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’sPrinciples 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.
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.
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.
This post is the first in a series about success patterns for large solutions.
When applying the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) to large, complex, cyber-physical systems, we have discovered a pattern called solution areas to manage the complexity. A solution area is made up of two to four Agile teams that collaborate daily to solve problems together. A solution area is neither a fixed organizational structure with given roles, events, and artefacts, nor another scaling level between Agile teams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs). Instead, it dynamically adapts to the given work. This solution area pattern is an example of a paradigm shift toward a much more dynamic form of agility. And this shift requires development of organizational skills, as we will explain in this blog series.
Revive the Feature Team Idea
In Agile development, we often speak about feature teams as an important pillar in Agile organization design. The idea of a feature team usually means that a single Agile team has all the skills and tools necessary to produce meaningful end-customer value on its own. This is often hard to achieve when hundreds of engineers must work together to create a complex cyber-physical system.
In such an environment, Agile teams have so many dependencies between them that a single team can hardly produce end-customer value alone. When producing only a portion of an end-customer value, it becomes hard for single Agile teams to pursue meaningful objectives on their own. Changes to their team goals can therefore only be made with the consent of other teams because these changes could potentially impact the other teams’ work.
As a result, a key motivator of why we introduced agility in the first place is lost. We are no longer able to react quickly to learnings and changing requirements, as the effort to recreate alignment between the teams can be considerable. In such an environment the communication efforts are eating up a non-negligible part of the team’s capacity, the result of which is a loss of focus on value and the pivots necessary to achieve it. A typical pattern that arises under these circumstances is ‘spoon-feeding teams.’ For example, in the backlog refinement meetings before Program Increment (PI) Planning, work items are prepared to fit the skill sets of certain teams. The result is that only a specific team can handle a specific work item, thus locking teams into big up-front design.
Solution areas can often solve this problem. Two to four teams collaborating daily, in many cases, can have all the skills and tools necessary to pursue meaningful objectives and produce real end-customer value together. On the one hand, they’re often big enough to take on responsibility for substantial changes to the system, and on the other hand, they are small enough to react quickly to learnings and changing requirements. With the right communication and collaboration structure, solution areas can revive the feature team idea one level higher in the form of feature solution areas.
Self-Organize around the Flow of Value
One of the most important design criteria of a solution area is that the communication and collaboration structure is dynamic and tailored to the objectives of the teams. By introducing solution areas, we don’t want to establish an additional scaling level between Agile teams and ARTs with a set of fixed events, roles, and artefacts. A solution area is like a collection of boundary conditions within which the teams can organize themselves around the flow of value according to their needs. To give you an example, we take a closer look at the synchronization of the events.
Suppose we have four Agile teams in a solution area with the same iteration cadence of two weeks. Every team has an iteration planning at the start of each iteration, daily stand-ups on each working day, and an iteration review and retrospective at the end of the two weeks. A first step in establishing a solution area would be to synchronize each of these team events among all the teams, as illustrated in a 3×3 matrix.
Using this matrix, the teams try to find the leanest synchronization mechanism that fulfills the communication and collaboration needs of the four teams. Let’s take iteration planning as an example. One option could be that the product owners are meeting for 30 minutes in the pre-event of the iteration planning to make sure they all understand the solution area’s iteration goals. After that, each product owner goes back to its respective team for the main event where each team plans its upcoming iteration in the next two hours. After that, all teams meet in a big-room event to align and adjust their iteration plans with all the other teams in the solution area. This post-event could be scheduled for another 90 minutes.
Another option could look completely different regarding the sequence of the sub-events and the timing. For instance, the teams may create a first draft of an iteration plan for themselves within a one-hour time box in the pre-event. Then for the main event, all teams meet for three hours to collaboratively create an iteration plan for the solution area. In the post-event, the scrum masters of the four teams come together to talk about resolving impediments and managing any risks that came up.
After creating an aligned understanding of the communication and collaboration needs of all the teams within the solution area, the ART needs to find a constellation that matches these needs with the least amount of meeting overhead possible. Once found, these synchronization mechanisms are not carved in stone. They can change dynamically according to the objectives of the solution area for a given timebox, like a PI. At first, we usually revisit synchronization mechanisms every PI. Over time, the solution area can change its synchronization within a PI if necessary.
Like the events, we can also synchronize roles, artefacts, and collaborations. For each pillar in the House of Dynamic Agility (see Figure 2), we can use similar matrices to create an aligned understanding of what the specific needs are, and which composition best matches those needs.
For example, the definition of done could be changed or refined to represent the type of work (hardware, software, modeling) or the maturity in the progression toward delivery (regulatory compliance items and reviews).
The House of Dynamic Agility helps leadership master this grammar of transformative co-creation while faced with profound disruption. Moving from an output efficiency-centric focus to an outcome customer-centric operating system requires leadership transformation mastery.
The solution area for spacecraft navigation systems consists of four Agile teams: LiDAR, RADAR, GPS, and Navigation Control. In the PIs or iterations where the individual types of navigation are focused on hardware upgrades, software algorithm improvements, and other items that are encapsulated within those navigation sub-components, these teams will each send a representative to a post-iteration planning event as their only iteration planning coordination. However, in a PI where they are implementing an anomaly detection feature, they will hold pre-iteration planning coordination with a team representative, and each team will hold an individual iteration planning and one big-room post-iteration event to educate all the participants in the navigation solution area.
The test case and results artefacts they create in earlier iterations are draft artefacts as far as the compliance team is concerned. The integration tests conducted in early iterations use models and are focused on navigation only. As they approach formal verification and validation (V&V), the teams in the solution area will closely collaborate and communicate with the compliance teams and formal V&V testers.
