A Decade in Adaptation: The Scaled Agile Framework, 10 Years Later

A little SAFe history …

It was May of 2012, the year that the Mayan calendar said the “great cycle” shall come to an end. And with every cycle comes a new cycle. This new cycle was the beginning of an evolution of knowledge, sharing, and learning around how society builds the world’s largest systems.

For those of you who’ve followed the history of the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe), you’ll remember that the book Agile Software Requirements had just been published in 2011. And you’ll also recognize this book as the foundation and initial version of the Scaled Agile Framework. Just open the front cover and you’ll find Dean Leffingwell’s initial “Big Picture” rendition of the Framework. The book itself was fueled by Dean’s 2007 — 2008 blog series, where he published the initial articles and concepts within Scaling Software Agility and Agile Software Requirements, both books that helped move the market.

The book unfolds the “why” behind the Framework. Dean discerns that to scale agility, an aspect of Lean is requisite. He further goes on to state that Lean is required to scale agility because of its focus on value streams, principles, and tools that enhance value delivery to customers and its elimination of waste in the development process. You’ll also recognize the influence of Don Reinertsen’s Principles of Product Development Flow as some of the early concepts within the Framework. What you may not know is that the publication of Don’s book caused Dean to go back to the drawing board and rewrite his book.

And for those who know Dean personally, you know that respect for people and culture is a passion of his that continues to be prevalent in Lean as well as in SAFe.

Now, while writing and sharing the book was clearly an affection of Dean’s, taking the knowledge and research in the book and translating it into a learning experience was also a passion. Today marks the anniversary of the first Scaled Agile Framework Certification class!

#1 SAFe Program Consultant Certification, May 25, 2012

Roughly 30 curious agilists attended the first SAFe® Program Consultant (SPC) certification. The course was a bootstrapped effort, invite-only. I remember Dean personally reaching out to those who had leveraged the early concept of SAFe.

At the time, I was a product owner. I was honored when my Lean leader said “yes” to funding and allowed me the time and opportunity to learn and evolve my knowledge of my role and how to better scale and build systems that our customers needed.

Taught based on V0.94 of the Framework (isn’t that a work of art?), the course introduced the concepts of Lean and Agile, roles and responsibilities, and the practicalities of scale. The class format was similar to today’s, with the first two days about the mindset and principles and the second two days focused on implementation techniques such as identifying value streams and “finding the kidney,” which is a metaphor for identifying who within the organization contributes to value creation and designing Agile Release Trains (ARTs).

It was hosted at the f/k/a Rally Software headquarters in Boulder, Colorado. Instructors included Dean Leffingwell, Alex Yakyma, Drew Jemilo, and Colin O’Neil. Enterprise representatives included Nokia, McAfee, Mitchell International, EMC, Tendril (the case study in Agile Software Requirements), and Nordstrom. And of course, there were the consultants represented by IconATG, Rally Software, Blue Mercury, and Net Objectives.

In the true spirit of SAFe, the class was full of hands-on experiential exercises, teaming within the class, and knowledge that helped create the evolution and advancement of our traditional Agile mindsets to Lean-Agile mindsets.

There was even a proctored exam on the last day. If memory serves me, there were at least 30 essay questions and about 75 percent of the class graduated as the first SPCs!

I fondly remember chatting with Drew Jemilo, envisioning what SAFe could be in a decade. I can honestly say that the market has validated the need and exceeded all of our visions and expectations. It’s helped tens of thousands of organizations organize and deliver the highest-value products and solutions to their customers and created a powerful career market for lifelong learners, partners, and consultants.

Fast Forward 10 Years

The Framework has never stopped evolving and adapting to the field. Perhaps that’s what makes it unique: continuous value delivery to its customers. As humans, we thrive to evolve and learn, and this enables the sharing of knowledge from people like you.

Some of the latest enhancements include the addition of Principle #10: Organize around value (which was always present, just not as detailed and prevalent) and the seven core competencies of the Lean enterprise, which are crucial to achieving and sustaining your competitive edge.

Today, more than 1,000,000 practitioners and 20,000 enterprises worldwide in nearly every industry trust SAFe. Gartner names SAFe the #1 most considered and adopted framework for scaling Agile. If we were to apply Geoffrey Moore’s technology adoption curve from his book Crossing the Chasm to SAFe, it would most likely be in the early majority, and even in the tornado phase.

If there’s one thing for certain, customers are seeing results, and the Scaled Agile Framework has evolved its initial mission of “Better software and systems make the world a better place.” Today, Version 5 represents the most ambitious expansion of that mission in our history: to enable the business agility that is required for enterprises to compete and thrive in the digital age.

