“SAFe has been a successful story for us. It allowed us to grow our team in a seamless way that integrated cross-functional groups and aligned with the company’s long-term strategy. Fitbit has grown significantly since we adopted SAFe, and we were able to scale the process and still deliver high achievement every PI. My VP calls it the scaffolding that has helped moved our team forward.”
—Damian Brown, Sr. Director of Program Management Office, Fitbit
With major consumer holidays as deadlines, target dates are immovable. Early Scrum efforts could not keep pace with company growth.
Consumer Products, Information Technology
Fitbit achieved a long-term look-ahead on its product roadmap and a short-term look-ahead on team tasks
Teams now achieve five business goals per PI, compared to three previously
Velocity increased 33 percent year over year
Fitbit launched a record number of products last year
Don’t miss retrospectives – After every PI planning event, Fitbit listens to feedback on what went well and what needs improvement—and integrates those changes for the next PI.
Establish long-lived teams – Long-lived teams provide more stability and predictability.
Collect metrics along the way – Collect as many metrics as possible, which could back up decision-making. These could include velocity, overall objectives completion rate and reasons for scope changes during execution.
Always plan for the next PI – Cadence is important to align multiple groups in the PI in preparation for the next PI planning event. Start early and make sure every participant is aware of the timeline, so all stakeholders are well-informed and prepared for PI planning.
In 2016, consumer technology company, Fitbit, released four new products to the market that were positively received by consumers, and shipped over 22 million devices.
Delivering its highest number of products in a year is due in part to the company’s commitment to, and success in adopting SAFe® (Scaled Agile Framework®) as a way to scale the team to meet target dates.
Challenge: Delivering for Consumer Shopping Seasons
Since 2007, Fitbit has helped millions of people around the world lead healthier, more active lives by empowering them with data, inspiration, and guidance to reach their goals.
At Fitbit, major consumer holidays drive the product delivery schedule, including the year-end holiday season, Valentine’s Day, graduation, and Mother’s and Father’s Days. For that reason, target dates are inflexible when it comes to developing firmware and software for every product for each major platform (iOS, Android, and Windows).
In working toward targets, Fitbit engineering managers, tech leads, and Scrum masters have collaborated closely in recent years, sprint to sprint. But as the company and user base grew, Fitbit had to expand and evolve this process to meeting company and consumer needs.
“With our growing team and global presence, we knew our Scrum efforts were not going to scale,” says Damian Brown, Sr. Director of Program Management Office, Fitbit. “The question was, ‘How do we keep the organic culture people like about Fitbit while addressing the needs of the business and our global community of users?’”
Always Planning, Always Delivering
At a previous company, Brown and colleague, Brian Hsieh, had been part of a successful Agile effort by deploying SAFe. When they arrived at Fitbit, they saw an opportunity to deploy SAFe once again.
“We had done research on the different models for scaling Scrum,” Brown says. “Brian and I had been to Leading SAFe training, and once you see that big picture, your eyes start lighting up. It’s a powerful story how the Program layer aligns with Scrum teams. We knew that SAFe was something that would work for us at Fitbit.”
But first, they had to gain executive buy-in. “I think the story we told of always planning, always delivering, was very powerful for leadership,” Brown says
A Big Picture—for the First Time
With leadership on board, in fall 2015 the company started with 12 Scrum teams at its first Program Increment (PI) planning event in San Francisco. They created a highly interactive experience with physical boards and red ribbon for a visual of team dependencies within the PI. In that first meeting, teams were energized and excited about their PI objectives.
“Teams reported that they could see the whole picture across company-wide initiatives and understood where they could contribute,” says Hsieh, Manager of Program Management Office.
But as early as the first PI retrospective, the company realized it had not included all the teams that would benefit from this process. Thus in the next PI, Fitbit added other teams, including firmware engineering groups.
With each PI—now up to ten—Fitbit folded in more teams and more functional groups, including some not typically part of an Agile transformation. Today, members of Firmware, Software, Design, Research, Marketing, Customer Support, Data Analytics and Infrastructure Engineering all participate in PIs. Fitbit trained all those who were leading PI events, with events extended to its other office locations, including Boston, San Diego, and Minsk, Belarus.
100% Delivery on Objectives
In adopting SAFe, Fitbit aimed to evolve its process for scaling development teams in many ways:
Create a fast and flexible flow across the entire Fitbit ecosystem
Create a system of teams across the ecosystem that work together to deliver quickly
Scale up to adopt team growth
Improve visibility with the objective of a two-month look-ahead on what each team will be working on
Create mechanisms for teams and stakeholders to identify cross-team dependencies and add items to other teams’ backlogs as needed
Align key business dates across all of the programs, including security, data center moves, compliance, and marketing programs
With the help of SAFe, Fitbit successfully achieved process evolution.