Another benefit of solution areas is the encapsulation of certain areas of complexity within a large system. Consider a typical cross-functional Agile team. When a software programmer, a database architect, and a tester work together on the same user story, nobody outside this Agile team cares about the dependencies between these team members. In other words, this Agile team encapsulates a part of the complexity of the system.
The same is true for solution areas. As all teams within a solution area are closely synchronized, they also encapsulate a certain part of the complexity, usually a larger part compared to an Agile team, which is aligned to a complex component of the large system. The dependencies between the teams and team members within the solution area are a concern within the solution area only.
Looking at a solution area board, only the dependencies below the thick blue line are of interest to other solution areas, ARTs, solution trains, or suppliers. The dependencies above the thick blue line are managed by the teams within the solution area itself.
This also leads to an important design principle: there should be more dependencies between teams within a solution area than dependencies between the solution area and the outside world. The stronger the collaboration within a solution area, the more cross-functional teams become, which then creates better decision-making.
Maybe the most important aspect of encapsulating complexity is the switch from linear or orderly value streams to unordered or “messy” value streams. Our characterization of “messy” value streams as an enabler for creativity is inspired by Tim Harford’s book: Messy: How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World. Within a single Agile team, we usually don’t have clearly ordered value streams. People collaborate with whomever on whatever makes the most sense at that point in time. It could be something planned or completely unforeseen. It could contribute to an iteration goal or a PI objective. Or it could be something that deviates from any planned work, such as investigating a new path or following a new learning.
Especially when creating something new, this creative freedom of a messy value stream can lead to better, high-quality products. With the right synchronization mechanisms tailored to the needs of individual solution areas, the ability to react to unforeseen changes in development can be fast enough to support messy value streams. This establishes a creative environment like a single Agile team at one level higher.
React Quickly to Changing Value Stream Networks
Forming solution areas around architectural domains helps create better solutions, faster. But what about cross-domain problems? For many large system problems, several domains must work together to come up with satisfying results. These problem spaces often show up like bubbles on top of the architectural layer, meandering around for a while whilst people are working on certain aspects before they are completely solved and vanish. Sometimes problem spaces can be planned for; sometimes they show up completely unforeseen.
With solution areas already in place around architectural domains, a next step could be forming new, cross-domain solution areas which exist only if necessary to address the problem space. These new cross-domain solution areas bring together people or complete Agile teams from different solution areas. They are only temporary, existing from one iteration to several PIs.
Ramping up cross-domain solution areas can be seen as an additional organizational skill on top of the organizational skill of synchronizing Agile teams within a domain-aligned solution area. Management should not decide the structure of new solution areas; the people closest to the problem should. Management only sets the boundary conditions for the self-organization of the people doing the work.
The goal is to enable an organization to ramp up new organizational structures quickly when needed and ramp them down the moment a problem is solved so that organizational structures can flow around architectural needs.
Find the Sweet Spot for Organizational Learning
Organizational skills that facilitate dynamic agility require training in the form of a focused effort to help parts of the organization identify options, build new structures, and abandon them as soon as the problems are solved.
Like with a professional sports team, this approach needs qualified coaches and an aligned vision of how to play this Agile game. The vision needs to be broken down into moves that team members can master, one move at a time.
A successful approach relies on finding the right level for this training. Single Agile teams are often too small to react on their own in a significant way to changes in the complex value stream networks in which they participate. Yet, ARTs are often too large to change their structures frequently and fast enough. Solution areas have the right size and focus to react quickly and change structures around the flow of value in a meaningful way. The solution area construct is often the sweet spot for organizational learning, replacing organizational structures with organizational skills.
Solution areas are given the language and technology to facilitate the inter-relationship of the system elements (for example, leadership, employees, and customers) as part of the whole ecosystem to which they belong.
Find the Minimum Viable Structure
When striving to build large systems in an Agile way, adding scaling levels on top of each other isn’t helpful. From our experience, the core proposition of the organizational architecture of large systems must be dynamic and tailored to the needs. Stated another way, we must descale before we scale up. We want to have the minimum viable organizational architecture— the bare minimum to satisfy the cognitive, communication, and collaboration demands of the teams involved.
This efficiency goal is not achievable by following a set of fixed roles, events, and artefacts, but only by enabling the teams to dynamically and frequently change their communication and collaboration structures according to the objectives on which they focus. This dynamic agility approach can reduce the impediments to the flow of value, leaving room for innovation and learning when scaling up to large, complex system delivery.
Look for the next post in our series soon.
About Wolfgang Brandhuber, Project & Team, Inc.
Dr. Wolfgang Brandhuber has been a Scrum Developer, Product Owner, Scrum Master, Chief Scrum Master, and Agile Head Coach in various Agile environments. His passion is large solutions. Since the advent of the large solution level in the Scaled Agile Framework in 2016, he has set up and helped solution trains improve their complex systems. During his 18 years as a professional consultant, he worked over 16 of those in the Agile world and more than nine years with SAFe. Among other certifications, he is a certified SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT), a Kanban University Trainer (AKT), and an Agility Health Trainer (AHT).
About Cindy VanEpps, Project & Team, Inc.
From crafting space shuttle flight design and mission control software at Johnson Space Center to roles including software developer, technical lead, development manager, consultant, and solution developer, Cindy has an extensive repertoire of skills and experience. As a SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT) and Model-based Systems Engineering (MBSE) expert, her thought leadership, teaching, and consulting rely on pragmatism in the application of Agile practices.
About Malte Kumlehn, Project & Team, Inc.