Sincere gratitude to my friend, Alex Yakyma, who helped maintain SAFe history with the visuals and helped refresh my memory of the event.

Learn more about the evolution of the Scaled Agile Framework, follow the SAFe blog, and join us at the 2022 SAFe Summit!

About Jennifer Fawcett

Jennifer is a retired, empathetic Lean and Agile leader, practitioner,

Jennifer is a semi-retired, empathetic Lean and Agile leader, practitioner, coach, speaker, and consultant. As a SAFe Fellow, she contributed to and helped develop SAFe content and courseware. Her passion and focus have been delivering value in the workplace by creating communities and culture through effective communication, product management, product ownership, executive portfolio coaching, and compassionate leadership. She has provided dedicated service in these areas to technology companies for over 35 years.

8 Patterns to Set Up Your Measure and Grow Program for Success

We all know that any time you start something new in an organization it takes time to make it stick, and if teams and leaders find value, they will work to keep a program flourishing. The same is true when you implement a Measure and Grow Program within your organization. It takes planning and effort to get it started, but the rewards will definitely outweigh the efforts in the end.

At AgilityHealth®, our Strategists work with organizations every day to help them set up Measure and Grow programs that will succeed based on their individual needs. Through their experiences, they have noticed some consistent patterns across our customers, both commercial and government, for- and non-profit. Understanding these patterns can help you set up a program that’s right for your organization.

Before we jump into the patterns, let’s review what a Measure and Grow program is. Simply stated, it’s how you will measure your progress toward business agility. When we look at how Enterprise Business Agility was defined by Sally Elatta, AgilityHealth Founder, and Evan Leybourne, Founder of the Business Agility Institute, you can see why this is important.

The ability to adapt to change, learn and pivot, deliver at speed, and thrive in a competitive market.

Sally Elatta, CEO AgilityHealth and Evan Leybourn, Founder, Business Agility Institute

We need to maintain our competitive edge, and in the process, make sure that healthy teams remain a priority—especially as we start to identify common patterns across teams.

Patterns

  1. Define how you will measure success.

Bertrand Dupperin said, “Tell me how you will measure me, and I will tell you how I will behave.” This is true of our teams, our team members, and our leaders. After this success criteria have been defined, allow the team members to measure themselves in a safe environment where they can be open and honest about their maturity with a neutral facilitator. The process of actioning on the data is very powerful for teams.

  1. Provide a way to help teams grow after you measure them.

“Measurement without action is worthless data.” (Thanks, Sally, for another great bit of wisdom.) When you set up your Measure and Grow program, make sure it includes a way for teams to learn and mature.

Some of the common ones we see are:

  • Dojo teams—high-performing teams paired with new or immature teams to help them learn
  • Pre-defined learning paths for teams using instructor-led or virtual learning
  • Intentional learning options for teams through Communities of Practice or other options
  • Pairing/Mentorship/Accountability Partners
  1. Tie the results to the goals.

“Why are we taking the time to do this?” This is a common question that teams and leaders ask when we are starting Measure and Grow programs. They feel that the time reserved for an Inspect and Adapt session could maybe be used to tie up those last few story points or test cases, when in reality there is a corporate objective to mature the teams. Be sure to share these kinds of goals with your teams and managers so they understand that this is important to the organization.

  1. Provide a maturity roadmap that takes the subjectivity out of the questions.

We all have an idea of what “good” looks like, but without a shared understanding of “good”, my “good” might be a 3, my teammate’s might be a 4, someone else’s might be a 2, and so on. When you share a common maturity roadmap to provide context for your assessment, your results will be less subjective.

  1. Measure at multiple levels so that you can correlate the results.

When we just look at maturity from the team perspective, we get one view of an organization. When we look at maturity from the leadership and stakeholder perspectives, we get another view. When we look at both together—the sandwich model—we get a three-dimensional view and can start to surmise cause and effect. This gives a clearer picture of how an organization is performing.

  1. Minimize competing priorities and platforms.

Almost all teams, regardless of organization, share that there are too many systems, too many priorities, too many everything (except maybe pizza slices …). Be sure to schedule your measurement and retrospective time when the team is taking a natural break in their work. Teams should take the time to do a strategic retrospective on how they are working together at the end of every PI during their Inspect and Adapt, so use that time wisely.

  1. Engage the leaders in the process.

When this becomes a “we” exercise and not a “you” exercise, then there is a sense of trust that is built between the teams and their leaders. Inevitably the teams are going to ask the leaders for assistance in removing obstacles. If the leaders are on board from the start and are expecting this, and they start removing them, this creates an atmosphere of psychological safety where teams can be honest about what they need and leaders can be honest about what they expect.

