The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is an organizational agile methodology that helps organizations implement Lean and Agile principles at scale. It is widely implemented across the globe, with many famous brand names on its list of users, such as CISCO, LEGO, John Deere, to name a few. In a 2020 study conducted at a German university, 54% of over 600 participants used SAFe to scale their organizations.
The framework consists of seven foundational principles that need to be applied to succeed with SAFe implementation.
In this blog post, we will explore the implementation roadmap of SAFe, starting with the preparation phase.
But first, we need to define SAFe and outline the seven competencies it is built on.
SAFe, A Definition
The Scaled Agile Framework takes its roots from Lean and Agile principles, the foundation of its implementation. The framework is defined as “a collaborative program within your organization that extends lean-agile principles to help teams maximize value delivered to stakeholders.”
The seven areas SAFe builds on are:
- Agile product delivery – The ability to deliver working products and value early and often with the help of DevOps, the Continuous Delivery Pipeline, and Release on Demand.
- Continuous learning culture – The ability to provide a learning organization culture and continuous feedback loops.
- Enterprise solution delivery – The ability to deliver enterprise-wide value, working with cross-functional teams. The goal is to create one unified backlog across the entire organization.
- Lean-agile leadership – The ability to build a collaborative and high-performing leadership team that can lead the organization through SAFe. The Lean-Agile Executive ensures that teams have everything they need in order to be successful, from infrastructure to training courses for managers and employees alike.
- Lean portfolio management – The ability to provide a “single system of record” for all product and investment information through portfolio planning. This helps understand how investments relate to business strategies to make better decisions.
- Organizational agility – The ability to mobilize people in order to build a high-performing, dedicated team that can work on the product. The goal is to provide an environment where teams are self-organizing and have all their needs met without management oversight.
- Team and technical agility – The ability to provide teams with the right technical practices, coaching for team members, and architecture so they can be successful.
Benefits of SAFe
In this day and age, scaling a business without implementing any agile principles is almost impossible. The company would have to drastically increase the size of its workforce and restructure for it to work at a larger scale. This is highly inefficient and risky, as it is hard to predict where the business will be in the future. The result would be a bloated and top-heavy organization that lacks agility and lean principles of working together collaboratively.
The Scaled Agile Framework was designed so that large teams can be split up into smaller ones, with each team working on more specific tasks that contribute to the overall goal of the product. The framework also enables cross-functional teams, as well as a single system of record which allows all company workflows and processes to be streamlined across different departments.
In essence, SAFe provides a roadmap that enterprise organizations can follow to scale successfully while maintaining agile methods at their core.
One of the key elements of getting started with SAFe is understanding value. The teams built within the framework need to understand how their work contributes to the overall product and, eventually, provide customer value upon completion.
Value is defined as “the expected benefit to the customer.” A value stream represents everything that needs to be done for a product or feature to go from concept all the way through production.
The goal of SAFe is not just focusing on individual teams but also making sure these teams flow with each other and work together seamlessly along the value stream. The result is a system in which nothing gets lost and the work is continuously flowing, rather than being halted by waiting times or bottlenecks.
Value vs Function
Traditional, non-Agile businesses are organized around function. Their teams are divided up into functional departments like marketing, sales, and operations.
The problem with this is that it leads to silos of information, which can drastically slow down the decision-making process because every team needs to communicate their progress to each other before moving forward.
Functional teams are also concerned about completing tasks within their own department instead of looking at the bigger picture. The functional organization promotes stovepipe thinking and does not allow for cross-pollination of ideas. The result is work that has no connection to the bigger picture and lacks customer value, which ultimately leads to an organization that cannot scale successfully.
For an Agile business strategy to be successful, it needs teams that are organized around value instead of function.
The teams built within SAFe are cross-functional in nature. This means they include people with all different skill sets working together to create value for the customer. The focus is on getting results, not just completing tasks.