Malte helps deliver complex ecosystems, people, Cloud, AI, and data-powered digital transformations toward business agility. He pioneers intelligent operating models for portfolios with large solutions as a SAFe® Fellow, advisory board member, and executive advisor in this field. He guides executives in developing the most challenging competencies that allow them to deliver breakthrough results through Lean-Agile at scale. His experience has been published by Accenture, Gartner, and the Swiss Association for Quality over the last ten years.
Note: This is the third post in the Practice Makes Permanent series. Read the first post here and the second post here.
Is your SAFe® implementation slowing? Has the energy and enthusiasm faded and it feels like just one more process change? Maybe you’re just not seeing the value you expected? That’s OK because PI Planning presents significant opportunities for your relentless improvement of the SAFe journey.
If you’ve read the previous posts in this series, you know that the right kind of practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. And you know that using creative tension will help you find the right outlook to discover new opportunities and foster relentless improvement. The reality is that many Agile Release Trains (ARTs) have a distorted view of PI Planning—they see it as a readout of the already created plan or a time to direct teams toward a plan rather than the discovery session it’s intended to be. This makes it a great place to get your implementation back on track. PI Planning is an opportunity to discover the plan for the next PI. Discovery is exciting, it’s engaging, and it’s about learning.
Through my years of teaching and implementing SAFe, I’ve identified key practices to help organizations successfully discover a plan for the upcoming PI. My goal in providing these tips and techniques is to give you practical ideas on how to revolutionize your PI Planning and improve the quality of your plans.
Consider these key practices to make PI Planning a discovery session:
Breadth vs. depth planning
Good objectives start early
Iteration plans from PI Planning are “what if?” scenarios
Raise the levels evenly
Preconceived is pre-committed—limit pre-PI Planning
Breadth vs. Depth Planning
During PI Planning, the Agile teams are instrumental in converting the ART vision and roadmap into team-committed objectives while discovering the risks, dependencies, and delivery goals for the PI.
A very common anti-pattern in PI Planning is when teams focus on one iteration at a time, attempting to create a solid plan for iteration one, followed by a deep dive in iteration two, and so on. This is dangerous because we’re not seeing the big picture of the whole PI. And often we get to the draft plan review, and the teams don’t have a high-level, end-to-end plan, which is critical for the management (adjustment) review and problem-solving activity.
Additionally, because teams have gone iteration by iteration, concentrating on creating and loading stories, they haven’t collaborated sufficiently on with other teams on dependencies. This can potentially lead to radical plan changes during team breakouts on day two.
Implement breadth vs. depth
This is where breadth vs depth comes in. Encourage your teams to think across the whole PI and create a very high-level plan within the first 60–90 minutes of the first breakout session. This will include initial starter objectives, the discovery of some initial dependencies on other teams, high-level goals for each iteration, and some initial stories (perhaps slotted into an iteration). These activities give teams a broad, overall approach.
Now, they can use the remaining time in the breakout to improve the depth by:
Discovering more stories
Identifying more dependencies
Identifying and (perhaps) mitigating more risks
This breadth vs. depth strategy ensures that there’s always a draft plan to review and helps teams align on the approach and effort distribution.
Here’s a quick recap of the key principles of breadth vs. depth:
Start with a high-level, end-to-end plan that’s full of holes.
As time permits, go back and fill in those gaps.
Focus on “based on what we currently know, this is our plan. However, we know we have more to learn to fill in some gaps.”
Raise the water level evenly. Create some story placeholders, which will generate some objectives, which will raise some dependencies, which will identify more stories, which will update objectives, and so on.
Apply SAFe® Principle #3: Assume variability; preserve options. Start with minimal constraints and a high-level approach and add details as they emerge.
Good Objectives Start Early
Team objectives are one of the key outputs of the planning effort. Objectives are a team’s opportunity to say:
“Hey, ART leadership, we saw the vision, we saw the roadmap from the top x features. Here’s our contribution to the success of the ART for this PI.”
Many teams struggle with understanding objectives because they’re not used to being asked, “What can you contribute to our success?” Instead, they’re used to being told “this is what needs to be done.” I like to explain objectives with an analogy.
Imagine you’ve just read a really powerful, thought-changing book (such as Donald Reinertsen’s Principles of Product Development Flow). Most likely you’ve read the book chapter by chapter. You want to share the power of that book with your friend, and you’ll probably share highlights and key areas and concepts from your perspective. Now, another friend reads the same book and shares their key takeaways from their perspective. While there may be similarities in key concepts (for example, Economic Sequencing) each perspective may pick up on different areas and ideas that were key to them but that maybe didn’t stand out to you.
The chapters in the book are the features. All the teams read the features and come away with their key areas and contributions. These are the team objectives. Some teams may have shared contributions across the ART (Program Objectives), but many will have specific contributions unique to their own team (Team Objectives).
Start early, iterate often
So, how do you achieve these powerful objectives within PI Planning? That’s where the phrase “good objectives start early” comes in. Objectives should start as early thoughts and concepts and grow in clarity and alignment as the breakout continues.
These are the key principles to successfully writing objectives:
Start writing objectives early in the first breakout.
Don’t wait until you have ‘perfect’ objectives; perfect is the enemy of good.
As you learn more about the plan during the breakout conversations, potential objectives will emerge. Write these down, no matter how incomplete they are.
As you learn more about the objective through further planning-fueled learning, update the objectives.
Don’t try to start with SMART objectives, work toward them.