As for visibility, Fitbit achieved a long-term look-ahead on its product roadmap and a short-term execution plan at areas of work for the teams, supporting planning and decision-making for leadership. It’s a roadmap process that Brown and Hsieh credit SAFe with providing.
Velocity likewise increased; teams now achieve five objectives per PI, on average, “With the metrics that SAFe provides, combined with what we regularly report on, we can tell our CTO that velocity has increased 33 percent over the past year,” Brown says.
With higher cadence and velocity, Fitbit can more readily respond to market needs. For example, when the company noticed an opportunity to add a specific capability to its products, it brought the new feature to market in a very short time with no major bugs in internal and external testing.
In 2016, with an aggressive plan for launching four new products, Brown and Hsieh credit the SAFe approach with enabling teams to complete goals and objectives two to three PIs ahead of schedule.
Additionally, the integrated, measured approach contributes to the quality of the user experience. In particular, Brown points to that critical time between Black Friday and New Year’s Day when many new Fitbit owners activate products and visit the Fitbit app and website for the first time to create accounts and sync their new devices. In 2016, the company experienced no major impact to the site during that timeframe.
Just as critical, team engagement has gone up since deploying SAFe. As a result, teams now regularly hit their top objectives. “Having PIs and objectives really rallies us around something positive several times a year,” Brown says.
Now, as the company plans for next year, it’s working toward funding value streams rather than projects—a goal that SAFe 4.0 supports with its Value Stream level.
“SAFe has been a successful story for us. It allowed us to grow our team in a seamless way that integrated cross-functional groups and aligned with the company’s long-term strategy,” Brown adds. “Fitbit has grown significantly since we adopted SAFe, and we were able to scale the process and still deliver high achievement every PI. My VP calls it the scaffolding that has helped moved our team forward.”
“I personally believe we have delivered more in the two years we’ve been using SAFe than we did in the four years prior-not in raw code, but in value. Our downtime went down and that saved the company about 30 million over the course of the year. That’s real money and a really positive outcome.”
—Tripp Meister, Director of Technology, PlayStation Network
Co-located teams across eight different cities found Waterfall and Agile Scrum fell short in bringing together members cohesively.
Media and Entertainment, Consumer Products
Delivered double the value compared to before practicing SAFe
Cut initial planning time by 28 percent
700 team members across 60 Scrum teams actively using SAFe
In two years, launched six trains globally, shipped more than 350 production releases, completed 22 PSIs, over 125 sprints and 250 features
Work toward a common theme—”We base our milestones on an objective set that goes across all thousand people doing this, giving them a common theme to work toward,” Meister says.
Decentralize decision-making—Empower individuals to negotiate decisions together, at all levels.
Gain full buy-in—”SAFe worked because everyone bought into it, top to bottom,” Meister says.
Since 1994, millions around the world have chosen to game with PlayStation. Today, the gaming console made by Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE) continues to lead with more than 150 million users globally. And most recently, it took the top spot among competing consoles in holiday sales.
PlayStation customers eagerly await new releases. Delivering a quality product on time requires tight collaboration across more than 1,000 SIE engineering team members. Co-located teams reside in eight different cities.
In meeting its targets, the SIE engineering organization found Waterfall and Agile Scrum fell short in bringing together hundreds of team members cohesively. These approaches failed to address the many dependencies across the organization and resulted in less than desirable business results. What’s more, disparate teams were able to plan only one or two iterations in advance.
“It can take 700 people to make one screen available,” explains Tripp Meister, Director Technology, PlayStation Network. “Coordinating this work and having it well organized so the company can release new features and updates is critical to success. If we just follow processes like Scrum and Agile, things can fall through the cracks, especially with the highly connected systems we build at PlayStation.”
SAFe®: Enabling Value Delivery
In early 2014, SIE leadership chose to deploy the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) to bring greater organization and collaboration to development.
“SAFe gives us top-down prioritization based on senior management direction, pulls disparate groups together into common timeframes, and enables us to manage dependencies much better,” Meister says.
SIE engaged a SAFe coach and began with the 2-day Leading SAFe® training for managers. By February of 2014, the company launched its first Agile Release Train (ART), and then followed that with ART launches every 12 weeks.
For every launch, team members come together in person. “Every 12 weeks, about 500 people coalesce in San Diego,” Meister says. “While it’s not cheap to bring everyone together, it’s what allows us to deliver value because you walk out of there and know you can get your work done. For 12 weeks, you are unimpeded.”
Prior to adopting SAFe, cadence varied across groups. Some iterated daily, while others did so weekly or bi-monthly. Now, SIE consistently adheres to a cadence of two weeks with 12-week iterations or PSIs, potentially shippable increments (identified now as Program Increments (PIs) in SAFe 4.0). They run six or seven iterations at a time, which comprise a major release.
