LIC – Adopting SAFe in Agriculture

LIC - Adopting SAFe in Agriculture

“The fact that we delivered for the biggest industry event of the year was hugely motivating and moved us from a negative to a positive spiral. The business was a bit surprised and shocked that we did what we said we would do on something that was quite big and complicated. There’s no way we could have done it without SAFe.”

Paul Littlefair, CIO, Livestock Improvement Corp.


Six months before the biggest annual industry event, IT leadership recognized that it would likely not deliver a new release as planned.




SAFe® 4.0


  • Time to market – A 75% reduction in the time to get features to market
  • Customer value – With more frequent releases, customers see value much faster
  • Quality – A 25% reduction in defects in production
  • Predictability – 98% accuracy on the delivery predictability
  • Morale – A 60% jump in employee engagement survey results

Best Practices:

  • Deploy SAFe by the book – “Adopting an industry best-practices system like SAFe off the shelf has forced us to transition and change in the way we needed to,” Littlefair says.
  • Be lean with SAFe – To implement quickly ahead of an industry event, LIC used only what was essential.
  • Focus on the business outcome – Look beyond the implementation at the objectives for implementing SAFe/Agile. “This will then allow the business to be ruthless in getting early wins, and shift from a cost-driven culture to one of value,” Clark says.


In New Zealand, Fieldays is billed as “the biggest agricultural trade show in the Southern Hemisphere.” Every June, more than 115,000 farming industry visitors come to purchase equipment and learn about the latest in farming advances.

LIC - Adopting SAFe in Agriculture

For Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC), it’s a can’t-miss opportunity to connect with current and prospective customers—farmers. One of the oldest farming co-operatives in the country, LIC provides a range of services and solutions to help farmers be more prosperous and productive: genetics and information to create superior livestock; information to improve farmer decision-making; and hardware and systems to improve productivity. To achieve those goals, more than 700 employees are based in offices around New Zealand, increasing to around 2,000 for the peak dairy mating season

As Big Data and other technologies begin to heavily influence farming practices, LIC is riding a wave of growth. As LIC prepared for Fieldays 2016, the co-op planned a new release of MINDA Live, the company’s proprietary herd management system. Yet the organization’s IT leadership lacked confidence about delivering as planned—and with good reason. Historically, IT had rarely delivered on time or budget.

“Every time we failed to deliver we did a post-mortem, but didn’t learn from our mistakes, and it would happen again a few months later,” says Paul Littlefair, CIO.

Deploying Essential SAFe®

LIC was an early adopter of Lean-Agile team practices. However, they still performed most IT work with a waterfall governance process.

“We still had incredibly large, multi-year projects, and detailed analysis to write business cases,” Littlefair says. “In typical waterfall fashion, we didn’t test until the end or consider quality from the beginning. It took a lot of rework to get it right, leading to overruns.”

With the Fieldays deadline looming, Littlefair decided to call in Gillian Clark for an assessment of their readiness. To Clark, it was unclear whether teams would deliver as needed for the big event.

To expedite progress, Clark recommended that LIC implement the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®). Given the short timeframe and the team’s unfamiliarity with the Framework, they chose to deploy Essential SAFe, a subset of SAFe that includes 10 major elements necessary for a successful implementation.

“The approach was, get everyone into a room, align teams into a single Agile Release Train (ART) with a focus on integration, and focus on delivery of the program with a single program backlog, with one person coordinating the project managers and pooled budgets. Up to that point they had three project managers fighting for budget and resources, so we merged them,” Clark says.

Given the approaching deadline—just six months out—Littlefair and Clark encountered some resistance to trying something new. They asked everyone to participate in the PI planning, including Operations, which had not participated in planning previously. The CEO likewise attended, which set the tone for the importance of the launch.

“Putting everyone in a room together to talk about stuff—instead of building it—was seen as something we should not do,” Littlefair says. “But we made it mandatory for everyone to attend.”

In spite of initial misgivings, some of those who had been unsure began to recognize the value of face-to-face collaboration during the first day of Program Increment (PI) planning. Specifically, they saw how their roles and their work tied to others.

“It slowly dawned on them that they were on the same critical path as everyone else in the room,” Clark says. “They also began to realize the project outcomes were at risk and that SAFe practices were providing more understanding of what needed to happen to be successful.”

For the first time, teams were working on the same cadence, an essential step in synchronizing everyone across the organization. Soon, they fell into a flow and started to self manage. Communication and transparency improved; instead of making assumptions, individuals started identifying dependencies with others, and making sure those dependencies were discussed and accepted.

Delivering for Fieldays and Beyond

When Cerno first introduced DevOps practices, the company lacked a SAFe DevOps Practitioner. Still, they made progress on a delivery pipeline and staging environment, supported a grayscale release of a product, and shortened the time to release future versions.