Iteration Plans from PI Planning Are What-If Scenarios
A common issue that limits the self-organization aspect of SAFe Agile teams is the mistaken belief that teams are creating iteration plans that must be locked in and committed to. This is a highly critical point: teams do not commit to iteration plans in PI Planning. They’re committing to the objectives they discover, and to the Program Board, which identifies when they believe they can deliver on the features and what dependencies are needed to deliver. When teams have the false belief that they’re going to be held accountable for plans for four iterations in sequence, they become nervous, realizing they can’t really know exactly what will be needed for each iteration. They believe they’re being held to a mini-waterfall approach. Actually, the opposite is true.
We ask teams to create iteration plans so that they can discover the objectives they want to commit to, discover the significant dependencies needed to deliver the features they pull in and discover the risks that may threaten the plan. The plan they create is one of many possible ways they can deliver, and many of the details of the actual plan will surface as they execute that plan. In my experience, the specific iteration plans the teams create are about 60-percent accurate. As long as we have the significant dependencies and risks identified, that level of accuracy is good enough to get started.
Key principles around the what-if scenario approach:
Teams do not commit to iteration plans. They commit to objectives and the Program Board’s dependencies and Feature deliveries.
Teams create iteration plans to unearth dependencies, discover objectives, and learn how to deliver to the business.
The iteration plans will almost certainly change as we iterate through the Program Increment. Understanding that we are only identifying one of many possible scenarios to deliver on these objectives helps the teams focus on what’s important.
Raise the Levels Evenly
Closely associated with the breadth vs. depth concept is ensuring you have a good balance of focus on each component of the Draft Plan Review. Following SAFe Principle #4, we want to shorten our Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) cycles to increase the pace of learning. If you think of each key area of focus in the team breakout, we have:
Creating, sizing, prioritizing user stories and enabler stories
Identifying and improving team objectives
Identifying and attempting to mitigate risks
Discovering, discussing, and gaining commitment to cross-team dependencies
Updating the Program Board as we discover new feature delivery and dependency aspects in the emerging plan
Consider each of these areas as buckets to fill. We don’t want to fill one bucket to the top and then go to the next. Instead, we want to evenly bring up the level on all buckets together. That means we want the teams to generate some stories, which can lead to updated objectives, which can lead to new risks identified or mitigated, leading to new commitments with other teams, and leading to updates to the Program Board. This order is not rigid, there’s nothing wrong with discovering a dependency, adding some stories to cover this dependency, and then updating Program Board. The idea is to make sure that we are keeping the levels (amount of recorded information) approximately even across all the buckets.
These are the key principles to raising the levels evenly:
Don’t try to create a full iteration-by-iteration plan too early.
Use the energy and knowledge from adding to one bucket to add to the next bucket.
At regular intervals, step back and review the levels in each bucket. Are these relatively evenly filled? If not, do we need to revert to focus on a particular bucket?
At key points, review the entire plan we have created so far. Do we see major gaps? Dangerous assumptions? Note: a great time to do this is about five minutes before the next Scrum of Scrums team breakout. It provides a really clear view of the current progress that will help us identify any systemic issues in our planning process.
Preconceived Is Precommitted—Limit Pre-PI Planning
Before we start PI Planning, we need the right level of readiness. But too much can lose the discovery aspect of PI Planning. Finding that balance is a learning journey, but there are key elements to balance.
Too much pre-PI Planning:
Takes away from the current PI effort. The focus should be on this PI’s objectives, not pre-planning for the next.
Locks into a plan that is not well-informed. PI Planning is about learning, not perfecting. The best objectives come from shared learning during PI Planning.
Damages the team-of-teams culture in the ART.
Too little pre-PI Planning:
Leaves the teams anxious
Can waste time in PI Planning trying to answer foundational questions
The right balance of PI Planning:
Allows teams to ask intelligent questions during the morning briefings. The test I apply is to verify: are the questions probing and refining (good) or are they high level and more about initial alignment (not so good).
Ensures we have the right people in the room. For this PI’s features, we may need other shared services and assistance. Knowing this in advance helps us extend invites to the right people.
Sets the stage for PDCA-based learning cycles during PI Planning. When teams come into PI Planning thinking they already have the right plan, it leads to a fixed mindset for the next PI, which blocks the true discovery needed. We want the team of teams (ART) to iterate through these PDCA cycles together as they discover the plan.
I use a very simple approach—called the five-sticky rule—to help teams understand a good starting point for the level of pre-planning needed. Each team is encouraged to bring five sticky notes into PI Planning that represent potential stories. This requires the team to do enough discovery around the features, vision, and other elements needed in the next PI but keeps them from creating a deep-dive plan that loses the discovery aspect. Please note that the five-sticky rule is more of a guideline than a rule and can be adjusted as needed.
These are the key principles to finding a balance of pre-planning:
Prepare to create the plan, don’t pre-create the plan
Look for intelligent, informed questions during the briefings
Beware of a fixed mindset view of the plan coming into PI Planning
PI Planning is one of the Ten Critical Success Factors to achieve transformational progress with SAFe. By applying the above ideas, you can make it the dynamic, engaging, energetic event it’s intended to be. So, go make your PI Planning a discovery session!
Check back soon for the next post in the series.
About Dwayne Stroman
Dwayne is an Enterprise Transformation Coach and Trainer and SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT) with more than 20 years of experience. He is ultra-passionate about helping large organizations learn how to build the right products and deliver optimal value through learning and customer validation. Dwayne uses his SPCT role to help several Fortune 100 companies, as well as many growing companies in finance, retail, healthcare, and logistics, realize the benefits of a Lean-Agile mindset. Connect with Dwayne on LinkedIn.
How to use the gap between where you are and where you want to be
This post is part of the ongoing Practice Makes Permanent blog series. Read the first post here.
