The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®), codified by Dean Leffingwell, but based on a tremendous amount of real experiences in many companies, is a guide to scaling Agile practices across the enterprise. It is a proven framework based on Lean, Systems Thinking and Agile Development principles that is increasingly gaining greater recognition and adoption throughout medium and large corporations.
So why might you want to consider SAFe for your own organization? Here are 5 reasons why:
1. If you have successfully experimented with Agile at the team level and you are now interested in implementing a consistent Agile approach across larger, multi-team programs and portfolios.
Many organizations start with Agile by experimenting with one or two teams. Eventually, after some moderate success, interest in replicating this success across the enterprise grows. That is when much deeper adoption challenges begin to surface. Some oft-heard questions include,
“How do we take these practices and processes that are designed with a small team in mind and scale them up and out across our program or whole organization?”
“How do we align multiple teams, programs, and departments to deliver something of greater substance and market value than what one or two teams can produce?”
“How do we align multiple business departments and IT for greater collaboration, effectiveness, and efficiency in building and shipping software?”
SAFe addresses each of these questions and more by identifying key Lean, Systems Thinking and Agile principles and practices that scale well and must be held in common across your teams and programs for scaling success.
2. If you have multiple teams running their own unique implementation of Agile but you regularly experience obstacles, delays, and failures when the teams are dependent on one another.
It’s not uncommon for large organizations to have a few teams implement their own take on Agile and do so successfully for the work in which they are fully autonomous. However, such organizations often struggle when planning releases that involve more than one Agile team. Some common reasons for this include…
- Teams operating on different iteration cadences
- Teams using different Agile frameworks
- Teams using different technical practices for architecture and code quality, and
- Teams relying on different tools for managing their Agile lifecycle and reporting progress.
Learn about having a successful ART PI planning event in this post from Troy Plant, 5 Tips for Successful SAFe Release Planning
SAFe outlines a consistent approach to planning, execution and delivery of value. The method for doing so is referred to as an Agile Release Train (ART). An ART is a lightweight “program container” that brings multiple Agile teams together on a consistent cadence every 8-12 weeks known as a Program Increment (PI). At the beginning of each PI, the ART comes together to plan what they will deliver in that PI. This opportunity to work together as a team of teams helps organizations uncover, plan for, and address cross-team dependencies, risks, and impediments. During the PI, the teams on the ART use well-known practices like the Scrum-of-Scrums to remain in sync on cross-team dependencies and new practices like cross-team System Demos every two weeks to inspect and adapt the product from a customer-centric point of view.
Finally, at the end of each PI, the ART inspects and adapts on what (product) and how (process) they delivered in the previous 8 to 12 weeks.
3. If you are eager to scale Agile across the organization but are not sure what new roles may be needed and what existing roles (ie management) need to change and how.
Implementing Agile across your organization is a significant change that will no doubt raise questions and potential fears about current roles and potentially new roles. What new roles do you need, if any, to be successful? What about management? Do they still have a role? If so, does it need to change? And, if so, how?
These questions about roles and responsibilities are addressed by SAFe across team, program, and portfolio levels. For example, IT Enterprise Architecture holds a seat at the portfolio table to ensure that the necessary “enablers” or “architectural runway” (technology and infrastructure) is established in time to realize the business vision. As for management, suffice it to say, they must “lead the way” and are an important role within SAFe, though there will be some new mindsets and practices to adopt.
4. If you have attempted to scale Agile across your organization but you have struggled to achieve consistent strategy across business departments and consistent alignment from the portfolio level to the program and team levels.
A common challenge with enterprise-scale software development, Agile or not, is establishing and maintaining alignment with the vision and strategy from top to bottom across the organization. Oftentimes, there is a struggle just to align multiple business departments with the same strategy. And even when there is alignment across business departments, there is yet another challenge to ensure that strategy is clearly communicated and delivered upon all the way down at the team levels. Even with alignment, large queues and wishful-thinking may still prevail and need to be addressed.
While SAFe certainly will not solve every problem in your organization, it does provide a framework for implementing Lean, Systems Thinking and Agile consistently from portfolio though team levels. At each level, key roles, responsibilities, practices and metrics are identified that embody Lean|Agile principles, and when applied consistently can help you establish flow and alignment of work top to bottom. Detailing how this cohesion is achieved in SAFe is beyond the scope of this article, but you can get a solid visual of the process via the SAFe Big Picture.
5. If you know your organization needs to improve its product development lead times and you’ve heard about the success that other companies have experienced scaling Agile with SAFe and you want to know how they did it.
It’s no secret that more and more large companies, old and new, such as John Deere, Discount Tire, Spotify, Salesforce.com and others have figured out how to scale Agile (via SAFe or custom approaches) to shorten their product development lead times and frequently deliver working software to delighted customers. And now it isn’t just software and technology companies filling this space, but companies in more traditional domains such as finance, logistics, insurance, and government that are seeking to scale Agile in search of the same benefits.
SAFe is a proven and well-documented approach to bringing its principles, values and benefits to the wider enterprise. It provides a comprehensive view of the business and technical principles and practices needed from top to bottom of the enterprise to successfully scale Agile. These principles and practices aren’t all entirely new or unique to SAFe but have been pulled together into a cohesive package ready for deployment in your organization.
Lastly, thanks to my colleague Scott Frost for his assistance in authoring this post. It’s always a pleasure to work with you!