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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
Rajkumar
Rajkumar

Rajkumar Dileep

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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!!

Posts by Rajkumar Dileep

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.
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Safe Agile Ceremonies - Expert Guide

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SAFe Implementation Roadmap – Detailed Guide

Somewhere in the basement of an ambitious yet innovative American tech company, project ‘PURPLE’ was in full swing. With just a trickle of engineers, all handpicked by the CEO himself, the project was such a high secret venture, that every team member was literally frisked every single time they entered or exited the project premises. They were not allowed to talk about it, let alone to the public but not even to a member of family. So why was this so important to the CEO and the company? We probably would never really know what was running through his mind at that point of time but on hindsight, we can guess that deep down the CEO knew that the product was about to revolutionise the world. Deep down, either knowingly or unknowingly a clear roadmap for the next generation product vision was being established.  The CEO was Steve Jobs and the product was none other than the first generation ‘iPhone’. What started as an enhancement for an iPod went a long way in setting up the roadmap for today’s modern world smartphones.  As exaggerated, as it may seem, it is still very relevant to the topic we will be exploring here today – the SAFe® implementation roadmap. In simple terms, if your organization is like a mountainous region of the Himalayas, then you would want to use the SAFe implementation as the ‘Sherpa’ to guide you to reach Mount Everest. SAFe Implementation Roadmap - OverviewWe all are well aware, that SAFe is a way of taking any iterative Agile ways 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.  Considering the implementation of SAFe is a major decision for any organisation and should not be taken lightly, it will involve a significant amount of effort, training time and of course cost. Understanding SAFe can be tricky, but understanding it is a must. At the end of the day, if you want to do something, you would want to do it correctly, wouldn’t you?  My suggestion would be simple. If you want to implement SAFe please go ahead, but do not rush it. Take it one step at a time, 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.  Source Link1. Why is it required?Similar to how Steve Jobs’s product roadmap for Apple created a magic of sorts in terms of user experience, by shrinking an entire operating system into a hand-held powerhouse of a device; the SAFe implementation roadmap will lay out the foundation and vision for a successful adoption of SAFe at all levels within your organization.   It basically describes the steps, or as Dan and Chip Heath call it the ‘critical moves,’ that an enterprise will have to take, in order to implement SAFe in a successful, reliable, and orderly fashion. One can’t go too far into their SAFe adoption without following these critical steps as not only does the roadmap provide you with a safety net of proven techniques, it also makes your transformation journey that much more enjoyable.  2. This is Why Your Agile Transformation is FailingWhile we will discuss in detail as to why the roadmap is a necessity, it is also important to understand some of the stumbling blocks which we need to be wary of before beginning the transformation. Let’s look at a few common pitfalls that organisations will need to tackle.  Hierarchical way of leadership: Lack of commitment by higher management, possibly due to organizational culture or fear of failure, is a big setback for the agile transformation. The teams should be motivated and encouraged to learn and practice to excel so people are not always in a ‘survival mode’ setting. Various reasons like ego clashes, miscommunication, lack of ownership etc. are a classic recipe for failure.  Trying to swim before you float: In swimming, the most basic technique beginners are taught is ‘how to stay afloat in water’. It is essential to get the basics right and try achieving one thing at a time, rather than putting your feet into too many things and thereby sinking. For e.g try to implement the approach in one pilot program, prove that it works successfully and then radiate it across other programs.  Lack of common sense: Things can’t be changed overnight, the sooner this is realised the better it is. Agile/Lean will fail if it cannot coexist with more traditional parts of an organisation, especially in big enterprises. There must be a transition period where you learn technical practices that will help you overcome some of the traditional/legacy challenges eventually.  Synthetic Transformation: An idea for change may have been accepted in general but eventually the team will need to grasp an understanding of why they are doing that practice. Otherwise, it won't necessarily be that practice that gets them in trouble but their lack of fundamental understanding, which will cause them problems, or at least expose their lack of innovation or adoption of emerging new practices. Running out of gas: Keeping the transformation moving with a sustainable pace is another challenging ask. This is where you need to make sure that you have the right set of change agents (like SPCs) who can keep echoing the need for change and be the catalyst who can continue the movement required for a large-scale transformation.  What are the steps of a successful SAFe Implementation Roadmap?While the Scaled Agile framework team recognises that not all transformations will be fail-proof, they have charted out a 12-step guide, which recommends a path to the roadmap journey, backed by the fact that successful implementations will always have something in common. Let's go through the steps in a bit more detail.1. Step-by-step explanationReaching the Tipping Point - Organizations at some point will arrive at a situation where an overwhelming necessity for change will be felt. There could be many reasons but the most obvious one would be the fact that they would be constantly struggling to deliver user requirements earlier into the market thereby lagging behind in business trends.   A ‘burning platform’ as referred by SAFe could be the reason. If not for this reason, a mindset of change may set it when a true visionary is handed over the reins of the organization. A new vision , new targets and early adoption of technical trends in the business cycle could well be the signs to watch out for. This is what is referred to as the tipping point, a catalyst for change.Train Lean-Agile Change Agents – Once the vision is set and the ball is rolling, it's important to create a pool of strategic change agents. Agents who can help with the transformation and pull their coaching weight are needed to influence teams and individuals in aligning to the roadmap. Remember, a great SPC would be the one who can guide an organization to balance business agility with predictability; both of which are extremely important to the typical enterprise-scale technology organization. Train Executives, Managers, and Leaders It is important for leaders to learn new skills- skills that will help them execute the roadmap strategy through constant and early release of value through their Agile release trains. A clear understanding of the SAFe lean agile principles will help them a long way in achieving their goals.  