Using SAFe as a Starting Framework

FLEX and SAFe at mid-scale

SAFe provides the following guidance that is useful at mid-scale:

  • Have a single backlog for initiating ideas
  • Create the role of product manager to align the business side with technology
  • Have teams work in a common cadence
  • Do planning events with everybody present.  Note that his event does not need to be for 8-14 weeks out.  In fact, it should be for as short a period as the organization can manage effectively.  Otherwise the organization will be working on larger batches than necessary.
  • Attend to technical practices and quality of design and code

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.

One should always incorporate systems thinking, portfolio management with Minimum Business Increments (MBIs), Double-loop learning, and full visibility (workflow, workload, work agreements) into SAFe. At the mid-scale, however, when these are used, not much more than the planning event in SAFe is necessary. And often, not even that.