All Aboard for Scaled Agility!

Sep 9, 2014   |   By Joe Combs

It’s been over a decade since the Agile Manifesto was created.  Since then, the simple concepts laid out in the manifesto have certainly gone mainstream.  We’ve written in past articles about how teams are getting started with agile, implementing crucial agile principles into managing techniques, and finally the agility factors playing a role in the PMO.  While agile methodologies like Scrum, XP and Kanban do a fantastic job of addressing team challenges, they stop well short of addressing enterprise wide concerns:

  • Integration of functions such as Dev Ops, User Experience and Systems Admin into the release cycle.
  • How to manage system level dependencies and avoid surprises late in the project.
  • How to get out in front of architectural changes.
  • Smooth and efficient coordination at the portfolio level.

As organizations get more comfortable with team agility, we are seeing more attention to these enterprise concerns.  The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) provides the structure needed to address these concerns.  SAFe provides several key concepts that allow the enterprise to embrace agility and deliver value at every opportunity.

Release Trains

The release train is to the portfolio as iterations are to an agile team.  A release train aligns with the enterprise’s value streams, provides a plan to develop, and retrospective cadence for the release.  ALL teams engaged in any part of the release are part of the train and thus provides the opportunity to give input throughout the cycle and gain awareness of what’s coming down the rails.

Program Backlog & Portfolio Backlog

Introducing these higher level backlogs provides an organized means of thinking about activities at these levels, setting priorities and making value judgments.  At the program level, the backlog ensures that ALL upcoming work is accounted for, both feature level and architecture changes to be implemented.  The portfolio backlog defines epic-level work, again both business focused and architecture focused, that will become release trains.

Applications of Lean & Agile Principles at All Levels

By applying lean and agile thinking at the portfolio and program level, we ensure that the work to be done is well defined and provides the value expected to address market needs.

One of the first things that an agile team discovers when they embrace Scrum or any other methodology is that they’re adopting a set of core principles and a way of thinking about how they do their work.  Through a cadence of plan, develop, and retrospection, the team gets better at what they do.  In much the same way, the enterprise must adopt a cadence with these same activities.  For this reason, SAFe continues to evolve, refining the framework based on real learnings from the enterprise.  For a more detailed look at SAFe in its current form, visit the Scaled Agile Framework web site at www.scaledagileframework.com.

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