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The Pros and Cons of the Scaled Agile Framework

“When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly.” ― Patrick OvertonThe Hurricane effect:  In 2005, the US Government declared a state of emergency in Florida and a few neighbouring coastal areas. They were preparing for what was going to be one of the most devastating natural forces in modern history – Hurricane Katrina. The situation was chaotic with millions of people being evacuated from their homes, shelters running out of supplies and weather forecasts reaching new levels of unknowns.  However, there were two people who were attempting to do the unthinkable. A reporter from a leading broadcasting company and a scientist from NWS were planning to understand the phenomenon better. They were preparing themselves to capture footage and data, by entering the inside of the ‘Eye’ of the hurricane; something unthinkable given the hazards of being at the epicenter of such a huge storm. The benefits though were remarkably crucial, with the data captured to be used for important scientific analysis and research, to help prepare better for such hurricanes. However, the big question was, would they survive?  Much like the above scenario, SAFe® (Scaled Agile framework) is a modern-day IT storm that has hit the industry. When SAFe was introduced in 2011 not everyone was prepared for its landfall moment, but as more niche versions came out and the flexibility to apply it at various levels was rolled out with improvement of business agility at its core (the eye), many organizations have started to realise the benefits.  However, the big question in this scenario is, how many of us have managed to get a peek inside the eye of this storm?  Have we managed to utilise SAFe to realise potential business agility?  In this article, we will be exploring exactly this along with the pros and cons of applying SAFe framework at your organization.  What is SAFe? – a brief introduction  SAFe is a way of taking any iterative Agile way of working (normally restricted to a few teams) and scaling it up at various levels of the organization, whilst applying a mindset of Lean manufacturing. SAFe feeds on the factor that there is an enormous need for adaptability in the industry, especially for large enterprises which are bogged down by legacy processes and outdated technological hierarchies but somehow need to stay relevant in the market, unable to respond to a rapidly changing customer need. If applied correctly, SAFe will empower businesses to compete in today’s marketplace and help them thrive in what is already a chaotic era of digital transformation.  It is to be noted that since its launch, SAFe has had many versions rolled out, with the latest being SAFe 5.0, which is a significant update from the framework perspective itself. This version handles key guidance over several core competencies that will ultimately transform an organization into a Lean Enterprise and achieve Business Agility. Image sourceBeing an Agile enthusiast myself, I quite often get asked about when and why should we start using SAFe? Will it really work? etc. Hence the main purpose of this article is to is to bring out some general Pros and Cons (For and Against thoughts) that are out there in the public. This article will focus only on SAFe and will not be used to compare it with any other scaling framework. Pros of SAFe: SAFe is very relevant and designed to thrive in situations where there are significant cross functional dependencies between agile teams and support / functional teams (infrastructure teams, architect community etc). Although there are numerous benefits of properly implementing SAFe, below are some of the key Pros which we will be highlighting in this article. Scalability at various levels – Beginning from Essential SAFe right up to Full SAFe, the framework caters to all organizational levels trying to scale agile. As part of this, it broadens the core idea of the agility mindset beyond just projects/development teams and extends it right up to executives/CXOs, who must prepare for enterprise level uncertainties. So, it provides valuable enterprise level scaling insights that executives will find useful while having to tackle any of these uncertainties/risks. PI planning & Dependency management – According to me, PI planning (hands down) is THE most significant aspect of executing this framework. This is where all the magic happens. It is sometimes referred to as the heart of the framework as it offers a clear vision of what the program increment needs to be, what the cross-team dependencies are and brings together the cultural sustainability much needed within the release trains. It is so important, that if carried out incorrectly it could lead to several ambiguities, development challenges and mostly a disastrous product increment. However, when it works well, the iterative cycle serves to flesh out the crucial elements of the plan, and the processes ensure buy in from the stakeholders. A normal PI planning is a 2-day activity, which is a face to face cultural get together of the various ART teams. However, a new 3-day distributed PI planning has been introduced to help with geographically distributed teams (across various time zones), very apt for the current pandemic situation.  “There is no magic in SAFe® except maybe for PI Planning”. – The authors of the SAFe framework. In big organizations with multiple distributed teams across multiple vendors, work streams etc. teams have to run independently whilst still having to deliver an incremental program. SAFe via the PI planning exercise mentioned above, helps with sorting out these issues by recognising cross team dependencies upfront and constantly negotiating & visualising them. This doesn’t just stop with the PI planning, but the framework also proposes a cadenced way of continuing this via the scrum of scrums. The Program Board is an ideal way to showcase the cross-team dependencies.Image sourceImproved Time to Value – The great philosopher Aristotle once said “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”. Imagine a republic day parade where there are several regiments of the army, navy, and air force, along with their bands, all marching in synchronization. Regardless of whether you are a foot soldier, a wing commander or the president of India or somewhere in between, everyone is following the same process, protocols, creating a unified collaborative event. Much like this, in SAFe almost all parts of the organizations from scrum teams, ARTs, portfolio teams and C level executives, collaborate at an enterprise level by marching to the same drum beat, towards a unified set of goals. What this does is, it helps with a unified planning & execution, repeatedly, whilst incorporating timely feedback at all levels and thereby delivering value faster. Image SourceA customer story from Scaledagile.com website has a quote from a leading financial services company’s Agile coach – “Our time-to-value has gone down using the SAFe process. If reaching production would normally take 1 1/2 years, now it could be eight months with the new processes and approach.” A wonderful achievement indeed. Isn’t it? End User driven ideology – Having an empathetic mindset towards product design, build execution & delivery is a critical factor for the success of any product. SAFe proposes a primarily research driven, customer centric enterprise, focusing on producing empathy maps prior to the design phase to exactly understand how the end user will be impacted for any decision the enterprise makes. This also helps the organization to better understand market rhythms and stay ahead of the hype cycle, tapping into important unexplored areas giving the much-needed edge.  