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Scaled Agile

Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®)

by Simon Buehring
Gain practical insights to elevate your team's efficiency and productivity within the SAFe Agile framework, setting a solid foundation for enterprise growth.
SAFe Agile: Thriving in a scaled environment

Understanding SAFe Agile

The Scaled Agile Framework, known as SAFe, stands as a beacon for enterprises seeking to scale Agile methodologies beyond single teams. Based upon Agile principles and Lean thinking, SAFe’s comprehensive approach to Agile software development synchronises alignment, collaboration, and delivery for large numbers of Agile teams.

What is SAFe Agile?

SAFe Agile is a structured framework for scaling Agile practices to an enterprise level, promoting alignment, quality, and execution across large and complex projects. It enables an organisation to apply Agile methodologies, like Scrum and Kanban, across teams, programs, and portfolios.

The evolution of SAFe Agile

Tracing its origins to 2011, SAFe has evolved under the guidance of Agile thought leader Dean Leffingwell. It’s an ever-growing framework, now in its version 5.0, reflecting the latest in Lean-Agile thinking adapted to the changing landscapes of industries worldwide.

The structure of SAFe

The SAFe framework is a complex but coherent model structured into four levels designed to help organisations scale their Agile practices effectively. These tiers – Team, Program, Large Solution, and Portfolio – each serve a unique function, while collectively ensuring that strategy and execution remain closely aligned. The framework encourages collaboration across teams, facilitates alignment with organisational objectives, and streamlines the delivery of value through each level.

SAFe levels explained

At the Team level, SAFe promotes Agile practices where individual teams deliver incrementally, with a keen focus on quality and value. Upward, the Program level is the realm of the Agile Release Train (ART), where multiple teams synchronise to deliver more significant initiatives. This coordination ensures that complex solutions align with stakeholder needs. The Large Solution level folds in an extra layer of coordination for multi-ART efforts, dealing with even more complexity and scale. Finally, the Portfolio level serves to align the enterprise strategy with execution, underpinned by Lean Portfolio Management to ensure that investments translate into customer value.

Understanding the rationale behind each level helps organisations appreciate the seamless flow of work and ideas that SAFe enables.

Implementing SAFe

Adopting the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is a transformative process that reshapes both project management and organisational culture. The implementation of SAFe involves a thoughtful and systematic approach to ensure all aspects of the framework are understood and adopted at every level of the enterprise. It begins with a strategic decision to embrace Lean-Agile values and principles and extends to detailed practices that enable teams to deliver value efficiently and effectively.

The journey to a SAFe transformation passes through various stages, from training and education to the full establishment of new roles and structures that foster collaboration and agility.

Getting started with SAFe

Setting out on the SAFe journey commences with an initial exploration phase where leaders and stakeholders come together to understand the potential impact and benefits of SAFe. This phase often includes training sessions such as the Leading SAFe course, which provides an overview of the framework and instills a Lean-Agile mindset. Key participants then identify value streams and create the Agile Release Trains (ARTs), which are the primary vehicles for delivering value in SAFe.

Selecting a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE) to drive the transformation and establishing a coalition of SAFe champions are also pivotal steps in the early stages of implementation.

Roles within SAFe

In a SAFe-enabled enterprise, roles are distinctly defined to ensure that every member contributes to a Lean-Agile way of working. Each role comes with specific responsibilities that are crucial for the successful implementation of the framework.

Scrum Master

The Scrum Master facilitates team events, ensures the team follows Agile practices, and helps remove impediments.

Product Owner

The Product Owner defines user stories, prioritises the team backlog, and ensures the value of the work the team performs.

Product Manager

Responsible for the program backlog, delivers vision and content via features, and guides the ART.

Release Train Engineer (RTE)

Acts as the chief Scrum Master for the train, facilitating and guiding the ART events and processes.

Solution Train Engineer (STE)

Ensures alignment and execution of large solutions that require multiple ARTs.

System Architect/Engineer

Provides guidance in infrastructure, architecture, processes, and tools to support value streams and ARTs.

Lean Portfolio Manager

The Lean portfolio manager aligns portfolio strategy with execution, governs the portfolio budget, and fosters operational excellence.

Business Owners

Key stakeholders who must be actively involved in the governance, decision-making, and return on investment for the solution.

Understanding and performing these roles effectively is vital. It ensures that SAFe principles and practices are embedded in daily operations, leading to better outcomes.

Iterations and PIs

At the heart of SAFe are iterations – timeboxed intervals, usually two weeks, where Agile teams deliver incremental value in the form of working, tested software and systems. Iterations are building blocks of the Program Increment (PI), a larger timebox that spans five to twelve iterations, ending in a PI planning event. This event is a critical ceremony within SAFe that aligns teams to a shared mission and vision for the next increment of work. It also allows for the adjustment of plans based on feedback and reflections from the previous PI.

Program Increments provide a rhythm for delivering value, fostering predictability, and creating a cadence for inspection and adaptation. They align the efforts of all teams within an ART and provide an opportunity for stakeholders to influence the direction of solution development. Understanding and effectively applying iterations and PIs are central to achieving the synchronised pace of delivery that is fundamental to SAFe.

