Need Help Implementing SAFe®?

Aleph Technologies help organisations through Lean-Agile Transformation.

Scaled Agile Framework or SAFe is the most established and well-documented approach for implementing Agile at the enterprise scale. While no two adoptions are identical, and there is rarely a perfectly sequential step-by-step implementation in any enterprise, we know that businesses getting the best results typically follow a path similar to that shown in the Implementation Roadmap.

 
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The Roadmap includes the following 12 steps:

Reaching the Tipping Point

Changing the way of working—both the habits and culture of a large development organization—is hard. Many enterprises report that implementing SAFe was one of the toughest, and at the same time, the most rewarding change initiative that they had ever done.

People naturally resist change, and you will often hear phrases like, “that’s the way we’ve always done it around here,” or “that won’t work here.” Accepting change means accepting the possibility that you are not currently doing things the best way, or even worse, it may challenge a person’s long held beliefs or values.

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Train Lean-Agile Change Agents

As we described in Reaching the Tipping Point, the need to adopt new practices for solution development is often driven by a burning platform, a problem too severe to solve using the enterprise’s current way of working. It creates the level of urgency needed to inspire significant change.

However, even if that is not the case, as the pace of technological and market changes and digital disruption reshapes the modern business model, this sense of urgency has become the new norm. Now, more than ever, the ability to substantially improve development practices is the key to success. Change is at hand. For those following the proven critical moves identified in the SAFe Implementation Roadmap, this article describes the second step in that series: Train Lean-Agile Change Agents.

 
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Train Executives, Managers, and Leaders

In the previous Implementation Roadmap article, Train Lean-Agile Change Agents, we described the three steps needed to create a guiding coalition:

  • Train a number of Lean-Agile change agents as SAFe Program Consultants (SPCs)
  • Train executives, managers, and other leaders
  • Charter a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE)

We described how SPCs—acting as change agents—can ignite transformation within an enterprise. But they alone do not constitute a “sufficiently powerful guiding coalition” for change. For that, other stakeholders and senior executives must step in, step up, and lead the change.

After all, as Deming noted, “It is not enough that management commit themselves to quality and productivity, they must know what it is they must do.” In this article, we’ll describe the second part of the coalition—the need and mechanism to train executives, managers, and leaders.

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Create a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence

The Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE) is a small team of people dedicated to implementing the SAFe Lean-Agile way of working. It is often one of the key differentiators between companies practicing Agile in name only and those fully committed to adopting Lean-Agile practices and getting the best business outcomes. The LACE is the third element of the “sufficiently powerful guiding coalition” for change, which is made up of three primary ingredients:

  • Train a number of Lean-Agile change agents as SAFe Program Consultants (SPCs)
  • Train executives, managers, and other leaders
  • Charter a LACE

This article provides guidance for size, structure, and operation of the LACE. It is based on our own experience, as well as the experience of others working directly in the field.

 
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Identify Value Streams and ARTs

The first four ‘critical moves’ of the Implementation Roadmap establish the urgency for change, and the critical mass of informed and dedicated people needed to implement SAFe effectively:

  • Reaching the Tipping Point
  • Train Lean-Agile Change Agents
  • Train Executives, Managers, and Leaders
  • Create a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE)

With a sense of urgency and a powerful coalition in place, it’s now time to implement SAFe. In this article, we describe the next critical move: Identify Value Streams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs). If you think of value streams and ARTs as the organizational backbone of a SAFe initiative, you will understand their importance to this journey. Attempting to shortcut or breeze through this step would be the same as putting your foot on the brake at the same time you are trying to accelerate. But get this one right, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful transformation.

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Create the Implementation Plan

In this article, we discuss the next ‘critical move’: create the implementation plan.

It’s a big deal to implement an organizational change of this magnitude, and some strategizing and planning help. But Reinertsen’s quote reminds us not to overthink the problem. As he notes, “The more detailed we made our plans, the longer our cycle times became.” It’s far better to plan a bit, execute a bit, and learn a bit. Then repeat. In other words, we need to take an Agile, incremental approach to implementation—just as we do with solution development.

We’ll do that by picking one value stream and one ART to serve as the vehicles for our journey.

In the last article, Identify Value Streams and ARTs, we described a process typically executed in one or more workshops, where the key enterprise development stakeholders gather to identify the flow of value through the organization.

By ‘stakeholders,’ we mean SAFe Program Consultants (SPCs), members of the LACE, newly trained Lean-Agile Leaders, and other essential team members.

 
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Prepare for ART Launch

By now, the enterprise has identified their value streams and established an implementation plan. It will also have loosely defined the first ART. This is a pivotal moment, as plans are now moving toward implementation. From a change-management perspective, the first ART is very important, with potentially far-reaching implications. This will be the first material change to the way of working and will generate the initial short-term wins that help the enterprise build momentum. This article describes the activities necessary to prepare for ART launch.

