Luis Goncalves
Last updated on | Agile General Knowledge

Why Scaled Agile Framework will succeed Even If You Do No Like It!!!

by Luís Gonçalves
scaled agile framework

WHY SCALED AGILE FRAMEWORK (SAFE) WILL SUCCEED EVEN IF YOU DO NOT LIKE IT!!!!

Hi guys, during last weeks a lot of things have been discussed about Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). Until now, I didn’t respond to these discussions, but I think it´s time for me to say something about it. People that knows me, they know that I try to be an agilist, I do not care if it´s Scrum, UnScrum, Kanban, Unkanban, Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), UNSAFe, Risky or UNRisky.

Life showed me that there is no silver bullet for everything, each different situation requires a different approach and most of the times some customisation is needed to be successful.

Almost six months ago, I joined a fantastic company (hybris software). I acceded to this company as an Agile Coach, and one of my responsibilities is to help my team to make Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) a case of success.

When I joined the company, I was part of that 99,9 % of people that lately speak a lot about Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), but do not understand it at all, because they never tried it 🙂 🙂 And yes, when I looked at Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) for the first time, I thought: “Oh my god, this is so heavy, this is not Agile at all, but let´s see where does it take us”.

Six months passed and now I am in a much better situation to do the first analysis of Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). This post is not an explanation of Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), for that, please check the official website here.

This post is a small personal explanation why I think Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) will succeed.

I believe the way how Dean created the framework is simply fantastic. Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is designed in a way that can be implemented in both types of companies: the ones who know what they are doing and the ones that do not have any clue :D.

This framework was created in a way that allows typical old waterfall companies to adopt Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) without changing most of their processes, and at the same time having the stamp saying “We are Agile”. In my opinion, this is one of the huge reasons why Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) will grow during the upcoming years.

Is Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) helping these companies? I do not think so, but like I say: “Organisations have what they deserve if they do not have good people making decisions and steering the company in the right direction, they deserve to die.

Faster they die, better for the society, because it allows others to learn from their mistakes and create a better society.”

So how can Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) help companies that know what they are doing?
I believe, one of the biggest problems with traditional Agile adoptions happens on Top Level. Agile is usually something seen as a “development” thing, nothing to do with Top Management, and this is where Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) can help.

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) brings all company together and more important; it creates a connection between top management and development, something that other frameworks were not able to solve.

I see the PSI planning a fantastic way to enable collaboration between top management and development. During a couple of days, we have top management presenting their wishes to teams and discuss together with them what they can deliver.

When I am talking about top management, I am referring to VPs and C-level, and now please let me know how many companies out there (I am not talking about start-ups, I am talking about companies with almost 1000 employees) are able to get C-level people together with developers seated on the same table negotiating about what can be delivered. This is where Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) will succeed.

One thing that I believe we must improve is on this “three months up front commitment”. Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) refers that each release train should take more or less five sprints where the scope, is decided upfront in an event called PSI planning, most of the people including myself would say this is not agile at all, how can we commit for ten weeks?

During these 10 weeks we got high important requests that were not part of the original plan, and still we were able to insert them on the release backlog, of course taking something out from the original plan (fix the date, change the scope), but somehow this three months up front commitment is something that I believe we need to improve.

I have a vision for Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) implementation in our company, I hope one day we will have such a strong connection between top management and development, that we do not need PSI planning anymore, we will run Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) as a pure Scrum or Kanban development (each team will choose how they want to work) where top management and development are constantly aligned and where every check-in is a potential release.

Until that moment, Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) with the original format will play a big role in the success of software development in our company, but for sure we will not stop improving ourselves to get leaner and faster!

Looking forward to some interesting debates.

ORGANISATIONAL MASTERY SCORECARD

We have developed a free assessment in the form of a Scorecard to help you establish which areas of business you need to focus on to achieve your particular Organisational Mastery.

Take The Test

If you liked this article, feel free to visit my company Products and Services pages.

We provide Team CoachingAgile Training, and Agile ConsultingOKR TrainingOKR ConsultingInnovation Training and Innovation Consulting.

With my team, I built 5 main products: High Performing TeamsScrum Team CoachScrum Master MentoringOrganisational Mastery and the External Business Accelerator.

Luís Gonçalves

About Luís Gonçalves

https://plus.google.com/u/0/+LuisGonçalves1979

Luis Gonçalves is an Entrepreneur, Author & International Keynote Speaker. He works with Senior Executives to implement his ‘Organisational Mastery’ system so they can greatly increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their organisations; enabling them to become recognised and highly rewarded Leaders.

