In today's fast-paced world, many organizations follow the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), which is an Agile methodology. SAFe is a framework that helps organizations in implementing Agile and Lean principles at scale. SAFe is being used by major organizations all around the world and nearly all of them use it for scaling. SAFe involves building a lean production mindset and an Agile way of working. It is imperative that any organization wishing to embrace SAFe should first adopt a Lean-Agile mindset and implement Lean-Agile practices. Organizations find it very beneficial to implement SAFe. However, it is important that it is implemented in the right manner. Implementing the SAFe slowly and gradually, doing it one step at a time gives time to the people in the organization to get used to it. For a trouble-free and smooth implementation of SAFe, the ideal tool is the SAFe implementation roadmap. This is a very helpful tool for implementing SAFe practices in an organization.
What is the SAFe Implementation Roadmap?
Let us first understand what is the Scaled Agile Framework implementation roadmap. It is basically a series of actions or steps that an organization needs to take for a successful, authentic, and well-organized implementation of SAFe. It is a set of activities that help in the successful implementation of SAFe. While different enterprises adopt SAFe according to their own requirements and circumstances, this roadmap is normally a common pattern in all. The SAFe Agile implementation roadmap combines strategy with tactics and has been developed through the experience of many worldwide organizations that have adopted SAFe. The SAFe implementation roadmap is a series of twelve articles and an overview graphic that have proved helpful in the successful implementation of SAFe. We will describe all the 12 SAFe implementation roadmap steps here. The 12 steps of the scaled Agile implementation roadmap are:
1. Achieving the tipping point
Change is always difficult and is mostly resisted. Every organization follows a set pattern of running its business. People in the organization have a fixed mindset about doing things. It is a challenging job to change this mindset and prepare them for change. There has to be a compelling reason or a catalyst for change or a 'tipping point' as it is called. The reason for the change could be two-fold. Either the present system of running the business is not delivering the expected results or the top leadership of the organization insists on continuous improvement. So, the tipping point is the reason that would force organizations to adopt change. The first requirement for this is that the management supports the change and strongly articulates the need for change, and lets it be widely known throughout the organization. For this, a vision document can be prepared and circulated. Then comes the more difficult part. Preparing the employees to adopt the desired change. To accomplish this, employees should be made to understand the need and benefits of the desired change. They must know how the change would provide them with new learnings and take them to success. So, the first step is to have the whole organization reaches this tipping point and the employees are willing to look at it with an open mind. Employees should be given the required motivation to change their mindset.
2. Nurture the Lean-Agile change agents
Once the tipping point has been achieved, it is time for creating a group or coalition of change agents. This group will drive the change and assist in the evolution of the change in the organization. This coalition should have sufficient powers to guide the change. These change agents can provide you with the right kind of help in influencing the people in the organization to align with the SAFe implementation roadmap. They along with other leaders and administrators of the organization must be properly equipped to inspire people and drive the change activities. In order for this group to be more effective, the organization must make a strategy that would involve the following eight steps:
- Create a sentiment of urgency in the organization
- Establish the group of change agents
- Prepare vision and mission
- Present the vision of change to all in the organization
- Effectively operate for widespread activity
- Create short-term accomplishments
- Consolidate the benefits and generate more changes
- Develop new notions in the community
Further training is provided to these change agents as SAFe program consultants (SPCs) so they may guide the transformation and implementation throughout the organization.
3. Provide training to executives, leaders, and teams
Good and strong leadership plays an important role in driving change in every organization. SAFe also places a lot of stress on the part of good leadership in transformation. If leadership is not good or strong enough then it may take more time to apply the change or in the final analysis, it may not be as successful as desired. Of equal importance are all other people involved in the transformation. Therefore, training all the participants becomes vital so that they can acquire the required skills and expertise to implement the change. They can also help in removing bottlenecks in the deployment. If they are rightly trained, they may provide support also if needed. Such training will help them in understanding the Lean-Agile perspective and in developing a Lean-Agile mindset in them. They will be able to exhibit their respect for innovation and culture. Providing training to executives, leaders, and teams is an essential step of the SAFe implementation roadmap and is of great importance to inculcate the SAFe habits in them.
4. Build a Lean-Agile center of excellence
A Lean-Agile center of excellence, also called LACE in its short form, is a small group of people entrusted with the job of implementing SAFe. This group is totally dedicated to putting into application the Lean-Agile way of functioning. This group of people usually consists of members from different functional teams and takes the form of a cross-functional team. This team is mandated with implementing the change and has the power to do it. In the implementation roadmap, each member of this team has a different role and responsibility. As a team, LACE has multiple responsibilities which include spreading the vision and the urgent need for change throughout the organization. They are also supposed to develop an implementation plan and execute it. One crucial responsibility of this team is to provide coaching to the enterprise. Ultimately, LACE works towards facilitating and continuously bringing about change in the organization by transforming the attitude and mindset of people toward Lean-Agile working.
5. Identify and establish value streams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs)
Prior to deploying SAFe practices, an organization would do well to identify operational and development value streams. In SAFe, great emphasis is put on delivering value to the customer and a value stream is the main thing to understand, organize, and deliver value. Development value streams are the ones that help in creating products that provide value to the customers. Operational value streams are those where customers interact with the organization and provide information regarding their needs. After establishing value streams, Agile Release Trains (ARTs) are designed and created. An ART is nothing but a group of teams working together. These ARTs make sure that value is being realized. Teams are identified that would work together on every stream and ART is created from them. The aim of ARTs is to accomplish the features in a value stream that hold the highest value. It would be very helpful if it is ensured that the ART consists of people with different skills. You can see why. These ARTs are independent and can release as and when demanded.
