Train) is essentially a team of teams.

Cisco journey to agility

Every day, the team had a 15-minute meeting to determine work items. With SAFe, they attained greater transparency: each team knew what the other teams were doing and teams were able to manage themselves, promoting accountability through status updates/awareness.

They also combined it with the Scrum framework that was being used on another product – the WebEx app for Samsung. Some XP practices, such as test-driven development and continuous integration (CI), were used, too. The conclusion is that you can use one framework for one product and another Agile framework for another one within the same organization .

Once Cisco started following the SAFe methodology, started to release often, and introduced Continuous Integration (CI), they got:

  • A 40% decrease in critical and major defects .
  • A 16% decrease in DRR (Defect Rejected Ratio).
  • A 14% improvement in DRE (Defect Removal Efficiency) – thanks to CI and more interaction between international teams.
  • There is no more overtime , and the product increment is delivered on time .

3. Agile Delivery at British Telecom

Agile framework used: Scrum + XP; 90-day delivery cycles

Year started: 2004

This is a case study by Ian Evans of British Telecom that talks about the company’s transition to Agile. In 2004, a new CIO arrived at British Telecom and decided to change the Waterfall process. The old model was causing a number of issues:

  • Too many people were generating requirements; almost all requirements had a high priority; attempts were made to squeeze a maximum number of work items into the next release.
  • There were too many intermediaries during the design stage and a painful approval process.
  • Development deadlines were hard to meet; there was a lot of pressure on the developers and little time for QA.
  • Deployment was a nightmare. Some releases or even entire programs were discarded as being “too late to the party,” being no longer economically viable or too buggy.

To solve these problems, British Telecom decided to adopt an Agile approach to software development and switch to shorter release cycles:

  • Instead of documenting all requirements up-front, they decided do user stories and continuous delivery.
  • Customers should be directly involved to facilitate approvals and ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • They started doing smaller, more frequent iterations to improve quality and have more time for integrating increments into the whole.

British Telecom scaling Agile

When two years passed since the transformation, no one at British Telecom was willing to go back to the old Waterfall model. These were some of the achievements:

  • The delivery cycle went from 12 months to 90 days . It now starts with a three-day company-wide meeting, at which shareholders are also present.
  • Everyone involved has agreed to set strict priorities and focus only on stories that drive business value .
  • At the end of each cycle, the program is evaluated against a set of success markers . The team may be paid a bonus depending on the results.
  • Doing things the Agile way has improved developer morale and motivation.

4. The National Bank of Canada

Agile framework used: Scrum of Scrums

Year started: 2012

This case study talks about the National Bank of Canada’s adoption of Agile. One of the key challenges for them was to balance compliance requirements and Agile practices to attain as much agility as they could. There were definitely tradeoffs to be made. There were many things that NBoC just couldn’t leave to chance.

To reconcile the need for agility and the necessity of meeting certain compliance demands, NBoC arrived at some “middle-ground” decisions:

  • Backlog requirements should get signed off before they can be selected for a Sprint.
  • Sprint approvals were introduced.
  • It was decided to create a long-term Sprint roadmap that reflected the company’s strategic plans.
  • Architecture was made a deliverable, and it needed to be decided on early in the project (while Agile generally advises you to make major commitments as late as possible.)

Also, since they were heavily regulated, the NBoC arrived at an interesting, innovative method of getting a 2-month Spring approved. They call it the -30 (minus thirty) plan . According to this plan, a team starts gathering and getting approvals for future work items in the middle of the current sprint (30 days in advance, hence the -30 name.)

All in all, the transformation resulted in four major innovations :

Scrum of scrums case study

Agile framework used: Disciplined Agile Delivery ( DAD )

Year started: 2014

This case study talks about Dave Dame helping PTC attain agility by following the DAD (Disciplined Agile Delivery) approach. This method is meant for companies that have:

  • Large teams
  • Distributed teams
  • Legacy code (according to statistics, about 90% of all Agile team are dealing with legacy code)
  • A lot of complexity, organizational and otherwise (e.g. technical complexity)
  • Regulatory compliance

All of these were true in Dave’s case. Before he took on PTC’s case, he got them to acknowledge that Agile was not a silver bullet and couldn’t be relied on to solve all of their problems.