Alignment to business goals – What SAFe does (and does beautifully) is, it breaks some of the silos between business and technology. It actively encourages business stakeholders to interact / brainstorm with the relevant IT product delivery teams. The stakeholders also help to quantitatively prioritise initiatives/work items by assigning each item a business value, thereby aligning the business and technology in terms of the enterprise level goals, values and ultimate vision. The interaction mostly happens through various events that are embedded in the framework itself like PI planning, system demos, scrum of scrums etc. Remember the last thing that we do not want to happen in an enterprise-wide transformation is a total misalignment between business strategy and IT delivery.   Enterprise Business Agility – At the end of the day, whichever framework an organization uses to scale agile, it is of no use unless it helps the organization to thrive in this chaotic digital era wherein the key lies in the time taken to respond to market changes and dealing with ambiguous yet emerging opportunities. As mentioned in the above point, SAFe helps in aligning the business and IT strategy, making sure that there is a growing hierarchical structure running in parallel with an entrepreneurial network. This kind of a customer centric framework helps in offering both efficiency and stability served with a hint of innovation. Cons of SAFe:  Too many jargons/terminologies to remember – SAFe does have a heavy usage of terminology. To name a few, they sound like this - release trains, Program Increments, runways, guardrails, enablers, spikes etc. Phew !!! let’s just take a breath eh?! Also it has its own way around things, when it comes to Agile terminologies. SAFe has managed to modify some of the common agile terms & processes in order to fit into the "framework" that they prescribe. For e.g. a sprint is referred to as iteration, story points come with prescriptions and spikes get estimated. Why would someone need to estimate and size Spikes?  Can seem more like a Push rather than a Pull (top-down approach) – This is another seemingly un-intentional drawback of the SAFe framework, mainly because of multiple layers of administration and co-ordination. There are specific roles at each layer which tend to take away some of the obvious freedom from developers (unlike Scrum) and limit the flexibility to experiment. Not only does it take away the limelight from the self-organised teams but also almost makes them extinct when it comes to decision making.  Image sourceThe Hardening sprint – A notoriously misused phase within the SAFe framework is the Innovation or IP sprint. Although it has a fancy name, teams or enterprises often use it as a hardening phase for the increment, mainly for bug fixing, pipeline issues stabilization etc. I have often seen hardcore agilists rant about this and question the very purpose of this phase. According to some, where incrementing features is fundamental to Agile and Scrum, this framework completely bypasses the same. This can occur in organizations who do not have a robust DoD (Definition of Done) both at team levels as well as enterprise level and are often overlooked at the retrospectives for the sake of meeting deadlines.  Not for start-ups – Since SAFe is predominantly a large enterprise agility scaling framework, it may not suit a situation like a start-up, especially if the whole set up is less than say 30-40 people strong-- typical of any start-up company. Applying SAFe techniques in such a scenario may reduce the flexibility to react quickly in a volatile market. May seem Anti-Agile? – Ken Schwaber himself, has had a dig at this, questioning some of SAFe’s strategies, like the necessity for turning it into a product and licensing it, charging people to use it, adhoc tooling partnerships, etc. A few other agile practitioners believe that the SAFe framework is just too ‘complete’ to help the Agile culture of a company thrive, regardless of its size; unlike Scrum, which sticks to the true values & principles of agile and is left intentionally ‘incomplete’ in order to allow opportunities to adopt new values.  In a way SAFe can hamper the “Individuals and Interactions” aspects. Conclusion:If your head is spinning right now, don’t worry, it's absolutely OK to be in that mind state for a moment, considering that implementing SAFe is a major decision for any organization and should not be taken lightly. It will involve a significant amount of effort, training time and of course cost. Understanding SAFe may prove to be a gargantuan task, but it is a necessity to understand the framework correctly. My suggestion is simple. If you want to implement SAFe, please go ahead, but do not rush it. Take it one step at a time and follow the SAFe implementation roadmap. This roadmap (depicted in the diagram below) is a very useful strategy and charts out some critical moves which are needed in order to achieve organizational change. Image sourceAny major decision like whether to implement or not to implement SAFe is almost likely to be very contextual. I am sure the adoption of SAFe is only going to increase as enterprises turn to something that is readily available to adopt and will definitely open up their cheque books for SAFe and its partners. However, the key would be in trying to understand and measure what impacts it is resulting in.  Measuring some of the key aspects & business outcomes (like cycle time, release frequency, NPS, key business metrices like customer retention etc.) will be critical along with the adoption of SAFe. Remember, similar to the hurricane effect, SAFe is a storm in the current industry climate and is sure to take us all on a whirlwind tour. The trick is to be smart and have a peek into the eye of the storm, in order to reap the benefits and lay out strong foundations for the future of agile scaling at enterprise levels.  Thanks for your patience and wish you all the very best in your Agile journey. In case you want me to write about any specific topic, please feel free to comment below and I’ll be more than happy to add them to my ‘Blog Backlog’. If you liked the article, please do share it among your agile community to help spread the word.  Hope to see you soon, with more such interesting topics.