SIE program managers serve as Release Train Engineers (RTE), which Meister refers to as the “ringmasters.” They oversee designers, user experience developers, systems architects, systems engineers, and product managers in executing on work in manageable increments and in adhering to the vision.
With the move to SAFe, the company made demos optional for developers. And when they do attend, demos remain high-level and limited to just 5-10 minutes—compared to all-day demos presented previously. “If developers do attend demos, it’s an opportunity to read the face of the product manager they delivered to,” Meister says.
Clearer Vision, Predictability and Priorities
At SEI, SAFe has fundamentally changed the culture of the engineering organization:
Greater visibility/transparency—Developers have more insight into broader company initiatives and activities. “Now, every planning session we do, every single employee practicing SAFe knows our financial results,” Meister says. “The work we do isn’t usually visible, so when you see that you impact the bottom line, it resonates better.”
Better coordination—Prior to SAFe, collaboration wasn’t necessarily constructive. Now, from Tokyo to San Diego, everyone speaks a common language when it comes to Agile. Disparate groups work together more cohesively, and SEI has enhanced coordination between Portfolio and Program management activities.
Dependency management—In an environment with many dependencies, SAFe serves as a dependency management system, improving predictability.
Clearer priorities—With weighted shortest job first (WSJF), SAFe brought a new approach to prioritizing. “SAFe has really allowed us to work on the most valuable thing at the moment,” Meister says.
$30 Million in Savings
Today, approximately 700 team members across 60 Scrum teams actively use SAFe. Since 2014, the company has launched six trains globally, shipped more than 350 production releases, completed 22 PSIs, over 125 sprints and 250 features. With the Framework, SEI also cut initial planning time by 28 percent. Instead of 1550 man-days to plan, it now takes 1125.
“I personally believe we have delivered more in the two years we’ve been using SAFe than we did in the four years prior—not in raw code, but in value,” Meister says. “Our downtime went down and that saved the company about 30 million over the course of the year. Before, we had done similar things, but they were not nearly as effective as SAFe.”
“ … this has improved the motivation of the team members. Going to work is more fun when there’s less confusion and less waste. And motivated people do better work, so it’s a positive cycle! Another impact we’ve seen is that other parts of LEGO visit the meeting, get super inspired, and start exploring how to implement some of these principles and practices in their own department. In fact, agile is spreading like a virus within the company, and the highly visible nature of the PI planning event is like a a catalyst.”
—Henrik Kniberg and Eik Thyrsted
January, 2017 : A year after Henrik Kniberg and Eik Thyrsted shared the first phase of LEGO’s SAFe journey, they are back with the next chapter of their story. Their efforts to nip and tuck SAFe for optimal results run the gamut from large edits to small tweaks, and their learnings and outcomes are captured in a 36-page in-depth summary that is full of candid commentary and describes the thought process behind each decision. You can download it below.
One of the world’s leading manufacturers of play materials, The LEGO Group is still owned by the Kirk Kristiansen family who founded it in 1932. With headquarters in Billund, Denmark, and main offices in Enfield, USA, London, UK, Shanghai, China, and Singapore, the company employs more than 15,000 people worldwide.
In 2014, LEGO Digital Solutions turned to SAFe to improve their collaboration model and seek out what they like to refer to as the “Land of Awesome.” Their story of transformation was presented at LKCE (Lean Kanban Central Europe) by LEGO’s Head of Project Management, Eik Thyrsted Brandsgård and Lean/Kanban Coach, Mattias Skarin from Crisp.
Much like creating something from LEGO® bricks, they built their transformation one piece at a time, starting with inviting 20 managers to a 2-day Leading SAFe class. From there, they began training the teams; first one, then another until they had 20 teams trained in SAFe. They approached every step as a learning journey, allowing for creativity along the way. When something didn’t seem like a good fit, they weren’t afraid to experiment. Taking results from Inspect and Adapt, they tweaked SAFe to their needs with a simple guiding principle, “Keep the stuff that generates energy.”
“The combination of a structured system, logic and unlimited creativity encourages the child to learn through play in a wholly unique LEGO fashion.” —The LEGO Group
Their first PI Planning event—which they now refer to as their “center of gravity”—went better than expected, with the teams eager to take what they learned and apply it.
“You just can’t replace face-to-face communication, and PI planning is just a fantastic way to do that.”
Their presentation includes insights and lessons learned, such as:
You need critical mass
They can now better manage expectations
Don’t be afraid to experiment
To become good at something you need to practice it
Experimenting your way forward matters more than your selection of path
SAFe’s creator, Dean Leffingwell, calls their presentation, “One of the most insightful applications and presentations that I’ve yet seen on SAFe.” You can view their 45-minute video below.
Many thanks to Mattias and Eik for sharing their inspiring story!