LIC - Adopting SAFe in Agriculture

Beyond that release, LIC notes improvements across multiple areas:

  • Time-to-market – A 75% reduction in the time to get features to market (from 12 to 24 months down to three to six months). Features are now released twice a week for COBOL and legacy solutions.
  • Customer value – With more frequent releases, customers now see value much faster. “Customers have absolutely noticed,” Littlefair says. “Whenever something goes out, we post it on social media and we’re seeing a lot more engagement and real-time feedback there.”
  • Quality – A 25% reduction in defects in production
  • Predictability – 98% accuracy on delivery predictability
  • Morale – A 60% improvement in employee engagement survey results

Culture Shift

LIC’s SAFe journey has led to numerous changes across the organization. For one, meetings look quite different than they did before SAFe was adopted. Initially, some leaders preferred not to include all teams in planning meetings. Now, everyone joins, and Littlefair notes, teams hold each other more accountable and ask more insightful questions.

Before, analysts would write involved business cases and ‘push’ them on teams. These days, product owners make sure work is properly sized and teams ‘pull’ the work.

On the Path of Value-Stream Funding

Currently, LIC runs three ARTs and has extended SAFe across the entire technical landscape. Having moved beyond Essential SAFe, the co-op is now on a course to fund projects at the value stream level. Business leaders now clearly see the value of their investments, and discussions center on priorities in terms of features and benefits.

“SAFe has succeeded in a culture and mindset change,” Littlefair says. “We have a set of processes, rules, and practices that work extremely well, and that have led a cultural shift.”

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Suggested Case Study: Amdocs

Westpac – Implementing SAFe in Banking Services

Westpac - Implementing SAFe in Banking Services

Everyone hearing the same message from the same trainers at the same time was a huge enabler for alignment and a ‘one-team’ culture.”

Em Campbell-Pretty, Context Matters


After the successful rollout of a new online banking platform, Westpac received numerous requests for additional features and needed to deliver quickly.






  • Westpac successfully took 150 people from waterfall to Agile in one week, and garnered positive feedback from teams
  • Team and business engagement went up
  • Cycle time and defects went down

Best Practices:

  • Get executive buy-in—Getting leadership on board—and participating—is essential to achieving team buy-in
  • Include all roles in training—Triple check that everyone is scheduled to get the training they need
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare—A one-week launch takes significant pre-work


One of Australia’s “big four” banks, Westpac serves approximately 10 million consumer and business customers across Australia, New Zealand, Asia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.


In 2015, Westpac launched a new online banking platform. Though very successful—and award-winning—the launch resulted in a huge demand to deliver additional features quickly. The company wanted to take an Agile approach to rolling out new capabilities but lacked the training and know-how to apply it to this initiative.


Westpac reached out to Scaled Agile Partner, Context Matters, for guidance, leading to the decision to adopt SAFe, and form an Agile Release Train (ART) for the new features.

Before launch planning began, the company settled on a vision, a prioritized feature backlog, an approach to product ownership and a decision on capacity allocation.

At the time, teams were focused on delivering the final release of the in-flight program. If they were going to change the delivery approach for the next release, they would need to move fast. With a small window of opportunity, a SAFe QuickStart seemed the only answer.

Implementing SAFe in Banking Services

To achieve launch in one week, Westpac began by training everyone at the same time. Midweek, they aligned all teams to common objectives, secured commitment and continued training during planning. By week’s end, they provided orientation for specialty roles, open spaces and tool training for teams.

Development teams would be available in six weeks, so Westpac grabbed that time slot—knowing the window would be tight. After buy-in from executives on the business and IT sides, they were ready for next steps.

To support their efforts, they also established Communities of Practice and hold monthly technical workshops for developers.

2 Days of Leading SAFe® Training

Next, 32 leaders across business and IT came together for two days of Leading SAFe training to discuss SAFe in the Westpac context, generating team excitement. Together, leaders came up with a theme for the train—Galaxy—with all teams receiving related names.

“Giving the train a shared identity helps create a bond across the team of teams that is the Agile Release Train, seeding the “one-team” culture that helps trains excel,” says Em Campbell-Pretty of Context Matters.

SAFe Scrum XP training brought together 60 people in one release train of eight teams over two days with two trainers in one room. The RTE additionally joined team-level training for both days, leading team members to note his commitment to SAFe.

“Everyone hearing the same message from the same trainers at the same time was a huge enabler for alignment and a ‘one-team’ culture,” says Campbell-Pretty.

The following Monday, Westpac launched the train. Some last-minute feature requests presented a hiccup, but the teams and leadership committed to a plan.

Results: Cycle Time, Defects Down

  • Westpac successfully took 100 people from waterfall to Agile in one week, and garnered positive feedback from teams. Team and business engagement went up while cycle time and defects went down.
  • Agile at Westpac continues to grow, with the company holding its third PI Planning session recently.

