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Scaling Scrum – Intro to SAFe

Zoran Kovačević, Technical director

Scrum is still the most popular choice when selecting an agile framework to enable a single team to deliver optimal performance. Scaling Scrum becomes a necessity as soon as the product (or service) development needs to grow beyond the capacity of a single Scrum team. Typically, one selects an agile framework with a core purpose of effectively scaling Scrum to efficiently manage multiple Scrum teams in an agile way. However, in order to achieve true business agility at the enterprise level in the age of digital transformation and remain competitive in the digital economy, this is not enough.

You need a framework to achieve business agility in every aspect of your business operations. This will enable you to focus the entire enterprise on delivering maximum value to your customers in a rapidly changing global environment.

The Scaled Agile Framework®

The Scaled Agile Framework® or just SAFe was developed to augment the traditional hierarchical organization and provide an agile customer-centric and enterprise-wide „business operating system“ aimed at accelerating innovative solution (product, service or system) delivery while maximizing customer value in the fast-changing global market. Applying SAFe will allow for efficient identification and delivery of customer value increments. As the solution portfolio is evolving, the proper framework application will ensure that quality is consistently maintained. Additionally, its features will enable a timely response to new competitive threats through quick adaptation. In order to achieve its goals, SAFe encompasses all the necessary integrated and (empirically) proven principles, competencies and best practices enabling the implementation of Lean, Agile and DevOps at scale. Source: Scaled Agile

Seven competencies for customer-centric business agility

Achieving customer-centric business agility at a large enterprise level requires seven core competencies. 

  • Lean-Agile Leadership

At the foundation there is the competency of Lean-Agile Leadership aimed at developing organization's leaders to lead by example, cultivate a growth and Lean-Agile mindset while applying SAFe core values and principles as well as leading change.

The execution-related group of core competencies includes the following:

  • Team and Technical Agility
    One needs agile teams employing Lean-Agile principles, practices and skills (typically Kanban, Scrum with XP or hybrid teams; 5 to 11 team members) organized in a „team of teams“ (an Agile Release Train or ART – Scrum of Scrums is used; typically 50 to 125 people) regularly delivering customer value increments (iteration increment per team; program increment for all teams in the ART) with built-in quality (architecture and design quality, refactoring, reducing technical debt, automated testing etc.).
  • Agile Product Delivery
    It's necessary to create and run optimally performing „teams of teams“ (Agile Release Trains or ARTs) which are customer-centric and use design thinking. These teams should be able to deliver a continuous flow of customer value increments (products, services etc.) using DevOps (continuous delivery, release on demand etc.).
  • Enterprise Solution Delivery
    Applying Lean-Agile principles and practices to build, maintain and evolve large and complex (enterprise level) solutions (products, services or systems).

The strategy-related group of core competencies includes the following:

  • Lean Portfolio Management
    Used to align strategy and execution through application of approaches like Lean, Agile and systems thinking. It's crucial to have a three-fold collaboration involving strategy and investment funding (aligning the portfolio funding to meet the business targets), agile portfolio operations (support and coordination of decentralized program execution to achieve operational excellence) and lean governance (measurement of portfolio performance – Lean metrics, audit, compliance, expense forecast, spending oversight).
  • Organizational Agility
    In order to provide a quick response to the rapid global market changes, there's a need for more organizational flexibility. You need people at all levels of the organization embracing Lean-Agile values and principles as well as trained in the related methods and practices. This will support the creation of cross-functional agile teams for a given domain which will participate in the „delivery train“ (ART). It's essential to constantly improve the business processes which support the delivery of the enterprise's solutions (products, services or systems). To this end the construct of value streams is used. A value stream entails the series of steps used by the enterprise to implement these solutions thereby providing a continuous flow of value for its customers (each value stream produces one or more solutions; a single ART can implement a smaller value stream – usually there are multiple ARTs per stream).
  • Continuous Learning Culture
    Given the volatility of the global market, it's necessary for the enterprise to become a learning organization that is committed to constant innovation and improvement beyond its financial performance. This means constant learning and growing for its employees at every level. The organization and its leaders must create an environment that supports innovation (curiosity, creativity, challenging the „old ways“ etc.). Every part of the organization must be determined to constantly improve its solutions and processes through disciplined fact-based holistic learning and optimization (improving through small increments, i.e. the Lean model).

True Business Agility

Accomplishing true business agility is all about the journey along which measurements must be made to ensure continuous progress towards the destination. By applying the SAFe business agility assessment primarily with respect to the seven core competencies, the enterprise can assess its current position and the necessary steps to achieve the optimal route to success.

Along with the described full configuration including all of the seven core competencies, SAFe can also provide a less complex configuration more appropriate to the needs of your enterprise (essential configuration, portfolio configuration, etc.).

SAFe® was created by Dean Leffingwell, who's also its Chief Methodologist at Scaled Agile, Inc. which is the company that makes this framework freely available. The framework was originally released in 2011 (version 1.0) and has progressed through five major updates to the current version 5.0 (released in January 2020). For more information, please visit the Scaled Agile Framework website. Also, check a whitepaper describing the current version of SAFe®.   

Agile practices for multiple teams

When applying agile practices for multiple teams and especially in the context of distributed software development, it’s always a benefit to use a more knowledgeable and experienced external partner. This will enable you to further improve any existing internal practices. Software development nearshoring and consulting companies working in distributed teams on international projects have a lot of accumulated knowledge and experience in scaling agile practices. This puts them in a unique position to offer valuable guidance.

When searching for the right external partner to consult with regarding your software R&D challenges, there are some key issues to consider. We have provided a checklist to help with your search:

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