Common Obstacles/Questions to Implementing SAFe


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Nowadays, building new solutions for a volatile and uncertain world is a complex endeavor. Why? Because, in our world today, it’s not clear what solutions will be built, due to the ever-changing environment we live in.

One of the answers to dealing with such complexity and constant change is working in an agile manner.

The Age of Agile

Agile is a process that helps teams provide quick and unpredictable responses to the feedback they receive. This creates opportunities to assess a project’s direction during the development cycle and encourages accountability and teamwork from each team member. The ultimate goal of agile project management is to quickly respond to customer needs and market changes.

One of the most difficult elements of the Agile philosophy is that of scaling. This is because agile has been designed to work with a team consisting of 7-10 people. However, complex large solutions can’t be built with just one agile team. Therefore, the question becomes, ‘how can an organization align their agile teams and scale?’

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is the de facto standard to promote alignment, collaboration, and delivery across large numbers of agile teams within a large organization.

The core idea of lean is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. The ultimate goal is to provide value to the customer through a perfect value creation process that has zero waste.

It sounds great, right? Yes, but even when the team has the highest intentions, they can experience conflicts to interpret SAFe®. This ultimately leads to high delays in SAFe® practical implementations.

Questions that individual trying to implement SAFe are asking are ones such as:

Can I really change Leadership and Employee Behaviors?

Agile transformation requires staff and structures to be ready and willing to transform.

However, staff can be ready to change software practices but not necessarily ready and willing to adopt a particular framework.

Many companies have tried multiple frameworks and because they may not have been successful, they decide to give up. There has been evidence that as frameworks are implemented, particularly multiple times, the development teams get frustrated and may oppose new framework adoption. This is true on a team level and all the way up to the leadership within the company.

In addition, large-scale frameworks such as SAFe tend to explain their structures and processes in a theoretical way. This means that they provide little guidance on how organizations can assess their overall readiness to undertake a large-scale agile transformation process. Because of this, executives may sense a lack of readiness and they don’t have any mechanism to clearly identify their issues.

To ease up some of this worry and doubt within organizations, SAFe is one of the earliest to focus on leadership training.

If you want to find which leaders will make the change or are at least open to it take a look and find a training by SAFe. Then provide it to your leadership team as an opt-in activity. Go to that training and see who attends and who doesn’t. Those who want to attend are more likely to have a growth mindset that is well aligned with Agile values.

Leaders need to be open to new approaches to their own behaviors. These trainings will alter not just the impact a leader is trying to make, but their words and body language as they perform their day to day activities.

How can compliance be achieved and proven to regulators?

When developing security and safety into products for markets such as IoT, industrial, medical, automotive, avionics, and defense, we are faced with an unacceptable social or economic cost of failure. Most of these developments are subject to regulatory or industry compliance requirements, such as FDA CPT 11, IEC 62 304, Automotive Spice, etc.

However, Software Developers and the other people building these cyber-physical systems shouldn’t have to worry about compliance. But the important thing is that as they follow their processes they will automatically be compliance with these various requirements.

Historically these regulatory and compliance guidelines have assumed a waterfall, phase gate approach to product development.

So, can lean-agile practices using SAFe be applied in these environments? Definitely!

SAFe has the built-in hooks for a company to stay compliant within their processes. Being agile is high compliance industries such as MedTech or Automotive is still possible.

To satisfy compliance standards, organizations must demonstrate that their systems meet the intended purpose without causing harm. They must also have the objective evidence required to prove conformance to those standards. An organization’s Quality Management System (QMS) defines policies, processes, and procedures that ensure development activities and outcomes comply with all relevant regulations and provide the artifacts required to prove it.

This means those who want the benefits of Lean-Agile development (faster time to market and higher quality to name a few) will typically have to evolve a Lean QMS.

Products, such as Applied SAFe, created mappings to various reference models like CMMI, Automotive SPICE 3.0, IEC 62304, CTR-180 (FDA) and others. Therefore, as a company, you can be agile, efficient and compliant to regulatory requirements within organizational processes and even in your tailored instances of Portfolio, VS, Programs, and Teams.

Overall, SAFe helps organizations improve their regulatory compliance while delivering value with higher quality, greater predictability, and faster time to market. Continually addressing compliance concerns is one of the eight practices of SAFe’s Business Solution and Lean Systems competency.

Can I configure and tailor SAFe to our needs?

There have also been questions as to how SAFe can be configured and tailored specifically to the needs of a company.

SAFe is not a one-size-fits-all framework. It does have the ability to be tailored and configured to the needs of each company.

Within the latest version of the framework, SAFe focuses on four configurations of SAFe — Essential SAFe, Portfolio SAFe, Large Solution SAFe and Full SAFe. Essential SAFe is the primary configuration and the foundation on which everything else is built. It provides a starting point for implementing SAFe and describes the most critical elements needed to realize the majority of the framework’s benefits. Only after this foundation is in place should the other three configurations of SAFe be considered.

Overall, the SAFe approach to software development is useful to companies producing or releasing products on a large scale. It enables sales and marketing to estimate release dates, finance to consider budget and funding, and it puts the stakeholders/customers at ease to be able to see further into the future than three weeks, even at a coarse level.

And always remember, as humans we do not do things just for the sake of doing. We all have an intrinsic motivation that drives us to change. In a transformation, we demand a lot of our organization and team members. The transformation team must build up such intrinsic motivation for team members to change.

Proven Successes of Implementing SAFe

There have been many proven success stories from companies that have implemented SAFe within their organization. Companies such as Sony, Hewlett Packard, Fitbit, Capital One Bank, and Cisco have all implemented the Scaled Agile Framework and have been major improvements in doing so. You are actually able to view the Case Studies from these companies on the website of SAFe.

Let’s dive into some of these success stories.

The PlayStation Network, which is a part of Sony Interactive Entertainment implemented SAFe within their division. They began in early 2014, engaged a SAFe coach and began with the 2-day Leading SAFe® training for managers. This, as we mentioned earlier, is crucial to get the buy-in from leadership and have them fully understand what SAFe means.

After 5 years of following the framework, they have full transparency within the organization with better coordination and clearer priorities. They have been able to save $30 Million in savings and delivered double the value compared to before practicing SAFe.

View the full case study here.
Cisco IT is constantly looking for new ways to go faster and be more simple. Because of this Cisco Cloud and Software, IT decided to adopt more Agile development and go SAFe.

Their major goal was to move away from waterfall and replace periodic major releases with continuous delivery of new features. By moving to SAFe they had a 16% drop in the defect rejected ratio and 40% decrease in critical and major defects. They also had improved employee satisfaction by eliminating the need for after-hours work and reducing meetings/calls.

View the full case study here.

What is the single biggest challenge in moving to SAFe in your opinion? Why? Add your comment below.

Renata Sandor
Renata Sandor is a Marketing Director and has a Masters degree in Public Relations and Advertising from DePaul University. Her expertise in marketing has afforded her the opportunity to become a marketing expert for startups and small businesses.


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