Part IX: Using FLEX to both enhance and simplify SAFe

SAFe was developed originally as a way to coordinate teams working together on projects. It is popular because it has provided a way for very large companies that could barely deliver in a year to deliver on a quarterly basis.  This is a major improvement. But even for these companies it is far from what is possible. For companies under 500 people in the development group it is overkill and not Agile.

Most companies using SAFe use it at the program level (Essential SAFe). While it may appear to be a breakthrough here at this level SAFe has merely combined a few well known practices:

  1. having a well defined intake process making use of big room planning
  2. coordinating teams with a common cadence and integration points
  3. having shared services
  4. using DevOps

The challenge with using Essential SAFe to start is that it actually makes it hard to go to the next level. This is because SAFe is designed around the levels of an organization, not the value stream.  This means that Essential SAFe does not have all of the concepts needed for small to mid size organizations.  Unfortunately the concepts on portfolio and product management at the higher levels are overly complex and confusing.

How FLEX Can Enhance and Simplify SAFe at the Same Time

FLEX can be used in several ways by those who have adopted SAFe.

Truly Using SAFe as a Framework and Adding and/or Substituting Practices

Since SAFe is a framework, organizations can still mostly with SAFe but take advantage of FLEX’s approach to adoption and its additional practices. This includes:

  • doing Acceptance Test-Driven Development training early
  • take advantage of FLEX’s methods of organizing teams – particularly based on Flow thinking when multiple platforms are involved
  • use Kanban in shared services
  • be open to shorter planning events

Do the Above and Use MBIs as Possible

Although MBIs should be defined by product management, you can use the equivalent of MBIs during implementation.  Epics are too large to meaningfully do WSJF on and Features do not always have deliverable value.

Do the Above and Use MBIs as Possible

It is very straightforward to use FLEX’s portfolio and product management approach to manage what should be built prior to planning. This enables you to keep using the program level of SAFe while getting maximum value of a true Flow and Lean based front end.

Reading this part of the book

This part of the book will discuss what SAFe provides us – both the good and the bad. We will see how FLEX’s portfolio and product management methods can readily substitute for SAFe’s complicated higher levels. This can enable development groups to have a Lean approach that works for their entire value stream without unneeded complexity. It also avoids SAFe’s penchant for redefining, overloading and even misusing the names of the concepts it borrows from.  By using a standard business front end, FLEX provides a simple, business friendly approach that is much more effective than SAFe’s.

For those that want to do “SAFe by the book” I include a small section on how you can use some of FLEX’s concepts totally within the SAFe framework. This will enable standard SAFe training, getting some immediately improvement while setting the stage up for more improvement later.

Please read these chapters if you haven’t read them already as concepts in them will be referred to repeatedly in this part:

  1. The Business Case For Agility. This chapter introduces the Minimum Business Increment (MBI) an essential concept different from an MVP and not explicitly in SAFe.
  2. What is flow? FLEX is based on achieving flow, it is important to understand what it is.
  3. Lean Product Management. FLEX’s Lean Product Management is one thing that sets it far apart from SAFe.
  4. How Epics Are Used in FLEX. What epics are is overloaded in SAFe because there is no explicit definition to hold the concept of the minimum business increment for which value can be realized.  This chapter discusses why MBIs are a better container from which to create features.

This part of the book will first present SAFe from a Value Stream Perspective, which is a better way to understand what SAFe does. Then I’ll discuss what What SAFe Provides Us. To take advantage of what SAFe provides we must understand both the good and the bad of what it provides us. Then I’ll cover Why Essential SAFe is Both More and Less Than What’s Needed at Small to Mid-Scale. SAFe’s tying its practices to the levels of an organization works against its effective adoption at all levels of scale, but particularly small and mid-scale. The last chapter will be about Putting it together: FLEX and SAFe where I talk about the options you have in using FLEX to both enhance and simplify SAFe.

The next FLEX course is currently being scheduled in August in southern Orange County, CA. If you want to learn more about FLEX you can take an online course at the Net Objectives University. If you want to learn about how to adopt FLEX in your organization please contact the author, Al Shalloway