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Embracing Lean & Agile Values in SAFe® 4.5

05th Sep, 2023
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Embracing Lean & Agile Values in SAFe® 4.5

The basic premise to develop the Scaled agile framework is to enable organizations to scale up agile development practices to enterprise scale. One of the key constructs upon which SAFe® is built upon is the ‘Lean-Agile Mindset’. This is defined as ‘the combination of beliefs, assumptions and actions of SAFe® leaders and practitioners who embrace the concepts of the Agile Manifesto & Lean Thinking’.

Agile provides the thinking and mindset related to achieving high levels of efficiency, productivity, collaboration, team motivation and quality. However, the agile principles work well in the delivery of smaller, less complex solutions rather than applying it to enterprise wide solution implementations. Scaled agile framework requires a wider array of knowledge, skills, leadership and a change in mindset to adopt and apply lean agile principles.

Aspects of Lean-Agile
The lean-agile mindset in SAFe® is built upon 2 main constructs. These provide the knowledge and help drive the skills required to create and manage the culture, organizational structure, leadership and management approach required to drive organizations adopting SAFe® and to allow them business objectives. The two key aspects of lean-agile mindset are-

Lean Thinking which is primarily defined through SAFe®’s ‘House of Lean’ which was derived from Lean manufacturing inspired by Toyota’s ‘Houses of Lean’. This was then applied to software products and solutions development.

The end goal of any project, however big or small is to deliver value to its stakeholders. The roof of the house is thus represented by delivering value in the shortest possible time ensuring maximum possible quality. 

Some of the principal pillars hold up the house of lean. They represent respect for people & culture, flow, innovation and relentless improvement to support the end goal of value delivery.

Work in any project is carried out by people and thus the respect for people and culture becomes utmost important for any team. Team together face challenges, learn new techniques and skills, solve problems and move forward and make improvements to projects and processes. Managers generally challenge the status quo and empower people to achieve more. The motivator behind this behavior is the team culture. Organizations and leaders must first embrace this culture and then try to instill that in their staff and even beyond organization’s boundaries towards other external stakeholders. It is important to note that culture cannot be changed overnight but can only be molded over time.

The 2nd pillar of flow refers to a continuous flow of work to support incremental delivery of value. One main objective of an agile project is to make small increments to the solution over time and to keep on adding business value through continuous delivery. This must also be done while improving on engineering practices, improvements to solution quality and project governance through proper tracking. Visualizing the flow is an important aspect in Agile and in Lean. We all know about the Scrum and Kanban boards in agile projects and how they created visibility of project progress. This same concept must be scaled up with more visibility of tasks, components, modules and even systems with emphasis given to identifying and reducing non-value adding activities. Continuous delivery through DevOps and SysOps through the automation of software engineering, QA and deployment practices thus becomes a pivotal capability for any organization.

Innovation is a key pillar in the house of lean and is placed in the middle. No team or organization can be improve or continuously deliver value without innovation. Thus SAFe® encourages team to challenge the norm, continuously explore new frontiers, be creative and move out of their comfort zones. Innovation and Planning sprints are thus a key component in the SAFe® hierarchy.

The 4th pillar is to relentlessly improve the product and the processes. Organizations are expected to be learning through review and retrospectives. 

The foundation of the house of lean is Leadership. Leadership plays a key enabler role for team success and successful adoption and implementation of lean-agile approach depends with the organization’s executive leadership, managers and team leads.

Embracing Agility is the 2nd construct in lean-agile. SAFe® is built upon skills, capabilities and aptitude of teams and their leaders. The agile manifesto for software development describes the principles and practices related to carrying out project activities in an agile manner. 
The agile manifesto describes 4 values and 12 principles. Agile values motivates teams to focus more on- 

  •  Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  •  Working software over comprehensive documentation
  •  Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  •  Responding to change over following a plan

Agile motivates teams to be self-organizing and self-healing, to face problems as one single unit, collaborate and solve problems and to continuously build something that can be demonstrated to customers. The objective is to get feedback as soon as possible and make necessary changes as required. The requirement in SAFe® is to apply these same set of values at team level as well as among multiple or large scale teams.

SAFe® provides the basis for organizations to plan and build enterprise class applications and that too in an agile manner. It provides organizations with the processes and principles required to successfully apply these practices. The lean-agile values provides the platform for organizations to build their practices on and provides a organized approach to manage and thrive in chaos.


Rumesh Wijetunge

Chief Innovation Officer - Zaizi Limited, Chief Operating Officer - LearntIn (Pvt) Ltd., Director /

Rumesh is an IT business leader with over 12 years of industry experience as a business analyst and project manager. He is currently the CIO of Zaizi Limited, a UK based data management company heading the operations in Sri Lanka, the COO of LearntIn, a global training institute based in Sri Lanka and is also a lecturer / trainer at multiple private universities on management, IT, business analysis and project management subjects. He is the current president of the IIBA Sri Lanka chapter and is one of the most qualified and sought after trainers in Sri Lanka. Refer his LinkedIn profile for more details and to see more articles he has written on linkedin

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