The Pros and Cons of the Scaled Agile Framework

10K
  • by Raj Kumar
  • 05th Feb, 2021
  • Last updated on 17th Mar, 2021
  • 11 mins read
The Pros and Cons of the Scaled Agile Framework

“When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly.” ― Patrick Overton

The Hurricane effect:  

In 2005, the US Government declared a state of emergency in Florida and a few neighbouring coastal areas. They were preparing for what was going to be one of the most devastating natural forces in modern history – Hurricane Katrina. The situation was chaotic with millions of people being evacuated from their homes, shelters running out of supplies and weather forecastreaching new levels of unknowns.  

However, there were two people who were attempting to do the unthinkable. A reporter from a leading broadcasting company and a scientist from NWS were planning to understand the phenomenon better. They were preparing themselves to capture footage and data, by entering the inside of the ‘Eye’ of the hurricane; something unthinkable given the hazards of being at the epicenter of such a huge storm. The benefits though were remarkably crucial, with the data captured to be used for important scientific analysis and research, to help prepare better for such hurricanes. However, the big question was, would they survive?  

Much like the above scenario, SAFe® (Scaled Agile framework) is a modern-day IT storm that has hit the industry. When SAFe was introduced in 2011 not everyone was prepared for its landfall moment, but as more niche versions came out and the flexibility to apply it at various levels was rolled out with improvement of business agility at its core (the eye), many organizations have started to realise the benefits.  

However, the big question in this scenario is, how many of us have managed to get a peek inside the eye of this storm?  Have we managed to utilise SAFe to realise potential business agility?  In this article, we will be exploring exactly this along with the pros and cons of applying SAFe framework at your organization.  

What is SAFe– a brief introduction  

SAFe is a way of taking any iterative Agile way of working (normally restricted to a few teams) and scaling it up at various levels of the organization, whilst applying a mindset of Lean manufacturing. SAFe feeds on the factor that there is an enormous need for adaptability in the industry, especially for large enterprises which are bogged down by legacy processes and outdated technological hierarchies but somehow need to stay relevant in the market, unable to respond to a rapidly changing customer need. If applied correctly, SAFe will empower businesses to compete in today’s marketplace and help them thrive in what is already a chaotic era of digital transformation.  

It is to be noted that since its launch, SAFe has had many versions rolled out, with the latest being SAFe 5.0, which is a significant update from the framework perspective itself. This version handles key guidance over several core competencies that will ultimately transform an organization into a Lean Enterprise and achieve Business Agility

Typical results reported by SAFe enterprisesImage source

Being an Agile enthusiast myself, I quite often get asked about when and why should we start using SAFe? Will it really work? etc. Hence thmain purpose of this article is to is to bring out some general Pros and Cons (For and Against thoughts) that are out there in the public. This article will focus only on SAFe and will not be used to compare it with any other scaling framework. 

Pros of SAFe: 

SAFe is very relevant and designed to thrive in situations where there are significant cross functional dependencies between agile teams and support / functional teams (infrastructure teams, architect community etc). Although there are numerous benefits of properly implementing SAFe, below are some of the key Pros which we will be highlighting in this article. SAFe key process, ideologies and success factors

  • Scalability at various levels – Beginning from Essential SAFe right up to Full SAFe, the framework caters to all organizational levels trying to scale agile. As part of this, it broadens the core idea of the agility mindset beyond just projects/development teams and extends it right up to executives/CXOs, who must prepare for enterprise level uncertainties. So, it provides valuable enterprise level scaling insights that executives will find useful while having to tackle any of these uncertainties/risks. 
  • PI planning & Dependency management – According to me, PI planning (hands down) is THE most significant aspect of executing this framework. This is where all the magic happens. It is sometimes referred to as the heart of the framework as it offers a clear vision of what the program increment needs to be, what the cross-team dependencies are and brings together the cultural sustainability much needed within the release trains. It is so important, that if carried out incorrectly it could lead to several ambiguities, development challenges and mostly a disastrous product increment. However, when it works well, the iterative cycle serves to flesh out the crucial elements of the plan, and the processes ensure buy in from the stakeholders. A normal PI planning is a 2-day activity, which is a face to face cultural get together of the various ART teams. However, a new 3-day distributed PI planning has been introduced to help with geographically distributed teams (across various time zones), very apt for the current pandemic situation.  

“There is no magic in SAFe® except maybe for PI Planning”. – The authors of the SAFe framework. 

In big organizations with multiple distributed teams across multiple vendors, work streams etc. teams have to run independently whilst still having to deliver an incremental program. SAFe via the PI planning exercise mentioned above, helps with sorting out these issues by recognising cross team dependencies upfront and constantly negotiating & visualising them. This doesn’t just stop with the PI planning, but the framework also proposes a cadenced way of continuing this via the scrum of scrums. The Program Board is an ideal way to showcase the cross-team dependencies.A sample SAFe Program board

Image source

  • Improved Time to Value – The great philosopher Aristotle once said “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”. Imagine a republic day parade where there are several regiments of the army, navy, and air force, along with their bands, all marching in synchronization. Regardless of whether you are a foot soldier, a wing commander or the president of India or somewhere in between, everyone is following the same process, protocols, creating a unified collaborative event. Much like this, in SAFe almost all parts of the organizations from scrum teams, ARTs, portfolio teams and C level executives, collaborate at an enterprise level by marching to the same drum beat, towards a unified set of goals. What this does is, it helps with a unified planning & execution, repeatedly, whilst incorporating timely feedback at all levels and thereby delivering value faster. 

An analogy depiction, comparing the synchronization of various regiments to the enterprise level event synchronization practised in SAFe

Image Source

A customer story from Scaledagile.com website has a quote from a leading financial services company’s Agile coach – “Our time-to-value has gone down using the SAFe process. If reaching production would normally take 1 1/2 years, now it could be eight months with the new processes and approach.” A wonderful achievement indeed. Isn’t it? 

