agile, Investment Management, Leadership, Lean PMO, Product Management, Project Management, Project Office, Scrum, Stakeholder Management, Teams

SAFE: The good, the bad and the ugly


Why Scaled Agile Framework? SAFe® 4.5*

There are lots of things that recommend SAFe to any organisation looking to Scale agile.

  1. It has some pretty comprehensive open source documentation that helps you work out how to implement it https://www.theknowledgeacademy.com/courses/agile-training/certified-scaled-agile-framework-leading-safe-4-5-training-and-exam/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIzvSO_47n2QIV5r3tCh0dGQLLEAAYASAAEgLHo_D_BwE
  2. For organisations where a framework needs to look ‘meaty’ in order to have any weight.  SAFe sure has the look of a meaty method.  There are lots of new words to learn, lots of additional organisational structural changes to be made and it looks and smells like a worthwhile endeavour just because of the sheer time investment needed to understand it.
  3. The Program Increment Planning session is a pretty good tool for any scaled agile team.  It takes a lot of people and it aligns them behind one plan.
  4. When an organisation is used to governance, and quite heavy governance at that, there are items such as the Portfolio layer of SAFe 4.5 that give these organisations some comfort in how to mesh the agile ways of working with the current governance of the organisation.  It doesn’t look too big a jump.  As such, it isn’t a bad middle ground if something like LeSS seems too big a jump.
  5. In terms of the layers needed to scale up SCRUM https://www.scrumalliance.org/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIhoKYs5Dn2QIVTb7tCh3zkQU2EAAYASAAEgIIrPD_BwE  SAFe does truly look at each layer according to the usual project management requirements.  You have the team, project, programme and portfolio layer easily mappable (especially in SAFe 4.5).

So what’s NOT to like…

  1. The documentation while extensive is cleverly written so that only people who can really decipher it are those that have attended the course or who have direct experience of it.  If you are looking to implement SAFe with just this information at your fingertip, beware!  It won’t get you there like the Scrum Guide will.
  2. Just because a method looks meaty doesn’t mean it’s going to work.  Given how hard straight SCRUM is to get people to get behind, a whole new framework is even harder.  It is made harder by the SAFe folk insisting on using Scrum terms such as “Epic” in entirely new ways.
  3. Although the Program Increment Planning session is good.  It isn’t just one ceremony.  Early PIPs need preparation and the guides don’t tell you this.  The first PIP isn’t as easy as the PIP agenda suggests it might be.  As such a few ‘dry runs’ might be required before you attempt the big one!
  4. Although SAFe is fairly comprehensive, the biggest area in which it lets the practitioner down is in the proposed structure of the team.  The roles in SAFe just don’t make a lot of sense.  They are a mesh of an old world meeting a new and the beauty and simplicity of Scrum is lost in the new jargon.  This is further confounded by the assertion that roles such as the Solution Architect can be enacted by more than one individual.  The benefit of Scrum is the clarity of roles and this is lost in the SAFe framework IMHO.
  5. Governance in SAFe is probably the best part area.  It gives the best account of Portfolio level than any other scaled agile method in my opinion.  However, there are still some significant gaps in the ‘how’ of all this.  No doubt these will be ironed out in SAFe version 5.  At Magic Milestones we already have a Lean PMO method that fits nicely into this space and could support SAFe if required but could also support many of the other frameworks too.

Ultimately, organisations should be shuffling off the mortal coil of projects in favour of product structures and processes.  So as an interim between two states SAFe can be a good middle ground.  However, ultimately if you want to get to the punch-line quicker you will choose another method to get there.

*When referring to “SAFe” in this article it is always the trademarked version available to read about here.  https://www.theknowledgeacademy.com/courses/agile-training/certified-scaled-agile-framework-leading-safe-4-5-training-and-exam/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIzvSO_47n2QIV5r3tCh0dGQLLEAAYASAAEgLHo_D_BwE

Magic Milestones is an independent advisor on Scaled Agile methods and is not allied to one method over any another.  We train in all methods in order to choose the best options for our clients.

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