Comments

Share your point of view

  1. surprisingly balanced approach, that comes fresh after many anti-SAFe articles and blog-posts.
    I believe you underlined one thing that would make any agile transition work, no matter the company..that is top management involvement and support, alongside with a coherent vision that is maintained and followed upon. Having these two elements will enable any organization to reach a level where value delivery will be the norm, ensuring both existing products & services maintenance and new development as well.
    I really liked your emphasis on how close C-level and other top managers work with grass-root development teams, and this shows that when proper conditions are met, success is reachable, with or without SAFe.
    Also, Vasco is right to state that, because this is how evolution works in an environment with limited resources. If a company exists, it blocks valuable engineering resources, and these are all freed when the company dies, allowing other new ones to develop from its remains. This is how life is…
    Based on this, a new question raises for me..If it were to split the success factors between SAFe and management support, how much of the success you speak of is due to SAFe and how much of can be attributed to management support and coherent vision ?

  2. Thanks for you nice words…

    About your question I would say its 5% SAFe and 95% management. I believe that everything is about people, people make all the difference.

    The think that I believe is that SAFe enables this close cooperation.

    Thanks,
    Luis

    1. So I believe that a good title would be “Why will succeed ..because of strong support from up in the org ” , because in this scenario any method or practice will succeed, just like when cooking, having a good fire will produce a good steak 🙂 not having anything to do with the tools the cook is using, cheap or expensive ones producing all the same uncooked meat when there is not good fire below ..

  3. Is Disciplined Agile Development competitor or complementary? I’ve only read Dean’s book but never thought I could buy the methodology (be turned into something like it). Could this be why DSDM has so little take up.

  4. Luis:
    Well written. You emphasize one of the keys I like about SAFe – it highlights the structure and vision needed by executives/management to do large scale. Before you can manage anything you must be able to see it. Other popular methods haven’t dealt with this.
    For those who’re interested, I did a webinar explaining SAFe from a Lean perspective: Understanding the Scaled Agile Framework

    1. Thanks Alan for your nice feedback.

      I believe you and Dean are always looking for new feedback in order to improve the framework.

      During all these months we learnt a lot, if you want I could share some of the problems that we think that are relevant.

      Thanks,
      Luis

    2. Luis:
      I would love to talk to you. It’ll have to be sometime next week. Is there at time that work for you?
      And thanks again for the clarity and courage of the blog.

      Al Shalloway
      CEO, Net Objectives
      SAFe SPC, LSS Board Member

  5. On first pass through my initial concern was the comment “This framework was created in a way that allows typical old waterfall companies to adopt SAFe without changing most of their processes, and at the same time having the stamp saying “We are Agile”. ” Really the is is a good thing?
    One of the issues we are facing in the Agile/Scrum/EX/Lean/etc world is that organizations are told they can be “Agile Like” or practice “Scrum-but” and alike which when it fails the can blame it on the Agile like stuff. Being Agile is a change in mindset it is not “New” process implementation. If the organization just wants to continue doing things the same old way, then why introduce Agile, Agile requires change and a practice of continuous improvement.
    I am not advocating process warfare, just a truth in labeling. If allowing an organization to just place a “cloak of invisibility” opps a “Cloak of Agile” on the current ways of life and deem themselves Agile because they are now following the SAFe process, then lets sell them a bill of goods and move on to the client.
    The PSI planning is nothing new to project planning be it Agile, RUP, waterfall or whatever, all good organizations did/do planning sessions for near-term, short-term and long-term so as to understand what to expect in the coming weeks, months and years. Nothing new just a lot of nice new labels.
    From what I have seen in the past 10 years or so is that organizations that embrace the “Agile” thinking do need to change many, but not all of the processes to align with people making decisions and not depending upon a process to tell them what is best. All processes are only as good as the people and organization using the process.
    SAfe is as good or bad as any other process. Initially when I visited the SAFe site it was very lacking on how to work at the project or team level, which if you think about where Agile/Lean started it is really about the team level, regardless of what level the team is at. Be it in the ‘C’ suite, portfolio/program/project/etc it is all about the team and people working together to decide what is the optimal way to get the work done. Over the past 3-6 months the SAFe site has greatly improved the coverage of Scrum/Kanban and team oriented material, but it still has a way to go.
    I think SAFe may have a place in the Agile world, I am only concerned that it may become a a new CMMI that will allow organizations to silo folks into new categories.
    Just a few toughts,
    paul

    1. Hi, I think you missed most of my points :).

      On my post I clearly state:
      “Is really SAFe helping these companies? I do not think so, but like my friend Vasco Duarte says: “Organisations have what they deserve, if they do not have good people making decisions and steering the company in the right direction, they deserve to die. Faster they die, better for the society, because it allow others to learn from their mistakes and create a better society.”

      So I clearly state that SAFe is not really helping them, but if companies have dumb management they deserve to die!!!

      Then you state:
      “The PSI planning is nothing new to project planning be it Agile, RUP, waterfall or whatever, all good organizations did/do planning sessions for near-term, short-term and long-term so as to understand what to expect in the coming weeks, months and years. Nothing new just a lot of nice new labels.”