The challenges

In many ways, PTC was facing the same challenges as the National Bank of Canada from the previous case study:

  • It was a heavily regulated space, with a lot of regulatory compliance needed.
  • In the beginning, they’d always have gaps between sprints because it was taking a long time to agree on work items and get them approved.
  • Initially, they usually had “spillover” – unfinished work from a previous sprint that needed to be carried over.
  •  It was difficult for developers and managers to agree on a common Definition of Done. Teams wanted their own DoD, but most of the time it was tricky to reconcile it with the enterprise-wide standard.

The results

What they did at PTC to solve the four above-described problems:

  • To avoid getting approval for every tiny feature, Dave decided to differentiate between high-risk and low-risk stories . Low-risk stories do not require approvals, and teams can figure them out on their own.
  • At first, a team would finish a sprint and would wait until they could start the next one. To address that, PTC created an Elaboration team . The team’s goal is to continually work on gathering features from customers/shareholders. They may be architects or salespeople. This helped eliminate pauses between sprints.
  • To prevent work spillover, PTC figured they needed to do better planning and grooming. They also set aside time in every transition and included tackling technical debt into the planned work.
  • It was decided to have 2 levels of DoD , where each team would have its DoD, but also there would be a company-wide DoD to help maintain a common quality.

Scrum of scrums case study

In Conclusion

Let’s try to single out what the above case studies have in common. All of these companies that implemented scaled Agile frameworks observed:

  • Better predictability
  • Higher productivity
  • Fewer bugs/product defects
  • Greater employee happiness
  • Faster time to market

Another interesting detail is that at least two companies had to create a dedicated team for collecting work items and planning future work while the current Sprint was still on .

You may also have noticed that pretty much each and every of these organization had tweaked the out-of-the-box framework to their specific needs.

Stay Agile, create better products, and may the Scrum force be with you!

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Agile Project Management Case Study

Recently, business executives have seen the importance of project management in the smooth running of their organisation. Today, project management is not just about executing a job, but also incorporating a strategic approach to solving complex business problems in little time with fewer resources. Therefore, a lot of businesses have entrusted change in organisational processes to project managers.

One cannot take a project-related decision without a project manager to evaluate and check the possible options and likely outcome of the decision. Many approaches have been employed for the management of projects in organisations of varying sizes; one of these is the Agile Project Management .

Agile Project Management has a number of frameworks in it to design projects that fit perfectly with customer demands. Agile Project Management uses an iterative approach, which focuses on delivering project outputs as quick as possible and in a progressive manner, rather than the ‘one-time bang’ approach. Often, the software and product development industries use this approach in the execution of their plans.

Using the iterative approach, Agile Project Management principles enable software developers to constantly adjust and review their software development processes. This helps to improve their performance incrementally, as they use lessons learnt from output recipients to re-present the deliverables in a subsequent iteration.

Consequently, the Agile Project Management approach allows for constant evaluation and improvement in product development processes. An organisation or team of workers who imbibe the Agile Project Management training becomes more effective in completing any job as fast as it optimises workflow.

Just as the name implies, Agile, this project management approach equips managers and the workforce to quickly alter the direction of a project and remain focused on the new course. Due to frequent changes in demand for a product in the market, software companies and many company’s product processes are frequently adjusted to meet the market demand. Hence, the need for Agile approaches for re-evaluation and adjustments to remain relevant to the market.

This is why this article is set to discuss some case studies on Agile Project Management in software development projects and production processes. We shall look into these companies’ setbacks and how Agile tremendously changed the companies’ respective narratives.

Incorporation of Agile Project Management: A case study on a Software Company

In this current dispensation, any business that does not tend towards digitalisation may be risking becoming extinct. This is no fallacy! The good news is that there is rapid digital transformation going on within the Information Technology (IT) industry. As a result, smaller companies, in particular, can access some of these knowledge cheaply.

Research has further shown that circa two-thirds of company directors seek to accelerate digital business technology in their respective organisations. However, apparently only about 20% achieve this change and enjoy the benefits of business transformation with digitalisation [1] !

A key reason for a high unsuccessful rate is the obvious lack of alignment between business managers and IT experts. Several digital transformations in software processes still focus on changes in the back-end system rather than developing the front-end services through the lenses of the business managers who will utilise the systems that have been designed.

