From Zero to 200,000 trained: the road to building the SAFe community
We recently crossed an important milestone. Over 200,000 people have now received training through our SAFe training and certification program. That’s a lot of folks who can speak, implement, and ‘be’ SAFe. A Lean-Agile community of this size—trained on globally standardized courses—has never existed until now. So, how did we get here, and what did we learn along the way?
It started with a couple of books
A decade or so back, the movement to Agile and my interest in applying Lean to software development really took hold of me. I was consumed by it. I wrote the books Scaling Software Agility and Agile Software Requirements to further explore the idea that Agile development, especially Agile at scale, could be approached as a ‘software instance of Lean.’ Those books gave the world its first glimpse of what would eventually be known as SAFe, and it sparked an audience that was hungry for a better approach to understanding Agile software practices. The readers of those books seeded what we know today as the SAFe community.
We developed and field tested the earliest SAFe concepts in places like BMC Software, Nokia NAVTEQ, Computer Associates, John Deere, Nokia Siemens Networks, and a dozen more, and we were excited about the results that were stacking up. This was the proof I needed. Next step: find a way to deliver SAFe to a broader audience. And so, together with Drew Jemilo—and a few souls brave enough to wade into the deep end—we formed Scaled Agile, Inc. and pieced together a business model that would support the evolving Framework—even more importantly, one we believed had the potential to change the way the largest enterprises in the world would develop software and deliver value. We really believed we could change the world.
SAFe goes public in 2011
In 2011, what was then known as the ‘Big Picture’ was re-christened as the Scaled Agile Framework—SAFe for short (Insider question- what does the “e” stand for?). A training and certification program was launched with the help of a small group of forward-looking partners and early adopters, and a website——was developed and loaded with guidance articles and content. I had developed early versions of the Leading SAFe course, and our first Implementing SAFe class took place with 34 students, and the first SPC certifications were awarded.
Building a business, creating a Partner Network, adding role-based courses
People were hearing the buzz about what the early adopters were able to accomplish with SAFe. This created a big demand for training and consulting. The thing is, we weren’t looking to get into the business of being the sole source of training and consultation for SAFe; we wanted to keep enough skin in the game to make sure we understood our enterprise customers and their needs, but we felt it was our job to develop the Framework to its maximum potential and design the courses to make it accessible to the business world at large. Our solution was twofold: First, create a certification hierarchy that enabled the top-level certification—SPCT—to train and certify SPCs, who could in turn deliver other courses in the curriculum. Second, build and nurture the Scaled Agile Partner Network to empower like-minded businesses to support implementation of the Framework through consulting, training, and tooling.
As adoption of SAFe continued to grow across the globe, the demand for role-specific training was growing in tandem. And so we began adding role-based courses to the curriculum, starting with SAFe for Teams, then moving on to create SAFe Product Owner/Product Manager, SAFe Scrum Master, and more. With more courses still to be developed, we’re currently offering eight courses, including our newest addition, SAFe DevOps Practitioner.
Fast-forward to 2018
The first class of 34 has grown to 200,000. SAFe has evolved through five versions, including a branch for Lean Systems Engineering that provided us with a pivotal learning moment which we absorbed in SAFe 4.0. We have over 40 published case studies, and many more are on the way. Two books dedicated to SAFe have also been published, SAFe Reference Guide, and SAFe Distilled, both of which are being updated for SAFe 4.5.
To provide ongoing support for our customers, we built the SAFe Community platform where those who are certified may access Communities of Practice for each role, as well as videos, toolkits, and resources for professional development. Our partner base has grown to 160 and supports enterprises in over 50 countries, and we now hold an annual SAFe Summit that is being held in both Frankfurt, Germany and Washington, DC in 2018. Now up to 60 employees, we’ve had to move our Boulder office twice to accommodate our growth.
The world’s leading framework for enterprise agility
Two leading surveys cite SAFe as the preferred method for scaling Agile, and the 2017 Gartner Research Circle survey “Agile in the enterprise” describes a steady growth of organizations adopting an enterprise Agile Framework, and of those frameworks, SAFe is the most commonly adopted and considered.
Hundreds of the world’s largest brands now depend on SAFe to stay competitive in an ever-disruptive marketplace, and thousands of individuals have built their careers around SAFe. That’s a big responsibility and we take it very seriously.
So, what did we learn?
“Making an insanely great product has a lot to do with the process of making the product, how you learn things and adopt new ideas and throw out old ideas.” —Steve Jobs
The success of SAFe, and the business that supports it, is a direct result of practicing what we preach. We run our entire business—not just product development— with SAFe. Our walls are plastered with Kanban boards, sticky notes, objectives, and backlogs, and we plan, iterate, and deliver as we prescribe in SAFe. But most importantly, we have hard-wired ourselves to embrace a learning mindset. We never assume that we have all the answers, and do our best to listen to our detractors as much as our enthusiasts; indeed, we find motivations in both! Development of SAFe was and is driven by fast feedback, and a relentless pursuit of the best possible version of the Framework along with the highest quality training, certification, and customer experience. And of course, future versions of the Framework are always in development.
It really does take a village
Under the banner of ‘ideas are worthless without the right people making them a reality,’ we’ve been fortunate to attract some exceptionally talented folks who are passionate about SAFe and have the heart and mental acuity to nurture the Framework and the ecosystem we’ve built around it. From our community support team to our Enterprise and Partner managers, Learning and Certification team and everyone else in between, we are grateful for each and every one of our staff members who bring their best selves to the office every day.
We also want to thank and acknowledge the individuals who have been instrumental in making the Framework a reality in the field: the enterprise adopters and practitioners who are doing the heavy lifting in applying the Framework in enterprises, the Partners, consultants and trainers who support them, and the growing pool of SAFe Contributors who provide content that is included in the Framework knowledge base.
So, we ask you to join us in celebrating this major milestone. It’s a wonderful thing we’ve all built together, and we are inspired to continuously evolve SAFe to provide value to the industry—better systems, better business outcomes, and better daily lives for the people who build the world’s most important new systems.
—Dean Leffingwell, Drew Jemilo, and the entire team at Scaled Agile