Getting started with SAFe®

SAFe or Scaled Agile Framework is one of the leading agile frameworks being used in the industry today. Along with Scrum, it is now a standard to adopt, which is also commonly sought after by both customers and future employees.

In the above figures, it is observed how SAFe globally, each year it rises more and more in popularity in different types of industries.

In Latin America, insights for the future presents a study with similar data, although the sample is small, it proves that Scrum and SAFe are here to stay. Most of the companies in Latin America, such as BBVA, Elektra, among others from the government such as SAT, who have implemented SAFe have observed an important change in their mobile and online platforms. They have required external consultancy as well as internal reorganization, BBVA being one of the most successful.

There are many myths and lies about why SAFe is not for my company or because its principles and practices do not work. In Latin America and in the world, SAFe is helping to deliver high business value to many companies, at the same time, competition increases day by day. However, not all SAFe implementations are created equal, and of these, most have deviations from the framework documented at scaledagileframework .com . Among different reasons why an implementation can be unsuccessful or not show the expected results, the main cause of these is resistance to change.

SAFe includes a roadmap to implementation , usually requiring a 4-day course and passing a certification exam to become a SAFe Program Consultant.t, who is the expert who helps implement it in the company. However, that doesn’t mean that companies can’t decide to start their agile journey on their own. Being almost the same path in other frameworks, the investment required to carry out this transformation is large, both in money and time. SAFe offers certification courses, usually two days, or a day and a half, where students learn the principles of the agile manifesto, Lean thinking, and Scrum values. In these courses, it is required to invest time and money to understand the change of mentality or mindset, at the same time as applying the knowledge through practical exercises such as a simulated Program Increment planning.

SAFe Implementation Roadmap

During the Leading SAFe course (material now available in Spanish), designed for executives and leaders, you will immediately realize the benefits of applying this framework within your company. However, in most cases it is recommended that this course be customized to the company or students who will attend. Some leaders discover an epiphany by taking it for two days, others decide to discard the principles, not be present and busy, and just experience the simulation of PI planning. When SAFe certification courses are personalized through company-relevant exercises, current backlogs, and real-world scenarios, engagement increases. The goal of Leading SAFe, as well as other SAFe courses, is to motivate students to change their current way of working and bring the practices to their work area the next day. Some are more tedious and complex than others, the fastest and most basic being SAFe for teams, designed for up to 150 people or to train everyone on the agile train. After the course, in many cases, this translates to making your first Real Program Increment Planning with everyone present.

The benefits of a face-to-face PI Planning with all the teams and stakeholders present for one or two full days, Big Room Planning, are immediate. In addition to obtaining a highly trustworthy long-term plan plus the agreement of stakeholders and business owners, it is a kind of team building where everyone communicates and gets to know each other urgently.

Although the SAFe Implementation Roadmap mentions that Leading SAFe is one of the main courses that acts as a watershed to make the decision to implement or not, these are not the only ways in which you can decide to opt for SAFe. Traditional waterfall processes and mostly inspired and audited by the Project Management Institute through project management professionals have been the main methodology in which companies, for example IT, manage their projects. Agile in general seems to be PMI’s number one enemy, however, no arguing is needed. PMI has been looking to integrate agile into its approach for several years now, even launching its own disciplined agile hybrid model Disciplined Agile Delivery.

SAFe has distinct practices, principles, and values, most of which are suited to companies that are primarily driven by a traditional, detailed and weighty process to show results. Usually, and with the help of a SAFe partner consultant, or an internal SAFe Program Consultant, a “translation” of the current process to the agile framework that has been chosen is carried out. Because SAFe scales its iterations or sprints in Scrum, and calls it Program Increments from 8 weeks to 12 weeks, more frequent releases or deliveries are more feasible, unlike every day with Kanban, or every two weeks as in Scrum. Of course, depending on the technologies used, sometimes it will be easier to deliver every week for web platforms, but it would be difficult to do this with a hardware platform for automotive vehicles. The difficult part will be to change the mentality of projects and focus on products, thus allowing value chains produced by continuous and long-lived equipment. This adaptation can lead to the usual checklists of a gate review to end up in the different levels ofDefinition of Done incrementally that SAFe recommends.

This is when companies derive a “hybrid” process that is not SAFe or Agile but is also not fully waterfall. If this hybrid form is used as a temporary bridge to frequent deliveries or releases, in a sustainable way, through retrospectives and process improvements, being transparent, executing in cadence, inspecting and adapting, then the agile manifesto is present. SAFe also seeks to decouple the process of continuous deliveries and make them on demand through its Continuous Delivery Pipeline.