  • End User driven ideology  Having an empathetic mindset towards product design, build execution & delivery is a critical factor for the success of any product. SAFe proposes a primarily research driven, customer centric enterprise, focusing on producing empathy maps prior to the design phase to exactly understand how the end user will be impacted for any decision the enterprise makes. This also helps the organization to better understand market rhythms and stay ahead of the hype cycle, tapping into important unexplored areas giving the much-needed edge.  
  • Alignment to business goals – What SAFe does (and does beautifully) is, it breaks some of the silos between business and technology. It actively encourages business stakeholders to interact / brainstorm with the relevant IT product delivery teams. The stakeholders also help to quantitatively prioritise initiatives/work items by assigning each item a business value, thereby aligning the business and technology in terms of the enterprise level goals, values and ultimate vision. The interaction mostly happens through various events that are embedded in the framework itself like PI planning, system demos, scrum of scrums etc. Remember the last thing that we do not want to happen in an enterprise-wide transformation is a total misalignment between business strategy and IT delivery  
  • Enterprise Business Agility – At the end of the day, whichever framework an organization uses to scale agile, it is of no use unless it helps the organization to thrive in this chaotic digital era wherein the key lies in the time taken to respond to market changes and dealing with ambiguous yet emerging opportunities. As mentioned in the above point, SAFe helps in aligning the business and IT strategy, making sure that there is a growing hierarchical structure running in parallel with an entrepreneurial network. This kind of a customer centric framework helps in offering both efficiency and stability served with a hint of innovation

Cons of SAFe 

  • Too many jargons/terminologies to remember – SAFe does have a heavy usage of terminology. To name a few, they sound like this - release trains, Program Increments, runways, guardrails, enablers, spikes etc. Phew !!! let’s just take a breath eh?! Also it has its own way around things, when it comes to Agile terminologies. SAFe has managed to modify some of the common agile terms & processes in order to fit into the "framework" that they prescribe. For e.g. a sprint is referred to as iteration, story points come with prescriptions and spikes get estimated. Why would someone need to estimate and size Spikes?  
  • Can seem more like a Push rather than a Pull (top-down approach) – This is another seemingly un-intentional drawback of the SAFe framework, mainly because of multiple layers of administration and co-ordination. There are specific roles at each layer which tend to take away some of the obvious freedom from developers (unlike Scrum) and limit the flexibility to experiment. Not only does it take away the limelight from the self-organised teams but also almost makes them extinct when it comes to decision making.  

A comic depiction taking a dig at scaling agile

Image source

  • The Hardening sprint – A notoriously misused phase within the SAFe framework is the Innovation or IP sprint. Although it has a fancy name, teams or enterprises often use it as a hardening phase for the increment, mainly for bug fixing, pipeline issues stabilization etc. I have often seen hardcore agilists rant about this and question the very purpose of this phase. According to some, where incrementing features is fundamental to Agile and Scrumthis framework completely bypasses the same. This can occur in organizations who do not have a robust DoD (Definition of Done) both at team levels as well as enterprise level and are often overlooked at the retrospectives for the sake of meeting deadlines.  
  • Not for start-ups – Since SAFe is predominantly a large enterprise agility scaling framework, it may not suit a situation like a start-up, especially if the whole set up is less than say 30-40 people strong-- typical of any start-up company. Applying SAFe techniques in such a scenario may reduce the flexibility to react quickly in a volatile market. 
  • May seem Anti-Agile? – Ken Schwaber himself, has had a dig at this, questioning some of SAFe’s strategies, like the necessity for turning it into a product and licensing it, charging people to use it, adhoc tooling partnerships, etc. A few other agile practitioners believe that thSAFe framework is just too ‘complete’ to help the Agile culture of a company thrive, regardless of its size; unlike Scrum, which sticks to the true values & principles of agile and is left intentionally ‘incomplete’ in order to allow opportunities to adopt new values.  In a way SAFe can hamper the “Individuals and Interactions” aspects. 

Conclusion:

If your head is spinning right now, don’t worry, it's absolutely OK to be in that mind state for a moment, considering that implementing SAFe is a major decision for any organization and should not be taken lightly. It will involve a significant amount of efforttraining time and of course cost. Understanding SAFe may prove to be a gargantuan task, but it is a necessity to understand the framework correctly. My suggestion is simple. If you want to implement SAFe, please go ahead, but do not rush it. Take it one step at a time and follow the SAFe implementation roadmap. This roadmap (depicted in the diagram below) is a very useful strategy and charts out some critical moves which are needed in order to achieve organizational change.

The proposed SAFe implementation roadmap Image source

Any major decision like whether to implement or not to implement SAFe is almost likely to be very contextualI am sure the adoption of SAFe is only going to increase as enterprises turn to something that is readily available to adopt and will definitely open up their cheque books for SAFe and its partners. However, the key would be in trying to understand and measure what impacts it iresulting in.  Measuring some of the key aspects & business outcomes (like cycle time, release frequency, NPS, key business metrices like customer retention etc.) will be critical along with the adoption of SAFeRemember, similar to the hurricane effect, SAFe is a storm in the current industry climate and is sure to take us all on a whirlwind tour. The trick is to be smart and have a peek into the eye of the storm, in order to reap the benefits and lay out strong foundations for the future of agile scaling at enterprise levels.  

Thanks for your patience and wish you all the very best in your Agile journey. In case you want me to write about any specific topic, please feel free to comment below and I’ll be more than happy to add them to my ‘Blog Backlog’. If you liked the article, please do share it among your agile community to help spread the word.  

Hope to see you soon, with more such interesting topics.