Create a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence Referred to as the LACE – Lean Agile centre of excellence, this is nothing but a group of like-minded people who help with implementing the SAFe lean agile ways of working. From a leader’s perspective, getting the right set of people onto LACE will be key to unlocking the fullest of its benefits. The LACE will normally take charge of radiating the vision throughout the organisation, providing training where necessary and also helping with charting the roadmap elements along with the change agents.  Identify Value Streams and ARTs - Identifying value streams and in turn the related ARTs (Agile release trains) is THE most critical activity for SAFe implementation as this will form the backbone of the roadmap execution. In order to get this right, an organisation would need to spend some quality time in understanding their value streams, which are normally of two types-- operational value streams and development value streams.  Typically, a workshop would be arranged for organisational value stream mapping since this is a critical step in implementation of the SAFe roadmap.   Create the Implementation Plan – The most important aspect of this step is to try and not get too detailed with your planning. In a true agile fashion, it's important to plan a little for the iteration, execute the same, learn from it and then repeat the exercise. It's all about the inspect and adapt philosophy. This simple yet powerful incremental approach to SAFe implementation will help with the solution development.  Prepare for ART Launch – Once you have sorted out the above two steps, the next step is to get your ARTs right. Defining an ART aligned to the value stream is important from a change management perspective. In principle the following sub-steps are recommended:  Define the ART  Set the launch date and cadence for the program calendar  Train ART leaders and stakeholders  Establish the Agile teams  Train Product Managers and Product Owners (POs)  Train Scrum Masters  Train System Architects/Engineers  Assess and evolve launch readiness  Prepare the program backlog   Train Teams and Launch the ART – Well this step is more of moving the parked train out of the station and launching it to carry out the iterative process of enhancing value streams, keeping business agility at its epicentre.   Coach ART Execution  - “Whenever you let up before the job is done, critical momentum can be lost and regression may follow.’ – John Kotter, Leading Change.  The trains are all set now to deliver value incrementally but mere knowledge is not understanding. It takes a few iterations, and a few PIs before the train can stabilize. This is where SPCs (SAFe Program consultants) will be key to ensure that significant effort is put in to constantly coach the ARTs of the intended value delivery. This will help organisations to tap into the core potentials and purposes of the ARTs rather than just scratching their surface. A successful ART will have a culture to  Continuously explore – the vision, roadmap, backlog and architectural runways in order to respond to the market in a timely fashion  Continuously Integrate – To inspect and adapt from system increments  Continuously deploy – To deliver faster and be ready for release when the market needs it. Launch More ARTs and Value Streams – This is the step that represents the largest amount of work that will be pulled into the roadmap. It requires persistent leadership guiding the organization towards a cultural shift inducing new values and norms aligning with the sole purpose and vision of the SAFe implementation roadmap.   Once an ART on a particular value stream has proved successful and shows positive returns, just take that working concept and apply it on similar value streams, include more ARTs. Only by scaling up will the organisation achieve faster time-to-market, improved productivity, and increased employee engagement. As a checklist though, the SAFe Implementation Railway Kanban can be used to determine the readiness of launching subsequent ARTs. Extend to the Portfolio – Once it's proven that multiple ARTs are running successfully, its time then to apply it at a portfolio level (using Portfolio level SAFe process) with the added guidance of the Lean Portfolio management function. This is where we would need to start aligning value streams with the enterprise strategy and thereby establishing enterprise value flows.  Fostering a leaner approach to supplier and customer relationships will go a long way in ensuring tactical business strategy solutions. Accelerate – This last step is basically to ensure that you are set up to build on your benefits. Start understanding where you are in terms of achieving business agility. Multiple assessments are available to help quantify this, provide options to enhance and reap in more profits by improving your business agility.  What are the benefits of an implementation roadmap? The benefits of referring to the SAFe implementation roadmap are far reaching. Although it's not the magic wand you are looking for, it does give you a head start with your SAFe adoption. It's like putting the right step forward.  Bird’s eye view of the mission, vision and goals  Identifying and Scripting the critical moves Achieving organisational change organically  Sustaining enterprise-wide growth and transformation  Achieving a measurable business agility Conclusion: Any major decision like whether to or not to implement SAFe is almost likely to be very contextual. I am sure the adoption of SAFe by virtue of its SAFe implementation road map will help organizations reap the benefits in the longer term, in its race to achieve a sustainable business agility formula.   However, the key would be in trying to understand and measure what impact it is resulting in, and 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 Apple’s roadmap for powerful handheld devices, the SAFe implementation roadmap will guide your organisation to reap the benefits and lay out strong foundations for the future of scaling agile at enterprise levels.  
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SAFe Implementation Roadmap – Detailed Guide

Somewhere in the basement of an ambitious yet inno... Read More

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.
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The Pros and Cons of the Scaled Agile Framework

“When you walk to the edge of all the light you ... Read More