6. Creating a plan for implementation
Having come this far, it is time for creating a plan for implementing SAFe. You are now ready to take steps for executing SAFe implementation. The SAFe implementation roadmap calls for building an implementation plan with an Agile mindset. But do not be tempted to think that you can plan everything in advance. It is better to plan just as much by which you can get started and then keep learning by doing as you go along. So plan like planning for an iteration in Agile. The SAFe implementation plan involves recognizing three main elements. They are choosing the first value stream, selecting the first ART, and then the initial plan for identifying more value streams and ARTs. This will require more comprehensive planning for implementation which will be helped by learning new skills and collecting new data. During the execution phase, you should identify the mistakes made and avoid repeating those mistakes during subsequent value streams and ARTs. This is how you adapt to SAFe practices. This is the incremental method of implementing SAFe in the scaled Agile framework implementation roadmap which is a simple but powerful method.
7. Prepare for launching ART
By the time you reach this step of the SAFe implementation roadmap, you have identified value streams and developed an implementation plan. Also, you have roughly created your first ART. This is the point where you begin to carry out activities essential to a successful ART launch. Usually, stakeholders trained in SAFe and the members of LACE help in implementing the initial ART which is led by a SAFe program consultant. When seen from the point of view of change management, the correct launch of the first ART becomes crucial because it can have a far-reaching effect. Preparations for launching ART shall include defining the ART, fixing the launch date, providing training to the ART leaders and other stakeholders, creating the Agile teams, and finally evaluating the preparedness. Launching the first ART is the first change in the way your organization works so it becomes very important. Successful implementation of the first ART will boost your team's confidence and it would be more encouraged to adopt change and move ahead.
8. Provide training to the teams and launch the ART
Now that you have prepared for the ART launch, trained the ART stakeholders, and readied the launch plan, you need to provide training to your teams and launch ART. Training the teams is important because only then they can rightly deliver the ART. It usually takes one week to fully train the teams and prepare them to start their starting PI strategy. The training is provided as a big room event where all the members of the ART, usually numbering around 125, are trained in one place in a single event. The big room training has the benefits of shared experience and collaborative learning. Besides, it is cost-effective. Once the teams have been trained, they are ready to launch their first ART. Then ART is formally launched and the teams are ready to carry out their first Program Increment (PI).
9. Coaching for ART execution
At this stage of the scaled Agile implementation roadmap, every member of your team has undergone one or more training sessions based on a specific role, the first ART has been launched, and the teams have started working on the initial PI. It is high time now that the focus shifts to coaching and empowering the ART. This can be done by providing them coaching and guidance from a SAFe consultant for further actions so that they can deliver value to the customer effectively and in the shortest possible time. The emphasis should be on a continuous development cycle and constantly enhancing capacity. The ART has to be a group of Agile teams aligned with each other that builds solutions to deliver value to the customer. Therefore coaching and preparing the ART teams for further activities in the SAFe implementation roadmap assumes much importance.
10. Start more value streams and ARTs
Now that you have already identified the initial value stream and have launched the first ART, you are ready to launch more ARTs. By now, your organization has got the necessary confidence to launch more ARTs. More ARTs mean more Return on Investment (ROI). The same SAFe implementation roadmap steps can be applied to launch more ARTs which have been described above for launching the first ART. Be careful not to make any critical errors during this. By now, everyone in the team would have acquired sufficient knowledge of the Lean-Agile practices. So, they should make sure that they follow the above steps to detail when introducing new ARTs and value streams. You already have SAFe consultants and Lean-Agile leaders to support and guide the team, so they are better equipped to avoid the pitfalls they encountered while launching the first ART. For this, the teams supposed to carry out new ARTs and value streams should go through all the planning and training stages. This is the only way by which your organization can get better quality and productivity.
11. Expand the portfolio
After launching multiple ARTs and seeing them run successfully, they should now be expanded to the portfolio level. It is unavoidable that after launching many ARTs, there would be demand for more on the portfolio, and to broaden the realm of this new way by which value is being delivered. You can take the help of the Portfolio Level SAFe process for this. It is also advisable that the guidance of the Lean Portfolio Management Function be taken during the process of adding ARTs to the portfolio. This is also the time when value streams are aligned with the enterprise strategy. Now you can create enterprise value flows. Besides, all the above steps have resulted in the integration of new Agile methods. But for fully adopting the scaled Agile implementation roadmap, some of the standard techniques being used in the organization need to be altered. The SAFe Program Consultants play a critical role in this. So their help and guidance must be taken for applying all the concepts of Agile throughout the organization.
12. Maintain, Improve, and Accelerate
The last of the SAFe implementation roadmap steps is to ensure that your organization's culture has actually changed in favor of SAFe and the teams continue to exhibit the same enthusiasm and zeal in continuing with the SAFe practices as they did at the beginning of this roadmap. You and your people have already done considerable work in reaching this stage. But it is important to keep the momentum going and even to increase the speed. This is not very difficult to do. This is because the SAFe consists of many tasks that can speed up the movement toward business Agility like reiterating the principles and optimizing performance. Continuous improvement is the key to the success of any new venture. So it is with SAFe implementation. For sustenance and improvement, the focus has to be on the continued training of leaders, regular involvement of LACE, implementation of Agile HR practices, and tracking the performance of ARTs. And setting up key performance indicators becomes imperative for tracking and measuring performance.
These are the steps involved in the SAFe implementation roadmap. We have seen that the roadmap starts with getting your people ready for change by gradually changing their mindset. The value streams are also identified and organized. The SAFe implementation roadmap provides step-by-step changes to SAFe practices in which value streams and ARTs are the primary elements. Like any other change being implemented, transition to SAFe also takes time and the path should be trodden carefully. More than that, what is needed is the commitment and passion of the team to change for the better. So, motivate your team to wholeheartedly adopt SAFe so you can scale through Agile and Lean principles.
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