Raj

Raj Kumar

Author

Dileep Rajkumar , a seasoned software and agile delivery expert, who specialises in quantitative product development for large digital transformations. A self motivated individual, always committed to helping various teams and individuals, realise their potential and deliver quality (incremental) software!!

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These tools help team uphold the values of Agile and make implementing the Scrum framework easier.Best Scrum ToolsHere are some of the best Scrum tools available in the market:1. JIRAJira is a popular tool used by large organizations to manage their Scrum projects. It has numerous features including customizable scrum boards, reporting features and more. Here’s how teams benefit from this toolCustomizable Scrum and Kanban boardsRoadmaps to communicate with team and with stakeholdersAccess to tools for Agile reportingView of code and deployment statusEnd to end DevOps visibilityEasy scalabilitySecure deploymentDeveloper tool integrationRich APIs to automate processes2. TargetProcessThis tool has been especially designed for teams that want to scale agile. It offers a number of customizable features that make it easy to work with scrum and agile.  Here’s how teams benefit from this tool(Source: Targetprocess Agile Portfolio and Work Management Tool)IdeationBuilt in reports to analyse data and uncover trendsGather ideas across sourcesCloud hosting and on-premise hostingEnterprise grade securityCollaborate across the enterprise  Collaborate with DevOps tools including GitLab, Azure DevOps, GitHub etc3. VivifyScrumThis tool is marketed as an all-in-one solution to manage projects, collaborate and track. Here’s how teams benefit from this tool (Source: Agile Project Management Software - VivifyScrum)Tools to manage agile projects—organize, manage, track and deliverCollaboration boards to effectively collaborate with team and stakeholdersCreate invoices to track and manage business and clientsManage teams and track tasks4. InfinityThis tool is among the most popular in Agile and Scrum organizations due to the many customizations and features it provides. Its various tools help reduce time to market, ensure better quality, improve collaboration and enable customer satisfaction.Here’s how teams benefit from this tool Source: Infinity | Customizable Work Management Platform (startinfinity.com)How Can Scrum Apps Benefit Your Team?The number of Scrum apps and software available in the market for Scrum projects is mind boggling. Which one you choose depends on the requirements of your team and project, and each comes with its own benefits. Some of these benefits include:They help teams, organizations and the product being createdThey ensure better quality by providing the right framework, support mechanism and the right processesAllow for continual improvement by putting in place a feedback loop and sprint reviews by stakeholdersHelp solve impediments and daily issues by incorporating daily testing and product owner feedback into the development processEnsure upfront documentation and help prioritise high value items in the product backlog, thus decreasing time to market.  Quick feedback also helps improve the product and thus helps in continuous improvement.The faster marketing of products increases return on investment, helps tap the market demand and ensures long term benefits for the customer and thus earns their trust for the organizationThe primary tenet of Agile is team collaboration. Scrum software tools help in high level collaboration between the Scrum Master, Product Owner and the development team. Teams can organise, review, plan and discuss everyday tasks, meetings, impediments and more.How to Pick the Best Tool for Your Team?With so many options available, choosing the right Scrum tool for your team can be a tricky task. What you need to do is go through the features of the best tools and see which one best fits your requirements. While the number of features you get will be directly proportional to the money you are ready to pay for the tool, there are some basic requirements your tool must satisfy.Backlog creation:  The very basic format of a Scrum project lies in the creation of a product backlog which sets the pace for the entire project. The backlog is primarily created by the Product Owner with assistance from the Scrum Master and the development team. The tool you choose should help you create the product backlog so that you can prioritise items, define the sprints and identify sprint goals.Implement feedback:  Scrum projects are based on the Agile values of continuous feedback. Your scrum tool should have features which will make your customer’s feedback and requirements easily accessible to you. This will help you implement these changes at the earliest. This continuous feedback loop will help keep customers happy.Sprint creation:  Scrum is iterative and adaptive and works by breaking down projects into small sized sprints. Your tool must aid you in the creation of sprints and burndown charts. These help you keep track of your progress on the project and are essential components of a Scrum project.The other things your tool should be able to do include:Plan and trackCustomise process templatesCustomise dashboards and reportsHelp in time managementHelp create epics and storiesProvide collab and reporting toolsProvide review toolsAnd just like you will create a product that is user friendly, the tool you use also needs to be user friendly for the team. If your team is happy using it, and it makes your life easier and your projects better, then you have the right tool!
Scrum Software for the Ultimate Project Management

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What Best Describes a Scrum Team?