This is the case with our selected company, which is a software agency in West Africa that focuses on digital marketing, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) tools and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) tools. In this company, the focus, in prior times, had always been the end result of using the software.

There is a flaw in this projected view. An objective assessment could conjure an impression that the technical team is the most important functional unit within the organisation. Further, this unit can be portrayed to function in a silo.

With the rapid changes in the digital age, our case-study company has seen that it is not just about altering the backend of their software but also investing more in Agile Project Management . The adoption of the Agile philosophy has helped to knit all the workforce within the software company to work with a streamed, clear and well-defined goals.

In a published interview with Joe Soule, the chief technology officer of the giant financial services organisation, Capital One Europe, he suggested that digital transformation comes when one integrates Agile principles and allow cross-functional teamwork to solve customer challenges. Hence, the daily stand-ups Agile tool was introduced into our case study company.

What do the daily stand-ups imply? This is an Agile approach to manage the process of information dissemination and receipt by the relevant stakeholders of a particular work process. This is usually a brief meeting with the workforce to allow everyone to be in tune with the progress of the on-going project without going into too much detail at the succinct meeting.

In Agile project management, daily stand-up meetings are essential to share critical information, raise any issues openly, and allow team members to become accountable to one another. Ultimately, a stand-up meeting should not take more than 15 minutes. Any issues that require further deliberation are done with the relevant persons after the daily stand-up session is ended.

The Agile stand-up meeting should avoid swaying off the meeting agenda; this would disrupt the purpose of the meeting. Better meetings create a better product. This became our case-study company’s most valued approach to solving the IT industry’s changes and, ultimately, within the organisation.

The company was using this to communicate a salient fact – the people are more important than the technology !

A Shift from Waterfall Methodology to Agile: A Case Study of Ericsson AB

agile project management methodologies

image credit: Pinterest

If you are acquainted with project management, you would, no doubt, have heard or used many approaches to solving business problems. The Lean Six Sigma, Scrum, critical path and the Waterfall are just a few.

The Waterfall model is a traditional business approach used by many businesses before the advent of Agile. The model requires a linear process to project management. It is very strict and requires team members to gather all research information, budget, actual work to be performed, as well as tests to be conducted, before starting the project.

A lot of software testing companies used the Waterfall model since its inception in the early 1970s to deliver the final product in a ‘one-time bang’. A lot of problems have since been identified with this approach. These include: a lengthy project cycle prior to implementation, difficulty in getting change requests authorised, non-user friendly systems deployed etc.

At Ericsson AB, Sweden, the Waterfall model was used for several years. Ericsson AB is a leading and global company offering solutions in telecommunication and multimedia in Europe. The market in which the company operates is characterised as highly dynamic with high innovation in products and solutions [2] .

The case study of Ericsson AB contributes to the illustration of the Waterfall model’s practice within large-scale industrial software development and the identification of its pros and cons. The Waterfall model used at this company follows requirements engineering, design and implementation, testing, release, and maintenance.

However, the challenge about the Waterfall model at Ericsson AB is that most times, the prediction of the outcome of projects is not accurate. Invariably, Ericsson’s toughest challenge was time.

As a result, when the entire team is under pressure to meet up with an urgent market need, they apparently end up cutting away the Waterfall model’s testing stage to meet a deadline. This invariably results in products that are either not properly processed or perhaps become defective soon after use.

Interestingly, Ericsson AB started applying the Agile Project Management philosophy for the first time in 2008. This was after they had realised that the lead time and feedback loops of their products were too long. The increased competition in the telecommunication industry required that the Ericsson products become faster and required continuous product improvement.

This led to the adoption of the Agile Project Management training for its team. The approach used by Ericsson AB was to hire external proficient Agile Project Management trainers. All members on board were trained simultaneously in the Scrum framework of the Agile Project Management processes.

The training worked to transform Ericsson AB from a waterfall linear organisation to a Scrum-like organisation with respective Product Owners and multiple Scrum teams as well as their Scrum Masters to lead each group. Basically, existing project managers were transformed into Scrum masters, coaches, or team members.

Scrum Agile Project Management Framework at Ericsson AB

The Scrum framework is one of the most common Agile Project Management approaches used by many organisations today. This methodology allows a Product Owner to work with a team to develop its products, create a product backlog, a prioritised list of the features and functionalities required to deliver a successful software system. The development team then produces the deliverables in a series of prioritised increments.

