Understanding Scaled Agile Framework

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Scaled Agile Framework, also known as SAFe,  is a set of organization and workflow patterns that helps the company scale while using Lean and Agile practices. According to statistics, SAFe is among the most used agile scaling frameworks and approaches about 45%. The scaled agile framework includes structured guidance on roles and responsibilities, managing work, and the values to uphold. SAFe promotes collaboration and delivery across a large number of agile teams. You can view this diagram to understand the flow and structure of SAFe better.

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SAFe was released in 2011 by Dean Leffingwell and Drew Jemilo to help organizations design better systems and software that meet the customers’ requirements. The vision was to enable business agility that is required for the enterprises to compete in the digital age. SAFe was created to scale all the way up to the enterprise. SAFe uses elements from the agile framework, but what sets SAFe apart from other agile-based methodologies is that it enhances the product development process and makes it easier for other teams to adopt. Today, the scaled agile framework is one of the most popular agile delivery frameworks with a worldwide community.

Agile Philosophy And Agile-Based Methodologies 

Agile as a philosophy was introduced in 2001 by 17 authors and is based on four core values and twelve principles, all written in the Agile Manifesto. The core values and principles established by the agile-based methodology have been broadly adopted by teams and organizations who have been more attentive to user needs and market changes.

Agile methodology is basically seeking client satisfaction through the delivery of value-adding software by staying in constant communication with the client. The main advantage of using Agile methodologies is fast delivery and the constant addition of value to the customer as SAFe believes in customer centricity and valuing customer’s needs. Other than SAFe, some of the most popular Agile Methodologies are:

  1. Scrum
  2. Kanban
  3. Extreme Programming (XP)
  4. Lean Development
  5. Crystal

SCALED Agile And Who Should Adopt It? 

SAFe is an agile framework developed for development teams to increase team flexibility. The main difference between Scrum and SAFe is that Agile was designed for small teams with specific roles while Scaled Agile was designed to scale all the way up to the enterprise. Here is a comparison table for Scrum vs Scaled Agile Framework.

 

Scrum FrameworkScaled Agile Framework
Scrum has small core team sizeSAFe also has small core team size
Scales to work multiple core teamsScales to the enterprise
Framework has no defined levelsFramework has four defined levels
Framework has four core values along with 12 principles as stated in the Agile ManifestoSAFe has four core values – built-in quality, transparency, program execution and alignment
Does not describe value streamValue stream is a key element
The middle management plays no roleProgram and Portfolio management are two important tiers of SAFe
With Scrum, teams can usually focus on one project at a timeSAFe has high scalability

 

SAFe is the favored framework of numerous leading organizations. More than 1,000,000 practitioners and 20,000 enterprises worldwide in nearly every industry trust SAFe, while Gartner names SAFe the #1 most adopted scaling agile worldwide. With well-known companies like FedEx, Globo, and MetLife using it, there are numerous advantages of a scaled agile framework.

Benefits Of Scaled Agile Framework

  • SAFe helps make quicker decisions, communicate effectively, streamline operations, and focus on customers.
  • SAFe increases the productivity of the team.
  • It improves the quality of work and increases employee engagement.
  • SAFe has four basic configurations to accommodate various levels of SAFe – Essential SAFe, Large Solution SAFe, Portfolio SAFe, and Full Solution SAFe.
  • It is highly flexible and scalable. 

Development teams in large organizations are already using the any of the Agile methodologies to meet their goals, but by introducing SAFe in your company, you’ll be able to improve the quality of the work you deliver to your end-users. The SAFe framework provides a similar system for developers who are used to Scrum and Kanban, with the same level of reliability and consistent results. 

Values Of SAFe

Scaled Agile Framework has four core values that describe the culture that leadership should embrace in a workplace. The core values are:

Alignment

Misaligned companies are harder to steer and don’t respond well to changes in company’s plans. Alignment is needed to keep up with fast changes, disruptive competitive forces, and a geographically distributed team. By synchronizing activities regularly, all levels of the leadership and employees in an organization stay in alignment with information flowing both upwards and downwards in a timely fashion.

Built-in Quality

Built-in quality is a mandatory requirement for all types of companies. It ensures that every aspect of the solution reflects quality standards throughout the development process. Building quality is a prerequisite to Lean and Flow (dimensions of SAFe). According to SAFe, there are five key dimensions of built-in quality – Flow, Architecture and Design Quality, Code Quality, System Quality, and Release Quality.

Transparency

The literal meaning of transparency is to be perceived easily. For teams to work togather collaboratively, the teammates need to be transparent and trusting towards one another. Trust is essential to building high-performance teams and programs and meeting reasonable commitments and it is highly valued in a SAFe team. 

Program Execution

The main focus of SAFe is to build incredible products according to the customer’s needs.  But all the hardwork would be useless if the program cannot be executed smoothly. The fourth and the last core value is Program execution which stems directly from the agile manifesto. According to this value, a software running smoothly and unproblematically should be the key goal of the team. All the comprehensive documentation, brainstorming, and work would amount to nothing if the team cannot execute the plan accordingly.

Principles Of SAFe

SAFe has ten basic principles which have evolved from the fundamental concept of Agile Methodology.

