While there are various Agile scaling approaches to choose from, we discuss why the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is your best bet for business transformation.
While Agile isn’t new, as organizational landscapes change to become more efficient and cost-effective in product delivery, the framework has become a buzzword and something imperative for companies to focus on for measurable results. At some point, many organizations have implemented Agile for a team or department with success.
When it’s time to expand your company’s Agile framework from a few self-organizing IT teams to the entire organization, business leaders may need guidance on scaling. Organizations and enterprises are complex, so you shouldn’t lightly make the decision about what method to use in scaling.
In this article, we review a few well-known frameworks and explain why some companies choose the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) to leverage lean strategies and realize the benefits of Agile.
Three Main Agility Scaling Approaches
There are several accepted approaches to scaling Agile. While each methodology focuses on different aspects of agility, each will help your organization transform its business practices to achieve its goals through operational optimization. There are three main frameworks:
- Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) – Generally described as a light framework, LeSS scales Agile through applying Scrum’s principles — like fast feedback, quick innovation, continuous improvement, rapid adaptation to change, and others that deliver products in short cycles — across teams.
- Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) – Focused on aligning teams on a product at scale with more defined roles to cover management areas.
- Disciplined Agile (DA) – This framework is considered a “people first,” hybrid approach to team organization for those already using Agile. A lightweight approach, DA shines a light on “what” and the tools to make it happen but leaves the “how” to the organizational leaders.
There are other scaling frameworks, such as:
- Scrum@Scale (SaS) – This model is less tested and documented, making it less suitable for an enterprise
- Nexus – This is a scaled Scrum approach with up to nine Scrum teams working to deliver a product
- The Spotify model – This model isn’t a framework, but the company’s views on scaling
- Enterprise Kanban/Portfolio Kanban – This is a customer satisfaction management method.
Out of these options, we recommend SAFe. SAFe defines the set of roles to cover concerns such as architecture, product management, release management and so on. LeSS is much more minimal, only adding the notion of a product owner hierarchy to the standard Scrum roles. While LeSS and the Portfolio Kanban offer the least overhead, they do not provide pragmatic how-tos for your entire organization and enterprise agility.
The Portfolio Kanban approach is also less inclusive than SAFe. SAFe has several Kanban systems, including portfolio Kanban systems and all other aspects of approaches to business and delivery agility. For agility to work, the entire enterprise needs to be agile, therefore, the overhead aspect is a moot point.
What is SAFe?
In use for a decade, SAFe is a proven, integrated framework with values, principles, practices and competencies for achieving agility at scale. SAFe has gone through numerous updates and improvements to become what it is today – the world’s leading framework for business agility.
SAFe defines a comprehensive set of roles to cover concerns such as architecture, product management, release management, portfolio management and other product focus areas within your organization. By aligning cross-functional Agile teams around value rather than departments or silos, leading enterprises can quickly meet changing customer needs.
Why SAFe Over Other Methods?
SAFe is a comprehensive and time-tested scaling method. While most, if not all, frameworks provide the key steps to scale, they don’t offer in-depth guidance on implementation. SAFe supplies both strategic and tactical recommendations with guidance on how to adopt it.
SAFe has the flexibility to meet all your Agile at scale needs. Like the simple and small-scale Agile team options found in LeSS or Nexus, you can use SAFe’s essential configuration to meet those needs. Business leaders also can implement SAFe as a mid-sized company solution with lightweight management, similar to LeSS, and on a large enterprise-scale like LeSS-Huge.
SAFe is a Framework You Should Customize
Opponents argue that SAFe is too rigid and prescriptive, adding unnecessary complexity to scaling and that users can’t easily adapted it to specific environments compared to another framework. I recommend SAFe as a pragmatic approach for any size organization and recognize that it offers many customizable implementation options.
SAFe is a framework with options – not a prescriptive blueprint, and you do not need to implement it by the book. Leveraging the power of Scaled Agile Framework helps companies make quicker decisions, communicate more effectively, streamline operations and stay focused on the customer. The bottom line: You can apply and customize it in different organizations with varying levels of Agile maturity.
A Partner in Scaling Agility with SAFe
Enabling agility at scale is challenging. When organizations introduce SAFe, they introduce new values, events, artifacts, roles and guidelines. While beneficial, it increases complexity initially, which can bring its own barriers to success.
To avoid introducing more challenges to an organization and because the amount of information can be overwhelming, SAFe is best implemented with the help of certified experts or coaches who understand its intricacies and nuances. This partner can customize the path for the changing organization to optimize for successful outcomes.
Your implementation partner can also help your organization effectively scale SAFe through assessments, which can determine where to start, guide the creation of a vision and customized roadmap for scaled agile, and implement continuous improvement approaches. For example, we recently worked with a financial institution struggling to adhere to the SAFe framework. A lack of buy-in created resistance to change, undermining the organization’s SAFe success.
With our partnership and support, the organization identified barriers, simplified the scaling process and applied a practical approach, ultimately enabling the institution’s success. When teams took ownership of SAFe, they became more engaged and aligned with the vision.
Is Your Organization Ready?
SAFe is one of a number of methods for scaling agility within your organization. Before scaling it enterprise wide, it’s important to have a team or department successfully using Agile and to know the signs that your organization is ready for the changes SAFe will bring. When your employees are ready, and everyone is aligned, it will make scaling a positive experience.