Improving your SAFe adoption is not that difficult. But you have to attend to several things:

  • Understand what parts of SAFe are effective and keep doing them
  • Improve your SAFe adoption in place – no need to abandon what works
  • Look at SAFe from a value stream perspective
  • Add concepts that can make it both simpler and more effective

This article outlines how to improve SAFe implementations without abandoning them.

Recognize What SAFe Does Well

SAFe does several things well. These are shown in figure 1.

Figure 1: What SAFe does well.

SAFe starts with leaving this out

One of the challenges with SAFe is that it starts its adoptions at the team level. While it suggests having executive buy-in, it is organized around a top-down sponsored, bottom-up implementation. This has several aspects of SAFe that even small organizations need being left out.

Figure 2: What SAFe Leaves Out In Early Adoptions

The first step is to view SAFe from a value stream perspective

Agile at scale adoptions are complicated, even complex. It is essential to take a systems thinking point of view. A system is more about the relationships between its components than the components themselves. Attending to the value stream makes these relationships easier. The first thing to do is see the value stream in the SAFe development value stream.

Why view from a value stream perspective?

Attending to value streams is essential for many reasons.

Systems are about the relations between their components. Viewing SAFe from a value stream perspective enables everyone to see how the different parts of the organization relate to each other.

They are not just the components. Different parts of the organization must work together.

Value streams highlight these relationships. Making the relationships between the groups visible to work together becomes clearer.

Upstream has a significant effect on downstream. The value stream helps everyone see how everyone affects everyone else.

You want to start thinking in terms of flow. SAFe’s planning events are too long to be Agile.

It is less disruptive to expand functionality by adding activities to the value stream than by adding new hierarchy levels. 

The Four Phases of a Lean-Agile Driven SAFe Improvement

  1. Improve in place. Use new FLEX concepts and a few plays to improve SAFe’s core practices. Enables quicker releases, better management of shared services, and improved cross-functionality of teams
  2. Restructure teams and shorten planning cycles as possible. Use Lean thinking and a deep understanding of workflows to decompose ARTs into Focused Solution teams. This allows for shorter program increments.
  3. Align teams to business stakeholders and implement agile budgeting. Achieve the desired network of semi-autonomous teams aligned with business stakeholders and implement agile budgeting as possible.
  4. Guided continuous improvement. Using proven techniques designed for your context. The journey never ends; keep improving.

Phases can be done in sequence or in parallel.

Phase 1: Improve in place

1. Use minimum Business Increments in addition to MVPs (and notice the difference)
   a. Improve PI Planning with MBIs
   b. Use shared services as service providers

2. Use shared services as service providers

3. Learn the Value Stream Impedance Scorecard

4. Improve cross-functionality of teams using ”borrow team member.”

5. Adopt ATDD / BDD to at least a minimum level

    Phase 2: Restructure teams and shorten planning cycles as possible

    1. Make your workflow explicit

    2. Untangle the value stream in ARTs
       a. Move as many people as possible to be in one value stream
       b. Use Basic Lean-Agile Solution Teams when possible

    3. Let decoupled value streams operate at different paces in PI planning events

    Phase 3: Organize around products and start Agile budgeting

    1. Align autonomous value streams to stakeholders
    2. Implement Agile Budgeting and Lean-Allocation

    Phase 4: Guided Continuous Improvement

    SAFe’s Inspect and adapt focuses on how well ARTs achieve their objectives.

    Lean and flow thinking suggests focusing on removing constraints and lowering delays between steps

    Methods are provided to:

    • Improve teams, use BLASTs and ART formation
    • Improve workflow
    • Improve planning/flow methods

    I offer services on how to improve SAFe adoptions.

    I offer two services on how to improve SAFe adoptions with Lean-Agile methods:

    • Two-hour private seminar on the general approach
    • Daily consulting on improving SAFe adoptions


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