Thoughts on how the Scaled Agile Framework is perceived by some agilists
At the moment the Scaled Agile Framework is getting a lot of attention as it provides answers to challenges common for large scale agile initiatives / large agile programs. SAFe being an agile/lean framework is also part of the Agile 2013 conference, something Ken Schwaber doesn’t seem to like:
Beside this tweet Ken also wrote a small article where he explains (his impression) that SAFe might be more dangerous as helpful as it has it’s root in RUP and Processes & Tools are overemphasized in comparison to People & Interactions:
Ken Schwaber’s Blog: Telling Like It Is – unSAFe at any speed.
While the article itself lacks some substance (you just notice how uncomfortable Ken is with SAFe) the comments are very interesting as real practitioners share thoughts and their experience with SAFe (good ones, bad ones).
A far more detailed article has been written by David Anderson (Mr. Software Kanban) in which he also expresses his concerns regarding SAFe. He wrote his article “Kanban – the anti-SAFe for almost a decade already” about SAFe but also acknowledged that he just did some brief research and has no real experience with it:
To be honest, I don’t know a great deal about SAFe.
Still his summary is:
It is fair to say that this approach is the antithesis of the Kanban Method!
and also adds
I’m not impressed with the Kanban related material or its suggested usage in SAFe.
From his point of view
SAFe appears to collect together a number of techniques from software development processes from the 1990s and 2000s. It offers these as one large framework.
With that he seems to underestimate how many feedback cycles (learning & improving) during the last years finally resulted in what is now known as SAFe and he completely misses (from my perspective) the embedded Lean Product Development Principles (Donald Reinertsen) and the Lean Leadership foundation (part of the SAFe Lean Thinking House).
As you might have noticed I do not share the opinions of Ken Schwaber or David Anderson but I am happy to see that these two thought leaders finally found something they can agree on.
What are my thoughts on the Scaled Agile Framework?
SAFe is prescriptive – but it is just the start of your journey
From my own experience the implementation of SAFe is a quite challenging undertaking as SAFe seems to be a quite prescriptive framework with a lot of guidance and governance (“Processes & Tools”) but still you have to have a deep understanding of the agile / lean foundations to implement (tailor, adapt) it in an organization specific way (“People & Interactions”). I personally feel it is worth the effort because SAFe provides a proven framework with values, principles and best practices that address the common challenges you have to overcome when scaling agile and especially when scaling agile in a non green field environment. Having said that I believe it is key that you teach/establish real agile/lean thinking and learning cycles so the organization can further adapt and improve (“Kaizen”). Only with these Inspect & Adapt cycles “SAFe” is going to work for your organization on the long run.
There are a lot more topics to discuss and to improve over time (your “SAFe Path”):
- how to find / optimize your agile release trains
- how to do the portfolio planning in your context
- how to optimize the demand management
- how to prioritize in a scaled environment
- what to do with the HIP sprint
- when and how to release to production (the shorter the cycles the better)
- how to facilitate & organize the inspect & adapt workshop for optimal group feedback
- decide on which KPIs are really important for your company
Failing to see that this is the journey your organization needs to undertake will leave you stuck in the predefined default practices / processes / tool that you can find on the SAFe website. Keep in mind: Real agile-lean companies are always learning, adapting and improving.
Resistance as it is not Agile?
In companies that have existing Scrum teams I usually experience some resistance of agile practitioners as the team level loses some freedom of choice. Have a look at the role of the SAFe Product Owner for example, the need to have cadence AND synchronization or the need to commit to several sprint during the release planning event (sounds weird for most agile people who did not experience such an event before).
Global optimization required
Very often these people need to be trained to see the value of overall alignment and enterprise wide transparency (see SAFe Cove values). Single teams excelling in their own context _may_ sum up to a lot of local optima but (at the same time) may not be useful to reach a global (organization) optimization. Not understanding this is like not understanding how your company is creating value.
Role of Scrum in SAFe
Important to note is also that SAFe is not against Scrum but uses the principles of Scrum as a team process (perfect match for most teams in a SAFe environment) and Scrum as thinking model (guiding you how to organize and optimize your organization). However one could argue that it is not “Scrum.org Scrum” as there are some adjustments made (as with most Scrum implementations “in the wild”) but still it shares the same spirit and goals, taking inspiration also from Donald Reinertsen’s Product Development Principles not only for developing products but also for improving the own processes.
What does really matter? It’s you!
While SAFe is about alignment, transparency, program execution and (code) quality it’s about how YOU are going to implement the ideas, principles and practices in YOUR environment. In the end it’s the implementation that matters: It’s you, your colleagues, your shared goals/values and the business value you produce.