Back in the earlier days, Agile was only utilized for pilot projects mainly at the enterprise level. Project developers primarily worked in small teams, experimenting with lean & Agile methodologies inside their work environment. The pioneers of the Agile universe noticed what worked and what didn’t, and thus new strategies for a Scaled Agile Framework were developed.
As a result, the implementation of SAFe by large organizations has increased multiple times over the last decade. As enterprises started to realize the benefits of SAFe, more company executives started to take note of such a technique, and thus SAFe has become essential for almost all Agile teams in today’s age. SAFe offers Agile teams the necessary processes and flexibility to eliminate success barriers on a large scale, so that complex project development procedures can be completed seamlessly.
Why do organizations use SAFe for their Agile teams?
There can be multiple reasons why an enterprise might be looking to use SAFe. Oftentimes, company executives identify the benefits of Agile and thereby want to use them to tackle larger & more complex projects. And to do that, additional coordination and planning are required, so that successful results can be obtained.
Some of the main reasons why organizations of today are using SAFe:
- Even though Agile teams are growing at a steady pace, the work that is being done is not in sync with each other to reach a common goal.
- For more extensive projects, Agile teams are not sure how to break down and manage the tasks required to complete the project.
- Most Agile ceremonies, processes, and team roles are not at all well-defined, ultimately making the coordination between multiple teams difficult.
- As more Agile teams become involved in the project, the velocity and quality of the final product suffer because of a lack of proper communication. As a result, teams start to lose faith in the project.
The different levels of SAFe for Agile teams
There are four different levels of SAFe. They are described as follows:
- Essential SAFe
As the name suggests, this forms the most basic-level configuration for SAFe and thus offers limited elements providing most of the advantages. Essential SAFe acts as the foundation for all the other SAFe configurations.
- Large solution SAFe
This configuration is highly suitable for handling complex & large-scale applications. Furthermore, it works independently of the portfolio level. As a result, this configuration tends to facilitate synchronization & coordination for the maintenance of transparency & organization in a work environment.
- Portfolio SAFe
This configuration combines the organization’s solution strategy with the portfolio’s initiatives. It also helps in defining the investment and strategy to be undertaken to bring more value to the portfolio.
- Full SAFe
This configuration involves all the above-mentioned ones so that all of their capabilities can be combined to create complex, large-scale, integrated solutions. This SAFe configuration is ideal for multiple teams working together involving hundreds & thousands of team members, maintaining & developing several processes.
SAFe principles that must be followed by Agile teams
For an Agile team to successfully implement SAFe, the following set of principles must be followed:
- Before undertaking any decision, the economic impact of that decision must be judged
- Products must be built incrementally with integrated, fast learning cycles
- Decentralize the decision making procedure
- Provide value to the customers
- Teams must be constantly motivated and encouraged to perform better
- Ensuring timely delivery with limited work-in-progress items and reduced batch sizes, so that the teams don’t get overburdened & burnt out
Ideal reasons why SAFe is essential for Agile teams
- SAFe encourages Agile teams to quickly adapt to any changes in economic conditions or technology.
- SAFe helps in promoting transparency & collaboration between the development team and executives.
- SAFe helps in obtaining the most possible business value in the most efficient manner possible.
- SAFe promotes consistency when it comes to delivery, planning, and execution.
- SAFe allows scalability regardless of the organization’s size with proper configurability that can suit the needs of the business.
- SAFe allows working software to be delivered by cross-functional Agile teams every two weeks.
- SAFe along with ART (Agile Release Train) helps in bringing together different Agile teams under a single roof so that a consistent routine can be carried out every eight to twelve weeks, known as Program Increment (PI).
- SAFe along with PI promotes interactiveness among multiple Agile teams. Additionally, it also nurtures face-to-face communication and collaboration that helps in building team energy & spirit.
- SAFe allows Agile teams and company executives to share each other’s strategies and vision.
- SAFe helps in the attainment of a constant stream of feedback from the stakeholders or customers so that there’s always room for improvement.
- SAFe promotes continuous validation and integration among Agile teams so that risks are reduced over time.
- SAFe brings enhancement to business quality, productivity & engagement among Agile teams and reduces the time of delivery for products.
- SAFe harbors innovation in an enterprise.
Challenges encountered when implementing SAFe for Agile teams
Although SAFe is highly beneficial for Agile teams, implementing it for the first time can bring in a slew of challenges that organizations’ decision-making has to deal with. Learning about the challenges beforehand will help companies to take precautionary measures.
Some of the major challenges are as follows:
- Lesser flexibility
Out of all the other Agile procedures out there, SAFe is one of the most rigid ones out there. There’s very little room for adjustments to the actual approach, which makes it difficult for first-timers to adapt to the framework (based on the requirements of the enterprise). Apart from the rigidness of SAFe, Agile team members are also stuck in their specific defined roles.
When you compare SAFe to other Agile approaches, in other Agile processes team members tend to thrive because they’re provided ownership of their tasks, which helps them to take responsibility for the objectives that they decide to complete, ultimately tweaking the skills & efforts that are necessary for the task completion. However, on the other hand, SAFe keeps team members in their specific roles without much deviation from the primary path.
- Follows top-down decision making
Compared to the egalitarian nature of the other Agile frameworks, decision-making carried out in SAFe is usually left to the top managers or executives of the company. While this might seem like a good thing, too much decision-making at the top can easily put an additional burden on the project managers.
As a result, other team members can get disengaged from the project because they’ll not have any say in the decision-making of the project. Ultimately, the result will not be much different from using traditional approaches.
- The dual meaning of Epics
When talking about other Agile approaches, the word ‘epic’ denotes ongoing, long-term projects. However, with SAFe, the definition is a lot different than that because in SAFe, epics are enterprise initiatives that need to be evaluated based on their potential ROI before those initiatives can be undertaken. Since the definitions are different, it’s quite easy for Agile teams to get confused.
- Difficulty faced in prioritizing Epics
It’s always a challenge when it comes to the decision-making of prioritizing enterprise initiatives. Trying to determine which epics can help in providing the most amount of impact and thus choosing them over the others can indeed be time-consuming & difficult.
- Carrying out release planning sessions
The release planning session is similar to Sprint Planning when compared to other Agile procedures. In a nutshell, it’s a massive, in-person meeting where projects are kicked off. The same can be said about SAFe. But, bringing all the team members & executives together in an efficient & effective manner can always prove to be challenging. Ultimately, obtaining a clear direction and positive results from such a meeting isn’t going to be straightforward.
- Creating top-notch software code
When it comes to software development, the project procedure must always result in high-quality code. Since SAFe is large-scale in nature, maintaining a similar level of code quality across every aspect of a software project will be challenging.
- Planning to organize work
Usually, Agile procedures break projects into small & manageable timelines known as Sprints. But, the use of SAFe in large enterprises leads to the creation of work into large batches. This is because SAFe deals with large teams containing hundreds & thousands of people. As a result, such large work batches make it difficult to predict the work timelines, leading to delay in the completion of work.
Thus, all of the above-mentioned issues must be sorted out when deciding to implement SAFe in an enterprise, so that all of SAFe’s advantages can be fully enjoyed.
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Before transitioning to SAFe, one of the most crucial responsibilities that the enterprise management must carry out is to measure the improvements and the ROI (Return On Investment). The management needs to choose a framework that suits the needs, products, organizations’ and model of the enterprise, which will help shorten the delivery procedure and outperform the competitors.
Since SAFe is one of the most popularly used methodologies to control the transition of Agile inside a scaled environment, company executives should have no issues with an effortless transition for their Agile teams.