What SAFe Provides Us

Challenges many small to mid-scale organizations have that SAFe addresses

Many organizations with small-to mid-scale development face the challenge that their development teams are not as effective as they would like them to be. This includes releases taking too long, missing the mark of what’s needed, poor product quality, misunderstood requirements, and small changes that take a long time to get done. The causes for this are surprisingly common and include working on too many things, unclear requirements, teams not working well together and inconsistent methods.

Most organizations started with Scrum training. While Scrum is good at the team level it provides few insights on how teams can work together. Scaling via Scrum-of-Scrums does not have a solid track record. In addition, Scrum is not generally applicable to all teams of organizations with several teams. This is especially true when shared services, ops and maintenance groups are present. Kanban is more suited to these teams and SAFe suggests the use of both Scrum and Kanban as they apply.

There is an additional need here besides needing a blend of Scrum and Kanban and coordinating teams. This is having an effective Agile Product Management that can be used to both identify what needs to be built as well as provide the basis for an intake process to avoid overloading technology. .

Many have tried to address the larger issues of scale by choosing from among the small set of choices of SAFe®, LeSS, Spotify Model, or Scrum of Scrums. LeSS and Scrum of Scrums don’t appear to provide the coordination needed while the Spotify model requires a certain organization of teams and was designed for a culture different than most. SAFe often appears to be the natural choice, but, as we’ll see later in this chapter, it comes at a cost.

But first, let’s look at the great concepts SAFe brings us. These include:

  • taking an holistic view
  • attending to the entire value stream
  • a portfolio and product management system
  • an awareness of Lean principles
  • the emphasis on leaders and managers providing leadership in the transition to Agile
  • new roles required for scale
  • the program increment planning event
  • working in cadence with synchronization
  • working with shared services
  • Kanban
  • DevOps
  • more

What You Really Want

I hear many people say they want to do SAFe, but on further discussion they want a way to

  • control the intake process so that teams don’t get overwhelmed
  • have teams work together so that product can be released quicker than currently
  • use DevOps so ops is not a bottleneck
  • have visibility on the work being done

These are not actually hard to do and can be accomplished by product owners working together – which I described in Lean-Agile Software Development: Achieving Enterprise Agility. Essentially all it takes is having your product owners work together to build shared backlogs the teams can use and then have the  teams coordinate every couple of weeks with each other. While you might want to use big-room planning a la SAFe, you might not want to.

What You Don’t Want

While SAFe attends to many effective principles and practices it does not always do so in the most effective manner. In particular, companies with development groups almost certainly don’t need to be doing planning events for as long as 8 weeks or more. SAFe’s portfolio and product management using solutions are overly complex for all organizations. Given virtually every practice in SAFe was developed outside of SAFe, it is best to figure out what is most useful to be adopted for your organization and not take everything possible.