Agile Denver Session Notes: Unscaling

Update:  For our latest thinking on scaling and organizational agility see Scaling: Principles not Practices.

For those who attended last night’s Agile Denver meetup, here are the slides and some additional resources for you…

Unscaling (Agile Denver 2014-08-25)

For those who couldn’t make it, my slides aren’t intended to tell the whole story on their own, but you may be able to get some value from them. The most common question I’m getting from people who see just the slides is about the source for the charts on pages 10-12.

The line chart is from J. Richard Hackman and is simply math—the number of unique links between individuals in a group of size N is N(N-1)/2. My stacked bar chart was an argument from that based on reason rather than an empirical argument. Given an exponentially increasing number of links, a non-zero coordination cost per link, and fixed capacity per person, at some point coordination overtakes other activities and continues to do so. This is one of those situations where collecting actual data is near impossible but where we can still reason about the shape of the curves. We can do things to move the inflection point of the curve, which is why there are no numbers, but the shape will stay the same.

More on team size from Robert Sutton and Jurgen Appelo (and you can find more on the topic in Jurgen’s book Management 3.0)

An excellent overview of Cynefin from Liz Keogh

More from me on Conway’s Law and T-shaped people

The post I referenced from Chris Matts on staff liquidity

Towards the end of the session, I mentioned Geonetric’s company-wide Agile adoption. Here’s the latest post about it on their blog.

Were you at the meetup? Share your biggest takeaway in the comments below…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Richard Lawrence

Is co-owner of Agile For All. He trains and coaches people to collaborate more effectively with other people to solve complex, meaningful problems. He draws on a diverse background in software development, engineering, anthropology, and political science. Richard is a Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coach and Certified Scrum Trainer, as well as a certified trainer of the accelerated learning method, Training from the Back of the Room. His book, Behavior-Driven Development with Cucumber, was published by Addison-Wesley in 2019 (for more information, visit

Connect Twitter LinkedIn Subscribe to RSS Feed Blog posts by this author