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By Pavel Kukhnavets

SAFe

How to apply the principles of Scaled Agile Framework to real projects.

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Many people know what Agile is. A large number of specialists involved in IT use the terminologies, principles, and best practices of the method when scaling Agile.

Not everyone who confidently uses the Agile term to communicate, criticize, and also to present their team or company in the best light understands, for example, what is the difference between Agile and Scrum. They often put an equal sign between these two different concepts. In 2015, the Scaled Agile Framework was introduced. What is it and why is it needed?

What is SAFe?

Scaling up teams means increasing their number, and here comes the problem of communication between teams, and synchronization of work. Scrum itself does not offer any solution for these tasks.

Scaled Agile Framework is a management framework that requires coordination of work on some project or related projects for 5 or more Scrum teams. Let’s get more details about this concept!

What is a Scaled Agile Framework?

Scaled Agile Framework (widely known as SAFe) is a freely available online knowledge base of design patterns that allows businesses to apply Lean-Agile practices. It encourages employees to build large-scale enterprise-class software and systems.

SAFe supports initiatives where hundreds of members are contributing. The framework provides a simple and lightweight experience for software development. SAFe is divided into such segments as team, program, and portfolio.

The Scaled Agile Framework allows teams to:

  • Implement Lean-Agile software and systems at the enterprise level.
  • Apply Lean and Agile principles.
  • Get a guide for work at the enterprise portfolio, value stream, program, and team.
  • Meet the needs of all stakeholders within the company.

What is the need of SAFe?

Teams need SAFe when:

  • At the time of scaling Agile.
  • Multiple teams face problem delays etc.
  • Independently working on the team is required.
  • While improving development lead time.

A brief history of the SAF

The Scaled Agile Framework was introduced in 2011. Originally, it was called the “Agile Enterprise Big Picture” in the bestselling book Agile Software Requirements written by Dean Leffingwell.

From the Big Picture, we understand how to utilize existing Agile frameworks (Kanban, Lean, Scrum, or XP) and apply them to the team, program, and portfolio.

Nowadays, SAFe’s catalog of knowledge and success patterns is available for free. It has become one of the most demanded Agile frameworks.

Advantages and Disadvantages of SAFe

What are the SAFe’s strengths?

  • The framework helps cross-functional teams to collaborate more productively and efficiently.
  • It helps companies to reach greater transparency
  • It aligns all project aspects to wider business goals

What are the weaknesses of SAFe?

  • Many think that SAFe is not pure Agile as it requires too much upfront planning and process definition.

How SAFe differs from Agile

In order to clearly understand the basic concepts of Agile and SAFe Agile, it is essential first to understand the differences between them.

Agile is a disciplined and flexible project management methodology that is mainly used for software development, as software products require rapid delivery to gain a competitive advantage. This leadership approach created as a response to the traditional management philosophy promotes teamwork, self-organization, and customer collaboration.

What are the roles and responsibilities of Agile teams?

  • Scrum Master is a team lead whose role involves managing the team, obtaining resources, planning and scheduling of the relevant activities for the entire team.
  • Product Owner is the executive stakeholder who has a vision of fitting the end product in the company’s long-term goals.
  • Team members are responsible for getting the work done on time and maintaining proper product quality.

Why people use Agile framework

Agile is a quite simple framework, however, it can handle the needs of complex system development and large value streams.

  • Utilizing the SAFe Agile framework, you get the following benefits:
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased quality
  • Faster time to market
  • Increased employee engagement and job satisfaction.

How does the Agile process work? Epics are a large body of work. It is broken down into a number of smaller stories or sub-epics. The sub-epics are allocated to the team as a story.

What Are SAFe Values?

The core values of SAFe describe the culture that leadership needs to foster. They also define how people should behave within that culture to use the framework properly.

1. Alignment

The framework requires that organizations put planning and reflection cadences in place at all levels. Having these in place, all can understand the current state of the business, the goals, and how to achieve those goals. When you synchronize people and activities, all levels of the portfolio stay in alignment.

2. Built-in quality

Agility in the SAFe framework should never come at the cost of quality. The Scaled Agile Framework requires defining what “done” for each task or project and including quality development practices into every working agreement. SAFe assumes 5 core dimensions of built-in quality:

  • flow
  • architecture and design quality
  • code quality
  • system quality
  • release quality

3. Transparency

The Scaled Agile Framework encourages trust-building, which includes planning work in smaller batch sizes. It allows problems to be surfaced sooner and provides real-time visibility into backlog progress across levels, inspecting and adapting rituals.

4. Program execution

Program execution powers everything in the framework. Programs and teams must be able to regularly deliver quality, business value, and working software.

