First Thing’s First: Essential SAFe?
In recent customer visits and SPC classes, we see and hear about various applications of SAFe, and we address many of the common questions that affect enterprises adoption everywhere. One of those questions (which might seem to be in even greater frequency with the launch of the expandable 4.0), is “but what do we have to do to assure the SAFe benefits. All of it? Some of it? And if some, which parts?” And as we know, while the consultants answer of “that depends” is usually correct, it isn’t always helpful.
SAFe is a framework. That implies a degree of flexibility in applying the practices in a specific enterprise context. But it is also a system. In a system, the whole is the greater than the sum of its parts, and you can’t just grab a component practice, and hope you get all the benefits. So the question is:
What is the minimum subset of practices beyond which SAFe isn’t safe?
To address this, in the last SPC class we took some time to define specific practices that represent the “must have” for every SAFe implementation. We quickly realized that the best way to this is via a graphic (duh) that contains the essential aspects of elements. A few days later, we had the following graphic to test with the class. It was well received, so we offer it below:
Here is a summary:
1. The Foundation includes Lean-Agile Leaders, Core Values, a Lean-Agile Mindset and SAFe Principles. Any transformation is unlikely to be successful unless it is grounded on educating management and key stakeholders so they can lead, rather than follow, the transformation.
2. Teams apply Scrum and/or Kanban, and rely on Built-in Quality practices to frequently produce fully integrated increments of value. They power the train. There can be no Agile enterprise without Agile Teams.
3. Vision and Program Backlog provide alignment.
4. Some Roles are critical. We rarely see successful ART execution without the minimum roles of Product Management, System Architect, RTE and Business Owners. Product Owners and Scrum Masters help the teams meet their objectives.
5. Cadence is the heartbeat of every SAFe enterprise. A PI and Iteration cadence (you pick yours) is mandatory.
6. Key program events are a “must”, too. There’s no SAFe without PI Planning that involves the entire train and results in team’s commitment reflected in their PI Objectives. The System Demo provides the ultimate measure of the train’s iterative and incremental progress. Inspect & Adapt provides a venue for comprehensive review of the PI outcomes and systematic improvements.
7. The IP Iteration is like extra oxygen in the tank: without it the train may start gasping under the pressure of a plan that forgives no mistakes, nor provides dedicated time for innovation, not to mention dedicated time for routine PI Planning and Inspect and Adapt.
8. Some Architectural runway provides “just enough” enablement to sustain development velocity over time.
This is the Essential set. Eight things (depending on how you count!). If you implement these, you are on the right track. Then you can further reason about the rest of the practices, roles and constructs, whether they are Team, Program, Value Stream, Portfolio or enterprise. Additional business and personal benefits are sure to follow.
We see this as a particularly important topic and we value your opinion. Please provide feedback in the comments to this post. Who knows, maybe this essential content will make it into some future version of SAFe.
Thanks and stay SAFe, at least essentially.
— Alex and Dean