Monday, February 10, 2014

SAFe and Agile

Incase you don't know SAFe stands for Scaled Agile Framework.  It's a framework for scaling agile through an organization and it's controversial - why later.  Think of 20 teams working on multiple backlogs and multiple year projects.  The funding - the planning - the organization - the roles all of these things are where SAFe is meant to play.

I attended a 4 day course for SAFe certified consultants a while back and wanted to share my thoughts.  First of all, SAFe could very well be a RUP-like tool with the same negative results.  The 4 day training gives the student the ability (if passing a test) to roll out SAFe at an organization as a consultant including training and process consulting – hogwash.  

Some students could implement SAFe in a large organization. Despite experience in agile at the enterprise level, I personally feel uncomfortable in such a role without seeing SAFe in the works.  Mistakes could lead to organizational level disaster. On the other hand, having appropriate guidance on enterprise adoption can be very helpful in the right hands.

SAFe does talk about emergence, self organization, and a lot of the leadership dynamics, but in the context of company maximized profit and a push-top down mentality. Decisions made at higher organizational levels can be painful in the wrong hands when the decisions are not based on a thorough understanding of emergence.

It also breaks a lot of the ground rules of scrum through HIP sprints, multiple levels of product owner, multiple levels of scrum masters, and potentially long planning horizons.

The big questions I have about the process revolve around it’s overall focus on large, large projects.  Why do you need 50 teams on a project?  Why not make a lot of small projects?  Why plan out for a couple of years?  Can you decouple work so that dependencies among teams isn’t so much of an issue?  How do you tailor SAFe? 

These are all questions that weren’t answered in the class and, frankly, I don’t know the answers either.

Ultimately SAFe has merit as a starting point, but should be applied with caution – it can easily be implemented as a push style of management without having an understanding of agile itself.  Remember values over mechanics.  Agile in general could get an ugly name through SAFe or any other process being implemented through certified neophytes.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Thanks for sharing a few sober thoughts on SAFe in your blog. I think you have it exactly right that freshly minted SAFe certified consultants could do more harm than good. Certainly many in the Scrum community have been more opportunistic than effective in method dogma over the years. I am engaged in a transformation and rely on Drucker's wisdom as much as Leffingwell's view on change management and scaling agile practices. I would posit that SAFe may have several things right but some wrong too.