SAFe’s Continuous Delivery Pipeline.

Today it is very common to arrive at a company that says it is applying Scrum, or SAFe, and they say they are already Agile. However, the reality is that they are in a hybrid model and their agile roles such as Product Owner or Scrum Master are actually still project managers or business analysts. In SAFe, with its escalating roles, it is very common to see how an experienced project or program manager ends up being a Release Train Engineer or Product Manager, and in many cases, both roles fall to the same person. Similar to the Product Owner and Scrum Master roles that end up being one. Among other anti-patterns such as when the mindset does not really observe any change, this happens when executives, sponsors, or business owners, they decide not to get involved in this agile transformation and prefer to delegate their responsibilities and not invest. In these companies it is also said that the messenger is punished, and micromanagement is a common practice. Likewise, if there is almost no innovation due to lack of time, or individuals are rewarded more for the hero mentality instead of teamwork, it can be observed that there is stagnation. The main tasks of the Scrum Master Product Owner will be to work in Jira (agile management tool) and assign tasks or push them instead of allowing teams to choose or pull them (Push vs Pull). Leaders excuse themselves using the saying “do more with less” (Do more with less), or as the creators of Scrum put it, “the art of doing twice the work in half the time” (the art of doing twice the work in half the time). Through micromanagement they ask the teams why they are not faster and what is taking them so long.

In many cases, most of the money and little time is spent on planning events, and not on execution, where people seem motivated but there is little confidence in their plans. This is called the Agile Theater. And today post-COVID, there is even less investment in planning face-to-face events as it can be digital by the way. It is also increasingly common to require teams who were working remotely with collaborative digital tools and infrastructure in a motivated way, to return to the office and forget about the increase in productivity that remote work had produced .. In keeping with the spirit of the agile manifesto, while face-to-face conversations are valuable (and continue to be digitally), so are motivated individuals and teams.

Ambas triadas ágiles a nivel de Essential SAFe.

In companies where successful and motivational change is observed, leaders from the executive level to the team managers themselves, get involved in the transformation understanding that several steps are needed to reach Business Agility, but they do their best to live agile principles, SAFe, and Scrum values. They invest not only in new roles and tools, but also spend time being part of planning events such as PI Planning and create work groups with different departments such as Human Resources, Marketing, Sales, and Manufacturing, in their effort to achieve this goal. Business Agility. Trusting teams and their individuals. By investing in a good career path framework with management and human resources for new agile roles, We will begin to see more motivated teams that want to grow their skills in agility, and be part of the transformation, eventually helping to change the culture, and even the mindset of the company. If you invest in training and certifications, to form T-type or multifunctional individuals, as well as in innovation and flexibility for teams, motivation will continue to grow. If the tyranny of the urgent is avoided, and it is decided to carry out celebrations and demonstrations of the built value, the intrinsic motivation of knowledge-based workers can be seen to grow. If teams are given enough confidence to make their own product decisions, and decentralize the decisions that take the longest, teams will be on the path to being self-directed and high-performing.

In conclusion, to start with SAFe, in Latin America or the rest of the world, you need to be willing to invest time and money in the transformation, but especially in your teams, including reorganizing them around value.

  • Invest time in the implementation (2 days of training, 2 days of PI Planning, etc.)
  • Invest money in agile roles, training, tools, and professional development.

If the leadership level is deciding to adopt SAFe (Top-Down Approach) because other companies are doing it and do not want to miss the train (Fear of missing out or FOMO), or in their experience they observed a somewhat successful transformation and believe it is translatable to the current business, it is necessary first to convince at the team level. For this, it is necessary for leaders to apply the Gemba principle, or go directly to where the work is done, and investigate. Most agile transformations that stall or fail (decide to revert to a waterfall model), where agile teams are demotivated, is usually because they have a severe case of lack of commitment from their agility leaders. Some other successful transformations invest in their agile roles, including their developers primarily, to allow them to grow, to be flexible, and to allow them the confidence to become high-performing teams. Without the investment in the teams and their professional growth in agility, the agile manifesto is not present.

Another way to start with SAFe also works when the teams themselves decide to transform and be agile (Bottom-Up approach), and the need arises to scale the implementation. It’s rare to see an Agile Train (ART) launch itself without input from executives or business owners, but if it succeeds, you see the benefit immediately and attract the attention of leaders. After approximately a year and a half to two years, it is when the stagnation can appear, the difficult thing is not to fall into the Agile Theater, keep the leaders engaged, maintain, grow and improve the implementation of SAFe throughout the company.

For more real use cases you can see SAFe Customer Stories.

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