SAFe—Scaled Agile Framework

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The acronym “SAFe” stands for “Scaled Agile Framework.” It is a framework for applying the Agile methodology at a large scale. Sometimes, being larger makes businesses slower. Smaller companies may have a shorter time to market and more flexibility. Moving to a framework like SAFe can help larger companies maintain their competitive edge. This article will describe SAFe’s key characteristics and benefits.

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Agile: Origins and influence.

Software development methods were limited in the 1990s, including approaches like the Waterfall methodology. But slow development cycles resulted in teams abandoning projects before they were completed  because the market changed too quickly.

In 2001, a group of software developers published the Agile Manifesto, leading to the development and proliferation of the Agile development methodology across multiple sectors, including project management. Agile project management breaks projects down into manageable increments, allowing for faster completion and greater adaptability and flexibility.

Recent developments include scaled Agile frameworks, allowing for the implementation of the Agile methodology at a much larger scale, at the portfolio, program, and team levels. SAFe is a particular type of scaled Agile framework with significant appeal for large companies.

SAFe: Scaling Agile for the enterprise.

Challenges that come with adapting Agile for the enterprise include dealing with longer time frames, applying Agile principles at the management level, determining how to delegate authority, properly aligning project timelines, and leaving room for flexibility and innovation. To meet these challenges, SAFe has the following core values:

SAFe scaled Agile: Essential principles and benefits.

SAFe centers around nine guiding principles, many of which are similar to the Agile and Lean methodologies. These principles apply to all levels within the enterprise and encourage an Agile mindset:

Have an economic perspective.

With the goal of minimizing lead time, taking the economic view requires keeping everyone aware of the impacts of decisions. This also makes sharing responsibility much easier to achieve, which creates greater efficiencies due to the decentralization of the decision-making.

With everyone actively working toward economic efficiency, lead times shorten and the flow of value through the company accelerates.

Apply a systems approach.

Systems thinking involves seeing all or parts of a project as a dynamic system of interacting instead of the sum of its parts. Leaders can apply this thinking to a project, the enterprise, or individual streams.

The benefits of systems approaches include understanding complex interactions and effects, solving problems and streamlining processes more effectively, and modifying processes for the future.

Maintain choice.

Embrace the fact that things can and will change. Assume variability and ensure a large pool of solutions is available for any problem that arises to put teams in a mindset to better notice and tackle problems.

Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles.

Breaking projects up into incremental steps makes projects more manageable and allows for more frequent reflection. Teams can readily identify problems and opportunities, and make changes to enhance the process for the next iteration.

Base milestones on an objective evaluation of working systems.

Determine how to objectively measure the effectiveness of different working systems. Objective measures can help businesses make more informed decisions and better present results to various stakeholders.

Visualize and limit work in progress (WIP).

Limiting the amount of WIP at any given time makes it easier to manage processes and transparently observe the value flow. Keeping batch sizes small and managing queue lengths makes it easier to adjust and modify processes for increased efficiency and value flow.

Apply cadence.

A cadence is a rhythm or a regular pattern. It often refers to things happening in a synchronized manner and with a regular and expected repetition. Implementing patterns in processes makes it easier to get work done efficiently. Cadence facilitates collaboration and clarifies expectations.

Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers.

By motivating knowledge workers, you ensure they are aware of and willing to strive toward the desired quality of outcomes. When workers are motivated, they can learn more quickly and understand all parts of the process. This makes it much easier to delegate authority and allow them to make decisions as needed.

Decentralize decision-making.

Decentralize decision-making to increase efficiency. Empowering people to make decisions on the spot—rather than having to run every single decision up the ladder—eliminates time delays.

Implementing SAFe at the enterprise level.

Implementing SAFe depends on size and scope. The following steps provide a high-level outline of the implementation process:

  1. Communicate the need for SAFe implementation with leadership and workers, making the benefits clear.
  2. Identify leaders who can serve as change agents. Provide them with proper SAFe training.
  3. Train executives and management to prepare them for the transition.
  4. Create a Center of Excellence (CoE) for the Lean-Agile methodology. This creates a central hub for disseminating ideas and information.
  5. Identify value streams and Agile teams.
  6. Have change agents collaborate to create a plan for SAFe implementation.
  7. Clearly define success parameters for each part of the implementation.
  8. Provide training to all teams in the SAFe methodology and each team member’s role and responsibilities.
  9. Launch teams and/or projects in order of priority.
  10. Apply the SAFe methodology at higher levels, including portfolio and companywide.
  11. Work toward continuous improvement and effectiveness by applying Lean-Agile principles.

Introduce your organization to Agile.

Successfully implementing SAFe at the enterprise level requires careful planning and training. Having the right project management technology in place can facilitate implementation. If you are ready to introduce your organization to Agile at scale, consider attending as you may wish to begin by reading more and looking into SAFe educational seminars.