OK, so your Lean-Agile transformation is stalling. It’s not delivering the increased value and reduced delivery times you expected. Your teams are struggling and perhaps updating their resumes. You thought that implementing the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) would bring you these outcomes, but you’ve discovered you’re not using all Ten Critical Success Factors of SAFe. Perhaps you’ve discovered that you’re not actually implementing SAFe correctly as you intended, which means you’re probably not gaining the full value of what the Framework has to offer. The key to taking full advantage of this realization is to be encouraged rather than discouraged. We can’t improve until we see the improvements that are needed. The purpose of this article is to help you see that these discoveries should be cause for celebration, not concern.
One of my favorite books (and authors) is Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline. In his book, Peter describes the concept of creative tension as ”the tension between vision and reality.” It’s the concept of discovering the gap between where you are and where you want to be and using that gap as energy to make improvements. Think of it as a transformational snowball effect.
SAFe guidance depicts the perfect scenario where an organization exemplifies all seven core competencies, delivering high quality and accurate value to customers, and having the kind of culture and work environment that makes it a great place to work. Then we look at the current reality and realize we have a long way to go to reach this nirvana state of business agility.
Sometimes that gap seems insurmountable, unachievable, and perhaps just unrealistic. As we identify that first improvement opportunity and implement that first improvement effort, we start to see some excitement and engagement. We’re still a long way from that nirvana view, but we’re starting to make progress. And that creates more energy for the next effort. So, we take on the next improvement effort, and there seems to be just a bit more engagement and hope that we can move forward. And that’s where we start to see the snowball effect of relentless improvement.
For each improvement we make, we gain more energy, engagement, and willingness to change. And we start to go faster. And faster. And faster. And now, that relentless improvement pillar seems to make more sense, and in fact, becomes part of our DNA. As Peter Senge stated, “The most effective people are those who can ‘hold’ their vision while remaining committed to seeing current reality clearly.”
Positive change is contagious. It brings excitement and hope to the organization. That energy must start somewhere. So, as Taichi Ohno said, “If you are going to do Kaizen continuously … you’ve got to assume that things are a mess. Too many people just assume that things are all right the way they are … If you assume that things are all right the way they are, you can’t do Kaizen. So, change something!”
My point is to change something with a huge grin on your face because you can see the snowball effect of creative tension pulling you upward.
So, when you see that gap between your current reality and where you want to be, you should view it as an opportunity, not a negative situation. In other words, you should view every improvement opportunity with excitement and anticipation of where you can go next on the journey toward business agility.
As change agents, we’ve learned that empathy along the transformation journey is vital. We know how hard it is, so we fully understand why you skipped some of the steps. But now is the time to restart or renew that journey. In subsequent posts, we will talk about specific activities and components we can use the creative tension approach to jump-start a Lean-Agile transformation. The goal of this series is to help you find the next opportunity to accelerate that snowball effect in your transformation.
Check back soon for the next post in the series.
About Dwayne Stroman
Dwayne is an Enterprise Transformation Coach and Trainer and SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT) with more than 20 years of experience. He is ultra-passionate about helping large organizations learn how to build the right products and deliver optimal value through learning and customer validation. Dwayne uses his SPCT role to help several Fortune 100 companies, as well as many growing companies in finance, retail, healthcare, and logistics, realize the benefits of a Lean-Agile mindset. Connect with Dwayne on LinkedIn.
A big part of my personal life revolves around motorcycles, specifically road racing and coaching. When I’m working with new racers or track riders who want to improve their skills, the first thing I do is ask them to complete this sentence: “Practice makes _____.” Almost everyone says “perfect!” But usually, the opposite is true. When racers go out on the track and continue to repeat bad habits, such as not moving their eyes down-track or using poor body position, they simply cement the wrong technique, which is more difficult to correct later. I always teach riders to focus on learning the basics and build on these good techniques until they become permanent. We all start with the belief that practice makes perfect. However, if you practice the wrong things, the only thing you perfect is the wrong approach. (Note: I want to thank Nick Ienatsch from the Yamaha Champions Riding School (YCRS) for helping me see the importance of learning the right skills before starting to practice. Working with Nick and the crew at YCRS and ChampSchool taught me so much about the importance of getting the basics right.)
Switching sports metaphors, a favorite phrase from football coaches (Marv Levy may have been the first to use this) is to “learn how to do it right and then practice it until you never get it wrong.” That’s how we bake in the right techniques, and where practice makes permanent is our ally.
When implementing SAFe®, it’s common to bring in old habits from your organization’s history. It’s hard to break free of these past practices but it’s even more difficult to change them once they’ve been brought into the transformation effort. There are many common anti-patterns that organizations practice and make permanent, including:
Multiple Program Backlogs (whether real or virtual) make it difficult for the teams or ART to focus on the most important thing to work on; this damages Lean flow due to context switching.
Leadership believing that their job is to direct work, which is in direct opposition to SAFe Principle 8 (unlock intrinsic motivation) and SAFe Principle 9 (decentralize decision-making).
Not using the IP iteration for its vital purpose to be a buffer for capacity and to support ongoing innovation, improvement, and synchronized planning.
Using PI planning as a readout of assigned plans, rather than allowing the teams to use team breakouts to discover the best plan to meet business needs.
Objectives given to the teams rather than teams creating their own objectives. When teams review the vision and roadmap and then create their own objectives, they gain engagement and alignment with business and Product Management to demonstrate they understand the value needed.
A common issue we see is organizations treating SAFe as a buffet where you can pick and choose what you implement and what you don’t. While SAFe is highly configurable and is not at all prescriptive, there are key elements that you must implement for real success. These 10 critical success factors are the basic components that you learn and practice until you never get them wrong.
