The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is an extensive body of knowledge that describes the roles, responsibilities, activities, and artifacts necessary to implement an enterprise-scale Lean-Agile development. SAFe can help synchronize collaboration, alignment, and delivery for many Agile teams.
SAFe provides a set of organizational and workflow patterns that will guide enterprises in scaling lean and agile practices. SAFe is one among several frameworks that are looking to address the issues encountered by businesses when they are looking to scale beyond a single team.
First formally outlined in 2007, the primary goal of the scaled agile framework is developing an overview of how work flows from product management and other stakeholders, through governance, program, and development teams, all the way to the customers. SAFe continues to develop, and is shared with those looking to implement, support, or train others in adopting it. Since its first release in 2011, SAFe went through five major versions. The latest iteration – SAFe 5.0 – was released in January 2020.
What Are the Lean-Agile Principles of SAFe?
Lean-Agile principles represent an economic concept that informs the role and practices of SAFe. Built on three pillars (Team, Program, and Portfolio), SAFe is designed to give multiple teams flexibility and manage the challenges of larger Agile organizations. There are a total of ten Lean-Agile principles that increase effectiveness in organizational management. These are as follows:
- Take an economic view
- Apply systems thinking
- Assume variability; preserve options
- Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles
- Base milestones on an objective evaluation of working systems
- Visualize and limit work in progress, reduce batch sizes and manage queue lengths
- Apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain planning
- Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers
- Decentralize decision-making
- Organize around value
What Are the Scaled Agile Framework Core Values?
SAFe is based on four primary bodies of knowledge. These include Agile development, Lean product development, DevOps, and systems thinking. They help make SAFe broad, deep, and scalable. At its core, SAFe is guided by its four values: alignment, built-in quality, transparency, and program execution. They are essential for successful SAFe implementation and are vital to the framework’s overall effectiveness. The four core values act as guiding principles that dictate both action and behavior, as well as nurture a Lean-Agile mindset for everyone on a SAFe portfolio level.
Large misaligned organizations can develop severe problems. Due to their size, they sometimes struggle to change direction and are more resistant to change. As a core value, alignment is required for large and small organizations to keep pace with disruptive events, industry changes, and geographical distance between teams.
An empowered Agile team is quite useful, but full responsibility for strategy and alignment cannot land at the team level alone. Alignment should be determined on a program or portfolio level and rely on enterprise business objectives.
Alignment begins with strategy and investment decisions at the portfolio level. It is also reflected in the Portfolio Vision, Strategic Themes, and Portfolio Backlog. In turn, this informs the Roadmap, Vision, and backlogs at every program level of SAFe. By focusing on continuous exploration along with customer-centricity and design thinking, companies can gather input from different stakeholders and information sources. In doing so, they will ensure that program backlog items contain economically prioritized work that is ready to implement on the team level.
The clear delimitation of content authority also supports alignment. It starts at the portfolio level and rests mainly with the Solution Manager, Product Manager, and Product Owner roles. Program Increment (PI) objectives and Iteration Goals are also used to communicate expectations and commitments.
Synchronization and cadence are applied in order to maintain alignment. Architectures as well as user experience governance and guidance will help ensure that the Solution is robust, scalable, and technologically sound.
Alignment does not imply or encourage a top-down command structure. A proper alignment will occur when all team members and leaders work towards a common goal. It enables autonomy, empowerment, and decentralized decision-making. It allows those who implement value to make better local decisions.
The built-in quality core value asserts that the highest possible quality standards are maintained for every element of an organization’s product development. Quality should never be an afterthought, but should take center stage.
In traditional waterfall methods, quality is inspected after the product is finished. Unfortunately, this is a “too little, too late” approach. Quality cannot be added to a product after it is finished. It must be built into every step of the development process.
Five interconnected topics outline SAFe built-in quality:
- Architecture and Design Quality
- Code Quality
- System Quality
- Release Quality
Organizations achieve flow by implementing a continuous delivery pipeline and test-first practices. SAFe companies accomplish code quality through TDD/unit testing, collective code ownership, coding standards, pair programming, and other software engineering practices.
All quality measures are highly interconnected. Design and architecture quality improve code quality. In turn, code quality improves the overall system quality, while a reliable CI/CD pipeline enhances the release quality. These contribute to maintaining the company’s flow, creating a feedback cycle of continuous quality improvement.
Transparency is an essential part of any organization, regardless of its size or industry. Transparency often leads to healthy relationships based on trust between coworkers. However, this is not the main reason why transparency represents a core value of SAFe. Through transparency, organizations can establish high performing teams. If and when things go wrong, an open environment based on trust allows for problems to be addressed faster and more efficiently.
Several SAFe mechanisms provide transparency, with a key emphasis on high visibility. Teams sign on to short-term commitments and aim to meet them. Documents, artifacts, objectives, and progress measurements are freely available at all organizational levels. As such, everyone can see and understand how fast teams are moving.
The last SAFe core value is program execution. It comes directly from the Agile Manifesto and states that working software is more important than comprehensive documentation. As such, SAFe places the highest importance on systems working consistently and business outcomes. Even if the organization is entirely transparent and aligned, it still faces significant difficulty if it is incapable of generating reliable value streams.
Reliable program execution is primarily based on the other three values, focussing especially on built-in quality. When reliable quality mechanisms are put in place, organizations have a much easier time identifying, troubleshooting, and fixing issues before they become serious. In doing so, they also ensure consistent system execution.
The Importance of Leadership
A continuous learning culture and Lean-Agile leadership are required for these four core values to build toward successfully scaled Lean-Agile development. By coupling the core values with the Lean-Agile principles, as well as best practices, leaders will orient the company to create value for customers. In turn, this will generate a meaningful culture for all teams and stakeholders involved in SAFe.
Defining the Lean-Agile Leader
Lean-Agile Leaders can be defined as lifelong learners and teachers. They help teams build better systems by understanding and exhibiting the SAFe principles and core values. The Lean-Agile Leader enables teams and ensures that the organization adopts and improves its Lean-Agile development. However, leaders also need to adapt to a new style of leadership. For the leadership team to truly empower and engage individuals within the organization, they also must be trained. The principles of the Lean-Agile Leader include the following:
- Lead the Change
- Know the Way; Emphasize Lifelong Learning
- Develop People
- Inspire and Align with Mission; Minimize Constraints
- Decentralize Decision-Making
- Unlock the Intrinsic Motivation of Knowledge Workers
By understanding SAFe and leveraging its core values, your organization will be perfectly positioned to thrive. The SAFe journey starts with training, education, and an interactive and hands-on approach to the Lean-Agile methodology.
To help you get off the ground, The i4 Group will empower your teams to continuously improve, build integrity, deliver quickly, and improve customer value. By training in SAFE, your leadership stakeholders, program managers, and core change agents will work with experts to design a transformation roadmap for the enterprise.