Scaled Agile Framework has taken the corporate world by storm. The keyword shows 44,30,000 results on Google.

That’s a lightning jolt!

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A decade ago, when Dean Leffingwell introduced SAFe to the world, little did he know that he would be creating a phenomenon.

But how has it managed to stay in the limelight for over a decade?

Here’s an answer to that question.

37% of the respondents reported that their organizations used SAFe to scale agile.

Source: 15th State of Agile Survey

But, is there a prologue to SAFe’s popularity?

There surely is!

So, let the percentages do the talking.

  • 46% of the organizations reported they are inconsistencies in practices and processes
  • 43% attributed cultural clashes
  • 42% gave the reason that general organizational resistance to change
  • 42% stated that lack of experience and skills
  • 41% proclaimed absence of leadership to be the main problem
  • And, lastly, 40% indicated Inadequate management support and sponsorship.

This is how SAFe came to be known as the dark horse among agile frameworks.

It’s now time to delve into SAFe as a framework. We request you stay with us for 6 minutes and in return, you will gain valuable wisdom.

That’s a promise!

Scaled Agile Framework: What is it?

Scaled Agile Framework is a knowledge base of proven, integrated principles, competencies for attaining business agility using Lean, Agile, Systems Thinking, and DevOps.

SAFe endorses alignment, collaboration, delivery among large agile teams. The groundwork for SAFe was formed in 4 knowledge areas – agile software development, lean product development, systems thinking, and DevOps.

SAFe contains a combination of principles, processes, and best practices that help large organizations in easy adoption of agile frameworks including Lean, Kanban, and Scrum. It was developed to suit difficult projects that contain numerous large teams at the project, program, and portfolio levels.

You can better understand SAFe when you go through its core values-

  • Alignment: Alignment is needed to match steps with the rapidly changing, disruptive competitive entities, and geographically spread teams. Alignment occurs when everyone is working towards a common goal. It promotes empowerment, autonomy, and Decentralized Decision Making permitting people who apply value to make better local decisions.
  • Built-In Quality: Built-In Quality is instrumental in ensuring that all elements and increments of the solution mirror quality standards throughout the development process.
    Ensuring quality is an innate characteristic of Lean and Flow. Deficiency in Building quality will lead enterprises to function with large batches of unverified and unevaluated work.
    Built-In Quality is centered on 5 aspects-

    • Flow
    • Architecture and Design Quality
    • Code Quality
    • System Quality
    • Release Quality
  • Transparency: SAFe promotes trust to ensure transparency. Work happens in small planned batches so that problems can be resolved quickly. This also gives an insight into the product backlog progress.
  • Program Execution: Program Execution is the jugular vein of SAFe. Teams should deliver quality output consistently. The Business outcome is the priority here.
  • Leadership: SAFe inculcates the Lean-Agile mindset which is necessary to become a Lean-Agile leader. Only they can embrace SAFe values and principles and bring about a change.

SAFe is based on 10 Lean-Agile principles-

  1. Take an economic view
  2. Apply Systems Thinking
  3. Assume variability and preserve options
  4. Build Incrementally with quicker integrated cycles
  5. Base milestones on an objective evaluation of working systems
  6. Visualize and limit WIP, reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths
  7. Apply cadence and synchronize with cross-domain planning
  8. Unlock the intrinsic motivation of the knowledge base
  9. Decentralize decision making
  10. Organize around value

You might be interested in reading Benefits of SAFe

How does SAFe Work?

SAFe involves a 12 step process that shows the way SAFe works-

  1. Making it to the tipping point
  2. Coach lean-agile change agents
  3. Mentor executives, managers, leaders
  4. Establish a lean-agile center of excellence
  5. Recognize value streams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs)
  6. Develop the implementation plan
  7. Gear up for ART launch
  8. Train teams and flag the ART
  9. Mentor the ART execution
  10. Launch more ARTs and Value Streams
  11. Extend to the portfolio
  12. Sustain and enhance

How does SAFe compare to other scaled agile frameworks?

SAFe is the popular scaling agile framework but let’s see how it compares with other scaling agile frameworks

SAFe vs. Scrum@Scale

SAFe: SAFe is the most popular framework after Scrum. SAFe is preferred by large enterprises. It is a system for applying agile, lean, and DevOps at scale.

SAFe has a highly structured framework to adopt and deploy an agile value stream in an organization. Large organizations have the privilege of sticking to the original organizational structure while enjoying the benefits of a decentralized Agile method.

SAFe falls short when it comes to customization as Scrum@Scale is clearly at advantage.

Scrum@Scale: Scrum@Scale is a new entrant among the scaling agile frameworks. It was introduced in 2014. It is not preferred by large organizations.

The USP of Scrum@Scale is that it is suitable for organizations of all sizes. It is a miniature model of the Scrum framework and follows the Scrum guide. It can solve complex problems and consistently deliver high-quality deliverables.

SAFe vs. Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS)

SAFe: SAFe works wonders in large organizations. There’s certainly no doubt about it. Even with hundreds of teams. It provides a secure and reliable method for highlighting, performance, and delivery through Agile Release Trains.

ARTs function on a smooth flow of Program Increments from 8 to 12 weeks.

LeSS: LeSS is the large-scale implementation of necessary principles and elements of Scrum exceeding cross-cultural teams. It contains frameworks where it has 8 or more teams.

Both the frameworks depend heavily on the Product Owner. LeSS uses fewer processes and procedures to accommodate numerous Scrum teams working together.