The transformation at Ericsson AB is evidenced as an iterative and incremental enabling organisation that is learning all the time by using the Scrum approach. So, a cross-functional team of highly professional individuals was set up to teach Scrum and, of course, software development practices.

Also, the office layout was changed to allow each team to have their working space. This enabled the respective team members to try out something new before a possible scale-up. The organisation later realised that the Scrum framework was the best fit for their Agile Project Management model.

One of the good ways by which the Scrum technique had been applied to transform Ericsson was with planning. In an interview conducted by InfoQ with Hendrik Esser, the manager of a special project at Ericsson, Esser spoke about how Agile helped them re-organise their plans and build what was referred to as Portfolio Management – a lightweight Agile project office.

During the interview, when asked, what practical techniques had been used to make change happen , Esser responded as follows:

“ Early we understood that estimates shouldn’t be (mis-)used any more as a “commitment”, but as an expression of uncertainty and risk. And it should be owned by the team. The method we introduced was “uncertainty ranges”, instead of one “precisely wrong” estimate like “we will deliver this on the 12th of October 10:30 am”, we started saying “According to our current best knowledge we will deliver this between August and November.” We would get a re-estimate after every sprint (continuous learning) and collect these new ranges from the teams to be able to compile an overall picture, that we can discuss with our business management. My organization was in charge of collecting the ranges from the teams. ” [3]

As such, Ericsson was able to transform the expectations of the respective Product Owner(s), whom the development teams were working in conjunction with.

Agile Project Management Principles

Agile project management principles

image credit: Project Manager

No doubt, the Agile Project Management philosophy had greatly improved project success across several industries since its inception. There are 12 major principles applicable to Agile Project Management. These principles remain as a guide for Agile Project Management. These are:

Customer satisfaction through quick and continuous delivery

Agile Project Management ensures that customer satisfaction is a priority. Hence, it provides quick and fast delivery of products to customers.

Changes in requirement are accepted even late in the project

Agile embraces change regardless of the stage the project had reached. This flexibility provides customers with a competitive advantage.

Deliver value frequently

In Agile, products or services are delivered at a higher frequency of occurence.

Cross-functional team work

Agile Project Management allows business managers, developers and stakeholders to collaborate on projects.

Work with motivated individuals

The effectiveness of face-to-face communication.

Face-to-face meetings, like in the case of stand-up meetings at our initial case study above, enables project success.

Measuring progress through working software

Maintenance of sustainable working pace.

Agile allows stakeholders and the development team to maintain a constant pace through sustainable development.

Continuous delivery of excellence enhances agility

Simplicity is essential, a self-organised team produces most value, regular reflection and adjustment boost effectiveness.

These principles still matter today. However, some of these principles have been further challenged or stretched. For example, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in the year 2020 helped to prove that remote work could also deliver the same results as meeting face-to-face physically.

According to a new study among professionals in 19 countries, nearly half of all organisations in these countries have been applying the Agile philosophy for three years or longer. These companies are mainly using Agile for transformation and business successes.

Interestingly, large organisations embrace the Agile philosophy among their small multidisciplinary teams to deliver results in a fast, experimental and iterative manner. Some of these companies that use Agile include Apple, IBM, Microsoft and Procter & Gamble.

In conclusion, Agile Project Management has come to stay and the best companies now adopt its viewpoint to run their businesses effectively. If you want to experience quick transformation within your organisation, now is the best time to embrace the Agile Project Management certification .

[1] https://www.zdnet.com/article/agile-is-changing-software-development-heres-how-one-company-made-the-switch/

[2] The Waterfall Model in Large-Scale Development. http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:835760/FULLTEXT02.pdf

[3] Agile Transformation at Ericsson – InfoQ. https://www.infoq.com/articles/agile-transformation-ericsson/

Agile project management

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Agile Methodology Examples and Case Studies

agile methodology case study

It’s useful for organisations to understand and see agile methodology examples and case studies, to understand if they need to consider this approach.

Long have the times passed where Agile was the sole domain of I.T. or the Tech industry.

Agile is now seen as the optimum business model methodology to adopt for most industries. Most industries or organisations are looking to create effieciencies. In their productivity, increased speed to market, and better employee empowerment and morale.

Who uses Agile Methodology?