  1. Remember, this is all change, and change takes time.

Roy T. Bennett said, “Change begins at the end of your comfort zone.” It takes time, perseverance, and some uncomfortable conversations to change an organization and help it to grow. But in the end, it’s worth doing.

Get Started

Setting up a Measure and Grow program isn’t without its struggles, but for the organizations and teams that put the time and effort into doing it right, the rewards far outweigh the work that goes into it. If you would like to chat with us about what it would take to set up your Measure and Grow program, we’re ready to help.

About Trisha Hall

Trisha Hall - AgilityHealth’s

Trisha has been part of AgilityHealth’s Nebraska-based leadership team since 2014. As VP of Enterprise Solutions, she taps into her 25 years of experience to help organizations bring Business Agility to their companies and help corporate leaders build healthy, high-performing teams. Find Trisha on LinkedIn.

Share:

Back to: All Blog Posts

Next: Aligning Global Teams Through Agile Program Management: A Case Study

Why SAFe Hurts – Implementing SAFe in Business

Why do some people find SAFe® to be helpful in empowering teams, while others find implementing the Framework painful? To be honest, both scenarios are equally valid.

As I was beginning to refocus my career on transforming the operating models and management structures of large enterprises, I found that the behavioral patterns of Agile and the operational cadence of Scrum shined a spotlight on an organization’s greatest challenges. As a byproduct of working faster and focusing on flow, impediments became obvious. With the issues surfaced, management had a choice: fix the problems or don’t.

As we scale, the same pattern repeats, though the tax of change is compounded because change is hard. Meaningful change takes time, and the journey isn’t linear. Things get better, things get worse, then they get better again.

Consultants will often reference the Dunning-Kruger curve when selling organizational change.

Why SAFe Hurts
The Dunning-Kruger curve

The Dunning-Kruger curve illustrates change as a smooth journey. One that begins with the status quo, dips as the change is introduced, and then restores efficiency as organizations achieve competence and confidence in the new model. Unfortunately, that’s not how change works, and depicting organizational change this way is misleading.

Implementing SAFe in Business
The Satir curve

When I’d spend time doing discovery work with a prospective client, I’d instead cite a more accurate picture of change: the Satir curve. The Satir image depicts the chaos of change and better prepares people for the journey ahead. Change is chaotic, and achieving successful change requires a firm focus on the reason why the change is important—not simply the change itself. Why, then, can a SAFe transformation (or any other change) feel painful? Here are the patterns of SAFe transformation that I observed pre-COVID.

The Silver Bullet

An organization buys ‘the thing’ (SAFe) thinking it’s a silver bullet that will solve all of their problems. For example, the inability to deliver, poor quality, dissatisfied customers, unhappy teammates, and crummy products. SAFe can help address these issues, but not by simply using the Framework. The challenge we often face is that leaders just want ‘the thing.’ Management is too busy to learn what it is that they bought. That’s OK though. They did an Agile transformation once and read the article on Wikipedia.

How can you lead what you don’t know? How can you ask something of your team that you don’t understand yourself? Let’s explore. 

Start with Why

Leaders don’t take the time to understand what SAFe is, what problems it intends to help organizations solve, or the intent with which SAFe is best used. Referencing the SAFe Implementation Roadmap, its intent is to avoid some of this pain. We begin by aligning senior leaders with the problems to solve. After all, we’re seeking to solve business problems. As Kotter points out, all change must start with a compelling vision for change. 

With the problem identified, we then discuss if SAFe is the best tool to address those concerns. We continue the conversation by training leaders in the new way of working, and more importantly, the new way to think to succeed in the post-digital economy.

Middle Management

Middle management, sometimes distastefully referred to as the ‘frozen middle,’ is the hardest role to fill in an organizational hierarchy. Similar to how puberty serves as the awkward stage between adolescence and adulthood, middle management is the first time that many have positional responsibility, but not yet the authority to truly change the system.

Middle managers are caught in a position where many are forced to choose between doing what’s best for the team and doing what’s best to get the next position soon. Often, when asked to embrace a Lean and Agile way of working, these managers will recognize that being successful in the new system is in contrast to what senior leaders (who bought the silver bullet but could not make time to learn it) are asking of them.

This often manifests in a conversation of outputs over outcomes. In that, success had traditionally been determined by color-coded status reports instead of working product increments and business outcomes. Some middle managers will challenge the old system and others will challenge the new system, but in either context, many feel the pain. This is the product of a changing system and not the middle manager’s fault. But it is the reason why many transformations will reset at some point. The pain felt by middle management can be avoided by engaging the support of the leadership community from the start, but this is often not the case.

Misaligned Agile Release Trains

Many transformations begin somewhere after the first turn on the SAFe Implementation Roadmap. Agile coaches will often engage after someone has, with the best of intentions, decided to launch an Agile Release Train (ART), but hasn’t understood how to do so successfully.