Core competencies of the Lean enterprise

The journey to becoming a Lean-Agile enterprise is rooted in developing core competencies that are indispensable for navigating the complexities of today’s business environment. These competencies serve as the foundation for successfully implementing SAFe and are crucial for any organisation aspiring to thrive within the Lean-Agile context. They encompass Lean-Agile leadership, team and technical agility, and Agile product delivery – each playing a pivotal role in fostering an environment where high-quality, valuable products are rapidly delivered to satisfied customers.

Lean-Agile leadership

Lean-Agile leadership is the cornerstone of a successful transformation. Leaders must embody and champion the principles and values of SAFe. They set an example by thinking Lean, embracing a culture of lifelong learning, and committing to relentless improvement.

Their role is not only about endorsing a new way of working but also actively participating in the change. Leaders create a vision for transformation, motivate employees, and communicate the importance of Lean-Agile practices, thereby guiding the enterprise towards a more efficient and responsive state.

Team and technical agility

Team and technical agility are critical competencies that ensure teams can develop high-quality solutions efficiently and effectively. Teams are cross-functional, empowered to make decisions, and structured around value. They adopt Agile practices, such as Scrum and Kanban, to manage their work and deliver increments regularly. Emphasising technical excellence, they aim for continuous integration and test-driven development. This focus on agility and quality enables teams to adapt to changes quickly and to continuously integrate and deploy value to users.

Agile product delivery

Agile product delivery centres on the customer. It integrates customer-centricity and design thinking into the product development process, ensuring that solutions truly resolve user pain points and add value.

This approach relies on building a deep understanding of the customer journey, using persona mapping, and validating hypotheses through constant feedback. It empowers teams to innovate and collaboratively determine the features that will make the most significant impact.

Agile product delivery leads to products that not only meet customer needs but also exceed their expectations, thereby promoting customer loyalty and fostering long-term success.

SAFe principles and practices

SAFe is underpinned by ten principles that dovetail with Agile and Lean practices. Together, they create a blueprint for organisations. They drive efficiency, promote a consistent approach to complex development, and enable rapid response to change.

The Lean-Agile mindset

Adopting SAFe requires a cultural shift towards a Lean-Agile mindset. This involves thinking lean, embracing respect for people and culture, and delivering value incrementally. Teams learn to embrace change, even late in the development process. Leadership fosters this mindset shift organisation-wide for transformation to take hold.

SAFe principles in action

The principles of SAFe are daily guides for work and decision-making. They encourage decentralised decision-making and fast learning cycles. Work is visualised, and WIP limits are set to maintain flow. The focus is on delivering the highest value in the shortest sustainable lead time. Teams are empowered to innovate. Continuous exploration, integration, deployment, and release on demand are key practices. They allow for rapid adaptation and delivery of value.

Challenges and best practices

Implementing SAFe can be challenging. Organisations often face obstacles that can derail their Agile journey. Acknowledging these challenges is the first step towards overcoming them.

Addressing common pitfalls

A common challenge is resistance to change within an organisation. This is met with clear communication and inclusive change management practices. Another pitfall is neglecting to align the SAFe implementation with the company’s existing culture. Tailoring the approach while respecting the organisational ethos is key.

Keys to success with SAFe

Success with SAFe starts with wholehearted leadership commitment. Leaders must understand and support SAFe’s principles. Training and education are also vital. Every member of the organisation should know their role within SAFe. Moreover, sustained success is achieved by continuously inspecting, adapting, and integrating feedback.

Future of SAFe

The evolution of SAFe is ongoing, adapting to emerging trends and demands in Agile domains. As businesses face new challenges, SAFe will continue to evolve. It will incorporate advancements in technology, deeper integration of DevOps, and a stronger focus on customer experience. The framework will likely expand its guidance on remote collaboration and agility at scale, accommodating the changing nature of work. It will remain at the forefront of enterprise agility, leading companies to increased responsiveness and resilience in an unpredictable market.

Getting certified in SAFe

Earning a SAFe certification demonstrates a deep understanding of the framework and its application. It highlights one’s commitment to Agile excellence. Certified professionals can guide enterprises through the complexities of scaling Agile.

Types of SAFe certifications

There’s a spectrum of SAFe certifications to suit various roles. They range from SAFe Agilist, Leading SAFe for leaders to SAFe for Teams for team members. Other paths include SAFe Scrum Master, SAFe Advanced Scrum Master, SAFe Release Train Engineer, and SAFe Product Owner. Each caters to a different aspect of the SAFe environment.

Preparing for SAFe certification

Preparation begins with choosing the right certification for your career goals. Attend authorised training, engage with the SAFe community for insights, and study the framework. Practice exams are invaluable for getting a feel for the format and types of questions. Dedication to understanding the principles and practices of SAFe is crucial for success in certification exams.

Learn from agile leaders

agileKRC has helped shape agile thinking by leading the teams that developed AgilePM® and PRINCE2 Agile®. We take a practical, success-oriented approach. We begin by taking the time to listen and understand your needs, before offering our real-world experience and expert guidance.

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