Preparing Your Organization for SAFe

Preparing Your Organization for SAFe

Preparing Your Organization for SAFe

The lean-agile organizational methodology SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) is a framework for scaling agile development across the entire organization. It was first introduced in software development, but it can also be applied in other industries.

There are many benefits of implementing this method of creating and delivering products.

For example, it helps to reduce risk by breaking up large projects into smaller chunks that can be delivered in more manageable time frames. It also empowers teams through self-organizing and cross-functional team structures while providing support from scrum masters who remove barriers and create an environment of full visibility and accountability.

Implementing SAFe can be difficult, but there are some things you can do to prepare your organization for the change.

This blog post will cover the beginnings of a SAFe implementation roadmap, how different people in an organization play a role in the development cycle (such as product managers and product owners), and finally, how SAFe is implemented across different teams.

Starting Point

The obvious start to change is a recognition that change is necessary. An organization must be willing to adapt to a new agile organizational methodology such as SAFe to work. The motivation for disrupting the status quo can come from many different sources.

For example, the company may have been acquired by a larger organization that already uses specific agile methodologies and now wants to implement SAFe across its business units. Or perhaps senior management has recognized that their current business processes no longer meet customer needs or speed and quality expectations.

Whatever the reason, this incentive for change needs to be understood across all levels of the organization. It also has to be accompanied by a clear vision of the future.

Change leaders within the company should outline clear core values and goals they want to achieve by implementing SAFe. These goals should be realistic and attainable. This will keep people motivated even when they encounter difficulties along the way (which is inevitable). The goals should also be as specific as possible, including baseline metrics and future milestones.

Who is leading this change?

For the difficult journey of becoming agile to succeed, a team of change agents should be selected. These change agents will have to work closely together for the necessary improvements within an organization to happen (and fast).

However, it is crucial that these people understand the agile methodology they are trying to implement and how their own business operates. This change coalition should have:

  • Leaders who are the visionaries of this process.
  • Implementers, such as managers, change agents, and practitioners who have expertise in how to implement agile methodologies within an organization.
  • Credibility within the organization to bridge the communication gap between stakeholders.
  • The ability for fast decision making and reacting quickly when issues arise.

Lean-Agile Change Agents

In most organizations, the leading change agent is a certified SPC (SAFe Program Consultant). SPCs can be internal and external resources. This team member needs to have a strong background in agile methodologies and existing knowledge of the company’s processes, procedures, and culture.

It may also be beneficial if this leader has experience with Lean philosophy since it compliments SAFe well (and can reduce resistance to change).

SPCs can be:

  • Consulting partners
  • Internal leaders
  • Project/program/portfolio managers
  • Analysts
  • Architects
  • Process leads

The SPC’s responsibility is to help teams become self-sufficient by providing the necessary explanations, actionable guidance, and tools for the successful implementation of SAFe. They also have to be able to motivate people during difficult times and recognize common pitfalls that could derail the implementation.

Finally, SPCs should be able to make hard decisions and address performance issues if they arise (in a positive way). This is not always easy, but it’s necessary for SAFe to succeed throughout the organization.

SPCs can get their training at an Implementing SAFe course, where they can learn about applying SAFe principles and working systems, coaching Agile teams, as well as identifying value streams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs).

Executives, Managers, and Leaders

Even though SPCs are fully qualified in the SAFe methodology, they alone are not enough to guide the necessary change throughout an organization. Both executives and managers play a critical role in keeping things moving forward.

The enterprise’s leaders must adopt a Lean-Agile mindset by thinking lean and embracing business agility.

Lean thinking consists of:

  • Long-term thinking to identify high-level goals and to align people towards delivering value.
  • Continuous improvement through experimentation, learning, reflection, and focus on customer value.
  • Empowerment of individuals throughout all levels of an organization for everyone to be accountable for their work (and able to take action).

These principles can be applied within a SAFe implementation, with Lean-Agile leaders acting as coaches who nurture the transformation. They should set up regular check-ins and encourage people to try new things together in order for everyone’s ideas to be heard.

Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE)

One of the last steps in the preparation process is to set up a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence, or LACE. It represents a small team that is 100% dedicated to its mission to enable value delivery through Agile practices and principles.

LACE is necessary because its members are committed to driving the transformation throughout the organization. Others already mentioned in this article, such as SPCs, executives, managers, and similar, have other obligations to attend to. They can support the change but are not entirely dedicated to it.

LACE members should come from different parts of the organization, but they are usually chosen based on their leadership skills and Agile experience (to make sure people can work well together).

Some of the many responsibilities of LACE include:

  • Communicating the company’s need and vision for transformation
  • Creating a plan for implementation and managing the change backlog
  • Establishing the baseline metrics
  • Conducting training for leaders, executives, managers, Agile teams, and specialty roles such as Product Owner, Product Manager, Scrum Master, and Release Train Engineer
  • Helping define Agile Release Trains (ARTs)
  • Providing coaching and training to ART stakeholders and team members
  • Communicating progress
  • Implementing Lean-Agile focus days with guest speakers and presenting internal case studies
  • Promoting continuing Lean-Agile education and more

LACE can be a relatively small team. However, they work closely with other SPCs, managers, executives, and leaders to keep the change going.

Value Streams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs)

In SAFe, value streams represent the chain of work (or value) that is used to create a product. The process begins with the customer and ends when the final version of the product or service is delivered. In essence, it is a series of steps that start with the customer’s needs and culminates in a valuable product or service.

SAFe recognizes two types of value streams: operational and development value streams. The operational value stream is the set of business activities that create and deliver a product to the customer. The development value stream includes all engineering disciplines (and, in some cases, operations) involved in creating new capabilities for the products or services made by an organization’s operational value stream(s).

When you identify the value streams in your organization, you need to establish Agile Release Trains (ARTs) to realize them. ARTs contain a set of teams that share a common backlog and release train schedule. ARTs are designed to optimize the workflow from concept to cash by managing end-to-end business value delivery.

The most effective ARTs have:

  • 50 – 125 people
  • A holistic approach to products or services
  • Stable teams that consistently deliver value
  • As few dependencies to other ARTs as possible
  • Ability to release irrespective of other ARTs

More detailed information on how to organize value streams and ARTs can be found in the SAFe Program Guide.

Implementation Plan

Finally, at the end of this preparation journey, you need to create an implementation plan. This will help your business identify all the resources needed for SAFe, including people and hardware requirements.

To begin with, your enterprise must decide on the first value stream. For example, you could start with a development ART that is closest to the customer or has the highest ROI potential.

The first ART launch should follow the first chosen value stream, and after that, you can prepare for the next value stream in the chain. As SAFe is implemented within your organization, keep monitoring how it works through metrics collected by LACE members.

After all ARTs are up and running, your business should start evaluating new opportunities to improve processes further with Lean principles.


There are quite a few tasks to plan and implement before SAFe can be introduced to your organization. However, by following this guide, you will have a much easier time getting started.

Before anything else, ensure that you have a clear reason to implement Lean-Agile. The need for change in your organization should be justified, and you need to understand the benefits of SAFe.

Next, train and organize your leaders, executives, product owners, scrum masters, and managers to handle the changes that are about to come. Conduct training sessions to educate them about Agile methods in general and SAFe in particular.

At the same time, you should appoint LACE members to monitor progress and identify problems that may arise when starting SAFe implementation.

Finally, create an implementation plan that will help your business identify all the resources needed for SAFe, including your first value stream, ARTs, and the timeframe for implementation.If you’d like to know more about preparing your organization for SAFe, feel free to contact us.