The Interesting Parallel Between SAFe and the Kanban Method

Many people would consider SAFe and the Kanban Method to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Kanban Method is a way for an organization to start where it is and to make gradual changes.  Nothing appears further from this than SAFe’s “all-in-all-the-way” approach.

Ironically, the very things that many people complain makes SAFe “un-agile” are the same things that make it similar to the Kanban Method. First, however, one must understand the intent of the Kanban Method.  It’s a way in order to introduce change in a gradual manner.  However, the rate of change that can be accepted depends not only on the culture of the organization but the size of the organization.

It is clearly possible to introduce too much change.  But for large organizations implementing sufficient change is also a requirement – especially because teams are having to work together.  In order to make a value stream-wide change, all of the teams in the value stream must be involved.

We’re not endorsing the “all-in-all-the-way” approach because there are usually times a full value stream can be implemented in a step-wise manner.  But doing this requires tailoring the approach to the value stream.  Many companies, however, won’t move forward at all unless there is a pre-defined approach that is agreed to.  Attempting to agree to modifications to a industry standard can take longer than starting with a set agreement and modifying after it is implemented. In this case, avoiding improvements that should eventually be done (e.g., better team-level approaches than Scrum, using Minimum Business Increments, creating visibility throughout the organization) may be easier for the company to absorb.

This results in a big jump in planning and roles, but leaves much of the organization’s other methods mostly intact. In other words, SAFe uses bigger batches and larger planning cycles than what many people would call ‘Agile’ but by doing so limits the overall change required.  Of course, these improvements should be made at some point, but for very large organizations that should not necessarily be at the start of the transition to SAFe.