The latest version of Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) has come out last week on 22nd June as SAFe® 4.5.
There are various changes rolled out in SAFe® 4.5 release where many are cosmetics (new and better menu structure, less cluttered Big Picture and so on), however, the four major changes which deserves attention and review are :-
- Essential SAFe® and Configurability
We have been experiencing one common pain point from various SAFe® Implementations as its deemed inability to ‘best fit’ per organization context and had been widely criticized as a framework which assumes ‘One size fits for all’ theory.
Well, the formal rollout of SAFe® 4.5 with 4 different Configurations of SAFe® helps addressing this pain area by providing much required guidance. As we can recollect, Dean Leffingwell came up with “Essential SAFe®” a while ago and pragmatic SAFe® implementers have already been using it to setup ‘bare minimalistic SAFe®’ which helps establish basic SAFe® practices and sets the tone for larger organization change while providing with benefits of ‘low hanging fruits’ in short term. The maximum power of ‘Essential SAFe®’ comes from Agile Release Trains (ART) which is the backbone Delivery Vehicle and promises tangible business outcomes with time predictability. Hence, adopting Essential SAFe® has come out as a Best Practice in SAFe® Implementations as early stable phase of a longer Enterprise wide SAFe® Adoption.
The other (rather welcome) change is ‘Large Solution SAFe®’ level which can now help keeping the focus rightly on building large solutions which should always had to be the objective of erstwhile ‘Value Stream Level’ but now gets simplified with better guidelines.
The Portfolio SAFe® now becomes default select SAFe® configuration given that quite a many organizations have been implementing 3-level SAFe® without ‘explicitly’ managing their Value Streams at Value Stream Level.
The Full-Configuration SAFe® is nothing but the most comprehensive SAFe® configuration which was previously called as 4-level SAFe® and could be a future potential state of Enterprise Agile Transformation for large organizations adopting SAFe®.
- Implementation Roadmap
The Implementation Roadmap is also much required (hence welcome) change as we know quite well from experience that its predecessor of ‘1-2-3 Approach’ of SAFe® implementation was somehow too simplistic to be of any value in terms of providing a guidance towards laying down implementation roadmap for SAFe® adoption.
The Implementation Roadmap do gives due weightage now to the critical role of SPCs to both work as external (and seeding) change agents as well as internal change agents in organization.
This roadmap also makes it pragmatically clear that ‘Essential SAFe®’ is generally your initial state of SAFe® adoption focused heavily on ART launches however overall adoption should continue and should move towards potentially targeted adoption of ‘Portfolio SAFe®’ in a future state. There is ofcourse additional guidance on launching various SAFe® certification workshops at appropriate juncture during this SAFe® Implementation journey across the guided roadmap.
- Innovation with Lean Startup and Lean UX
The adoption of Lean Startup philosophy in SAFe® 4.5 is a major change and deserves good review. There has been one major criticism of SAFe® for quite some time now where critics highlight a lot of legacy Waterfall practices which SAFe® had adopted and which were somehow difficult to be called anything but Agile. The examples have been more than one where either the large set of activities (in fact phases) are considered of a typical Epic to go through its realization
in prior SAFe® versions. We also can’t have easily digested bureaucratic looking artifacts like ‘Lightweight Business Case’ knowing well that just prefixing term lightweight still didn’t make it anymore Agile
There is a paradigm shift now with SAFe® getting inspiration from the success of Lean Startup (thanks to trend setting masterpiece by Eric Ries in his best seller book “The Lean Startup”) where small nimble organizations like DropBox have successfully proved the power of these techniques to ensure you are ‘Building the right thing’ from customer centric viewpoint and don’t just get lost building it too right (in technological landscape).
SAFe® 4.5 carefully absorbs some of the selective best practices of Lean Startup so that large organizations struggling to embrace Agile can benefit from these powerful techniques which are not restricted to small organizations only.
SAFe® 4.5 introduces ‘Lean Startup Cycle’ to help reduce the Waterfall(ish) stages while elaborating Epics by considering Value Hypothesis which can be attached to each potential outcome while running quick iteration loops to evaluate each hypothesis. This technique gives faster Minimum Viable Product (MVP) of large Epics thereby eliminating waste and reducing overall time to build Epics in better Agile sense.
The Lean Startup goes further applying Lean User Experience (Lean UX) techniques while breaking up these large Epics into Features where Minimum Marketable Features (MMF) are explored by following these Lean Startup cycles with Collaborative Design approach which will get continuously prioritized through WSJF.
This newly introduced Lean Startup cycle not only helps reduce customer feedback loop (while decreasing gaps from customer expectation perspective), but also helps establish much desired innovation cycle where team alongwith customer gets to quickly experiment with various value hypothesis and validate their assumptions thereby fostering innovation.
- Scalable DevOps & Continuous Delivery
The DevOps is not new to SAFe® however the changes in SAFe® 4.5 with its detailed approach and guidelines (which is now called as Scalable DevOps) enhances existing DevOps capabilities in SAFe® implementations and ties it up to setup a strong Continuous Delivery pipeline. This is to be seen as a technological extension of above discussed ‘Lean Startup Cycle’ where key objective is to allow building quick iterations loops of various potential MVPs of the product and quickly evaluate which one is worth building further and eliminate the unwanted ones faster and earlier in the game.
The CALMR (Culture, Automation, Lean Flow, Measurement, Recovery) approach to Scalable DevOps recognizes multi-dimensional scenario of DevOps and how each of these 5 dimensions are essential to successfully setup DevOps in a scaled Agile environment like SAFe®.
Measurement dimension is particularly worth calling out explicitly here as we know best from our experiences that “you can’t control what you can’t measure”. This Scalable Devops now covers all relevant expects of Measurement (various Metrics) applicable at scale for organizations viz. business, application behavior, infrastructure, etc or even telemetry related to how last deployed Features are being used by end customers.
The Continuous Delivery Pipeline is what is required technologically to be setup within each Agile Release Train to allow implementation of “Lean Startup Cycle” so that faster MVPs can be rolled out (no later than end of each Program Increment) and customers can dictate what they would like to call as “Release on Demand”. SAFe® 4.5 goes further to enhance this ability of previous SAFe® versions by decoupling Deployments from Releases where ARTs will be committed to deploy as per cadence however will ensure enabling these Features to Business / Customers by Releasing (or activating) them as per their requirements (on demand scenarios) to allow better timing market situations and dynamics.
In a nutshell, Program Increment (PI) practices within ART with Faster lean startup iteration loops of working out Epics and Features will implement ‘Continuous Exploration’ while Technical Engineering practices of Scalable Devops will implement its faster Build and Deployment by means of ‘Continuous Integration’ and ‘Continuous Deployment’.
Finally, what to expect from SAFe® 4.5 :
This may be worth to recap that SAFe® 4.5 comes with above mentioned major changes which can be considered as step in right direction towards making Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) more pragmatic, leaner and flexible thereby increasing its chances of successful implementation.
# All rights related to Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) are reserved by Scaled Agile, Inc. The review points in this article are personal opinions of writer Mr. Ashwinee Singh who can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org