      Again you missed the most important and crucial part:
      “During couple of days we have top management presenting their wishes to teams and discuss together with them what they can actually deliver. When I am talking about top management, I am referring to VPs and C level, and now please let me know how many companies out there (I am not talking about start ups, I am talking about companies with almost 1000 employees) are able to get C level people together with developers seated on the same table negotiating about what can be delivered. This is where SAFe will succeed”

      If you think that is normal to bring C level people to the same desk with developers and negotiate the scope “together” of the next delivery then please let me know about those companies they are unique 😀

      Again I really believe that you missed the all point of my post… I just said that I believe the framework will be a success adoption wise. If companies know how to take the best out of it its a different story but I believe there will be thousands of companies adopting this.

      Cheers,
      Luis

    2. I actually had this same thought when I read that part. You mean I can adopt agility without having to change my process and still get to say I’m agile? (Though I’m not sure who would care about this)

      If the major point for consideration is getting the top level decision makers engaged in a way that other variations on agile haven’t achieved, then great. That’s a compelling argument for SAFe. Does that mean that SAFe is easier for them to grasp than the other methodologies they’ve been pitched?

      It’s hard enough to get a CEO’s time, much less their buy in on some new fangled process. What is it about SAFe that makes this easier? Or is it more about the person’s ability to sell this (or any other process/product) to a CEO successfully?

  6. Hi Luis

    You pointed out that SAFe can help get stakeholders around a table, including C-suite executives and developers, and can give them a common language for agile transformation, such as release planning.

    Now, in your last paragraph, you seem to be suggesting that SAFe might eventually be dismantled in some way, leaving Scrum and Kanban instances that collaborate towards release-on-demand.

    This indicates that you regard SAFe as a *transitional* framework, as opposed to one that represents a viable operating model for longer term agile practice. Is that a fair statement?

    1. Hi Ian,

      I do not believe in “a viable operating model for longer term agile practice”. The world is changing too fast 🙂 We need to change even faster 🙂 otherwise we will die.

      Another thing, I do not believe in one simple framework for everything, we should customise it and develop it further 🙂

      Hope this answer your question,

      Luis

    2. Thanks for your insights! Much appreciated.
      I had the same question as Ian. I will try to put it differently to get a straighter answer from you!
      Is SAFe a starting point for a waterfall organization to adopt agile OR is it the target state? Of course, you can always improve from that target and we don’t really have to stop there.

  7. I was ask what I “hate” about this blog ;-).

    Actually nothing at all. We are doing our first learnings with SAFe within HolidayCheck since this year. We already did the 3rd PSI (or as we call it agile release train) planning. The interaction with the management is one of the aspects that helps us, this is definitely true.

    What we learned so far is that the communication through the hierarchy is often what kills our non-SAFe planning. The vision and ideas a C-Level or VP has are sometimes well communicated to some people in product management. If it starts that these are not all of the members of product (e.g. product managers in different departments that act more as stakeholders) it already gets complicate. The overall planning allows everybody in product development (product management, stakeholder, developer, QA, ITOps, …) to have exactly the same knowledge about the vision and goals.

    What we also observe is that the effort you need to put into the preparation of planning is really underestimated. It makes perfectly sense IMHO that you split the effort of feature definition and feature implementation on two heads. Otherwise it is just to much work.

    Within HolidayCheck we are supporting the requirements definitions and feature concepts with other elements such as business model canvas or a variation of product canvas to describe the features easily. This supports also the understanding of what is to be planned. However we really experience that planning 10 weeks is hard if people do not take the effort to really align ideas within the HIP sprint. Therefore this sprint became our most important sprint within the whole agile release train.

  8. Hi
    Thanks for the nice article but i am still not convenience what are the clear distinguishing factor which SAFe has as compared to Agile/Scrum which make SAFe stand out…

    1. How do you do all Portfolio Management in normal Scrum?

      Of course you can do it but if it would be so easy all companies would do it right? Why 99% of them do not do it 😉

      Luis

  9. Great post, at least a feedback from someone who was a Scrum addicted and who tried SaFe.
    By the way, in your article you mention the 3 month release plan as not Agile. I don’t agree, in eXtreme Programming we have 2 time-box, the iteration 1-4 weeks and the release iteration is up to 3 months

  10. I realise that this will sound a bit like semantics, but the commitment is not to the 3-month plan but to the objectives set out in the plan. This means teams are not committing to 3-months of stories set into specific sprints– that definitely wouldn’t be very Agile– only the objective to build something that will address a specific business case. If you do find that most of the objectives you set at the beginning of PI PSI are no longer relevant because of in PI validation, you should stop the PI and replan at that moment.
    I agree with you on the benefits of SAFe– I’ve seen it firsthand as well. I think you are also right that it will bring transparency and quicker demise to companies that can’t adapt.

X