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Scaled Agile Framework: The Optimal Approach for Scaling Enterprises

 / March 14, 2022

The agile methodology is commonly applied for small-scale projects. But what if projects scale up or companies decide to adopt the method on a larger scale across other departments? In this case, traditional agile solutions still prove useful if companies have excellent team leads and robust core teams. 

When recognizing the increased demands for scaling projects and companies, Dean Leffingwell built the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) in 2011. With this article, Designveloper will explain what the framework is and how it works to benefit enterprises.

Before deep-diving into the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), you need to know: What is Agile Software development?

What is the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)?

Generally, the SAFe is a massive collection of principles and practices for scaling companies or projects to achieve agility with ease.

The framework provides well-structured guidelines on allocating, planning, managing tasks, and delivering values flexibly. Accordingly, companies can develop better products, services, or systems that catch up with market trends and customers’ growing needs. 

What is the Scaled Agile Framework

There are four major configuration options of the SAFe. They are also understood as SAFe levels and designed to serve different purposes of scaling agile in business. 

They particularly include: 

  • Essential SAFe – the most fundamental or smallest SAFe framework, including basic elements from two old configuration options as Team and Program levels. Further, this option is an updated feature of the latest SAFe version 5.1. 
  • Portfolio SAFe – suitable for carrying out multiple projects that have modest dependencies on each other and require a handful of agile teams. In general, this framework includes the Essential SAFe construct. 
  • Large Solution SAFe – provide solutions for large, complex projects without depending on the Portfolio construct. But this option still includes the core elements of Essential SAFe.
  • Full SAFe – the most well-rounded model, supporting large projects that involve hundreds of members. That is, this framework includes Essential, Portfolio and Large Solution constructs.
FURTHER READING:
1. Agile Software Development Life Cycle Guide
2. 6 Agile Project Management Tools That You Should Know in 2022
3. Pros and Cons of Agile Methodology: Which Team Should Apply This Model
4. 12 Agile Principles and How It Looks in Practice
5. Agile Sprint Planning: Definition and Generic Guides in 2022
6. Agile Sprint Cycle: Definition, Execution, and Steps Explained
Agile methodology topic

SAFe Core Principles and Values

Generally, the Scaled Agile Framework is developed around seven core values and ten major principles as follows. The latest version 5.1 of the SAFe released in 2020 comes with two new values (i.e. Organizational Agility and Continuously Learning Culture) and one principle (i.e. Organize around value).

SAFe Values

SAFe Core Principles and Values
  • Lean-Agile Leadership – This value shows that leaders gain authority by building expected behaviours for others to follow. They can also align words, actions and mindsets to Lean-Agile tenets and principles to build desired norms across their companies. Further, they create a good working space and equip necessary resources to lead changes and guide members to follow. 
  • Team and Technical Agility – This value details essential skills and practices that high-performing, cross-functional teams use to devise sensible, high-caliber solutions for customers. 
  • Agile Product Delivery – This value focuses on exploring, building and constantly delivering top-quality products or services rapidly. Also, agile teams must balance between customer centricity and execution focus to develop golden chance for a sustainable market. 
  • Enterprise Solution Delivery – This value specifies how companies use agile practices to build truly large “living” systems and networks. These systems allow such activities as launching new features or improving technology to evolve further. Also, companies can align value streams with shared tasks between Agile Release Trains (ARTs) and Suppliers. 
  • Lean Portfolio Management – This value describes how a portfolio of value streams are strategized, funded, executed and governed to build essential solutions to achieve targets. Further, portfolio management approaches need to be modernized. This accordingly supports new Lean-Agile working processes and works well under highly uncertain circumstances. 
  • Organizational Agility – This value indicates how companies fast respond to new chance and challenges of the evolving market. Also, it supports enterprises to build an company-wide, Lean-Agile mindset.
  • Continuously Learning Culture – This value explains tenets and values used to motivate individuals to explore, build creativity and grow together. Also, they take over constantly improving a product’s quality.