Why SAFe Hurts
SAFe Implementation Roadmap

As a result, the first Program Increment, and SAFe, will feel painful. Have you ever seen an ART that is full of handoffs and is unable to deliver anything of value? This pattern emerges when an ART is launched within an existing organizational silo, instead of being organized around the flow of value. When ARTs are launched in this way, the same problems that have existed in the organization for years become more evident and more painful.

For this reason, many Agile and SAFe implementations face a reboot at some point. Feeling the pain, an Agile coach will help leaders understand why they’re not getting the expected results. Here’s where organizations will reconsider the first straight of the Implementation Roadmap, find time for training, and re-launch their ARTs. This usually happens after going through a Value Stream and ART Identification workshop to best understand how to organize so that ARTs are able to deliver value.

Implementing SAFe in Business
SAFe Implementation Roadmap

Moving Fast Makes Problems More Obvious

Moving fast (or trying to) shines a big spotlight on our problems and forces us to confront them. Problems like organizational silos, toxic cultural norms, bad business architecture, nightmarish tech architecture, cumbersome release management, missing change practices, and the complete inability to see the customer that typically surface when we seek to achieve flow.

The larger and older an organization is, the more problems there are, and the longer it takes to get to a place where our intent can be resized. Truly engaged leadership helps, but it still takes time to undo history. For example, I’ve been working with one large enterprise since 2013. It’s taken eight years since initial contact for the organization to evolve to a place that allowed them to respond to COVID confidently and in a way that actively supports global recovery. Eight years ago, the organization would have struggled to achieve the same outcome.

When I first started working with this organization, it engaged in multi-year, strategic planning, and only released new value to its customers once every three years. The conceptual architecture diagram resembled a plate of spaghetti—people spent more time building consensus than building products. And the state of the organization’s operations included laying people off with a Post-it note on their monitor and an escort off-campus.

Today, the organization is much healthier in every way imaginable. It’s vastly better than it was, but not nearly as good as it will be. The leadership team focuses on operational integrity, and how maintainable, scalable, and stable the architecture is—and recognizes that the team is one of the most important assets.

Embracing Lean and Agile ways of working at scale begins with the first ART launch. It continues with additional ART launches, a reconsideration of how we approach strategy, technology, and customers. And it accelerates as we focus on better applying the Lean-Agile mindset, values, and principles on a daily basis. This is the journey to #BecomingAgile so that we can best position the team and our assets to serve customers.

Change Is Hard

Change takes time, and all meaningful change is painful because the process challenges behavior norms. The larger the organization is, the richer the history, and the longer it may take to achieve the desired outcome. There will be good days, days when things don’t make sense, and days when the team is frustrated. But all of that is OK. You know what else is ok? Feeling frustrated during the change. It’s important to focus on why the change is taking place. 

A pre-pandemic pattern (that I suspect may shift) is that change in large organizations often comes with evolution instead of revolution. With the exception of a very few clients, change begins with a team and expands as that team gains success and the patterns begin to reach other adjacent areas of the operation. The change will reach a point where supporting organizational structures must also change to achieve business agility.

As mentioned, moving fast with a focus on flow and customer-centricity exposes bottlenecks in the system. At some point, it will become obvious that structures such as procurement, HR, incentive models, and finance are bottlenecks to greater agility. And, when an organization begins to tackle these challenges, really cool things start to happen. People behave based on how they are incentivized, and compensation and performance are typically at odds with the mindset, values, and principles that are the foundation of SAFe.

Let’s Work Together

SAFe itself is not inherently painful. The Framework is a library of integrated patterns that have proven successful when paired with the intent of a Lean-Agile mindset, set of core values, and guiding principles. Organizations can best mitigate the pain associated with change by understanding what’s changing, the reason why the change is being introduced, and a deliberate focus on sound change-management practices. If you’re working in a SAFe ecosystem that feels challenging, share your experience in the General Discussion Group forum on the SAFe Community Platform. Our community is full of practitioners who represent all stages of the Satir change curve, and who can offer their advice, suggestions, and empathy. Together, we’ll make the world a better place to work.

About Adam Mattis

Adam Mattis - SAFe Program Consultant Trainer

Adam Mattis is a SAFe Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT) at Scaled Agile with many years of experience overseeing SAFe implementations across a wide range of industries. He’s also an experienced transformation architect, engaging speaker, energetic trainer, and a regular contributor to the broader Lean-Agile and educational communities. Learn more about Adam at adammattis.com.

View all posts by Adam Mattis

Share:

Back to: All Blog Posts

Next: A Twist on Professional Development: the Scrum Master Exchange Program