Introduction to LeSS
By Rowan Bunning
What is LeSS?
LeSS is a well established approach to achieving a high degree of agility in multi-team product development. Its design is based on hundreds of experiments in large-scale development efforts for over a decade in a variety of domains and across a variety of geographies.
LeSS is useful for efforts involving more than 10 people (2+ teams of Developers). It is used in adoptions involving thousands of people.
In keeping with the empirical simplicity of Scrum, the LeSS frameworks add as little as possible to single team Scrum to address the many challenges of multi-team development. These include co-ordination, dependencies, technical excellence and improvement of the overall product organisation.
- 10 principles, made concrete in…
- 28 rules (40 in LeSS Huge), connected in the form of…
- 2 frameworks, whose adoption is guided by…
- 101 guides, which are based on…
- 648 experiments in large product organisations.
Figure 1 (right): LeSS comprises Principles, Frameworks, Guides and Experiments
How LeSS differs from other scaling frameworks
Unlike other scaling frameworks:
- LeSS is multi-team Scrum, not multiple Scrum Teams.
- LeSS is designed throughout to optimise for agility in order to discover and deliver the highest customer value. Note that “agility” specifically means i.e. adaptiveness with low cost of change. In contrast, the creators of other scaling approaches emphasise “hyper-productivity” or “program execution” as their goals.
- LeSS seeks to answer how a product organisation designed end-to-end for agility would be structured rather than seeking to make the existing structure more Agile.
- LeSS addresses the space otherwise occupied by temporary projects, programs and portfolios or narrowly defined “products” by replacing such abstractions by organising around broad and long-lived customer-centric products.
- Through elimination of these and other constructs, LeSS aims to substantially simplify the organisation a.k.a. “de-scaling” to achieve improved transparency and agility.
LeSS framework for a few teams
The first of the two LeSS frameworks is for up to 8 teams. On the surface it looks single team Scrum with a small number of additions and more specific event implementations.
Figure 2: the LeSS (Basic) framework
Like single team Scrum, LeSS has:
- all Scrum events, artefacts and roles,
- only cross-functional teams,
- a single Product Backlog (related to the product, not the teams),
- a single Product Owner for the product,
- a single Increment that is inspected at the end of Sprint,
- a single Definition of Done for all teams,
- the principles Empirical Process Control, Transparency and Lean Thinking, and
- vast space left undefined for situational learning, customisation and teams owning (not renting) their own processes.
Product centric and Team centric events
LeSS defines which events are product centric and singular and which are team centric and multiple.
- A single Sprint container for all teams enabling synchronous collaboration
- A single Sprint Planning “What” topic meeting to decide and make transparent which team selects which Product Backlog Items
- Multiple Sprint Planning “How” topic meetings for each team with potential for multi-team planning for closely related items
- Multiple Daily Scrums for each team
- A single Sprint Review for the whole product with guidance on how to facilitate this with many participants
- Multiple Sprint Retrospectives for each team
Additions to single-team Scrum
Whilst on the surface, LeSS looks much like single-team Scrum, there are however some important additions that address challenges at multi-team scale. LeSS adds to the Scrum events:
- Overall Product Backlog Refinement (PBR) and multi-team PBR. This generates shared understanding of a given Product Backlog Item across members of multiple teams so as to maximise agility, whole product focus and ability to collaborate across teams during the Sprint
- Many techniques for cross-team co-ordination with an emphasis on decentralised techniques such as Just Talk, Integrate Continuously, Communicate in Code, Component Mentors, Scouts, Travellers and Communities.
- Overall Retrospective. This involves studying the overall product group using Systems Thinking techniques for improvement to the organisational system.
Figure 3: six of the many coordination techniques described in LeSS guides
LeSS adds to the Scrum artefacts:
- A single Product Backlog for the whole product on which there may be configurable views.
- A single minimum standard Definition of Done for all teams.