ADAPTOVATE has worked with clients from every type of industry including :

  • Intensive Captial Heavy Industry (Energy, Mining, Manufacturing etc)
  • Financial (Banking, Insurance, Loans etc)
  • Health (Pharmacutical, Institutions, etc)
  • Government deparments, agencies, lobby
  • Human Resources
  • Engineering
  • Food & retail (Large chains, manufacting)
  • Not Profit sector

ADAPTOVATE will work closely with our client to best meet the outcome that they are looking for. It should be said that during our assessment we can determine that what a client ‘thinks’ they are looking for oftern turns out not to be what, in actual fact, is needed.

Agile Strategy examples

By undergoing these early discussions, we can determine the agile strategy that will be undertaken. Within ADAPTOVATE we have four key practices we initially operate under. After our assessment, we will undertake our work using one of the following or a combination of all.

  • Agile Operating Model Delivery
  • Agile Delivery Improvement & Scale
  • Agile Business Design & Innovation
  • Business Agility Consulting & Training

Agile Transformation

When embarking on an Agile Transformation of any kind, it’s important to start off the right way. This doesn’t mean, it needs to start big. In fact often times, we may encourage pilot teams . If the organization is global, and is looking to roll a new business model across many teams and regions this can be useful. As business change can involve 1000’s of people, pilot teams can be the way to start. Other times not. Have a look at our article on Top-down vs Bottom-up approaches.

Agile Methodology

The very term ‘ agile methodology ‘ may be confusing, misleading or obstructive to some. Many times, we will engage with an organisation, who have hired us to review their business model and are looking for a new business design to lead them into the future. ‘Agile’ may not even enter the conversation. ADAPTOVATE believe that applying best practices that have formed the basis of Agile methodology, is always going to bring about positive change. However, sometimes it’s useful, particularly when speaking to employees, not to start with the terminology. Change can be difficult. We recognize that, and are able to help leaders and their teams write the playbook of their future.

Case Studies

With all that in mind, we are happy to share with you some case studies from past clients, to help you understand what our role in their business transformation was.

Case Study Government

Case Study Mining

Case Study Financial Service

Agile Examples

For further Agile examples you can head over to our featured stories where we highlight real-life stories from some of our clients and guests.

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    Agile tools, methodologies and thought processes can add significant value and benefit to projects outside of the IT world if applied correctly. In this paper, the author provides an example of incorporating agile into software development projects with a generic, non-IT focus and how these tools and methods fit into traditional project and program methods. The paper cites two case studies ...

  15. Agile Delphi methodology: A case study on how technology impacts

    The findings of this study were validated in two ways: one validation compared the agile Delphi methodology (MAD) and the traditional Delphi methodology to check if MAD is more agile and efficient. As the results reported in the "Case study" section show, we can state that the agile Delphi methodology (MAD) is more agile and efficient than ...

  16. 5 Success Stories That Will Make You Believe in Scaled Agile

    Below we present five case studies that demonstrate just that - that scaling Agile is not only possible, but can also yield great benefits. We hope you'll learn something new from these examples! 1. LEGO Agile framework used: Scaled Agile Framework ( SAFe) Year started: 2015

  17. Agile methodology

    This Agile Manifesto — led to a fundamental change in how software is developed and projects are managed. 76% of users choosing an enterprise Agile planning tool do so to increase their...

  18. (PDF) Transforming to agile audit: A case study research

    And a case study, using the approach we proposed, will be put forward and analyzed. ... KEYWORDS: Agile methodology, waterfall approach, Scrum, regulatory compliance projects, project management ...

  19. A case study of our first product launch with Agile methodology

    After running 6 sprints to release an e-commerce insurance product, I made a case study of our journey with Agile methodology and presented the key success factors to the Executive Committee, as ...

  20. Homepage

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  21. Agile Project Management Implementation

    1 Incorporation of Agile Project Management: A case study on a Software Company 2 A Shift from Waterfall Methodology to Agile: A Case Study of Ericsson AB 3 Scrum Agile Project Management Framework at Ericsson AB 3.1 Agile Project Management Principles 3.1.1 Customer satisfaction through quick and continuous delivery

  22. Agile Methodology Examples and Case Studies

    Capabilities case studies. Agile Coaching. Agile Transformation. Human Centred Design. Other case studies