The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is an enterprise-wide, lean-agile organizational methodology. Its goal is to increase agility and speed of product delivery while also reducing the risks associated with traditional approaches.
SAFe consists of seven bodies of knowledge focused on helping businesses scale up their operations without sacrificing efficiency or productivity.
Getting started with SAFe can be simple if you follow these five steps:
- Understand why it’s important to have a framework that scales
- Learn about the core principles behind SAFe
- Identify what Lean Thinking is and how it affects your organization
- Consider how Systems Thinking will impact your business process design decisions
- Understand that SAFe is built on the foundation of self-organizing and cross-functional teams
Let’s explore all of these in more detail.
What is SAFe?
SAFe stands for Scaled Agile Framework and is a framework that takes Lean and Agile principles, methods, and practices to scale them up for the enterprise. The latest version of SAFe, SAFe 5.1, is built on seven core competencies:
- Lean-agile leadership – The ability to lead agile transformations in large organizations by empowering development teams, communicating intent, and managing change.
- Team and technical agility – The ability to bring teams together and enable them to perform at a high level through agile testing, Behavior-Driven Development (BDD), Built-in Quality, Test-Driven Development (TDD), and more.
- Agile product delivery – Using DevOps, Release on Demand, and the Continuous Delivery Pipeline to automate the delivery of business value to customers.
- Enterprise solution delivery – Designing and developing technical solutions that align to business goals and then packaging them into solution releases.
- Lean portfolio management – Portfolio vision and strategy, including portfolio planning, prioritization, and road mapping.
- Organizational agility – The ability to design and optimize an organization that is fit for its purpose. Aligning strategy and execution by defining a product development strategy, identifying the right talent and skill sets, managing teams by team type and stage in their lifecycle.
- Continuous learning culture – Getting agile teams to embrace the concepts of constant learning, resulting in improvements at all levels.
The SAFe methodology is excellent for large-scale development that brings the benefits of Lean-Agile to organizations that don’t have it.
It is essential to know how it can benefit you and your organization.
Challenges of Scaling Agile Principles
Your business might be doing just fine with one team. It might even be doing great with a couple of teams. But as the organization grows and more people get involved, it becomes harder to keep everyone on track without a framework in place that helps guide you toward success.
SAFe configurations are explicitly designed for enterprises looking to scale their agile approach beyond one team or department.
Here are the challenges that SAFe implementation helps businesses overcome:
Longer Planning Horizons
In product development, small companies typically plan two or three iterations ahead. Large companies, on the other hand, plan out six or nine iterations in advance.
By scaling up, the planning horizon also scales up. Even with a longer time horizon, SAFe helps teams plan and track their work more effectively, even on a high-level roadmap, from 12 to 18 months.
Plenty of frameworks describe how teams can become agile. However, managers can also become agile. Getting everyone involved to think and act in a more iterative manner can be challenging, especially for larger companies with multiple departments.
SAFe provides guidance on how to scale your management approach and your teams’ approach by using the principles of Lean Thinking, among others.
Other agile frameworks (such as Scrum) designate product owners as the ones responsible for the entire product development lifecycle. However, SAFe takes a different approach. It emphasizes a clear view of the backlogs of multiple teams and a product manager who is accountable for the backlog of a single team.
The goal here is to have one person in charge, but not so much that they become the bottleneck when it comes to making decisions or communicating with other teams. This way, you avoid stalemates and reach a consensus more quickly.
This type of delegated authority gives teams across departments more autonomy in their work while still keeping everyone accountable through shared goals.
Self-organization is relatively easy in small environments. But when a business grows to tens or even hundreds of teams, that’s when it becomes challenging.
SAFe provides guidance on achieving self-organization in a scalable manner by delegating decision-making power and responsibility for the product to empowered teams that actually build it.
Synchronizing deliverables and dependencies becomes a challenge when you have so many moving parts.
SAFe helps by establishing clear lines of authority and accountability while giving teams the freedom to organize themselves in an agile manner. It also provides guidance on creating cross-functional teams at a scale that can function without reliance on middle management.
Time for Planning and Innovation
After releasing a product, SAFe recommends one iteration for innovation, planning, and preparing for the next iteration.
The time does not have to be dedicated 100 percent of the time, but it is available for teams if they need to re-plan or make more significant changes. If your company prioritizes continuous improvement and innovation (with customer feedback driving new iterations), this can be a valuable investment in ensuring you’re always moving forward.
This time is also helpful if your company works on multiple products or sub-products at once. Getting together to plan and prepare for the next iteration gives teams a chance to sync up, so they become familiar with what’s going on in different parts of the business without interfering with their day-to-day work.
As a concept, lean thinking is not a new one. It has been applied in many industries and implemented by companies across the globe for decades now.
In agile methodologies, lean thinking is about eliminating waste from your process while adding value to customers at every stage of development.
To do this requires an understanding of where each element adds value. For example, if you add a feature that nobody uses, it adds no value. Time spent building and maintaining it is a waste. Getting rid of such elements (or not making them in the first place) and focusing on adding customer-facing features instead can provide considerable benefits to your end-users and business alike.
The lean thinking approach works well with agile frameworks like SAFe because it is all about finding the most efficient way to work. Getting rid of waste and focusing on adding value while reducing cycle times and maximizing quality helps your company and provides a better experience for end-users.
SAFe has built its framework around lean thinking principles, making it easier to apply them at scale across different departments and teams.
Another concept we should consider is systems thinking concerning business processes.
SAFe emphasizes the importance of systems thinking in ensuring that your company can scale effectively. In a nutshell, it’s about considering all parts as one system where pieces affect each other.
Creating an efficient process requires understanding how these elements work together.
For example, let’s say you have five teams working on different features for a product. Getting these parts to work together well requires having a plan for integration, coordination, and delivery throughout the project life cycle.
You need to understand how each team works so you can adopt processes that are efficient and take into account dependencies between teams and potential risks involved in their implementation. Systems thinking allows you to do this without sacrificing quality or efficiency.
Developing a good understanding of how teams work together and seeing the bigger picture enables leaders to make better business decisions, too.
Finally, one of the foundations of SAFe is the idea of cross-functional teams.
The principle is that every team in your company should have the necessary skills and expertise to deliver a project or part of it without relying on other departments for assistance.
This is especially useful when working with agile frameworks because it encourages collaboration across different departments rather than having them work in silos.
In the end, it’s about getting as much expertise together in a single team as possible so they can respond to changes on an ongoing basis and deliver new features faster than before. This is great for businesses because they get higher quality products developed more quickly with less risk of delays or issues along the way.
SAFe takes advantage of these agile principles to create an environment where teams can work more efficiently, deliver high-quality products on time with a lower risk of failure along the way.
Is SAFe a framework that can benefit your business? It’s hard to argue with the success that companies like CISCO and LEGO have had using it.
SAFe agile ways have the potential to transform your company’s operations and processes and increase collaboration across different departments for better quality products. Getting started with SAFe is easy if you understand the principles behind it. If you do so, there are many benefits to be gained from making this change in your business, including improved customer satisfaction while ensuring higher efficiency and a lower risk of failure.
Take a look at i4Group’s courses about implementing SAFe in your company. Leverage the knowledge of our consultants and make a lasting change to your business by implementing SAFe!