64% of enterprises already use or plan to use Agile outside application development.
— Gartner 2019 survey
Business and TechnologyThe Business and Technology icon in SAFe describes how functional domains in all parts of the enterprise enable business agility by continuously exploring new ways to apply Lean-Agile principles and practices to their unique contexts.
A successful Agile and SAFe adoption affects not just development, but every part of the organization – but marketing, operations, support, finance, legal, security, compliance, and business and technology leadership. To realize Business Agility, all business and technology domains benefit by adopting a Lean-Agile mindset and discovering how their skills and practices apply to this new way of working (see Organizational Agility for more detail).
A Lean-Agile transformation will touch every part of the Enterprise. As one part accelerates, it reveals bottlenecks in the others. Thus, business agility requires everyone to learn how to perform their work better by applying Lean-Agile principles – optimizing flow, working with small batches, building-in quality, organizing around value, and more – in their context.
Twenty years ago, bottlenecks in software development started putting enormous business pressure on enterprises that depended on software. Solutions were typically delivered late and over-budget, often with unacceptable levels of quality. Traditional, stage-gated, waterfall development methods were simply not fit to the challenge. Software practitioners began applying new, more Agile practices like Scrum  and eXtreme Programming , as well as approaches based on Lean principles . One result was the Agile Manifesto, which ushered in a new area of increased team empowerment, experimentation, and faster feedback. Those practices accelerated software execution ultimately driving innovations such as virtualization, microservices, and infrastructure-as-code. Today’s software developers apply these practices and innovations to deliver orders of magnitude faster and with much higher quality. And the early innovators now dominate the software domain (Figure 1).
Over the past two decades, as those early adopters invented the new practices and created demand for a broad ecosystem of products and services that support modern Agile software development, software ‘crossed the chasm’. While software development remains on the critical path for most enterprises, the new Agile way of working has become the predominant method for enterprises facing the challenges of an increasingly digital age. Other technology and business domains now find themselves in the same position the software industry was 20 years ago. Left unaddressed, they will quickly become bottlenecks for an organization’s value delivery. Fortunately, the principles learned in software development are fairly universal and apply equally well to teams in other business domains. They simply need to adapt and specialize the practices to their unique contexts.
Agile is here to stay, and many other business and technical communities have already started their Agile discussion. Simply, enterprises cannot achieve real Business Agility without it. This article collects and summarizes SAFe’s current guidance for business and technology domains.
Adopting Agile in Business Domains
Many workers in business domains operate or support the Operational Value Streams that deliver goods and services to the customer. They live and work in the ‘functional hierarchy’ half of the dual operating system. They may collaborate with Development Value Streams in multiple areas, including:
- Supply chain management
- Talent acquisition
Some are directly involved in product development and many even join Agile Release Trains to reduce development delays. The next section describes a few of the business domains in which Agile is starting to make inroads.
‘Agile Marketing’ is advancing and serves as a good example of how Agile is being applied in a business domain. For example, some in that community have rewritten the Agile Manifesto from a marketing perspective . Others produce an annual ‘State of Agile Marketing Report’ . By exploring how organizing around value, performing work in small batches, and basing actions on validated insights apply in a marketing context, this community has already begun its Agile journey. For more guidance on these advancing practices, see the Agile Marketing with SAFe whitepaper.
Agile People Operations
The demand for increasing agility transforms how new employees are recruited and even drives the need to change policies and procedures for managing compensation and career growth. Indeed, addressing the needs of the new generation of knowledge workers requires rethinking many traditional human resources (HR) practices. ‘Agile HR’ brings the Lean-Agile mindset, values, and principles to hiring, engaging, and retaining people. The advanced topic article, Agile HR with SAFe: Bringing People Operations into the 21st Century with Lean-Agile Values and Principles, describes six themes for modernizing people operations:
- Embrace the new talent contract
- Foster continuous engagement
- Hire for attitude and cultural fit
- Move to iterative performance flow
- Take the issue of money off the table
- Support impactful learning and growth
In most enterprises, Suppliers are an integral part of solution development, bringing specialty skills, components, and development resources that are unavailable within the enterprise itself. However, current contracting models, which were created during the traditional, waterfall development era, are designed to reward adherence to fixed specifications and pre-defined delivery schedules. In contrast, Agile development incentivizes value, innovation, feedback, and rapid adaptation. This is difficult to achieve in traditional buyer-supplier relationships.
