SAFe – The next (r)evolution of our working world?
Due to the rapid development of technologies and economic conditions, many companies are forced to adapt constantly in order to remain successful in the market. As a reaction, many companies test with the introduction of agile process models such as Kanban or Scrum, in the hope of being able to react faster to short-term changes and not to miss a critical trend. Adaptability is increasingly seen as a prerequisite for long-term success of a company.
However, the introduction of agile process models often does not achieve the desired result for the entire company. Agile process models are not sufficient to become an agile company. Established structures and processes often hinder a successful introduction. Therefore it is not expedient to change only individual projects to “agile”. Companies must be holistically aligned to an agile product portfolio. But especially a consistent product orientation is a new way of thinking for silo oriented companies, which cannot be established from one day to the next. Frequently, the statement “We work agile now!” is an attempt to integrate agile process models into existing structures and processes, whereby their potential is not fully exploited and at best projects are better implemented.
The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is a scalable and configurable framework that enables a holistic agile alignment of companies in order to bring new products, services and solutions to the market as quickly as possible with the best possible quality and customer benefits and to develop these continuously. The framework describes the necessary roles, responsibilities, artefacts and activities and can be adapted to the individual requirements of a company.
What distinguishes SAFe from other agile process models?
SAFe was developed for scaling agility in companies. It combines agile process models with systemic thinking and the principles of lean product development. It complements agile process models at team level, such as Scrum or Kanban, with a comprehensive portfolio and program management, but does not replace them. The framework is based on experience from various industries and is constantly being further developed.
“As Scrum is to the Agile team, SAFe is to the Agile enterprise.” – Dean Leffingwell
SAFe provides for a holistic orientation of a company according to products with dedicated teams as well as a central portfolio management, in which all customer requirements are considered in an integrated manner (see Figure 1). This opens up many new opportunities for companies, such as short cycles within portfolio management and thus a direct focus on customer requirements, a change of mindset towards product level (instead of functions or projects) and full and direct reference to the company’s goals among all employees. The aim is to create a common approach to the execution of projects, as well as a strict focus on delivery results and thus putting the product at the centre of the retail business. To achieve this, SAFe is to break up rigid structures, silo thinking or departmental thinking in order to create the best possible product for the customer.
What challenges should SAFe solve?
- Stronger product orientation throughout the company
- Agile working methods beyond silos
- Change of the mindset
As soon as the first teams start to work agile, they usually start to get in touch with the “classic world” within the organisation. Unfortunately, this is a normal development, unless agility is introduced as a whole, i.e. within the group. Because at least two worlds with different approaches collide.
One example is budgeting including portfolio management as part of the “classic” world, but the implementation of individual projects is agile. Within these agile projects, change requests from requesters can be accommodated, but not all stakeholders.
Assuming the project achieves the project goal within the defined budget. This means that budget and capacity are available to the organisation again, but cannot be reallocated according to the process. For this reason, “golden handles” are often implemented within the actually completed project, as the remaining budget still has to be used up. These offer almost no added value to the company as a whole and therefore companies waste resources. A good approach to resolving this contradiction and the conflicts between the different approaches is to introduce the agile approach at all levels of the organisation.
What needs to be considered when introducing SAFe?
The SAFe Framework describes an extensive and complex system that provides for far-reaching changes throughout the entire company. I have heard several times that SAFe is “a monster” and whether “all these new roles and artefacts are really necessary”. But this is in the nature of things. A complex company and its processes cannot be described in a few rules. It is therefore important to define at an early stage which goals are to be achieved with SAFe and to scale the introduction accordingly. Not all artefacts of SAFe are useful for every company at the beginning. The SAFe configurations offer an initial starting point, which has to be discussed and checked individually. Any attempt to apply SAFe to a complex enterprise without reflection and discussion can only fail from experience.
In order not to fail due to existing structures and processes, the involvement and support of the top management is mandatory. The establishment of SAFe is a long-term transformation in which new ways of working must be learned and tested in a continuous process. For a successful introduction, it is important to train top management at an early stage and, in addition, to set up a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence, for example, which actively supports the introduction. Without disciplinary and methodical support, an introduction cannot succeed from my experience!
Furthermore, the change for the employees should not be underestimated. SAFe questions learned patterns of procedure and thinking, which causes uncertainty and defensive reactions. Make sure that sufficient capacities are available to respond to questions and suggestions, to optimise the newly defined procedure and to prevent problems from becoming more acute. Furthermore, try not to leave employees behind by making unnecessary changes.
For example, do not give new names to the same activities, your existing “Delivery Unit” does not need to be renamed “Delivery Pipeline” just because SAFe uses this term. To increase efficiency and transparency in planning and execution with the introduction of SAFe, integrated software support is also necessary.
Do not insist on procedures according to the motto “We have always done it this way!”. This approach has already cost even market leaders their supremacy.
Especially for large organisations in German-speaking countries, this change in the procedure model is an enormous challenge, as the organisation in these companies is usually very rigid and even complex processes are strictly adhered to. Giving employees more freedom through the change is a challenge for the management – but above all for your employees. Try the step towards agility, SAFe is a good, mature framework. Get support in planning and implementation if you don’t have experts in your company. But also remember to select the right software support to make the most of all the advantages of SAFe – because planning is half the battle, transparency in implementation is essential.
Lutz Vahl works as Manager Development at Contec-X. As a Principal Consultant and certified Project Manager (IPMA), he advises customers on project management processes from requirements gathering to the implementation of PPM solutions, with a focus on agile and hybrid methods. He is responsible for HyPE4PM and all additional developments for the PPM solutions based on the standard software CA PPM (Clarity). Before joining Contec-X, Mr. Vahl was a project manager and product delivery manager in the financial sector. He started his professional career in 2006 as founder of an eCommerce company parallel to his business informatics studies in Karlsruhe.