5. Leadership

The framework requires Lean-Agile leadership behavior as only leaders can change the system and build the environment necessary to embrace all of the core values.

What Are SAFe Principles?

The Scaled Agile Framework is based on nine core principles that are derived from existing Agile and Lean principles:

  1. Apply an economic view to provide for an optimal lead time while affording the best quality and value.
  2. Enable systems thinking into all development facets.
  3. Allow for market and technical variability by preserving choices and encouraging innovation.
  4. Build incrementally with integrated learning cycles that will allow customer feedback and reduce risks.
  5. In order to ensure there is an economic benefit, base milestones on objective estimation and evaluation of working systems.
  6. Limit the amount of work in progress (WIP) and manage queue lengths to enable continuous flow.
  7. Apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain formation, and allow for corrective action.
  8. Let knowledge workers reach their unseen potential and unlock intrinsic motivation.
  9. To become more Agile and effective, decentralize decision-making.

What Are the Different Levels in SAFE?

1. Team Level

  • Roles: Agile team, Scrum Master, PO
  • Events: Sprint Planning, backlog grooming, Daily Stand-up, execution, Sprint Demo, Retrospective, IP sprints.
  • Artifacts: team backlog, iterations, stories, non-functional requirements, team PI objectives, sprint goals,  built-in quality, spikes, team Kanban.

2. Program Level

  • Roles: DevOps, system team, release management, product management, UEX architect, RTE (release train engineer), system architect, business owners, Lean-Agile leaders, communities of practice, customers.
  • Events: program increment planning, inspect and adapt workshop, system demos, architectural runway, and release any time, ART.
  • Artifacts: vision, roadmap, metrics, milestones, releases, program epics, program Kanban, program backlog, non-functional requirements, WSJF, program PI objectives, feature, enabler, solution, value stream coordination.

3. Portfolio Level

  • Roles: enterprise architect, program portfolio management, epic owners.
  • Events: strategic investment planning, Kanban portfolio (epic) planning.
  • Artifacts: strategic themes, enterprise, portfolio backlog, portfolio Kanban, non-functional requirements, epic and enabler, value stream, budgets.

4. Value Stream Level

  • Roles: DevOps, system team, release management, solution management, UEX architect, value stream engineer, solution architect, shared services, supplier, customers.
  • Events: pre and post-PI planning, solution demos, inspect and adapt workshop, ATR.
  • Artifacts: vision, roadmap, metrics, milestones, releases, value stream epics, value stream Kanban, value stream backlog, value stream PI objectives, capability, enabler, solution context, value stream coordination, economic framework, solution intent, Agile architecture.

SAFe framework

What is the SAFe Agile process flow?

There are twelve basic processes companies should follow to implement SAFe. However, each step can be modified as needed to fit the organizational requirements.

  1. Recognizing and communicating the need for change.
  2. Identifying and training change agents.
  3. Getting executives and managers on board.
  4. Creating a Lean-Agile center of excellence.
  5. Identifying value streams and ARTs (Agile release trains).
  6. Prioritizing and roadmapping.
  7. Defining parameters for every ART launch.
  8. Training teams and ensuring that everyone understands their roles.
  9. Executing the ART.
  10. Launching more ARTs and value streams.
  11. Extending to the portfolio level to lead the business transformation.
  12. Sustaining and improving operational effectiveness company-wide.

How SAFe works

Businesses that want to implement SAFe typically have executive-level sponsorship and a foundation in Scrum.

Here are the consistent steps of implementing SAFe:

  • Reach the tipping point
  • Train Lean-Agile change agents
  • Train managers and executives
  • Build a Lean-Agile center of excellence
  • Define value streams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs)
  • Write an implementation plan
  • Prepare to launch ART
  • Train teams and launch the ART
  • Train the ART execution
  • Launch more value streams and ARTs
  • Extend to the portfolio
  • Sustain and improve

How SAFe differs from other Agile practices

Here are some essential points that show how Scaled Agile Framework is different from other Agile practices:

  • SAFe is free to use and publicly available.
  • The framework is available in a usable and highly approachable form.
  • It is about lightweight and practically proven results.
  • It maintains the most commonly used Agile practices on a regular basis.
  • SAFe offers a complete picture of software development.
  • It provides useful extensions to common Agile practices.
  • Transparency and visibility are more on all levels.

Conclusion

The Scaled Agile Framework is an industry-proven, value-focused approach for scaling Agile at the enterprise level. The framework answers questions like “How do we plan?” and “How do we budget?”

SAFe helps large companies and teams to meet an organization’s strategic goals, not just individual project goals. It allows creating and maintaining a centralized strategy to deliver value. The SAFe approach has 3-4 levels that centralize the strategic themes of the company.