This calls for a different approach. In an Agile environment, suppliers behave more like Agile Release Trains (ARTs). They align on the buyer’s development cadence. Fixed-variable specifications evolve with new learning and flexible Roadmaps replace rigid schedules to maximize the value they deliver. SAFe’s Managed-Investment Contracts shows how, through a collaborative contracting model, to support this relationship. These contracts offer objective governance and appropriate flexibility for the buyer, along with the right level of confidence for future economic commitments for both parties.
Adopting Agile in Technology Domains
Workers in software, hardware, electrical, electronics, and other technology domains power the Development Value Streams that build the technical systems needed to create profitable operational value streams. They provide the multidisciplinary knowledge necessary to define, build, test, and deploy solutions to the organization’s internal and external customers. There, they apply Customer-Centricity and Design Thinking to create the right products for the right customers. Agility allows them to respond to market changes and emerging opportunities quickly.
Agile Software Engineering
Of all the business and technology domains, the software industry has the most history with embracing agility as the standard way of working. Indeed, the breadth of SAFe is designed to support these practitioners at any degree of enterprise scale. Specific software technical practices can be found in the Agile Teams, Built-in Quality, and DevOps articles. Advanced topics articles provide additional guidance for Behavior-Driven Development (BDD), Test-Driven Development (TDD), Agile Testing, Refactoring, and Spikes. And the advanced topic summary article, Agile Software Engineering, provides references to many SAFe software development articles and videos.
Applying SAFe to Hardware
Just as Agile software innovation 20 years ago defined the next decade’s economic winners (Figure 1), innovation in hardware will define which cyber-physical system builders will dominate the next decade or more. Without agility in hardware development, many organizations will be left behind. The Applying SAFe to Hardware Development article describes how Agile principles such as organizing around value, preserving options, integrating frequently, and building quality in, apply to hardware development. This article also shows how the early adopters are already leveraging practices like digital engineering, additive manufacturing, and programmable hardware to dramatically reduce engineering, manufacturing, and assembly times.
Applying the Agile team maturity cycle
As workers in different domains adopt Agile practices, some of them will join cross-functional, Agile teams. SAFe provides extensive team-level guidance. SAFe’s Agile Teams article describes how all types of teams become high-performing, organize around value, and blend Agile methods, Scrum and Kanban. We have observed a ‘three-step maturity cycle’ which shows how teams in business and technology domains form and mature the practices that are particular to their domain (Figure 2):
Step 1: Be Agile
First, the teams adopt and master the Lean-Agile mindset and practices. This creates a universal value system and a shared understanding of what Agile is. SAFe’s Lean-Agile principles and Lean-Agile Mindset guide the right thinking and behaviors for teams and their leaders. They provide a ‘North Star’ that points the way to being Agile, even when specific Agile guidance does not exist for that domain.
Step 2: Know your Value Stream
Next, teams must know how they participate in the organization’s flow of value within the operational and development value streams. As discussed earlier, business teams are responsible for the operational value streams that serve the enterprise’s customers. And they may also join the technology teams in development value streams, creating solutions that delight those customers. While this describes the most common organization, there will be some overlap between business/technology workers in the operational/development value streams. And all teams apply Systems Thinking (SAFe’s Principle #2) to optimize their value stream and improve their efficiencies for the larger, end-to-end system.
How this works in practice depends on the scope and the nature of the work the teams do. For example, product marketing may be directly embedded in ARTs, as whole teams or inside other teams. In other cases, the marketing function may operate as a shared service, supporting several ARTs. Regardless, a common view of work, an alignment of terminology, a shared cadence, and synchronization across all teams then helps ensure value streams deliver quickly and predictably with better quality.
In addition, system integration becomes even more integrated when supporting policies and procedures (e.g., licensing, privacy, security) become embedded in code, legal documents, operational workflows, and other artifacts that are part of the business solution.
Step 3: Specialize the Principles and Practices
As teams and individuals mature, they must evolve their practices to define what Agile and built-in quality means in their context. In this way, they make it their own. As already discussed here, many business and technology domains have already begun this journey.
Learn More Schwaber, Ken, and Mike Beeble. Agile Software Development with SCRUM. Pearson, 2001.  Beck, Kent, and Cynthia Andres. Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change, 2nd edition. Addison-Wesley, 2004.  Poppendieck, Mary, and Tom Poppendieck. Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit. Addison-Wesley Professional, 2003.  Moore, Geoffrey. Crossing the Chasm. 1991. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossing_the_Chasm  The Agile Marketing Manifesto. 2020. https://agilemarketingmanifesto.org/  The State of Agile Marketing Report. 2020. https://www.agilesherpas.com/blog/state-of-agile-marketing-2020
Last update: 10 February 2021