Scaled Agile Framework for Lean Enterprises (SAFe)

Scaled Agile, Inc says: “SAFe is the world’s leading framework for scaling Agile across the enterprise. SAFe sustains and drives faster time-to-market, dramatic increases in productivity and quality, and improvement in employee engagement.
It provides a knowledge base of proven, integrated principles, practices and competencies for Lean, Agile, and DevOps to support enterprise agility.”
There website (Scaledagileframework.com) is very interactive and loaded with additional resources to get you started.

My conclusion

It comes back to ‘start small, learn, adapt and grow”. I would not start with implementing a Full SAFe, but start – after you reached the famous tipping point – with Essential SAFe and evolve. I could imagine, that a Full SAFe implementation could bring an organisation to the breaking point as so many moving parts have to change. Just my personal view and experience around organisation change.

What I liked

We had a great mix of people in our course, as the participants came from a wide spectrum of roles and organisations. Our Senior Instructor Sarah supported the interactivity, so we got good insights into the challenges that organisations are facing and that some of these challenges might not be solved by the SAFe framework. Examples from Sarah and the Planit Agile coaches, who have been part of SAFe implementations before, enriched the experience. Combined with the various scenarios from the participants, this was creating the necessary context.

What comes across well is the moving away from project thinking and moving towards building a product. This should really help with easier value identification and its realisation. The life of a product feels more logical than just a one-off project delivery.

At the end of day 1 we went through a PI Planning exercise and with the participants playing various SAFe roles, we got a good feel for this important ceremony. PI Planning looks like a great event to align the team, understand the upcoming work and get it right!

It reminds me very much of a ceremony called IGNITE that Adept introduced many years ago to kick-off initiatives. The power of getting the right stakeholders into a room to discuss scope, deliverables, outcomes and risks achieves fantastic results in a short time. You do not need SAFe to do something like this!

The challenges with Continuous Testing, Integration and Release on Demand became clear. And the participants agreed that every organisation must understand that this cannot be achieved without some serious investment into platforms and processes to make the CONTINUOUS happen…

Last but not least, I appreciated the focus on lean-agile leadership, which is crucial to the success of an implementation and an early iteration of the Agile movement, somehow was forgotten.

What makes me wonder

SAFe does not talk consistently in business language, it is jargon and acronym-rich, somehow creating new barriers. A sprint turns into an iteration now, a Program Increment is introduced, and you are flooded with acronyms like ART, RTE, SPC, IP, PI, I&A or CI. Other terms you have used in the past, now get the addition of ‘lean’ like lean budgeting, lean portfolio management and lean governance. Let’s assume that is done, to break with the past of these functions.

As it is only a framework, there will be some white spots on an implementation roadmap you might have to ‘colour’ in. This is a good thing, as an implementation cannot be a cookie-cutting exercise.

On the second look It is a heavy framework and its ‘depth of wisdom’ seems to jump quite a bit from practical, to theoretical or fluffy (e.g. Portfolio SAFe), at least from my perspective as a former PMO Leader. A lot of new roles are created through SAFe and I am not completely sure if the interactions between these roles/teams are always clearly enough explained. There is ambiguity between roles e.g. product management vs. product owner, system teams vs. agile development teams and the usual architecture functions. Many of these interaction problems might only appear if you plan a Full SAFe implementation.

DevOPs was mentioned very briefly and looked simple – there is obviously more complexity to it. The operational aspects of it all (environments, practices and tools) came a bit short as well, but it is not a DevOps course.

I was surprised that the emphasis on the potentially shippable increment (after every iteration) felt toned down. The big emphasis is on a PI release, which might be quarterly. But at the end you can decouple the release from the release trains.

There were interesting discussions around the Innovation and Planning Iteration, which sounds important enough to include, but tough to argue with your Finance team when it comes to capitalisation of assets. This just shows that Finance has to be taken on the journey as well.

Famous last thoughts

As I read somewhere:” SAFE doesn’t mean, you don’t have to think.” What you implement, has to be cohesive, transparent and well communicated and then it can work for your organisation. And it is a journey, isn’t it!?

In order to earn your “Leading SAFe” honours, you have to be part of a SAFe implementation to listen, learn and grow. Next up for me: The exams before I go on a hopefully safe Europe holiday.