‘Big News’ Managing Enterprise Portfolios with SAFe
SAFe was born and raised in the large enterprise, or more accurately, in a particular business unit of some of the largest enterprises. Businesses turned to SAFe for a variety of reasons. Oftentimes the challenge was a ‘burning platform’ and SAFe was used quite effectively to develop new products and services to put out that fire. Other times, it was proactive leaders with successful companies who understood that what worked well in the past wouldn’t carry them through future challenges and disruptions. Regardless of what brought it through the door, SAFe worked. Companies thrived. Many jobs were saved and new jobs were created.
Of course, economic and mission success like that does not go unnoticed. The application of SAFe migrated to other business units, internal IT, or other product lines. That worked too because SAFe was designed for scale—and the evolving work around Lean Portfolio Management and Enterprise Solution Delivery helped ever-larger organizations. The result is that SAFe is now applied today in some of the world’s largest enterprises, from fintech and insurance to cars, airplanes, telecommunications, distribution, medical systems, defense, security, and more. The improvements in quality, productivity, time-to-market, and employee engagement are undeniable (see case studies).
But one hurdle remained. While SAFe portfolios are designed to be as independent as possible, thereby accelerating the velocity of value delivery, some enterprise initiatives would necessarily cut across portfolios. This could be either because they were universal and mandatory (like GDPR), or perhaps opportunistic (like using AI to improve a customer’s journey across all the products and services). So yes, portfolios have autonomy, but they are not autonomous. Alignment still matters and substantial new business opportunities emerge as the enterprise takes the larger, systems view.
However, SAFe didn’t provide much guidance as to how to think about larger strategy concerns, and how to manage initiatives that would cross portfolios. We called this challenge ‘portfolio of portfolios’ for a while, but we weren’t sure how to address that level of complexity without making SAFe itself more complex. So the problem persisted, and our customers asked (perhaps too weak a term!) for more guidance. So early this year we collaborated with some of the SAFe Fellows and SPCTs to ideate around new guidance based on their real-world experiences in managing this larger flow of enterprise value. Many contributed. SAFe Fellow Eric Willeke led that charge and drafted some initial guidance, and Marshall Guillory and Rebecca Davis were particularly helpful by providing their experiences and inputs.
Fortunately, after a divergent Design Thinking period, a straightforward approach emerged. Simply, that was to extend the Enterprise article to call out this case, and to address the people, artifacts, flow, and activities necessary to visualize and manage this larger flow of critical work, as the figure below illustrates.
I won’t belabor the new content here; I’d rather you simply clicked and read the new article in its entirety.
We hope this new guidance provides value and helps you deliver more value to your customers as you navigate the challenges of cross-portfolio initiatives.
And as always ‘stay SAFe,’ no matter how many solution portfolios you have.