I keep hearing how you have to “be Agile.” But what does that really mean? How would you know if someone were “being Agile?” You’d probably look to their actions. But then, of course, you’d be looking to see if they were “doing Agile.”
Agile, of course, has more to it than the actions people take. But by separating the being from the doing many Agilists give themselves a built in excuse for their clients’ failure – “well, they were just not being Agile.”
Starting with Essential SAFe does get people working together. But the real problem for most companies is that they can’t sequence work well and are working on too many too large items. This causes thrashing and delays delivery. You don’t have to implement the higher levels of SAFe to get much of the benefit they promise. All you have to do is make explicit a powerful concept missing in all of SAFe – the Minimum Business Increment (MBI).
A pattern is a solution to a recurring problem in a context. Christopher Alexander, who created the concept, says :
“Each pattern describes a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way that you can use this solution a million times over, without ever doing it the same way twice.”
In FLEX’s case, the context is achieving business agility – the quick realization of value predictably, sustainably and with high quality. This, of course, requires solving several problems with each of these problems being solved in a different manner. FLEX groups these patterns those patterns that solve the same conceptual problem. Hence it consists of pattern groups with each group consisting of a set of patterns that solve the problem associated with the group. The primary groups are:
Value stream management
Strategies, & initiatives
Patterns must include their purpose, the forces they deal with and their proposed solution(s). Patterns are also named in order to be able to identify them. This has the added value of improved communication.
With such a robust framework, the question becomes; how closely does an organization need to follow various SAFe practices to get the desired result?
[Essential SAFe] provides a starting point for implementing SAFe and describes the most critical elements needed to realize the majority of the framework’s benefit.
SAFe is projecting the word ‘robust’ (which means strong) on itself instead of using the more appropriate ‘complicated.’ This is merely putting lipstick on a pig.
SAFe’s complexity makes it hard to implement as a whole. There are many essential concepts in the higher levels, however. The choice becomes insufficient or overly complicated.
Essential SAFe has Mid to small size organizations (especially those within larger companies) lose the opportunity to solve one of their biggest problems – prioritizing what to work on. Claiming that one should start at the bottom is reckless.
The bottom line is that SAFe is an overly complex framework requiring one to start with only a part of it. But this violates what SAFe claims to be built on – systems-thinking and Lean. It also loses the opportunity of getting the higher levels involved quickly.
While I agree that complexity means that we can’t predict what’s going to happen when we make a change. But not having certainty does not mean there aren’t forces we have to attend to. It’s like driving. While complex, driving on the correct side of the road makes what happens both more predictable and effective.
What we must be aware of is that we may not get what we expect to happen. This is not failing but rather an opportunity to learn about learning the relationships between the people and actions in our organization. Some we don’t see well and others don’t behave the way we expect. But by considering what should happen contrasted with what does, we learn about these relationships when we get unexpected behavior. We can then take action based on this new knowledge.
It’s not failing when we learn fast in this way. It’s how we get improvement in complex systems and those that can go off course because of small misunderstandings and mistakes. The key, of course, is feedback, continual learning and creating a model of how things work we are always suspicious of. If all you do is inspect and adapt without creating a model of what’s happening you lose the opportunity of increasing your understanding.
It’s exciting to see how the competency of internal change agents is going up – many well above the average consultant. They don’t help in what to do as much of it being an issue of the time to do it
Turning to set training materials is often their only option. But using set materials without change is almost certainly not ideal for the organization. This makes it hard to adapt the method to the organization and avoid a “one-size fits-all” approach. While this may benefit the people selling the materials it is certainly not a benefit to the change agent
This is why FLEX has two courses:
1) FLEX for Change Agents. This is a 3 day course intended for people who will teach FLEX internally. Its high level agenda is:
Day 1: 1/2 day on FLEX, and a 1/2 day on doing an assessment to determine their organization’s challenges
Day 2: Full day on FLEX
Day 3: 1/2 day on how to use FLEX to create a starting framework that will work for their org, and a 1/2 day on how to teach FLEX
They then take a 2-day online workshop that provides the optional practices they need
At this point they can teach the 2nd FLEX course – Adopting FLEX. This is a 2-day course they teach to their organization that they’ve tailored themselves
A great way to illustrate this is to read imaginary certification question for a framework, vs how to get your work done. Which would you rather be able to answer? My experience is it takes about the same amount of time to learn either one.