This doesn’t mean that you must be perfect to start. Learning to implement SAFe correctly is just like learning to ride both fast and safe. You learn the proper techniques and continue to inspect and adapt until you get it right, then practice these techniques until they become instinctive. That’s when the speed comes. The same concept applies to your SAFe implementation—learn the 10 critical success factors and practice them until they become instinctive. You will make mistakes along the way because getting these factors right takes time and effort. But if you continue to focus on these basics, they become part of the culture and the norm for your organization. That’s when you experience the true value of a SAFe implementation.
Practice Makes Permanent Blog Series
In this blog series, I aim to share my experiences from the field in helping organizations master and apply good, basic, Lean-Agile and SAFe practices to promote successful SAFe implementation.
Upcoming topics I plan to cover include PI planning, the Program Backlog, and SAFe roles. My hope is that as part of this effort, you will be able to achieve business agility through the Lean-Agile mindset.
Dwayne is an Enterprise Transformation Coach and Trainer and SAFe Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT) with more than 20 years of experience. He is ultra-passionate about helping large organizations learn how to build the right products and deliver optimal value through learning and customer validation. Dwayne uses his SPCT role to help several Fortune 100 companies, as well as many growing companies in finance, retail, healthcare, and logistics, realize the benefits of a Lean-Agile mindset. Connect with Dwayne on LinkedIn.
Globalization is an important growth strategy for Scaled Agile. Localization of SAFe content enables our customers worldwide to participate and learn in their own native language. And it helps drive the adoption of SAFe across international markets.
We need several key ingredients to create a great global product. One of them is people. Since I started working at Scaled Agile, one of the most rewarding experiences was building a global SAFe In-country Review (ICR) team comprised of SAF SAFe experts —known as SPCs and SPCTs—from around the globe. All of them are highly experienced Agile coaches and transformation leaders who are changing the way people work in their respective countries. I’ve had the utmost pleasure of working closely with this team and I can tell you that they are fantastic people!
At Scaled Agile, translation quality, including that of our glossary, is critical. We don’t simply translate a term. We make sure every term has been discussed and thoroughly vetted by our passionate ICR team. Does the term or concept exist in the target language? If the concept can be translated in multiple ways, which one is most appropriate given the context? Do we use the traditional translation of the term or the anglicized version? Does the transliteration make sense instead? These are just a few examples of the questions that our ICR team addresses on a regular basis.
After all, the glossary is an integral part of the learning experience. And we need to ensure that SAFe content is well-translated and of high quality. Thanks to our ICR team’s effort, the SAFe glossary is now available in 13 languages.
The holiday season is a perfect time for reflection. I’d like to take a moment to recognize the contribution of the ICR team and properly thank everyone who contributed. The list below includes past and current ICR team members (listed in alphabetical order by the first name). These individuals went above and beyond to contribute to the SAFe community by sharing their knowledge and devoting their time. They’re helping to make SAFe more accessible to learners worldwide.
I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to our special ICR team because we couldn’t have done it without you! I look forward to working with everyone in the new year as we will continue to update the SAFe glossary and focus on courseware translations.
Wherever you are, whatever you are celebrating, I wish everyone a healthy, happy holiday season!
Interested in becoming an ICR? Please click here to learn more.
About Yuka Kurihara
Yuka is Director of Globalization Services at Scaled Agile, Inc. She has 20+ years of experience building corporate globalization strategies and leading localization technology and operations in enterprises of all sizes. Connect with Yuka on LinkedIn.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
The circular economy offers opportunities for better growth through an economic model that is resilient, distributed, diverse, and inclusive. It tackles the root causes of global challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, creating an economy in which nothing becomes waste, and which is regenerative by design.
Many enterprises are committed to making their products eco-friendlier and participating in global coalitions such as The Plastics Pack. Nevertheless, due to the lack of global standards or lack of dialogue and collaboration, they could create fragmented, small-scale, and sub-optimal solutions. For example, an enterprise might design a product that contains recyclable materials, is built with mono-material components, and is easy to disassemble. Still, it would only maximize its recycling value when embedded in a functioning collection system and treated in proper recycling facilities.
What Is the Solution, Then?
Circularity is a property of a system and not of individual products. It depends on how different actors, products, and information interact with each other. Improving the whole system would require that a group of loosely coupled actors combine their business models to achieve a better collective outcome. The proposed solution is a virtual organization that aligns the strategy and execution of all the stakeholders creating a solution ecosystem.
Let’s look at one example. I will illustrate a management framework to improve the packaging plastics system shown below.
Applying SAFe Principles to the Circular Economy
SAFe principle #10, Organize around value, recommends creating a virtual organization that would maximize the flow of value. It involves eliminating silos and barriers for collaboration, including the people, the processes, and the tools, from all relevant stakeholders that are trying to achieve the same outcome.
This organization would be called a solution ecosystem, and its goal will be to implement the desired changes. Following SAFe principle #2, Apply systems thinking, the solution ecosystem would include all the actors involved in or impacted by the flow of packaging plastics, from business, government, scientists, and NGOs to end-user communities, including all the necessary activities and information flows required. Decisions would be made collaboratively, iteratively, and based on science-based targets.
The objective of the solution ecosystem would be to deliver a series of interventions to improve the flow of plastics iteratively. The teams would validate each intervention hypothesis through a series of minimum viable products following a roadmap. An intervention example could be, “to get the top 20 manufacturers of packaging plastics to commit to plastic packaging that’s 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025,” while the desired outcome would be “to reduce packaging plastics flowing into the ocean by 50%.”
The solution ecosystem comprises small, long-standing, cross-stakeholder, and cross-functional teams or teams of teams dedicated to addressing specific outcomes. They will also have access to part-time specialized resources and count on all the necessary skills to deliver value independently of other teams.