Recommended reading: The Importance of Scrum to a software product

SAFe Principles

principles
  1. Take an economic view 

Grasping the building systems’ economics helps in offering the best quality and value for customers within a proper budget and a sustainable lead time.

  1. Apply systems thinking

Using systems thinking helps understand their underlying aims and then optimize entire systems instead of only focusing on their components. 

  1. Assume variability, preserve options

Businesses need to preserve numerous design and requirements over the long term in the development cycle. This facilitates future changes if their initial choices prove unsuitable. 

  1. Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles

Developing increments over a series of repetitive phases supports quicker user feedback and risk mitigation.

  1. Base milestones on the objective evaluation of working systems

Product owners, developers and stakeholders share responsibilities to guarantee the economic advantages of investing in new approaches.

  1. Visualize and limit WIP, reduce batch sizes and manage queue lengths

Companies obtain the continuous flow of converting concepts to cash in no time. To do so, businesses need to visualize and minimize workload in the process (WIP). Besides, companies should reduce batch sizes and control the waiting times for new functions. 

  1. Apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain planning

Using cadence which is the timing for sprint activities and synchronizing with cross-domain planning enables enterprises to operate effectively. Such activities accordingly provide mechanisms to explore business opportunities and correct mistakes promptly.

  1. Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers

Building a mutual-influence workspace, offering autonomy, and minimizing obstacles are important to promote employee commitment and involvement. 

  1. Decentralize decision-making

Making decentralized decisions helps deliver values faster, enhance the development cycle, facilitate quick responses and build more creative solutions. 

  1. Organize around value

Companies operate around value rather than functional expertise to quickly adapt to the changing demands of customers. 

Recommended reading: How to apply Scrum into your Software Development Company

The Importance of SAFe to Enterprises

The Importance of SAFe to Enterprises

One downside of traditional agile methodologies is their poor compatibility with enterprise-level projects. Compared to small systems, their bulky, complicated counterparts hardly become agile or flexible to the evolving demands of end-users. And the Scaled Agile Framework was introduced to help enterprises adopt Agile, Lean, and DevOps practices on a large scale. 

Some noticeable statistics reported by more than 20,000 enterprises show why SAFe is considered pivotal to their overall growth:

  • 50% said that applying the Scaled Agile Framework boosts the launch of deliverables to customers;
  • 50% indicated that SAFe helps with reducing project defects;
  • 35% showed that this framework helps increase their productivity;
  • 30% dictated that SAFe makes workers more satisfied and engaged in work.

How to Implement the SAFe Successfully

Upon grasping SAFe values and principles, businesses must devise proper management strategies and implement crucial moves to apply the Scaled Agile Framework resourcefully in business models.

Particularly, below are 12 key activities that many companies across the world apply and succeed in achieving business agility with SAFe. 

How to Implement the SAFe Successfully

Reaching the Tipping Point

Shifting from traditional methods to SAFe is considered challenging for various enterprises unless they have strong, persuasive incentives to change. Without such motivations, businesses hardly reach the tipping point at which the imperative action is obtaining the change rather than withstanding or avoiding it. 

So organizations must determine and discuss reasons for business changes in, for example, expected goals, practices, and even business legislation. There’s a need for all members to set up a clear vision for change and understand the Lean-Agile mindset as well as tenets. Also, leaders should describe the economic benefits of SAFe transformation. 

Train Lean-Agile Change Agents

In this step, organizations will determine internal or external people who have the potential to become change agents. They then will be trained as Certified SAFe Program Consultants (SPCs) in charge of guiding leaders and those involved in SAFe shifts.

Train Executives, Managers, and Leaders

Business executives, managers, and leaders need to be trained to adopt the Lean-Agile mindset, embrace Lean-Agile principles and develop skills needed for business agility. 

