The Business of SAFe

By February 25, 2017Agile, Strategy

Why Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is the preferred model for Enterprise Agility

Why Go SAFe

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) has become a leading methodology to scale Lean and Agile principles from individual teams to the program and portfolio levels. As enterprise teams adopt agile practices, some common problems they incur when developing large solutions are misaligned priorities, lack of cross functional team collaboration, and system architectures that do not scale or integrate efficiently. This is where SAFe comes in. SAFe provides direction on how to solve common business and information technology (IT) problems to ensure teams are aligned in terms of strategy, process, and solutions.

    1. Objectives for business and IT departments are not aligned to organizational strategy.

In less mature agile organizations, individual teams will often prioritize objectives that benefit their team or product over the enterprise goals. SAFe starts with clearly defining strategic themes that are aligned to a common enterprise business strategy. Value streams and Portfolio Epics are derived from these strategic themes. The top down approach of formulating backlogs ensures that initiatives and solutions are aligned to the business goals of the organization. These backlogs are re-evaluated at regular intervals to provide opportunities to capitalize on market changes. Value Proposition: SAFe ensures that teams pursue prioritized objectives that are tied to the enterprise mission.

    1. Business and IT have traditionally had separate and sometimes competing priorities.

SAFe methods seek to align business and IT interests into a combined prioritized backlog. Using the Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) approach, SAFe leaders and practitioners leverage quantitative analytics to determine forced rank priority of initiatives and features. WSFJ accounts for both the business value and the required inputs, which allow the organization to pursue ventures that generate the greatest cost benefit. Additionally, the prioritized backlog gives employees across the organization clear direction on where their efforts should be focused at any time. Value Proposition: SAFe helps the enterprise pursue initiatives with the highest return on investment.

    1. Business and IT teams often operate in silos.

In many organizations that use Waterfall software development lifecycles, business owners develop business cases independent of IT, and IT teams develop solutions without the cadence of regular feedback from their business sponsors. To bridge this gap, SAFe places cross-functional teams comprised of business and IT members at all levels (team, program and portfolio). These cross-functional teams work together on a daily basis and collaborate to determine the what and the how of the product or solution. Value Proposition: SAFe creates more efficient feedback loops and reduces the overhead required to pivot.

    1. Dependencies between teams working on a common solution are not solved by team level agile approaches.

SAFe addresses this problem through the structure of the Agile Release Train (ART) and continuous integration among teams. The ART is a structure in which several agile teams collaborate to develop scalable solutions within a common value stream or portfolio. SAFe reduces the communication overhead between teams by providing synchronized cadence of communication points and increased transparency into the progress of the solution as a whole. Cross-functional dependencies are not only discussed, but are negotiated, planned, and solved during regular SAFe ceremonies. Additionally, within the ART, teams must integrate and test their components together rather than building in silos and executing integration testing later. Continuous integration requires teams to establish the architecture to support frequent automated builds that run test cases and alert engineers to failed the tests. This leads ultimately to reduced rework and technical debt. Value Proposition: SAFe reduces the adverse effects and risks of inter-team dependencies.

  1. Funding constraints for projects and products. Funding IT or combined business and IT initiatives has traditionally been done at the project level. When projects go over budget, inefficiencies result as new funding must be secured and approved. Project level funding can also lead to incentives to hit the target budget, which may result in waste from projects that have reached their target objectives continuing for the sake of having allocated budget. SAFe changes the process by funding ARTs instead of projects. Through ART funding, costs are quantified as a fixed burn rate relative to the resources assigned to the ART and the length of the Program Increment (PI). Pivots and changes can also be accommodated without having to move or reallocate funds, the product or solution. Value Proposition: SAFe provides the mechanism to resolve traditional funding challenges.

Moving to SAFe

Successful SAFe adoption requires commitment from top management of both business and IT departments. SAFe cannot be viewed only as a process by which IT develops software, as SAFe changes many of the fundamental business organizational processes and structures. Business and IT leaders must share ownership in developing a strategy for implementing SAFe. Through combined commitment, successful adopting of SAFe can alleviate common business and IT alignment issues and drive organizations to succeed in the Lean and Agile world.

Matt Donaghey

About Matt Donaghey