3 August 2015
In our research, we found that 61% of software practitioners say their organisations need to scale agile. Just like you, many practitioners have found agile successful at the team level and want to bring that success to larger parts of the organisation. Many organisations are interested in trying the popular Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) but are aware of the mixed opinions on it and are unsure of the benefits of implementing it.
We at Mingle believe strongly in the fundamental principles of agile but are not fans of Agile with a capital "A". We would hesitate to recommend any one-size-fits-all methodology for transforming an organisation. However, we are also pragmatists. We understand that organisations want to bring agility to more than just a few teams and do need help and support to enact a large-scale transformation. They need something to get them started, and that makes frameworks like SAFe attractive. Here we review three situations when SAFe may help bring more effective agility to your organisation.
If you want to introduce areas of your business to agile, iterative processes, and more collaborative ways of working, SAFe can be an easy entry point to agile for executives and upper management. Portfolio management techniques suggested as part of SAFe—such as business epic kanbans—can help executives understand the benefits of lean thinking. Work-in-progress (WIP) limits and waste also bring them closer to understanding how the software development organisation works. If implemented successfully, the portfolio management techniques suggested by SAFe can lead to further support for agility across the organisation.
SAFe can provide some useful techniques if your organisation has issues understanding what it is trying to achieve as well as prioritising and communicating those goals to the whole organisation. SAFe’s strategic themes, portfolio vision and value streams facilitate executive teams to identify the business objectives, connect them to the software portfolio, and communicate the value to the rest of the organisation.
Specific prioritisation techniques suggested by SAFe such as "cost of delay" or "weighted shortest job first" (WSJF) can increase transparency and visibility across the organization. Following a specific known method like cost of delay allows the executive team and business stakeholders to make ongoing prioritization decisions using clearly communicated, easily understood reasons: this transparency helps individuals, teams and departments understand the value they are providing to the larger business needs.
For organisations with hundreds of people, it can be hard for everyone to feel a connection between their day-to-day tasks and the long term goals. In many cases, silos crop up and collaboration across roles becomes limited. Starting at the highest levels of the organisation, SAFe provides a structure that allows people to trace stories all the way back to the portfolio epic and business strategy levels, making it clear how their work helps achieve a larger goal. Periodic planning meetings also give organizations a chance to reaffirm goals and objectives and tie specifics back to organisation-wide goals. While SAFe provides a basis to start, over time you should expect things to change and that you’ll find your own communication and collaboration structure for connecting the dots.
No. SAFe provides you with a blueprint of how to bring agile practises and techniques to larger organisations. Like any framework, SAFe can provide you with a good place to start, but it’s not as simple as simply following the SAFe road to greatness. We remain convinced that it’s the fundamentals of agile that matter and that one size does not fit all. We recommend that you start simple and adapt. This is the best way to achieve agility at any level, even in larger organizations.
In our next blog post, we will explore some of the ways that SAFe may not help you achieve agility at scale.