Scaling Agile – How Organizations are really doing it. Or Not…

Updated post based on presentation I delivered at recent 2014 IBM Innovate conference. Here is the link to the actual presentation, click here.

Agile Practices.   What is SAFe?

The Scaled Agile Framework® (pronounced SAFe™) is an interactive knowledge base for implementing agile practices at enterprise scale. SAFe provides organizations with a set of best practices, artifacts and suggested tooling necessary to scale agile from the team to program to the portfolio level. SAFe** aims to address some of the concern that many have had with other Agile methodologies such as Scrum when attempting to scale. Created by Dean Leffingwell, SAFe has been successfully adopted by a number of large organizations internationally, click link to some of their case studies

Over the last 4 or 5 years, I have had a fair bit of experience helping organizations scale agile, see blog post from 2011 on Scaling Agile – Why Scrum isn’t enough,
so have a good feel of how different approaches have worked for me personally. Last year I was invited to attend SAFe training by my company and obtained my certification as a SAFe Program Consultant certification.

Since then I have had several consulting engagements where I have had the opportunity to apply SAFe, along with other approach such as DAD in complex and distributed environments. So far using SAFe concepts has led to more successful engagements as it seems to seems to address a lot of the challenges that enterprise that I have had to work with face.

In my next couple of blog posts, I’d like to give a bit of an overview of the framework while also sharing some of my thoughts and experiences.

Introduction

The “Big Picture”**, shown below, provides a graphical representation the SAFe roles, teams, activities and artifacts necessary to scale agile from the team to the enterprise level.

022214_2335_ScalingAgil1.jpg

Portfolio Level

In the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), the Portfolio Level is the highest and most strategic layer where programs are aligned to the company’s business strategy and investment approach.

The PPM (Portfolio and Program Management) team works with the business to gather ideas to drive the Demand Management process. This process produces a set of Investment Themes (or business initiatives) that the enterprise will focus on over the preceding 6 to 18 months.

Here is a short list of some of the key concepts used by SAFe at the portfolio level.

Investment Themes represent the set of business initiatives that drive the enterprise’s investment in systems, products, applications, and services. These are often broken down into a set of business and architectural epics used to plan, execute and track the set of business to ensure the teams aligned with the overall business strategy.

Business and Architectural Epics a large-scale development initiatives used to realize the value of these investment themes. Each Epic captures the business priority, effort estimate (in story points), and expected value and can be further broken down into sub-epics or features as needed.

Kanban Systems is use to assist the PPM team with visualizing the flow of epic-level value along with allowing the organization ot define work-in-progress (WIP) limits to assure an effective flow and to help manage each initiative through to implementation.

Portfolio Vision defines how the enterprise’s business strategy will be achieved and usually requires the creation of a product road map to visually communicate how the different investment themes are being realized via business epics over time.

SAFe is not right for every organization. Some are too small, some are already invested in their own approach and some are not ready for agile at the enterprise level. Whether you follow SAFe or some other approach is not as important as applying lean and agile applying lean and agile thinking to help realize value across the organization. I have been doing this for years in my coaching practice and that is part of what drew us to SAFe. 

The goal for SAFe adoption as this level is to focus on delivering business value quickly. Agile should be about incremental business delivery not team iterations. The cornerstone for this is to have product portfolio management drive programs which drive the delivery of minimal business increments, click here to read more on this topic.

** Scaled Agile Framework and SAFe are trademarks of Leffingwell, LLC

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In my upcoming blog posts plan on digging deeper into how organizations are executing their scaled agile transformation with SAFe at the portfolio and program levels. Will also share some of my experience architecting process and tooling solutions to support the various roles required to make these transformations successful

 

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