White Paper: Scaling Agile using VSM

Applying the Viable System Model to the challenge of Scaling Agile


The Agile movement has grown from its beginnings in the software development community into something that many organisations now aspire to be. But it is naïve to believe that a whole organisation can become ‘agile’ by doing the same things at a different scale (as team of teams of teams etc) no matter how successful these practices have proven to be in a particular and much more specific context. And organisations as a whole cannot become agile by nailing an Agile process or organisational unit to an infrastructure that is structured and run in a different way, based on some very different assumptions. Sticking a Ferrari engine in a bus doesn’t make it a racing car.

It was with these issues in mind that we were asked to develop a framework to help organisations work out how to translate the principles that have proven to be so successful for developing and delivering software into a form that can be applied for all business activities at any organisational scale. Fortunately, we did not have to start from scratch. The Viable Systems Model (VSM) provides a conceptual framework for scaling which can be developed to meet this need and we reconciled it with our practical experience of working with large, technology-dependent organisations. How VSM relates to the more general challenge of business agility is outlined in the companion document.

As a result Patrick Hoverstadt, Mike Burrows and Steve Morlidge were asked to explore whether and how the Viable System Model (VSM) might be applied to this end. All three are experts on the VSM with experience of working with Agile methods. Their work is summarised in this and supporting documents and is aimed at decision makers and influencers within the ABC community, not a wider audience of Agile practitioners and leaders.

Please note white papers reflect the opinions of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the recommendations or guidance of the Agile Business Consortium.