IPMA International Project Management Association
22 March 2019 / 9:00

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) for the Lean Enterprise

A few weeks ago I participated in a training “Leading SAFe” because some of our customers already use agile project management for  their development activities. Now they need to scale up and prepare their organisation for large-scale system developments. SAFe is mainly talking the language of software development, nevertheless, as all businesses are significantly affected by software (e.g. the automotive industry) and thus need support in scaling up from agile teams to more complex system development programmes and the portfolios associated with it.

SAFe® for the Lean Enterprises* is a knowledge base of integrated principles, practices, and competencies for Lean, Agile, and DevOps. The latest version, SAFe 4.6, introduces 5 core competences for Lean Enterprises that are critical to achieving and sustaining a competitive advantage in an increasingly digital age. Mastery of these five core competences enables enterprises to successfully respond to volatile market conditions, changing customer needs, and emerging technologies. Each competence is summarized in a new knowledge base article and is also reflected in related guidance throughout the SAFe website: https://www.scaledagileframework.com

The competences are:

  1. Lean-Agile Leadership – Advancing and applying Lean-Agile leadership skills
  2. Team and Technical Agility – Driving technical practices including Built-in Quality, Behaviour-Driven development (BDD), Agile testing, Test-Driven Development (TDD), and more
  3. DevOps and Release on Demand – Building the Continuous Delivery Pipeline, and implementing DevOps and Release and Demand
  4. Business Solutions and Lean Systems Engineering – Building the largest software applications and cyber-physical solutions
  5. Lean Portfolio Management – Executing portfolio vision and strategy formulation, chartering portfolios, creating the Vision, Lean budgets and Guardrails, as well as portfolio prioritization, and road mapping

Along with large-scale Scrum (LeSS), disciplined agile delivery (DAD), and Nexus, SAFe is one of a growing number of frameworks that seek to address the problems encountered when scaling beyond a single team. SAFe promotes alignment, collaboration, and delivery across large numbers of agile teams. It was developed by and for practitioners, by leveraging three primary bodies of knowledge: agile (SW) development, lean product development, and systems thinking.

In an article for the CIO, Matt Heusser explains the framework as follows: “Historically, scrum, extreme programming and other agile methods tend to focus, and stop, at the team level. SAFe presents a single, unified view of the work to executives, allowing them to drill down for details or up for trends and analysis. A team in SAFe might be 8 to ten people, with everything they need to deliver software, end-to-end: requirements, coding, testing and deployment. Several teams create what SAFe calls a release train, which organizes around a program… That’s a single project, or at least, one program-of-projects. It has a single line item in a budget – the company is buying one specific thing. This is the “small project” the executive talks about.  A portfolio is a collection of these programs, the total amount of budget dollars within IT going into software development. SAFe calls this “Program Portfolio Management,” and suggests that one office have the responsibility for strategy and investment funding, program management and funding.”

It´s too difficult to explain the framework in a single blogpost, however, I´d like to reflect on it from a customer´s point of view. When one of our customers, an Automotive Supplier, started working with agile project management, it was like exploring new lands, experimenting with methods and tools that nobody new and the results where sometimes really disappointing. With more experience in the back, more and more people got interested in applying it, yet the organisational mindset, the structures and processes were not really mature to working with it. We helped the customer to understand that changes were necessary. The customer adopted fast the “Seven Principles for Agilisation” and changed into that direction. Nevertheless, the whole organisation was in need for balancing the “new working style” with the rather “classical” one as well as synchronizing its “dual operating system”.

With SAFe the organisation is able to scale up agile practices from a single team to the organisational level and enable the organisation to use best practices. The SAFe Implementation Roadmap consists of an overview graphic and a 12-article series that describes a strategy and an ordered set of activities that may help in successfully implementing SAFe. On the website of the Scaled Agile Framework it is stated that achieving business benefits of Lean-Agile development at scale is not a trivial effort: “Before realizing SAFe’s rewards, organizations must embrace a Lean-Agile Mindset as well as understand and apply Lean-Agile principles. They must identify Value Streams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs), implement a Lean-Agile portfolio, build quality in, and establish the mechanisms for continuous value delivery and DevOps. And, of course, the culture must evolve as well.“ There is a lot to do for an organisation to become competent in applying SAFe. One of the activities might be training and certifying key stakeholders in the framework. There are several case studies and blog posts to learn from, nevertheless we´d like to follow up on this with more examples of how SAFe works in the industrial context.

*SAFe is copyright protected by Scaled Agile, Inc.



1 Comment

  • SAFe – Scaled Agile Framework is on the “off-the-shelf” Agile Frameworks. The professional group ‘Agile Management’ of GPM German Association for Project Management just published Management 4.0 – Handbook for Agile Practices, Release 3. This handbook includes the chapter (please see http://www.socialtechnologies.de/sozialtechnik/management-40, for more information):
    Scaled Agile Management 4.0
    Summary: The scaling of an Organization, especially an Agile Organization, is characterized by first principles. Three scaling principles and the principle of self-organization allow a better understanding of organizational scaling and the characterisation of “off-the-shelf” scaling frameworks. Scaled Agile Management 4.0 integrates these insights into a meta-framework of agile scaling.
    Key terms: Scaling, Sublinear Scaling, Linear Scaling, Superlinear Scaling, Team of Team, Agile Organization, Conventional Organization, Scaling Principles, Fractal, Invariant Ends, Impedance Match, Collective Mind Team Effect, Self-organization, Hierarchy Representation, Circle Representation, SAFe, LeSS, Holacracy, CCPM

    For the first time, as far as we know, this article outlines the fundamental principles of organizational scaling, stating that Scrum is not in all aspects a self-organizational framework, neither is it SAFe. We outline scaling from first principles listing the really important ingredients of a Scaled Agile Framework. This result in very precise statements under which conditions an agile organization scales better than a conventional organization.

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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.