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SAFe® is designed for large organizations. We have seen it be effective when organizations must follow a set, pre-defined method. This is sometimes true when an organization is very large and no other method will do. However, in the case where organizations do not require such a set approach, FLEX can be more effective.
Many mid-size organizations are looking at SAFe because, until FLEX, there was no well-defined approach that wasn’t based on Scrum-of-Scrums. However, FLEX takes a different approach to mid-scale (50-1000 people in the technology side). Companies of this size should be able to follow an approach tailored for them and not require a pre-set approach that may or may not address their needs.
While SAFe suggests working at the program with SAFe Essentials, FLEX suggests still starting with identifying what is the greatest value that can be realized.
FLEX includes the intentions of the ten essential elements of Essential SAFe. However, these are sometimes achieved with different practices. FLEX also has an additional four elements we consider to be key:
Here are the ten SAFe Essential’s and how FLEX implements them:
Lean-Agile Principles. FLEX’s core is Lean-Agile. It takes a fully systems-thinking approach, looking at the realization of business value as a whole. FLEX is truly flow based while SAFe is essentially large batches (3 month planning cycles) with Lean attempting to speed it up.
Using FLEX to extend SAFe®
FLEX is designed to work as a standalone approach. However, because it is based on the approach of improving what you do by providing solutions to your challenges, it can also be used to improve an existing SAFe® implementation or be used to prepare for one.
FLEX provides those implementing, or about to implement SAFe the following:
Using SAFe as a starting framework
FLEX and SAFe at mid-scale
SAFe provides the following guidance that is useful at mid-scale:
While these are consistent with FLEX they are more batch oriented instead of flow oriented. This enables the adopter of SAFe to either start with SAFe as is or to recognize the adjustments to SAFe that FLEX suggests to be more flow-oriented.
Even when using SAFe as a guide, it is important to use Agile product management methods with Minimum Business Increments unless any change to the SAFe framework will cause adverse affects.
FLEX and SAFe at large-scale
At large scale, SAFe is often the only way to start an organization’s change because any discussion about how to stray from an out-of-the box implementation may cause more delay and harm than just getting started. As challenges arise after a SAFe implementation is underway, however, FLEX provide insights into how to adjust SAFe for your context. By providing a more flexible model (pun intended) FLEX also helps eliminate the tendency to view SAFe dogmatically. The biggest adjustment however, is that after SAFe has been implemented, the concept of Minimum Business Increments (MBIs) can be implemented in SAFe by using right-sized epics. While we prefer the term MBIs, right-sized epics is completely consistent with SAFe’s terminology and follows one of SAFe’s suggested methods of decomposing epics.
When to Use SAFe® essentials at the Mid-Scale
SAFe Essentials® may be an effective way to start a full-blown, large-scale (1000+) Agile transformation. Sometimes this is due to only being able to start at the program level. More often, it’s because the only way to start is with an off the shelf solution.
In smaller transformations, however, it is often possible to get the business involved. In doing so, the use of Minimum Business Increments (MBIs) can greatly increase both alignment and assist in avoiding the overloading of teams.
By leaving out systems thinking, Portfolio management with Minimum Business Increments (MBIs), Double-loop learning, and full visibility (workflow, workload, work agreements), many opportunities for quick wins are lost.
All resources in FLEX and SAFe
The Interesting Parallel Between SAFe and the Kanban Method (Article)