Additional Reading

For a deeper dive into this SAFe experience, download Em-Campbell Pretty’s presentation to AgileAustralia16.

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Suggested Case Study: Capital One

RMIT University – SAFe Implementation for Business Agility

RMIT University - SAFe Implementation for Business Agility

The first Program Increment showed both the potential of the train to deliver value more quickly, and also the challenges facing its success. It also successfully delivered a number of features for release.”

Em Campbell-Pretty, CEO, Pretty Agile






  • Positive shift in employee NPS
  • Improvement in business engagement
  • Reduction in cycle time
  • Increase in release frequency


Since April 2014, Scaled Agile Partner, Context Matters (now Pretty Agile), under the lead of Em Campbell-Pretty, has been supporting the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (aka RMIT University) with implementing SAFe for effective business agility transformation. RMIT is Australia’s largest university and, as the name suggests, is known for its technology focus. On November 6, 2014, Catherine Haugh (the SAFe Release Train Engineer-RTE) and some of her team presented their success story at the ANZ Oracle Higher Education User Group conference.

At the time, the presentation at HEUG outlined the journey of a new Agile Release Train, describing the practices and approach of the train as well as the challenges met implementing this new way of working while introducing it to the wider organisation. A sister-presentation was delivered by the Academic Registrar, Maddy McMaster, outlining the experience of going Agile from the business point of view. Maddy is the business owner of RMIT’s Student Administration Management System (SAMS) and the business sponsor of the Student Administration Agile Release Train (StAART). 

RMIT University - SAFe Implementation for Business Agility

StAART came into being following a shift within Information Technology Services (ITS) at RMIT towards Lean and Agile practices and a recognition that the ability to scale capability would be critical to ongoing success. SAFe was chosen to address that need and the train stood up in June 2014. 

StAART is the delivery mechanism for three major projects in the Student Administration Portfolio as well as day-to-day operational work requests made to enhance and support Student Administration systems. It is made up of seven feature teams which they call squads, supported by a delivery services team – about 60 people in all. 

StAART works predominantly with Oracle’s PeopleSoft-Campus Solutions application environment, tailoring the software to suit the organisation’s student administrative requirements through configuration and development. RMIT’s customised Campus Solutions system is known as SAMS. PeopleSoft is a commercial off the shelf (COTS) application. 

Early Results

The first Program Increment showed both the potential of the train to deliver value more quickly, and also the challenges facing its success. It also successfully delivered a number of features for release. Even though it is early days RMIT has already seen a positive shift in employee NPS, an improvement in business engagement, a reduction in cycle time and an increase in release frequency. The overarching challenge has been one of cultural change – StAART commenced life in a distinctly waterfall environment. 

Thank you to Catherine Haugh (RMIT), Maddy McMaster (RMIT) and Em Campbell-Pretty for sharing their story with the SAFe community. 

Update – October, 2015:

At the  2015 Agile Australia conference, Catherine presented an update on the StAART and its successes, including a dramatic improvement in NPS ratings from stakeholders. Her presentation includes video testimonials from the teams and ART stakeholders, as well as the data detailing the Net Promoter Scores before the ART launch and after.

Additional Reading

For a deeper dive into this SAFe experience, download the two presentations below.

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Suggested Case Study: Capital One


Telstra - SAFe Telcom




Telstra is Australia’s leading provider of mobile phones, mobile devices, home phones and broadband internet. When Telstra’s Enterprise Data Warehouse delivery team began their Agile journey, they scaled from 1 to 5 teams in a matter of months and found themselves struggling to make the leap from agile projects to an Agile program. “After reading Dean Leffingwell’s Scaling Software Agility and Agile Software Requirements,” notes Mark Richards (Agile Coach) and Em Campbell-Pretty (General Manager, EDW Delivery), “we were inspired to establish Telstra’s first Agile Release Train.” Later, they both followed up with SPC certification to further enhance their knowledge and skills.

Telstra - SAFe Telcom

This presentation, from Agile Australia 2013 in June, covers how SAFe provided a recipe for success, reflecting on how Telstra translated Program-level SAFe theory into practice, transforming not only the delivery capability of the EDW team, but also the culture. Adopting Leffingwell’s Scaled Agile Framework, the Theory and the Practice.

Most importantly, they are getting great business results, including:

  • Average delivery cycle time down from 12 month to 3 months
  • 6X increased in delivery frequency
  • 50% cost to deliver reduction
  • 95% decrease in product defects
  • 100% projects delivered on time and on budget
  • Happy project sponsors
  • Happy teams

As we noted, Em and Mark placed an early emphasis on rapidly evolving the culture that supports Lean-Agile development, and they had some fun with it too, as you can see if you check out the The Power of Haka! on Em’s PrettyAgile blog.

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Telia Finland