The “Anna Karenina” Principle in Agile

09. November 2015 0
The “Anna Karenina” Principle in Agile

On November 3rd, The Agile Group of Project Management Institute’s New York City Chapter, invited me to speak to their members about Agile implementation at scale. It was an interesting opportunity to learn what the major challenges of Agile implementations from a project management perspective are and to share the patterns that make an Agile transformation at scale a success.

Leo Tolstoy’s book Anna Karenina begins:

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

We can refer to it as the “Anna Karenina Principle” which is fully applicable to implementing Agile at scale. Imagine, you rolled out Agile in your organization successfully and your energized teams are delivering high quality software on cadence. What does management say next? Let’s scale! You coach more, establish repeatable practices, coach the teams, but all of a sudden, it all falls apart. Unmanaged dependencies, overlapping product backlogs, conflicting roadmaps which bring quality issues, delays in delivery, frustrated teams, and unhappy stakeholders.


Scaling Agile is still a hot topic years after the first failed attempts of Agile implementation at an enterprise level. There are many successful examples of scaling Agile at a significant scale. Between multiple scaling models (SAFe, DAD, LeSS) there is something in common that makes or breaks it. Remember the Anna Karenina Principle? “All happy Agile implementations at scale are alike; all unhappy implementations are different.” The goal of my presentation was to offer practical advice for organizations that want to follow the pattern of “happy” implementations of Agile at scale.

The audience asked a ton of questions about each of the patterns presented. Project and program managers and directors of Project Management organizations wanted to know about Acceptance Test Driven Development (ATDD), program management in Agile, culture and resistance, the role of middle management in Agile, and multiple other practical topics of Agile implementations. It was a great sharing opportunity, and yet another way that InRhythm contributes to community knowledge.

You can find my deck from the presentation on slideshare.

Written by Mariya Breyter

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