In the first part of this series of blog posts, we defined what SAFe is. We also explained why companies implement this framework and what its advantages are.
In the second part, we will explain in more detail how SAFe is organized and how to recognize whether your company is ready for its implementation.
As we previously mentioned, SAFe is organized on multiple levels.
It starts from the basic unit, which is an agile team. Each of the teams operates according to Scrum or Kanban, and less often according to any other agile methodology with the use of XP (Extreme Programming) for quality assurance. Agile team members are brought together to ensure they have all the competencies needed to define, build, test, and deliver business value in short iterations. Featured roles in an agile team are Scrum Master and Product Owner.
SAFe includes several types of agile teams – they can be dedicated to software development, to hardware configuration, or they can be business teams, operational teams, support teams or multidisciplinary teams.
Teams of Agile Teams
Just like any slightly more complex solution due to its scope usually requires more hours of work and more competencies than one agile team can provide, additional teams are involved which need to be organized in a team. In this case, SAFe introduces the Agile Release Train (ART), which is actually a permanent team of agile teams that, together with other stakeholders, incrementally develops and delivers solutions. Each ART has a unique mission that is carried out according to the business and technical requirements described in the form of ‘Story’, ‘Feature’ or ‘Enabler’ and found in its Program Backlog. ART usually consists of about 5-12 agile teams. Each ART delivers within a Program Increment (PI) that typically involves five iterations.
At this level, the focus is on product delivery, which is carried out under the guidance of a Product Manager, System Architect and Release Train Engineer who has the role of Chief Scrum Master for the ART level.
At the Program level, the principle of customer-centricity is applied, as well as innovative and creative methods for designing solutions – design thinking.
The most important thing in SAFe is that the development takes place in a fixed cadence, which ensures that all important events such as PI panning, Demo (of systems or solutions) and retrospectives take place regularly in a schedule defined in advance.
The next very important concept that SAFe applies is DevOps, which enables continuous delivery of value to the user, through continuous research, continuous integration, continuous development, and deployment of solutions on demand and as needed by the user. Each ART at its level maintains this whole range in a way that delivers the solution as independently as possible.
Enterprise Solution Delivery
At this level, complete solutions are delivered, including the coordination of ARTs and suppliers according to a common business and technological mission.
All of the above describes practices on how to build and deliver complex business solutions. However, none of the above answers more important questions such as what solutions we need to work on and why. The answers to these questions relate to the level of the Portfolio which is also being modernized in line with Lean and Agile principles in Lean Portfolio Management (LPM). LPM connects strategy and implementation and work itself by applying lean and agile principles and System Thinking.
With so much flexibility offered by the SAFe framework, when introducing SAFe, members often wonder if a decision is in line with SAFe or not. In case of a dilemma, it is important to remember the goal – a satisfied customer who receives a high-quality solution that has business value in the shortest possible time. Only then should you rely on the Lean mindset and core values of SAFe (Alignment, Built-in Quality, Transparency, Program Execution)and ask yourself if a decision is in line with those values.
How Do You Know If an Organization Is Ready for SAFe?
Some of the indicators that show that it is time to introduce a new framework are:
Successful use of Agile at the team level.
Multiple teams delivering solutions, but inconsistently.
Wanting to use Agile throughout the organization.
Agile has been applied, but consistency and alignment with strategic goals has not been established.
The time it takes to create a solution is a common problem at the organization level.
How Is SAFe Introduced?
Depending on the needs of the organization, SAFe offers four configurations and allows each organization to adapt the framework to its own business. In this way, SAFe supports a whole range of needs, from those that require a small number of teams to those complex systems that require hundreds or even thousands of people to build and deliver.
For example, Essential SAFe is intended for medium-sized organizations. Then there is Large Solution SAFe, a configuration intended for large organizations that deliver complex software solutions. The final two options are Portfolio SAFe and Full SAFe.
Serengeti cooperates with clients from a variety of business domains, some of whom have introduced SAFe during our collaboration on the recommendation of their consultants. Since our employees were directly involved in the transition to SAFe – and one of our colleagues was promoted to ART Leader (Release Train Engineer) – we know first-hand what the process should look like.
The main reason that encourages clients to introduce SAFe is that isolated Scrum teams cannot fully realize their complete potential in an organizational culture in which the waterfall methodology is deeply rooted, i.e. while practicing long-term planning and budgeting.
After introducing SAFe, technological debt is reduced – thus, a part of the budget intended for system maintenance can be set aside for innovation. There has been a decrease in the number of Help Desk Tickets. In addition, internal surveys indicate an increase in employee engagement and satisfaction.
Some more specific tips are that one should be prepared for direct communication during work, especially when doing PI planning. Furthermore, transparency is very important, for leaders should encourage and emphasize the importance of open and honest communication. And finally, the most important thing is to communicate the vision clearly.
Today’s environment has contributed to business agility being a key to economic success.
Companies that have adopted Lean-Agile ways of working at the level of the entire organization respond faster to customer needs, thus making higher profits and/or increasing market share, while at the same time employees are internally more engaged and satisfied.
SAFe is a framework that allows us to coordinate not only agile teams at the Program and Portfolio level, but also their alignment with organizational strategy (top level). It is popular, among other things, because in addition to agile methodologies, it uses Lean and DevOps.
It is intended for large organizations and companies from a myriad of business domains – from finance, insurance, medical research, to air services and industrial automation – that have implemented it have benefited greatly.
To help you decide whether SAFe is the right path for your business, we have prepared a short guide.