The solution ecosystem could be coordinated top-down, from organizations such as the World Economic Forum, or led by a single enterprise coordinating with all the stakeholders impacted by its products. This organization could reach out vertically to all actors along the supply chain, such as those in logistics, packaging, and wholesale, horizontally to competitors, or circularly to all stakeholders impacted.
Aligning Strategy to Execution
The solution ecosystem is likely to be composed of many people and organizations. To align strategy and execution, SAFe proposes to create a golden thread. From a single and shared vision to strategicthemes to a common backlog of interventions to hold and prioritize all the interventions that will realize those themes.
The overarching vision of the New Plastics Economy is that plastics never become waste. Instead, they re-enter the economy as valuable technical or biological nutrients, creating an effective after-use plastics economy, drastically reducing the leakage of plastics into natural systems, and decoupling plastics from fossil feedstocks.
Strategic themes are the way to achieve that vision or areas of investment. They are a way to group and classify Interventions. The solution ecosystem’s scientific community would express them in objectives and key results (OKRs). Thus, providing a qualitative and quantitative measurement to evaluate progress and success. An example could be:
Objective: Drastically reduce leakage of plastics into natural systems.
Key result 1: Improve after-use infrastructure in high-leakage countries by x%
Key result 2: Increase the economic attractiveness of keeping materials in the system
Key result 3: Increase investments in efforts related to substances of concern by x %
The teams would strive to accomplish the strategic themes by implementing a series of interventions. The solution ecosystem’s backlog is the prioritized list of interventions to be done. For example, it might look like this:
Plastics toolkit for policymakers
Bid data service to track the flow of dangerous chemicals
Food delivery containers as a service
Collaborative Decision-making Process
SAFe recommends using Participatory Budgeting (PB) as a tool for budget allocation across the same enterprise business units. We could expand PB for multi-stakeholder decision-making, as many municipalities use it, gathering all the stakeholders’ voices. All the stakeholders impacted would be heard, voice their concerns, choose their priorities, and learn about other stakeholders’ concerns. The PB process should be done periodically to create a rolling wave agreed plan.
Creating a Balanced Portfolio
To maintain a well-balanced portfolio, SAFe proposes several budget guardrails:
Capacity allocation: This technique classifies interventions into different types and allocates a percentage of the available capacity to each kind, such as building the basic science, writing communications material for end-users, or drafting policy documents. Every three months, we can decide the percentage allocation to each type, keeping the desired balance across all categories.
Investment horizons: Classifying interventions by their impact timeframe allows leadership to maintain the right balance between the immediate, short, and long term. Quick wins are needed to win the hearts and minds of the naysayers, while the more difficult things usually take longer.
Epic approval: Decentralizing decision making is fundamental to reduce time-to-market and to improve flow. Nevertheless, substantial initiatives that impact multiple stakeholders need to go through an approval process based on a short business case.
Project to Product
The traditional projectapproach would have required well-defined Interventions with fixed scope, fixed budget, and a fixed timeframe, such as building a clearly defined database of biomaterials at the cost of £2m over one year. One major drawback of this approach is that the success criteria of the intervention usually focus more on staying within these artificial constraints rather than on achieving the desired outcome of increasing the percentage of biomaterials used in packaging plastics by x%. Another problem is that designs and plans must be agreed upon upfront to obtain funding and approval. At that moment is when we know the least about the problem and the solution. Hence, it becomes harder to pivot later if needed.
The book Project to Product proposes a product approach, where funding is associated with long-standing teams working on a set of interventionsrelated to thedesiredoutcome. They would iteratively validate hypotheses and measure progress irrespective of the validity of their initial plans and assumptions. Products must be launched and maintained during their life cycle and have multiple target users with evolving needs.
For instance, the budget would be related to a product called ‘biomaterials for packaging,’ including research, product launch, product support in life, and end-of-life activities, rather than related to a project to launch a new packaging material.
SAFe principle #1, Take an economic view, proposes that we work incrementally and iteratively. Working in small timeboxes and on small pieces of independently valuable work would allow us to obtain the best economic outcome. We will get quick feedback; the value will get accumulated over time, and it will enable us to test our hypothesis and pivot quickly if needed.
SAFe principle #7, Cadence and synchronization, promotes that all teams involved in the solution ecosystem get together every three months to collaboratively plan the work for the next three months. This recurrent process helps evaluate progress toward the shared outcome, manage cross-team dependencies, and facilitate cross-team collaboration to create a stable and predictable rhythm of key events.
Every three months, all teams demonstrate their accomplishments to evaluate progress objectively. They would get together to reflect on how they deliver value and look for opportunities to improve the process.
The Epic Owner is a new role that would work at the solution ecosystem level to track and shepherd the intervention through its life cycle and across all the teams involved. In our example, the Epic Owner for the biomaterials database would be accountable to define the scope, building the short business case, getting it approved, building the teams across all stakeholders, tracking progress, being a consultant to the delivery teams, and evaluating whether they are meeting the desired outcome. It is a role, not a title. Hence, it might be fulfilled by a group of people.
Transparency and visualization of all the work and all the dependencies by everyone are key. Kanbanboards would allow us to see every intervention’s status to match demand with available capacity. A dependency board would show when each intervention will be delivered and its dependencies with other teams.
No amount of central planning will be enough at this scale. To enable decentralized decision-making, we need to create a framework that provides organizational clarity and technical competence. This would allow individual teams to make decisions independently with the confidence that those will be good decisions. An example could be that a team can decide to increase the cost of the solution up to £1,000 to produce an additional reduction on the amount of plastics leakage into the ocean, as long as there is no impact on any of the other planetary boundaries.
