This is an excerpt from Adopting SAFe at Small- or Medium- Scale a chapter from my upcoming book “Achieving Business Agility at Small- to Mid-Scale.
Essential SAFe, the smallest option of SAFe, was designed for programs within a large organization. It was not designed for an entire organization that is the size of a program. Here are examples of challenges that come with this.
- The planning pace for SAFe is two to three months. At the small-scale, it is more reasonable and Agile to plan one to two months ahead.
- Different type of organizations often require different methods of planning
- Having an innovation and planning iteration should not be required at small- to mid-scale (not to mention that the cost of it would be proportionately long given the shorter planning increments.
- Many concepts needed at small- to mid-scale are not in Essential SAFe (in particular, how to go from strategy to the product backlog)
Fortunately, what to add, modify or leave out can be guided using Lean-Agile principles – most of which are ironically included in Essential SAFe.
This enables those wanting to use Essential SAFe as a core to have a framework that is effective, efficient and most importantly, is the right for them.
The following is an excerpt from the chapter Adopting SAFe at Small Scale in Al Shalloway’s new book – Achieving Agility at Small to Mid-Scale
The Challenge of Essential SAFe
SAFe proponents suggest Essential SAFe be used for small companies. The reason for this is that small companies don’t need the complexity that full SAFe entails. But even small companies have the issue of taking their strategies to fulfillment. This means that the concepts of strategies, epics, solutions, capabilities, and MVPs are still needed. The challenge, of course, is that these are defined at the levels above Essential SAFe.
Most small companies adopting SAFe are mostly attracted to:
- the program increment and its planning event
- the role of the release train engineer (RTE) to coordinate teams
- having teams work in cadence with synchronization
These can be used as the cornerstone of their SAFe adoption. However, a simple Agile Product Management approach that takes the company from strategy to realization of value is still required.
See chapter above for more.
SAFe has many concepts across its levels-strategic themes, epics, solutions, value stream, MVPs, MMFs, capabilities, stories & several backlogs.
While SAFe nobly attempts to present all needed concepts it does not explicitly call out the most important one–the smallest chunk of work that will provide the most value for the time it takes to build it. We call this the Minimum Business Increment (MBI). It is very similar to Denne& Cleland-Huang’s Minimum Marketable Feature (MMF), which, unfortunately, SAFe changed original meaning of to represent “the minmimum functionality that the teams can build to learn whether the benefit hypothesis is valid or not.” This concept is already part of Agile which always suggest to build in vertical slices to test our hypothesis.
SAFe definitely intends to have the concept of the MBI, but its use of overloaded &redefined terms make it hard to see. MBIs encapsulate the intention of solutions, MVPs, capabilities & SAFe’s re-defined MMFs. Realizing this can simplify SAFe by starting with initiatives that are consistent with our strategic themes & defining a sequence of business increments for them. These business initiatives can then be refined into MBIs which create the context for everything needed to manifest value.
There are many lessons we can learn from the challenges incurred in adopting Scrum. I suggest the significant amount of bad Scrum in the world is due to the approach in teaching it.
The most popular method focuses on the framework itself. It usually consists of a CSM taught to a team. Some guidance is provided on how to write stories, but the attendees spend virtually no time writing their own stories past the ubiquitous “as a user…” method which is insufficient in the real world.
Another method focuses on Agile analysis by having teams create a backlog of their own stories using some aspects of ATDD. Only minimum training on Scrum is needed since it is now in support of what the team’s work & they already have an understanding of the why for feedback.
We have found the 2nd approach to be significantly more effective because people leave the workshops actually doing Scrum & don’t have to figure out parts later.
I see the same thing happening with SAFe with different ramifications. The SAFe framework alone often improves orgs’ agility because of the quarterly planning event. But working with product managers prior to the event & teaching teams more ATDD & less SAFe is critical.
I remember my first SAFe implementation – Northwestern Mutual (you can see a case study of it on the SAFe website). I remember that my main focus was on training the managers, product managers and shared service managers. While I did do a SAFe/Scrum course for the train, I wasn’t particularly worried about them. Continue reading “Why teams starting out with SAFe need little SAFe training but do need ATDD up front – 6 days to #SAFeSummit”
When people adopt SAFe they often believe that the way to do work with each other is by having everyone adopt SAFe’s roles and act accordingly. But this is a componentized view. That is, it looks at the organization as a collection of pieces and won’t result in a true system. A system is not the sum of it’s parts but rather the synergy that its parts create when working towards a common goal.
We have found that all roles need to agree to work with each other in order to achieve the following: Continue reading “How do we work together at Scale? – 7 days to #SAFeSummit”
A question often arises of how to connect strategies, which are long term thinking, with the shorter event horizon of small increments of delivery. The first part of the answer is to shift our thinking from project thinking to product/service thinking. This means that we think of the offerings we provide and consider how we consistently improve them instead of doing a series of one-off projects.
We manage these improvements by creating initiatives based on our strategies and then consider the business increments we want to release on a regular basis. Continue reading “Implementing Strategies with Small Pieces of Work- 8 days to #SAFeSummit”
Frameworks in and of themselves are not the goal. This is sometimes forgotten when Scrum is conflated with Agile. Scrum is a means to Agile, but it is not Agile in the same way a recipe is not the meal. Recipes have ingredients, an order to cook, how to cook, etc. Frameworks provide us with roles, rules, events, structure (of the people) and events. These are all required for effective work. Continue reading “What is the purpose of a framework? 9 days to #SAFeSummit”
Essential SAFe is intended for when a group of teams working together using SAFe. It presumes that a backlog has been created for the train(s) to work on. Most groups starting SAFe at the program level have done so, however, because they can’t get product management involved or believe the higher levels of SAFe are too complicated. Continue reading “What to do when prod management won’t provide MBIs to a program – SAFe countdown #10”
Many dev groups in large companies start with Essential SAFe because they are the only group starting SAFe. This is not a bad way to start. However, many of the concepts needed for such groups are described at levels above the Essential SAFe level. This can be confusing.
We suggest adding the MBI concept as we discussed in the earlier post. In this situation, as epics comes in, the dev group can break them into MBIs by collaborating with product managers & asking them the following questions: Continue reading “Essential SAFe for Large-Scale Companies – Countdown #11”