“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
The Scaled Agile Framework has since its inception provided huge business benefits to organizations implementing it. This has driven the need for SAFe professionals who can successfully lead Agile transformations in organizations by implementing this framework.
According to Scaled Agile, Inc. more than 800,000 practitioners have been trained in SAFe, which further proves the credibility and demand of this certification. In this blog we attempt to understand the SAFe principles and how they help businesses to maximise value, drive innovation and create high performing teams.
“It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” – Roy E Disney.
SAFe lays out 4 core values that enterprises need to imbibe before they start their scaled agile journey. These values represent the fundamental beliefs that are going to be critical in determining the effectiveness of the SAFe implementation. It does help dictate behaviour and action for everyone who participates in a SAFe portfolio.
SAFe leans heavily on the application Lean and Agile at scale. In this particular article, we are going to deep dive and tap into the nooks and crannies of what is really the foundation of any successful SAFe implementation – The 10 underlying Lean-Agile principles of SAFe. Before, we look at these (depicted in Fig 1 below), I would like to highlight that Scaled Agile, Inc. has listed these principles as ‘immutable’ – meaning these principles are not expected to change over time.
Now that we know what the ten SAFe Lean agile principles are, let's try and understand what each principle brings to the table, in terms of enhancing agility and imbibing lean concepts at the core of your organization’s work culture.
A question that may arise in your mind now is “Why should I have or remember another 10 principles, when I already have the 12 guiding principles from the Agile Manifesto?”. Fair enough, but let me explain.
The creators of SAFe acknowledge and re-iterate on the fact that SAFe was built on top of the existing lean agile principles and many other knowledge bodies that various thought leaders have left behind in their journey of Agile.
However, it's important to highlight that almost 20 years ago when the lean agile principles were laid down, there wasn’t much distributed (offshore/onshore) development happening, at least not to the extent it is happening now. Enterprises today have gotten bigger and more sophisticated, hence SAFe really had to synthesize this existing foundational body of knowledge, along with the lessons learned from hundreds of deployments.
Not all challenges that enterprises face during their scaled agile journey can be fixed by the practices taught by SAFe. Every challenge may be unique in its own way and hence the necessity of the 10 underlying principles, which can be referred to as a guide, which the teams can fall back on, and make sure that they are moving continuously on the path to the goal of the House of Lean: “shortest sustainable lead time, with best quality and value to people and society.”
One of the most imminent challenges that organizations will face with SAFe adoption, is lack of effective leadership. The top two challenges listed in the most recent State of Agile report by VersionOne also reflects the same.
Adequate management support is key before embarking on any large-scale transformation and that is exactly why we need the SAFe principles to help emphasise the role of Lean Agile leaders in the transformation. True SAFe leaders understand and embrace the Lean-Agile Mindset, apply systems thinking, induce business thinking and operation, and impart these to others.
“It’s not enough that management commit themselves to quality and productivity, they must know what it is they must do. Such a responsibility cannot be delegated.” —W. Edwards Deming
SAFe adoption has naturally increased over the years. The latest annual State of Agile report mentions anywhere between 5-6 % in the last 12 months alone, something that organizations should take notice of. Something is clearly working for organizations that have adopted SAFe as their scaling framework.
Numbers don’t lie, and SAFe is clearly the leading framework when it comes to organizational agility scaling. While there are multiple other scaling frameworks like DAD (Disciplined Agile Delivery), LeSS (Large Scale Scrum), Nexus, SoS (Scrum of Scrums) etc, which are also pretty effective, SAFe continues to be the leading framework for a reason. While I would like to dedicate a separate blog for that, let me give a quick preview as to WHY!
SAFe dwells deeply into defining heterogeneous software delivery pipelines that govern business value flow with the right combination of people, process and technology. Any disruptions in the flow of business value need to be monitored through appropriate metrics whilst keeping traceability back to business requirements at each step of product development.
SAFe is a framework. It’s called a framework since there is a huge difference between a framework and a methodology and clearly SAFe is not to be understood as a methodology. It's not a set of rules or items in a checklist that you can cross off and then say that you have mastered the path of achieving business agility. NO! It's not as simple.
While working with and organising a series of largely independent cross-functional Agile teams, new impediments will begin to emerge and each one will be different. SAFe will not have a readymade solution for this and hence it's important to know that SAFe cannot be applied the same way in every context!
Unlike other scaling approaches, SAFe is very prescriptive. It provides organizations with a step-by-step approach of how to go about their SAFe adoption. It also provides different levels of scaling with roles and events that support the execution and alignment at various levels.
The exact differences and comparisons of SAFe with other scaling approaches is a separate topic in itself but in principle, the primary thing that stands out with respect to SAFe is that it encourages the practice of flow-based roadmaps. This requires making changes one at a time, identifying gaps and addressing them by training teams at both a skill and cultural level.
SAFe helps get traction of the broader vision/goals and hence makes teams work together to deliver value — not only for each other, but the end customer as well.
SAFe suggests implementation steps along with its core values and immutable principles. All these should be closely examined and tweaked (where necessary) to the needs that are specific to your organization. Only then will you achieve the true benefits of this most widely used scaling framework.
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