We are living in an age where speed is the secret to success, and the one who gets the product out first is the winner. In this digital transformation world, organizations that have adopted Agile will succeed; as Agile is all about adaptability, quick delivery and customer focus.  Scrum, the most used Agile framework is all about addressing complex problems through adaptation and value creation. Scrum teams are at the core of a Scrum project. What best describes a Scrum team? Let’s attempt to answer this question.What is Scrum?A term borrowed from rugby; Scrum actually means ‘to huddle’. It signifies how rugby payers huddle together and work as a team in order to gain possession of the ball. Like its namesake in the sport of rugby, Scrum in Agile software development also signifies a process that brings together a team of individuals who work together under complex circumstances to create a product. The term was first used by researchers Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in their 1986 research paper, "The New Product Development Game."“Scrum is a framework that encourages teams to learn through experiences, self-organize while working on a problem, and reflect on their wins and losses to continuously improve”—Atlassian Agile coachWhat is the Scrum Methodology?Scrum is a framework under the umbrella of agile development methodologies, along with Kanban, Extreme Programming, Feature-Driven Development, Crystal, and Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM).The Scrum methodology focuses on delivering products of the highest quality through effective collaboration between teams involved.  Scrum is based on the three pillars of empirical process control, which are transparency, inspection, & adaptationThe Scrum FrameworkScrum is an Agile methodology framework that follows an iterative and incremental approach for project management, and breaks down large projects into small chunks called epics and sprints.  Each sprint results in the creation of a product and the cumulative effort of all the sprints adds to the improvement of the overall end product. The Scrum framework encourages high level collaboration among team members which comes in handy in tough project situationsWhat is a Scrum Team?Scrum.org is what best describes a Scrum Team by defining it as ‘a framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.’ So, in essence Scrum teams are self-organized and highly productive teams that deliver quality products in a highly collaborative environment.  A Scrum team’s success is based on the Scrum values that they share. These are:Commitment:  Commitment is one of the hallmarks of Agile teams. Teams collaborate and work on a common goal through a high degree of communication and trust between them.Courage: Scrum teams must have the courage to fail. Fail fast is a benefit in Agile and Scrum as this helps them discover hidden faults and recover quickly. Scrum teams must have the courage to try new things, innovate, fail and then learn from their failures to ultimately achieve success.  Focus: Having focus is a mandatory requirement of Scrum teams which ultimately helps them limit the work in progress.  Openness: Transparency and openness is also one of the empirical processes on which Scrum is based. Teams that are open and transparent with one another trust each other more and work better towards reaching a successful end point.Respect: Respect between team members is a must, irrespective of the methodology or framework they use. Respect between Scrum Masters, Product Owners and Development team members will help foster trust and enhance collaboration and co-operation between teammates.What describes a Scrum team?A Scrum team consists of three main roles. These are:Development TeamScrum MasterScrum Product OwnerThe development team consists of five to eleven people including developers, testers, architects and others. The Scrum team has a shared goal and through their collaboration and skills of self-organization and motivation, they reach this goal.What is a Scrum Master?The Scrum Master, also known as the servant leader, helps empower the team and guides them on the use of the Scrum framework. Their main responsibility is to ensure that the development team can perform to the best of its abilities, and they do this by removing obstacles or impediments that may hinder the progress of the development team. The Scrum Master is the agile coach and mentor who helps team members understand Agile and its processes and aids in enterprise-wide agile transformations.The Product OwnerThe Product Owner is the bridge connecting the stakeholders and the development team. They define the product vision and through their skills and intelligence drive the project with help from the Scrum Master and the development team. The product owner maintains the perfect balance between the stakeholder and the development team, helping each understand the other’s point of view. They are also well-versed in agile and scrum values and principles and guide the team and well as the stakeholders on the agile ways of working. Creating stakeholder satisfaction is an important responsibility of the product owner and they do this by ensuring that requirements are met, and the product created meets quality standards expected by the customer.The Development TeamThe development team is the driving force of the Scrum project. This team is empowered by the Scrum Master and the Product Owner to take decisions and be as autonomous and independent as possible. At the same time there is a high level of collaboration and transparency among the team members and between the dev team and the Product Owner. The dev team is balanced and helps the product owner manage the backlog and deliver an acceptable product at the end of every sprint.Why is the Scrum team required for organizations?Any organization that wants to go agile and implement projects using the scrum framework has to do so by getting together an efficient scrum team. Scrum has proven to be extremely successful at team levels and it is the Scrum team that drives the project to success. Scrum teams with their collaboration, self-organization, innovation and collocation are able to drive success and business value.A table that summarizes the Scrum Team’s responsibilities in the various Scrum processesScrum PhaseScrum processScrum Master responsibilityProduct Owner responsibilityDevelopment team responsibilityInitiate1. Create Project Vision------2. Identify Scrum Master and Stakeholder(s)--Identifies Scrum Master--3. Form Scrum TeamAlong with the PO decides dev teamAlong with the SM decides dev team--4. Develop Epic(s)Helps PO in developing epicsDevelops epics and arranges user group meetingsHelps PO in developing epics5. Create Prioritized Product BacklogHelps PO in epic refinementRefines epicsHelps PO in epic refinement6. Conduct Release PlanningHelps PO and dev team with backlog prioritization and determining sprint lengthReviews the backlog and develops release planning scheduleHelps PO with backlog prioritization and determining sprint lengthPlan and Estimate7. Create User StoriesHelps dev team and PO write user storiesWrites user stories and incorporates them into the Prioritized Product BacklogWrites user stories8. Approve, Estimate, and Commit User StoriesEstimates the effort required to deliver the product defined in each user storyApproves user stories for the sprintAlong with the SM estimates the effort for each sprint and9. Create TasksHelps dev team break down the stories into tasksHelps dev team break down the stories into tasksBreaks down the approved stories into tasks and create a task list10. Estimate TasksHelps the dev team create the effort estimated task listHelps the dev team create the effort estimated task listCreates the effort estimated task list11. Create Sprint BacklogHelps the PO create sprint backlogCreates the sprint backlog and lists the tasks that need to be completed in the sprintHelps the PO create sprint backlogImplement12. Create DeliverablesGuides the dev teamHelps dev team if neededWorks on creating sprint deliverables13. Conduct Daily Stand-upArranges and conducts the meetingsMay or may not attend the meetingsAttends the meetings and defines any problems or issues faced14. Groom Prioritized Product Backlog Helps PO to groom the backlogUpdates and maintains the backlog continuouslyHelps PO to groom the backlogReview and Retrospect15. Convene Scrum of ScrumsHelps teams collaborate and notes any impediments that may be hindering work--Mentions their progress or any issues they may be facing16. Demonstrate and Validate Sprint Helps dev team in displaying what it has createdApproves or rejects what the dev team demonstratesDemonstrates deliverables to PO and stakeholders17. Retrospect SprintMeets with dev team to ponder on lessons learnt during the sprint. Documents the recommendations--With scrum master retrospect's on sprint and uses the recommendations for the next sprint18. Ship DeliverablesAlong with other team members ships acceptable deliverablesAlong with other team members ships acceptable deliverablesAlong with other team members ships acceptable deliverables19. Retrospect ProjectGets together with other team members and identifies the lessons learntGets together with other team members and identifies the lessons learntGets together with other team members and identifies the lessons learntSo, what best describes a Scrum team? There are many facets to a Scrum team, but the most relatable description would be a highly interconnected and cohesive unit that works together to solve issues. A well-organized Scrum team can raise the ROI of an organization and ensure long term stakeholder commitment.
What Best Describes a Scrum Team?

