Agile at Scale 3.0 – The unFIX model

During the past 20 years, we have seen many frameworks for scaling agility from the team level to the overall business. SAFe, LeSS, Spotify, Holocracy, Nexus, Scrum@Scale… you name it. Every model has a different focal point, some are similar and some complement each other, in a crowdy scenario. The new conceptualization from Jurgen Appelo, the unFIX model, appears to recap the essence of many different sources, with the freedom of a minimalist approach as well as the option of a scaled larger implementation.

The unFIX model in short

The unFIX model is quite new, a few months old in January 2022. I recap here my first understanding of its basic elements. At the bottom of the post, I added links and references for a more in-depth analysis.

unFIX model
The unFIX model
Used with permission

The Crew

Foundational to the model is the Crew, also named Team or Squad in other frameworks. The world Crew is used to suggest that “its members manage a journey together“. They create value together, and together they decide how they get their work done.

The Crew is a value unit that offers value to internal or external customers/stakeholders and can be formed of three to seven people (the optimum team size being five). There are seven different kinds of Crews, four of them derived from the Team Topologies approach. 1) Value stream (stream aligned team), 2) Facilitation (enabling team), 3) Platform (platform team) and 4) Capability ( complicated subsystem team). The three additional Crew types are 5) Governance Crew, 6) Experience Crew, 7) Acquisition Crew.

Typically, the primary team (Crew) type is the Value Streams Crew, with end-to-end responsibility for a value stream.

Compared with LeSS Teams, which are stable and long-lived, Crews are less static, allowing for dynamic reteaming now and then.

The Captain

The Captain is a Crew member with final responsibility on “whatever happens on the journey”. Nonetheless, a fully developed Crew should be able to self-organize, with very few decisions needed to be taken by the Captain alone.

He is part of the Crew and has no line management responsibility. By title, he could be Product Manager, Project Manager, or Platform manager but he does not decide on compensations, promotions, career development of the Crew members

The Base

The Base, similarly to the Tribe of the Spotify model, is a Business Unit composed of a number of Crews, for a total of between 10 to 150 people. The Base defines the overall purpose of the Crews that operate from it. It includes all the skills needed to create products and the authority to act as an independent business. There are four types of bases:

  • Fully Integrated Base. They consist of multiple value streams, creating whole products, like in SAFe and LeSS frameworks. Examples are Coca-Cola, or Apple.
  • Strongly Aligned Base. Here, multiple value stream support the creation of multiple products with indipendent value chains, altough they are offered to customers altogether. The Spotify Model was initially created for these kind of Base. Examples are Microsoft, or P&G.
  • Loosely Aligned Base. Here the products produced are offered indepentently, with little or no integration between them, to the same customers.Unilever, with its offering comprsing ice cream, shampoo, soup cube, is a good example.
  • Fully Segregated Base. They support different products offered to different markets and customers without any integration. Virgin Goup, with independent products and customers in aeropace, fitness, travel, is a good example.

The basic unFIX model and more evoluted implementation

You can start a very basic implementation of the model with the three elements described: a self-organizing Crew, a Captain, a Base. However, the model includes other elements to support scale and more structured implementations.

Forums allow specialists to talk and discuss standards, best practices, new ideas with like-minded individuals. They are the equivalent of Chapters in the Spotify model. Forums are formally created by the Chiefs of the Base and moderated by the Chair, a primus inter pares senior member of the base. The Chair is not the manager of the people in the forum, he has no authority over compensation, or promotion. When informal cross-base collaboration is needed a Super-Forum can be created as a Community of Practice, similarly to the Guild in the Spotify model.

The team of Chiefs leads the Business, with typical roles being Chief Product, Chief Technology, Chief Marketing. The model states that Chiefs have line management responsibilities for the people in their base. Chiefs are explicitly introduced to avoid the matrix management problem of a person with two bosses, a potential issue with other scaling frameworks.

Multiple bases can be organized in a Super-Base. These are Divisional levels structures, with their own Management team. There is no such concept in the Spotify model, but a similar idea can be found at the Solution Train level in SAFe, where multiple ART- Agile Release Trains deliver to similar customers.

The Innovation Vortex is the supported process for Continous Improvement and Innovation, merging Design Thinking and Lean StartUp approaches.

The Innovation Vortex has 7 streams: Contextualize (Focus), Empathize (Discover), Synthesize (Define), Hypothesize (Ideate), Externalize (Build), Sensitize (Test), Systematize (Learn)

I was not able to find an explicit process for Planning, similar to Sprint Planning one and two in LeSS, or PI Planning in SAFe. I am not sure whether Crews are supposed to find their own ways to emergent, agile planning, or due to the work-in-progress characteristics of the model, a specific planning approach will be added shortly to the unFIX concept.

The elements of the model are supposed to be potentially combined to form different (temporary) structures supporting different strategies and business models, and a sort of Continous Transformation.

To Further explore the topic

The following list can be useful if you desire to further investigate the ideas behind the unFIX model, and the agile at scale topic

The UnFIX Model

Other Agile Scaling models

Resources on the most used scaling models and frameworks can be found at (listed in alphabetical order):