Details Now is the time to execute the activities necessary for a successful ART launch. SPCs often lead the implementation of the initial ARTs, supported by SAFe-trained program stakeholders and members of the Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE).

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Train Teams and Launch the ART

By now, key ART stakeholders are trained and on board, and launch plans are in place. The LACE and various SAFe Program Consultants (SPCs) are ready and prepared to help. In this article, we’ll discuss how to train the teams and launch the ART, so that the real business benefits of the change can start to occur.

Details business-resutls-thumbKotter’s quote reminds us that changing people’s behaviors, attitudes, and skills—and in the end, the culture of an enterprise—is no small feat. Simply put, if we want people to do things differently, leaders must “shape the path” [1]. That requires training to show people the way and follow-up coaching to help them master these new skills, techniques, and attitudes.

 
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Coach ART Execution

At this stage of the implementation, the first big events are now in your rearview mirror. You’ve trained teams, launched the first ART, and held a Program Increment (PI) Planning session. The result of all this effort is an empowered, engaged, and aligned team-of-Agile-teams ready to begin building solutions that deliver value.

Before you move on to that critical work it’s important to understand that training and planning alone do not make the newly formed teams and ARTs Agile. They simply provides the opportunity to begin the journey of becoming Agile. To support this journey, leadership—and SAFe Program Consultants (SPCs) in particular—must be mindful that knowledge does not equal understanding. It takes time to achieve effective team-level Agile practices and behaviors, which is why significant effort must be made to coach ART execution.

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Launch More ARTs and Value Streams

As the Implementation Roadmap picture illustrates, and experience has shown, the first Program Increment (PI) Planning event, ART launch, and PI deliverables provide initial, measurable, and substantial business benefits. Business and development are now aligned to a common vision and mission; everyone has agreed to a new way of working and has adopted a common method, language, and cadence, and synchronized events; new roles and responsibilities are established; a new level of employee engagement arises as teams take responsibility for planning their own future. And most importantly, the first PI deliverables have illustrated the effectiveness of adopting SAFe.

In addition, the first ART creates an effective pattern and the initial institutional ‘muscle memory’ needed to implement additional ARTs in the value stream. In this next critical move—launch more ARTs and value streams —the enterprise can start to realize an even greater return on their investment: faster time-to-market, higher quality, higher productivity, and increased employee engagement. These are the rewards that only a full and effective implementation of scaled Lean-Agile practices can deliver

 
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Extend to the Portfolio

It’s quite an accomplishment for an organization to have implemented SAFe across a set of Value Streams. The new way of working is well on its way to becoming second nature to everyone who has a role in the implementation. Most importantly, the measurable benefits of time-to-market, quality, productivity, and employee engagement are now tangible and demonstrating real progress. As a result, the effectiveness of the entire enterprise starts to improve, and the larger goal is coming into sharper focus: a truly Lean-Agile enterprise with a fully implemented set of SAFe value streams. This is a telling phase in the rollout, as it tests the authenticity of the organization’s commitment to transforming the business at all levels. Now is the time to expand the implementation across the entire Portfolio and anchor the new approach in the culture.

In the last article, Launch More ARTs and Value Streams, we described how enterprise leaders drive and facilitate a wider implementation of SAFe. The success of these ARTs and value streams creates a buzz in the organization about the new and better way of working. This tends to stimulate greater scrutiny on some of the higher-level practices in the business, which often reveals legacy, phase-gated processes and procedures that impede performance. Inevitably, that starts to put pressure on the portfolio and triggers the need for the additional changes that will be necessary to further improve the strategic flow across the portfolio

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Sustain and Improve

If you’ve followed the steps above, congratulations! You have made substantial progress on this portion of your Lean-Agile transformation journey. Your accomplishments are many; a sufficiently powerful coalition of change agents is in place. The majority of stakeholders are trained. Agile release trains and value streams are transformed and delivering value. The new way of working is becoming a part of the culture all the way from the team to the portfolio level.

By now, substantial business benefits are accumulating every day. Improvements in quality, productivity, time-to-market, and employee engagement are meeting or exceeding expectations. So how do you sustain this over the long term? It’s important to recognize that culture change can lose momentum as the ‘new car smell’ of a new initiative begins to fade. To continue the practice of SAFe effectively, and ensure the ongoing engagement of the workforce, leaders must now expand their view of the implementation. They will need to maintain the energy and enthusiasm they are devoting to the short cycles of Iterations and Program Increments (PIs), while setting their sights on the distant horizon of long-term sustainability. The mindset and process of relentless improvement must now take root. This, of course, is synonymous with continuous change. And that can be challenging for an enterprise.

In this final article in the SAFe Implementation Roadmap series, we’ll suggest some key activities the enterprise can use to continuously sustain and improve its business performance.