Recently a group of professors online asked me whether Scrum at Scale works. They agreed that agile approaches worked for small teams but were wondering about large projects. I told them they needed to do their homework and read the literature, also talk to the leading companies in the world that are implementing Scrum.
Predictive vs. Empirical
What Ken Schwaber and I learned from Prof. Oggunaike and Ray, authors of "Process Engineering and Control" is that Dupont chemical plants have two types of processes, predictive processes with less than a few percent variation during production, and empirical processes which have larger variation. Every Dupont chemical plant that exploded was the result of applying a predictive process control system to an empirical process. They pointed out that traditional waterfall project management is a predictive process control system which will lead to large failure rates whenever changes in requirements exceed a few percent. That is why the software project failure rate is 89% for traditional project management. It is a totally inappropriate process control mechanism in an environment where 65% of requirements change during development. In fact, the Professors laughed at us for being so stupid and continuing to do waterfall project management in the face of overwhelming project failure. They said "read the process control book and make Scrum an empirical process control system." We followed their instructions!
Examples of Scrum and Agile Teams Rescuing Failed Waterfall Projects
You can read how the FBI solved the 9/11 tracking problem by moving from waterfall to Scrum in my book "Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in half the Time." The first chapter describes the details of the project to integrate all data needed to track terrorists. After many years with hundreds of people and $400M expended, the U.S. General Accounting Office shut the project down because nothing worked and no end was in sight. The FBI hired an agile CIO and CTO. They put about 10% of the original staff in the basement of the FBI building doing Scrum and completed the project for less than $50M. This project today is used to run all FBI operations. The Obamacare healthcare.gov site was rescued even faster by a six person agile team from Silicon Valley in 6 weeks. There are many experiences of this type and this is the reason that Congress passed a law some years ago that all DOD IT projects must be agile and why the U.S. Post Office regulations require Scrum or you will be fired.
Scrum for Larger Projects? Yes Scrum Scales
You can read how an aggressive Scrum company thrives supporting 17,000 customers in the cloud by looking at a retrospective on Acquia, a Scrum training partner. Salesforce.com is even bigger and has many hundreds of Scrum teams. SAP, another training partner, has 2,000 Scrum teams. Amazon is working with our CSM Hardware Train the Trainer courses and they have 1000 Scrum teams.
Can agile development be applicated in traditional product development? - ResearchGate. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/post/Can_agile_development_be_applicated_in_traditional_product_development#587e45fb4048543121791b6b [accessed Jan 17, 2017].