References and Sources of Inspiration
Several reports are calling for organizations like the proposed solution ecosystem that could lead a multi-stakeholder systemic change:
TheMetabolic Institute proposed that The Netherlands implements a regional ecosystem approach to scale up circular economy innovation.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation calls for a global, independent collaboration initiative that brings together all actors across the value chain from consumer goods companies, plastic packaging producers, plastics manufacturers to cities, businesses involved in the collection, sorting and reprocessing, policymakers, and NGOs.
J. Konietzko writes, “Ecosystem innovation aims at changing how actors relate to each other and how they interact to achieve the desired outcome… circular products and services often maximize their circularity in conjunction with other assets. A circular ecosystem perspective thus goes beyond the question, what is our value proposition? Instead, it asks, how does our offering complement other products and services that together can provide a superior and circular ecosystem value proposition?”
D. Meadow, in her book Thinking in Systems, says, “You can’t predict a system, but you can dance with it.” Hence, do not design a solution upfront at the enterprise level, expecting the whole ecosystem to react as you hoped. Instead, implement a management framework that allows you to work iteratively at the system level, which we call the solution ecosystem; listen to the feedback, and react accordingly.
In this blog post, I proposed a management framework, adapted from the Scaled Agile Framework, to manage a multi-stakeholder ecosystem to scale up solutions for the circular economy. At this stage, these are ideas extrapolated from my experience in business agility transformations and my readings into the circular economy. Please get in touch with me via LinkedIn to explore these ideas further, or if you have a concrete initiative you would like to apply them to.
About Diego Groiso
As a Principal Consultant at Radtac, a Scaled Agile Partner, Diego supports companies in their Business Agility journeys as an Enterprise Agile Coach, Trainer, and Release Train Engineer. Recently, he has transformed the whole infrastructure department of a global utility company, as well as launched and coached several Agile Release Trains within the Digital Transformation Programme in a global telecom company. He has a passion for the circular economy as one of the solutions to climate change. Connect with Diego on LinkedIn.
Recently, someone asked me to explain the benefits of SAFe® over other Agile frameworks. Before I answer, I want to point out that I am not opposed to other scaling frameworks (we don’t do that!). What I can do, however, is speak from my own experience and give you some insight into why I choose to specialise in SAFe.
One of the best books I read last year was Switch: How to change things when change is hard, by Chip and Dan Heath. The book talks about communicating a vision and uses a great analogy of the elephant and the rider. The rider represents the rational self, and the elephant the emotional self. If the rational brain interests you, I suggest you look at the customer stories at the Scaled Agile website. There you can explore a treasure trove of case studies based on data.
I’m going to focus on the elephant. A common question in SAFe classes is where the data sits behind the statistic, “30 percent increase in employee engagement.” I usually answer this question by telling a true story about a Programme Manager I worked with called Steve (his real name isn’t Steve).
Steve worked in a large organisation for 20 years. Over the years, he honed his craft by emulating those who had gone before him. He worked his way up the project management ladder and became highly respected by all who had the pleasure of working with him. There was just one problem, Steve had learned that the best way for his projects to succeed was to be at the centre of everything. Every decision went through him, and every status report had to be filled out precisely the way he did it; if not, you would have to do it again. Now, this all sounds sensible: Steve knew what his stakeholders needed to know, and he made sure that they had the information they needed to sail through his milestones with minimal fuss. There was one fly in the ointment: Steve had to work 60 hours a week to maintain control.
The organisation that Steve works in decided to go SAFe and identified his programme as an ideal candidate to launch an ART. Steve was willing to try but was sceptical about a new approach. We followed the SAFe Implementation Roadmap, trained everyone and got ready for PI planning. This is the point in our story when everything changed.
In the first PI planning, the room’s energy was unlike anything seen before. Because everyone who needed to be there was in the same room, the teams managed to unblock a capability in the first hour of the first team breakout that had stumped everyone for three months. The momentum continued to build from there; the ART launch was a tremendous success.
To understand why I think SAFe is so brilliant, we need to fast forward a few PIs. It was the summer season, and Steve took some time off to relax and soak up the sun. For the first time in years, Steve was not on his phone. He was not checking emails. He relaxed. When I caught up with him shortly after his holiday, he said, “Thanks to SAFe, I’ve got my life back.” Steve was no longer working crazy hours to stay in control. He had let go of many day-to-day decisions. He trusted the teams to make the calls on the things they were close to so that he could focus on the strategy.
I believe that SAFe is so fantastic because it gives us just the right balance of guidance and flexibility. The 10 SAFe Principles help us put the changes in behaviour into practice. As a coach, they are at the front of my mind whenever I’m thinking about implementing SAFe. And for people like Steve, they help put the mindset into practice and apply it to their own context. We can’t be overly prescriptive; every context is different.
Steve’s story is far from unique; I’ve seen many people’s lives change for the better as they embrace a new way of working. That is why I do what I do. Business benefits are essential, the ability to respond to changes in the market is critical, but I’m all about the people.
It’s no accident that the first value of the Agile Manifesto is individuals and interactions over processes and tools, or that the first pillar of the SAFe House of Lean is respect for people and culture. What could be more important than making the world a better place for people to work? What could be more valuable than improving the happiness and wellbeing of our people?
So, can SAFe make the world a better place? I believe so!
Tim is an experienced SPCT who has been working in Agile and software for the last 12 years. Over the years, Tim has worked in a variety of industries such as telecom, pharma, and aviation, leading large transformation initiatives. Connect with Tim on LinkedIn.