  1. Take An Economic View
  2. Apply System Thinking
  3. Assume variability And Preserve Options
  4. Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles
  5. Base milestone on the objective evaluation of working systems
  6. Visualize and limit WIP, reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths
  7. Apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain planning
  8. Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers
  9. Decentralize decision-making
  10. Organize around value

Take An Economic View

According to SAFe, delivering work often and early isn’t always enough. You must understand that economic trade-offs, sequencing for jobs for maximum benefits, and operating within lean budgets are responsibilities that should be shared throughout the organization.

Apply System Thinking

System thinking is a holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way a system’s constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time within contexts of larger systems. People using SAFe should apply system thinking to three key areas: the solution, the enterprise building the solution, and the value streams.

Assume variability And Preserve Options

In this principle, set-based design helps in decision-making during times of uncertainty by identifying options and intended outcomes. This basically means preserving options so you’ll be able to stay in control. This approach allows developers to consider multiple design choices at the start of the project. Overtime, the developers can eliminate the weaker options and decide on a final design. 

Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles

This principle also addresses risk and uncertainty through learning milestones. Integration points must be planned on a regular basis to accelerate faster learning cycles.

Base milestone on the objective evaluation of working systems

This principle explains that the demonstration of an actual working system provides a better basis for decision-making than a requirements document.

Visualize and limit WIP, reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths

This principle offers guidance on optimizing for the best results. The three elements of this principle represent ways of maximizing throughput and accelerating value delivery.

Apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain planning

Creating cadence reduces complexity and addresses uncertainty. Cadence helps developers focus on managing the variable part of solution development. While synchronization helps you integrate multiple solutions to find the best one. Togather, they help the DevOps team in the face of uncertainty and enable activities to run smoothly, resulting in informed decisions and incremental planning.

Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers

This principle encourages unleashing the potential of the team and helps leaders serve their team without a command-and-control mindset.

 Decentralize decision-making

This principle explains that leaders should preserve their decision-making authority for topics of strategic importance and allow their teams to make decisions for everything else.

Organize around value

This principle explains that the enterprise must quickly reorganize around the new value flow.

Levels of SAFe 

According to the survey of 600 participants in over 20 countries conducted by Koblenz University, 54% of the respondents that used scaling said they used SAFe. Scaled Agile Framework enables you to apply Lean-Agile and Scrum practices at large enterprises. It consists of four levels — Team Level, Program Level, Large Solution Level, and Portfolio Level.

Team Level

The team level is most identical to Scrum. This program uses the concept of Agile Release Team (ART) to deliver the value expected from a specific project. In this program, five to ten teams of ten members each work together on a specific goal.

Program Level

This program also uses ART to deliver solutions. The main difference between program level and team level is that program level usually has more people working on a project. It is typically 50-130 people organized in sub-teams working together on a project.

Portfolio Level

The portfolio level is the level where organizational leaders determine the organization’s business goals, vision, and strategies. Here, you have to organize your management practices through SAFe methodologies.

Challenges of SAFe 

SAFe is the most popular framework globally, with nearly every industry having implemented it in their business. Here are some of the challenges of the scaled agile framework faced by companies when implementing SAFe.

Cultural Shift

SAFe encourages teams to work in collaboration with multiple teams according to the shifting demands of the project. This new mindset can be difficult for some employees to adapt to and be comfortable in. So the leaders should encourage value and flow and adjust their management style. The leaders should also change their mindset and refrain from micromanagement. 

Work Management Shift

The work management of Agile Methodology is quite different from the traditional way as Agile aims to work with a fixed set of resources and shifts its course according to the varying needs of the project. It is an iterative approach to collaborative work which can be difficult for some employees to adjust to as they are used to working according to the Waterfall methodology. Here are some of the ways you can promote Agile work management in your workplace.

  • Adopt a more open leadership pattern
  • The focus of delivering value-putting output
  • Enable experimentation and collaboration between teams
  • Share knowledge across the organization

Technology Shift

With SAFe, there is also a technological shift in the workplace. You will need tools to aid the scale up process. You can implement various tools that will help increase team visibility level, communication, collaboration, accountability, and more.

Case Studies

SAFe’s implementation can be seen everywhere now. Here is a summary of a couple of case studies.

Capital One

Capital One, a widely recognized brand in America, is a bank that offers an array of financial products and services to customers, businesses, and clients. In 2013, the bank started taking its first steps toward Agile Transformation. The bank started using SAFe because it wanted to develop products on a much larger scale. SAFe empowered the company and resulted in increased employee engagement and customer satisfaction. You can view the full case study here.

CSG International

CSG International is a large company that supports about 48 million North American video, voice, and data subscribers. CSG went through a Lean-Agile transformation sometime after 2007. As SAFe evolved, CSG trained a number of internal SPCs who eventually trained over 2,000 employees using leading SAFe. You can view the whole case study of CSG’s journey here.

Conclusion 

At Genetech Solutions, we have an agile team of experts that is capable and is fully equipped with the knowledge of the enterprise frameworks of Agile, including SAFe, DA, and more. We usually use SCRUM for our project and work in small teams using sprints. You can view our case studies to find out more about our work or take a look at the benefits for adopting Agile

I hope you enjoyed this blog and it was helpful for you. Feel free to contact us if you have any queries

Minahil Aijaz

I am a medical student and an avid fiction reader, with a penchant for travelling. I am currently working as a junior content writer at Genetech Solutions, one of Pakistan’s leading Software houses.

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