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Safe Agile Ceremonies - Expert Guide

“Winners take time to relish their work, knowing that scaling the mountain is what makes the view from the top so exhilarating.” ― Denis WaitleyWhat are SAFe agile events (or) ceremonies? – a brief overview:Before we jump into the topic, could I just take you a step back and remind you what SAFe is all about? SAFe is a way of taking any iterative Agile way of working (normally restricted to a team or few teams) and scaling it up at various levels of the organization, whilst applying a mindset of Lean manufacturing. It also deals with scalability at various levels. Beginning from Essential SAFe right up to Full SAFe, the framework caters to all organizational levels of scaling agility. As part of this, it broadens the core idea of agility mindset beyond just projects/development teams right up to executives/CXOs, who must prepare for enterprise level uncertainties. In a sense, it provides valuable enterprise level scaling insights helpful for the executives to tackle any uncertainties/risks associated with a project.As you start applying SAFe in your organisation, it is important for you to understand how each level works in conjunction with the other, depending on how mature your SAFe enterprise is. The key link between these levels is the SAFe specific events which help with smooth value delivery facilitation. The events help with alignment across teams, ARTs etc thus helping in managing risk by providing a level based cadence and synchronization.Essential SAFe - Your First Level of Scaling Using an Agile Release Train (ART). Courtesy © Scaled Agile, Inc. Source: Scaled AgileWhy do we need level-based ceremonies?While it is important to go through your team level events (like the 4 sprint events if you are doing scrum etc.) it is important to have the scaling events that help with bridging gaps and unblocking dependency between teams. The most important part of these SAFe specific events is for ‘Business Stakeholders’ to get a look (demo) at a proper incremental product and thus the value arising out of it. Makes sense? It did for me and let me tell you why.I was once associated with 3 feature teams, who were working towards a common product goal. They all had the same business stakeholders but were working on individual features. Team A was working on developing a Login page, Team B was working on a landing dashboard while Team C was hopping along, trying to provide a search functionality for the user. All of them were applying the Scrum framework and were running their own events. Sprint demos were happening individually and were being represented by the Product owner separately along with his business analysts. All seemed fine but there was a nagging problem. The product owner was worried, because he couldn’t bring any business stakeholder to view the demos, as they were being run in silos and there was no visibility on the incremental product. Well technically there was, but they would have to sit through three or four-hour events individually to get bits and pieces of the product demo. In the real world, it's not a possibility simply because your business stakeholders will not have that much time to spend on multiple demos. It is not a good use of their time either. So, what’s the solution? Simple, it’s SAFe to the rescue! Let’s try and understand how the SAFe specific events help with this.Prescribed PI Cadence for Various Levels of Scaling. Courtesy © Scaled Agile, Inc. Source: Scaled AgileHow do the events (or) ceremonies help to scale up according to the levels in SAFe:SAFe is very relevant and designed to thrive in situations where there are significant cross functional dependencies between agile teams and support / functional teams (infrastructure teams, architect community etc).  Essential Level:   As you start to scale up one level up, you will be working with anywhere between 5-12 agile teams who will all be collectively working towards a common goal which is the program increment or PI. The anchoring catalyst that brings them all together is your ART (Agile release train). Before getting into the events, lets understand the various roles involved at this level because this is the common denominator across all levels of SAFe and across organizations. This is where you need to get it right without which there is not much use in scaling higher. Key Roles involved: Release Train Engineer (RTE) System Architect/Engineer Product Management   Business OwnersPrescribed events on a typical Agile release train (ART). Courtesy © Scaled Agile, Inc. Source: Scaled AgilePI PlanningAccording to me, PI planning (hands down) is THE most significant aspect of executing this framework. This is where all the magic happens. It is sometimes referred to as the heart of the framework as it offers a clear vision of what the program increment needs to be, what the cross-team dependencies are and how they bring together the cultural sustainability much needed within the release trains. It is so important, that if carried out incorrectly it could lead to several ambiguities, development challenges and mostly a disastrous product increment. However, when it works well, the iterative cycle serves to flesh out the crucial elements of the plan and the processes ensure buy in from the stakeholders.Duration: A normal PI planning is a 2-day activity, which is a face to face cultural get together of the various ART teams. However, a new 3-day distributed PI planning has been introduced to help with geographically distributed teams (across various time zones), very apt for the current pandemic situation.“There is no magic in SAFe® except maybe for PI Planning”. – The authors of the SAFe framework.In big organizations with multiple distributed teams across multiple vendors, work streams etc. it is almost impossible to run these teams independently, whilst still having to deliver an incremental program. SAFe via the PI planning exercise mentioned above, helps with sorting out these issues by recognising cross team dependencies upfront, constantly negotiating & visualising them. This doesn’t just stop with the PI planning but the framework also proposes a cadenced way of continuing this via the scrum of scrums. The Program Board is an ideal way to showcase the cross-team dependencies.A sample SAFe Program board. Courtesy © Scaled Agile, Inc. Source: Scaled Agile1. Inspect and Adapt (I&A)An inspect and adapt event is scheduled after every PI. This event is dedicated to aligning to the principles of Kaizen, which simply means to change for the better. The events contain self induced thought processes to revalidate your assumptions that everything is working OK. The I&A event consists of three sub-parts as below:  PI System DemoQuantitative and qualitative measurementRetrospective and problem-solving workshop2. ART Sync Agile release trains tend to apply a cadenced synchronization process to help manage the ability to focus on continuous value delivery. An ART sync will typically comprise of the below sub-events.  