LeSS is based on 10 principles-

  • LeSS is Scrum
  • Empirical process control
  • Transparency
  • More with less
  • Whole-product focus
  • Customer-focused
  • Consistent efforts towards perfection
  • Systems thinking
  • Lean Thinking
  • Queuing theory

Interested in pursuing a career in SAFe? Leading SAFe is the first step.

SAFe vs Spotify

SAFe: SAFe is a heavyweight network. It is comprehensive and its main con is that it is jargon-heavy. Terms like release trains, program increments, guardrails, enablers, and spikes etc

Spotify: Spotify came into being in 2012. It is a people driven and autonomous approach for scaling agile that stresses the significance of culture and network.

The Spotify model isn’t a framework but it has helped organizations around the world improve productivity and foster innovation by concentrating on autonomy, communication, accountability, and quality.

The core elements of the Spotify model are-

  • Squads
  • Tribes
  • Chapter
  • Guild
  • Trio
  • Alliance

Steps to apply a Scaled Agile Framework in your business

Implementing SAFe can be a trainwreck if it doesn’t involve baby steps. The Structural change that has been followed for years cannot be changed overnight.

You need to factor in the consensus of senior management and embraced by managers, technical team leaders, and other employees.

Here is a 4 step process to ensure that SAFe implementation will happen without hiccups.

  • 1. Chart your processes’ Value Streams:

    Value Streams are the series of steps organizations use to apply solutions that provide a continuous flow of value to a customer.

    They are basic constructs for understanding, organizing, and delivering value in SAFe. Value Streams are the lifeline of your business and knowing it by heart is a recipe for building a unique mindset to achieve organizational goals.

    Understanding value streams is necessary to propagate agile concepts in the company.

  • 2. Coach your employees to use Agile methods and techniques:

    SAFe adoption will be a success only when training is imparted to change agents in agile management frameworks and lean-agile principles. This includes leaders, managers, and executives.

    This needs to be done so that there can be a knowledge hub for organizations to refer to agile and lean management methods.

  • 3. Test launch the execution of ARTs:

    Once the Agile culture has been welcomed, the value streams, training, qualification, and enabling agile agents have charted out, it’s time for the teams to perform.

    ARTs are the central component of SAFe. They are cross functional teams that come together to work towards a common goal.

  • 4. Expand your portfolio:

    Now that your entire staff is trained, it’s time to expand your fleet and launch more ARTs.

Top reasons for adopting SAFe in an organization?

The common reasons for adopting SAFe by large organizations are enunciated below-

Alignment of all the teams towards a common goal: Team alignment is the process of ensuring that all the cross-functional teams are dedicated to a common goal. SAFe ensures alignment as it ensures seamless collaboration, coordination, and communication.

You can do two things – Emphasize your mission and fix department-specific goals.

Facilitate team planning: Team planning is a major challenge that organizations grapple with. SAFe offers a solution in the form of PI planning.

Program Increment (PI) planning is a meeting of numerous teams that are a part of an Agile Release Train (ART) where they gather to plan the roadmap, work on features and additions, and recognize cross-team reliance.

The benefits of PI Planning include trust-building, encouraging inter ART collaboration, finishing tasks faster, and quick decision making.

Enable enterprise-wide visibility: Agile lifecycle management solutions represent and connect the different backlogs and Kanban teams. This helps them manage their local work and provide enterprise-wide visibility.

Coordination between teams and working together: Team coordination and harmony are possible through a free flow of collaboration and culture. Agile teams are united by a common vision and goal to provide value to their customers.

In the Scaled Agile Framework, every team member works diligently. They work with each other and work together to manage dependencies and resolve impediments.

Constant feedback loops ensure collaboration and better output.

Cross-Team Dependencies: Cross-team dependencies become a source of constant pain. Overdue deadlines, express meetings, disorderly change in context.

This is where dependency management comes to the rescue. Dependency management is the method of actively analyzing, measuring, and working to reduce the mess created by intra team or cross-team dependencies.

The cross-team dependencies can be characterized under two types-

  • Business
  • Technical

Most Essential Practices for Success in Implementing the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

The most essential practices are always the best practices. When it comes to SAFe, following these practices will work wonders for your enterprise.

  • Channel your vision on business outcomes and outputs
  • Choose metrics that will exhibit business value
  • Enable transparency through feedback on business outcomes
  • Use business value to secure an initial commitment from business and IT leadership
  • Train leaders and understand they have no ambiguity when it comes to SAFe
  • Present feedback on business outcomes to solidify the commitment
  • Create a LACE charter to empower change agents
  • Offer training and coaching for teams
  • Ease the PI Planning process to ensure program clarity
  • Lead the adoption and operation of Lean Portfolio Management

Conclusion: The Benefits of Adopting the SAFe Framework for Your organization

  • Optimum Quality :

    Organizations can only thrive if they can compete in the competitive market and cater to the constantly changing needs of the customer. One of the core values of SAFe is built quality. It flows through all levels.
    A secure environment is conducive for large enterprises without quality assurance, superfluous rework and snail paced velocities will fetch mediocre results.

  • Amplifies Productivity:

    SAFe ensures collaboration which fosters transparency thereby having a clear understanding of the deliverables and meeting the expectations of the stakeholders.

  • Fosters Team unity:

    Agile teams are cross-functional and they consist of members from different departments. Transparency, collaboration, and coordination ensure that the team is aligned towards a common goal.

Author's Bio
Agilemania

We are a team of Professional Scrum Trainers (PST) and Enterprise Agile coaches actively working as Scrum Trainers, Agile Coaches, Scrum Masters/Product Owners aimed at delivering quality and consistency for our students across the globe.