- Use of the Definition of Done and it’s “Undone work” compliment as a core indicator of capability and improvement opportunity toward potentially shippable every Sprint (or more frequently).
LeSS adds to the Scrum roles:
- One Product Owner only for a product
- Product Owner focus on prioritisation whilst delegating most clarification of Product Backlog items to teams working directly with users/customers and other stakeholders
- The majority of teams are Feature Teams (rather Component teams constrained by structure to a subset of components necessary to deliver features)
- A strong emphasis on long lived Feature Teams that are cross-component in addition to cross-functional
- Scrum Master is a full-time dedicated role
- A Scrum Master may work closely with up to 3 teams but is to work to optimise the overall product organisation
- Guidance on how the optional role of managers in the product organisation changes from managing to improving the capability
LeSS adds to Scrum guidance on matters of adoption including:
- Product definition as a pre-requisite
- Rapidly changing the entire structure at the outset of adoption
- Deep and narrow over wide and shallow initial adoption
LeSS Huge framework for many teams
LeSS has a second framework called “LeSS Huge”. This enables a LeSS adoption to scale upwards of 8 teams whilst maximising opportunity for agility without the cognitive load for a single Product Owner and the logistics of multi-team events becoming too great.
LeSS Huge is the same as LeSS with the addition of:
- Area Product Owners (APOs)
- Requirement Areas in the Product Backlog and Area Backlogs (typically as views on the Product Backlog
- Parallel multi-team events grouped by requirement area
Figure 4: The LeSS Huge framework
Through experimentation over many years and varied contexts, the following principles were shown to be particularly important to achieving the optimising goal of LeSS.
- Scrum: Large-Scale Scrum is Scrum, Transparency, Empirical Process Control
- Lean: Lean Thinking, Continuous Improvement Towards Perfection, Queuing Theory
- Systems Thinking
- Also: More with LeSS, Whole Product Focus, Customer Centric
Figure 5: The LeSS Principles
Like Scrum, LeSS has a small number of rules that leave vast space for empiricism and learning. These rules provide a very short summary of LeSS and are available at: less.works/less/rules/index
less.works is the official LeSS website. Each element on the home page is clickable to reveal more information.
Figure 6: The LeSS “big picture” on the less.works home page.
There are three books on LeSS. The most straight-forward to read first is the latest book:
Larman, Craig, and Bas Vodde. Large-Scale Scrum: More with LeSS. 1st ed. Addison-Wesley Professional, 2016. Print.
This book describes the LeSS frameworks and includes many Guides to advise on their implementation.
Chapter 2 provides a story of an example Sprint using LeSS Sprint. It is freely available on the LeSS website at: less.works/less/framework/introduction
For a deeper understanding of the principles and experiments behind the frameworks and guides, the first two LeSS books are excellent resources.
Larman, Craig, and Bas Vodde. Scaling Lean & Agile Development: Thinking and Organizational Tools for Large-Scale Scrum. First. Addison-Wesley Professional, 2008. Print.
Larman, Craig, and Bas Vodde. Practices for Scaling Lean & Agile Development: Large, Multisite, and Offshore Product Development with Large-Scale Scrum. First. Addison-Wesley Professional, 2010. Print.
There are four training offerings available that are entirely focused on LeSS. These are:
- Certified LeSS Basics: Short one-day Teaser to LeSS (typically 1 day equivalent)
- Certified LeSS Practitioner: Principles to Practices and online variant provisional Certified LeSS Practitioner (typically 3 day equivalent)
- Certified LeSS for Executives: Principles, Organization, and Change
- LeSS & Learn: Deepening Knowledge and Sharing Experiences
If you are interested in a LeSS-related briefing, training or a workshop about what approach to (de)scaling may be best fit for your organisation, please contact Scrum WithStyle.
Many thanks to Craig Larman and Bas Vodde for pioneering the LeSS experimentation and thinking on which this summary is based. Images are courtesy of The LeSS Company B.V.