Scrum of Scrums: This event is for representatives from all the teams on a release train to come together in a regular cadenced manner, especially on large ARTs. This is normally facilitated by the release train engineer (RTE) and will involve scrum masters of the individual teams and a few selected team members (authorised by the team). The sole purpose of the SoS calls are to understand progress towards the common goal, validate cross team dependencies and unblock impediments that may arise out of them. Duration: The length and frequency of the meeting will depend on a few factors like the size of the ART, the release frequency, type of features being worked on, ability to decouple releases etc. For e.g an ART which releases features into production every 4 weeks might want to have an SoS call every 2 weeks for about an hour. Again, if this doesn’t work for you, just inspect and adapt to what works well for your organizational needs. Just make sure that the SoS is utilised for its sole purpose and not just status updates as depicted in the below comic representation.Scrum of Scrums PO SyncThis event is represented by the Product Owner, business analysts and the product management group. This is used mainly to level up the product backlog refinement and for clarifying PI (Program Increment) scope, reviewing roadmaps and grooming for the upcoming PIs.Duration: Very similar in concept to the SoS, so just follow what works for the group. 3. System DemoAs part of a common understanding towards delivering incremental software, shortly after each iteration in the PI, there is a system demo scheduled. Work completed across all teams from the release train are compiled in a stable environment before it is reviewed by the business stakeholders and other important sponsors who may have a keen interest in the product. This is on top of the individual team level demos that happen after each iteration.Duration: Anywhere between 2-3 hours that will allow time for a demonstration of the program increment in a collative manner, on top of what has been delivered from the previous PIs as well.In case your ART is pretty small, then you may want to have just have some of the events combined into a more generic ART sync, where all roles come together to collaborate towards the program increment. This can sometimes occur if the ART is focusing on a particular value stream, confined to limited business functionality, rather than elaborate features.Solution/Portfolio LevelsAs you scale higher, the processes and events become much less prescriptive. There is a good reason for this because the focus at this level is not just on having repetitive demos that have already happened before but on building thought leadership around business outcomes and enhancing business agility. Which is why we will not be diving deep into that in this blog. But let us look at the events that occur at the macro level.Lean Budget Review  Idea Sharing via Communities of Practice (not a formal event but a collaborative group)Solution DemoPortfolio SyncRoadshowWhat are the benefits of SAFe Agile ceremonies?:The Magic of PI planningWell, the more I talk about this, the more excited I am. A PI planning event when carried out to its truest purpose, gets half the job done. Here is where most of the brainstorming occurs and business value gets determined and, in some cases, gets assigned in a quantifiable manner to user stories and helps with the prioritisation.PI Planning Synchronisation towards a common goalThe events are a constant reminder that all teams are working towards delivering incremental value either on a particular value stream, or feature or program. An RTE and Product Management will help reiterating the need to focus on the larger goal whilst helping sorting out inter team dependencies.Less prescriptiveAs is the framework itself, SAFe events/ceremonies are less prescriptive. An SPC would recommend, apply the principles but inspect and adapt as to what works for your organization. As per the example I provided earlier w.r.t to the duration of the SAFe events, start with something reasonable and then validate its effectiveness. Then leave Kaizen to do the rest.Visualization of incremental value deliveryOpportunity for Business stakeholders and sponsors to have a look at the overall program increment every iteration, thus helping them evaluate the progress and provide timely feedback on market trends. What are the common mistakes?Lack of a shared product visionThings can go wrong if there is not enough representation in the product management group, say for e.g at the PO Sync event. This can lead to a blurred product vision with each team working out of sync. This may ultimately get detected too late, probably at the time of the system demo, and lead to a whole lot of unwanted rework.SoS as a status updateThe Scrum Of Scrum event should be used as an event to unblock cross team impediments or dependencies and not to just update what each team has been doing or is doing in its current sprint. TimeboxingGiven the scale at which these events will be conducted, it is critical that the associated events are facilitated in a timeboxed manner or else the participants could end up sitting and talking for hours. Roles like RTE, SPC Coaches etc will be critical in addressing this issue.Remote facilitationLack of effective collaboration tools could lead to some disastrous situations whilst facilitating the SAFe events. Given that most teams are running virtual ceremonies/events at the moment, its crucial to establish a working distributed model. This will then ensure that the platform is set up for the most effective collaboration and cross-functional work to take place.While you try to scale, as per the implementation roadmap, its essential that you solidify the process around which your ARTs will be functioning. It’s like setting the railway tracks with the correct track gauge matching the configurations of the wheelsets of the trains that will run on them. If not, they will just derail. As your ARTs pass through your set process, they will only benefit by sustaining focus and pace while moving towards a successful incremental product delivery.Thanks for your patience and wish you all the very best in your Agile journey. In case you want me to write about any specific topic, please feel free to comment below and I’ll be more than happy to add them to my ‘Blog Backlog’. If you liked the article, please do share it among your agile community to help spread the word.  Hope to see you soon, with more such interesting topics.
Safe Agile Ceremonies - Expert Guide

“Winners take time to relish their work, knowing... Read More