Dual Operating Model
Most businesses are organized around the Hierarchy operating model. It is characterized by a command and control structure that is stable, predictable, and efficient to some degree.
However, this form of organization is not ideal for businesses that are looking to scale. The Hierarchy model works great on a small scale, but it becomes less effective as the company grows in size and more departments are added into the mix. The result is an increase in management layers which causes communication breakdowns between different teams.
The answer to this issue is the Network operating model. The Network is designed to solve the problem of communication breakdowns by promoting transparency across all teams. The management structure includes small circles of empowerment, and the result is a flatter organization that provides more frequent feedback loops throughout an entire network.
These two operating models work in synergy with each other within SAFe in order to provide an effective strategy for scaling up while maintaining agility.
SAFe Implementation Roadmap
Now that we have a better understanding of how SAFe works, let’s look at the implementation roadmap. The entire roadmap includes twelve steps that take you from preparing your organization for SAFe all the way through implementing it successfully.
Let’s start with the first step.
1. Reaching the Tipping Point
The decision to switch to Lean-Agile principles comes as a direct result of a need to change. This need is typically brought on by a crisis that is causing serious problems for an organization. The result of the crisis is usually increased pressure from several different angles, including financial stakeholders, customers, and senior company leaders.
The tipping point will vary depending on how severe the issue at hand currently is within your business. It could be anything from losing large numbers of clients to losing key employees. The important thing to remember is that the tipping point must be significant enough for people within your organization to take notice and demand change.
The first step is not an easy one as it requires a serious commitment from every part of the business in order for it to succeed.
2. Training Lean-Agile Agents
Once the tipping point is reached within an organization and the reasons for the transformation are clearly outlined, the second step is to train your people in Lean and Agile principles. The goal here is not for every person within an organization to become a master of these concepts; instead, it’s about sharing enough knowledge with them to understand their role in making the transformation successful.
Primary agents that appear at the beginning are SPCs or Safe Program Consultants. They can come from within your company or as consultants brought in from outside to help with your transformation.
Lean-Agile Change Agents should come from multiple departments within an organization. The key is to make sure that they can promote change among their peers for the Lean-Agile transformation process to be successful.
These change agents should also have deep knowledge of SAFe principles. They can begin their learning journey with the Implementing SAFe course.
3. Training Leaders, Managers, and Executives
Even if your organization is abundant with highly-skilled SPCs and other change agents, it won’t mean much without the executives, managers, and leaders embracing the Lean-Agile mindset.
The Lean-Agile mindset is founded on lean thinking and embracing agility.
Lean thinking is about breaking problems down into their simplest form so that they can be solved more efficiently. The goal is to eliminate any unnecessary steps and reduce work-in-process inventory until you reach the ideal state of flow. When dealing with people, it means cutting out wasteful activities like meetings or training sessions that don’t provide value.
Agile thinking simply means being able to react quickly and efficiently in a dynamic marketplace.
The goal of this mindset is to get rid of bureaucracy, eliminate waste at all levels, and trust your employees to do their jobs well. The result is increased productivity and fast response to changes in the market.
4. Creating a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence
A Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE) represents a small team of people dedicated to driving the change within an organization. Other teams, SPCs, and leaders can support the organizational change, but the LACE team is in charge of making it happen.
The purpose of the LACE team is to transform work practices and engage with senior leadership teams to build a lean-agile business model.
5. Identifying Value Streams and ARTs
Before SAFe can be implemented, companies must first identify operational and development value streams. Operational value streams are where your customers interact with the company, while development value streams are used to build new products. This step aims to determine which ones hold more potential for growth and improvement throughout an organization.
Once you identify your value streams, the next step in the implementation roadmap is creating agile release trains (ARTs) by identifying teams that will work on each stream together. An agile release train is a group of teams that work together to achieve the highest priority features within your identified value streams. The members of each team should be cross-functional, meaning they have all the skills required for completing their tasks.
The most effective ARTs consist of 50 – 125 people divided into stable, long-lived teams. They are independent of other ARTs and can release without them (Release on Demand).