Create a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence

Apart from training change agents and business leaders, building a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE) is a must to ensure a robust company-wide coalition. This group of excellent personnel provides motivation and instructions to implement SAFe transformation across the organization rather than developing agile practices in certain departments. 

Identify Value Streams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs)

Value streams refer to all activities, information, and human resources needed to create and deliver values for customers. Meanwhile, Agile Release Trains (ARTs) are agile teams implementing jobs to build such values. Thus defining these two factors is key to executing. The Scaled Agile Framework effectively and developing high-quality solutions to meet user demands immediately. 

Create the Implementation Plan

Drawing out the SAFe implementation plan requires enterprises to identify goals. And then establish a roadmap so that they will have a big picture of product development. Some critical activities related to this step include:

  • building the first value stream
  • setting up the first ART
  • developing initial plans for extra value streams and ARTs 

These activities will be conducted, adjusted, and repeated. 

There’s no perfect plan. So planning a bit, implementing a bit, learning a bit, and modifying a bit are keys to improving business agility plans. 

Prepare for ART Launch

Along with trained stakeholders and LACE members, SPCs use an ART Canvas as below to prepare for the first ART launch:

Prepare for ART Launch

Some particular activities in this stage entail: 

  • defining parameters and boundaries of the first ART 
  • establishing deadlines and cadence for the Program Increment (PI) Planning event
  • training ART personnel, product owners, agile team leads and other stakeholders
  • evaluate the state of readiness
  • prepare the program backlog

Train Teams and Launch the ART

The ART’s success depends on effective cooperation and communication between members. So training multiple agile teams in each ART is essential to ensure the comprehensive growth of business systems. Importantly, all members must be assigned clear roles and understand their responsibilities well. 

There are many approaches to launch an ART. But the fastest and easiest one is the ART QuickStart method. Besides training SAFe for teams, this approach involves PI planning sessions and workshops. All these activities last one week to help teams change to a new working style. 

Coach the ART Execution

SPCs work together with team leads or scrum masters across agile teams in the ART to implement coaching sessions for the following events:

  • Iteration planning
  • Backlog grooming 
  • Daily stand-up meetings
  • Iteration review and retrospective 
  • Scrum-of-Scrum, PO Sync and ART Sync
  • PI Planning
  • System demos
  • Inspect and Adapt workshops

Launch More ARTs and Value Streams

The first ART launch, the first PI session, and PI deliverables give organizations initial, considerable benefits of using SAFe. All the members at this stage agree upon a new way of working, common missions, shared responsibilities, Lean-Agile practices, and more. So it’s time to boost employee engagement to a higher level. Besides it increase productivity, speed up time-to-market and deliver better values. That’s why launching more ARTs and value streams is a necessity. 

Extend to the Portfolio

All those steps, at this time, will be advanced to the portfolio level to lead the transformation from traditional mindsets to Lean-Agile thinking. To do so, enterprises will align value streams with the portfolio’s strategic objectives, monitor enterprise-wide workflow, and develop more objective administration missions. Besides, enterprises need to focus on managing financial resources and customer or supplier relationships with Lean approaches. 

Accelerate

The final step of SAFe transformation, Sustain and Improve, was replaced with Accelerate after SAFe Version 5.1. went public. Once preparations have been almost completed, leaders must accelerate enterprises toward business agility. The reinforcement of SAFe transformation requires them to keep themselves and stakeholders interested in agile processes. They also need to establish larger goals to truly become agile. Improvements need to be continuously made until the overall cultures of enterprises really transform into agile forms. 

Conclusion

Through this article, Designveloper expects you to have a deeper insight into the Scaled Agile Framework. There’s no denying that SAFe is the leading approach for scaling projects and companies. But this doesn’t mean the framework fits all enterprises or projects. Apart from SAFe, your company can also consider other agile scaling solutions like Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) or Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD). Selecting the right option, understanding, and complying with the chosen framework’s principles will help your business receive full benefits and cement existing activities.

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