6. Creating the Implementation Plan
All the previous steps were about conceptualizing the change. In this one, you must create a concrete implementation plan with the help of your change agents. The decisions here include:
- Picking the first value stream.
- Selecting the first ART.
- Creating a preliminary plan for other ARTs and value streams.
The focus here is on determining which teams and ARTs will be part of the first release train.
7. Preparing for ART Launch
Launching the first ART is typically in the hands of SPCs, with the support of LACE members and SAFe-trained ART stakeholders.
Preparing for the ART launch includes:
- Defining the ART
- Setting the launch date and the program calendar
- Creating a release plan
- Determining the team structure and assignment of people to teams based on skills, availability, and other criteria
- Training project owners, product managers, scrum masters, and system architects or engineers (if needed)
- Assessing launch readiness
- Preparing the program backlog
8. Training Teams and Launching the ART
The team you assemble could require training, but it’s best if they already have some familiarity with agile principles. The people you choose should be experienced in their roles and skilled at working together as a team to launch the first train release. If they need help embracing the Lean-Agile mindset, they could benefit from a SAFe for Teams course.
Then comes launching your new ART! The goal here is to get started with developing the product on time. The focus should be on getting the trainees up to speed so that you can get started with your first release.
9. Coaching ART Execution
The steps we’ve described so far required a great deal of planning and training. Now comes the time to coach the team while they’re executing to ensure success. The SPCs and LACE members must all be available for coaching at this stage to help ARTs achieve their goals.
The goal here is to transition from learning about Lean-Agile to becoming a Lean-Agile enterprise. Mastering the following roles and events is crucial:
- Backlog refinement
- Daily stand-ups
- Iteration planning
- Iteration reviews
- Iteration retrospectives
- PO sync and ART sync
10. Launching More Value Streams and ARTs
The more ARTs are launched, the greater the return on investment will be. In this critical move, Lean-Agile leadership simply has to follow the three previously outlined steps in launching an ART:
- Preparing for ART launch
- Training teams and launching the ART
- Coaching ART execution
A critical error in this step would be assuming that everyone knows everything about Lean-Agile practices by now. The same attention to detail in the other measures must be applied here to avoid pitfalls. The key is for Lean-Agile leadership to keep up with their role of guiding people through this process and coaching them on how they can best use the practices.
11. Extending to the Portfolio
At this stage, a lot has been achieved. SAFe has been successfully implemented across multiple development value streams. The new way of working is now the norm, and your organization is ready to embrace more change. The next step for Lean-Agile leadership at this stage is to extend SAFe across multiple portfolios.
The goal here is to build on what you’ve already done, so everyone will benefit from learning how they can work together more effectively.
In this last step of the Scaled Agile Framework Implementation Roadmap, you should have an emerging Lean Enterprise. The teams across the organization should be more productive than ever, and they’re now ready for another challenge: implementing continuous improvement!
Organizational Agility and the Continuous Learning Culture are just beginning to take hold. The leadership must nurture this culture and instill a process of learning every day. The goal is to make Lean-Agile the new norm, so everyone can keep delivering value for customers.
The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is a framework that helps enterprises scale up using lean and agile principles. The SAFe implementation roadmap starts with preparing an organization for SAFe and organizing it around value. The key elements here are value streams and Agile Release Trains.
The next steps include training teams and launching the ART, coaching ART execution, extending to portfolios, accelerating continuous improvement across the enterprise, nurturing organizational agility by establishing a process of learning every day—and ultimately becoming a Lean-Agile Enterprise.
Implementing this kind of practice and transforming your business will always take commitment and time. The rewards, however, are well worth it: increased value for customers, improved productivity of teams across the organization, and greater efficiency every step of the way!
If you’d like more information on the process of implementing SAFe, please contact us at i4 Group. We’d be happy to help you get started and provide you with the support you need along your journey to becoming a Lean-Agile Enterprise.