As larger organizations started adopting Agile approaches, they looked for framewok that supported scaling Agile. SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) is one of this framework. This article provides an overview of SAFe.
Author: Caroline Li
It would be an understatement to refer to the current business environment as challenging to businesses of all types and sizes. In this age of continuous innovation, ever-changing customer demands, and uncertain marketing techniques, markets change direction on a whim.
Consequently, only businesses that invest in practices and cultures that enable them to adapt quickly to changes and provide solutions to customer problems when they need them are able to compete.
Large and seasoned companies have traditionally had greater difficulty adapting to market changes compared to small companies and startups. This is mainly because there has not been a standardized agility platform that such companies can rely on to overcome rigidity and adapt to new market demands – until now.
What is SAFe Business Agility Framework?
The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is the most popular framework explicitly designed to provide the operating system for organizations to implement business agility. It is a constantly evolving framework designed and developed by Scaled Agile Inc. and focuses on seven core competencies of the lean enterprise.
Business Agility refers to the ability of a business to compete and prosper in the digital age by rapidly evolving to market changes. SAFe enables businesses to remain relevant and retain customers by exploiting emerging opportunities using innovative and digitally-backed business solutions.
The core competencies of the SAFe framework are designed to help organizations build leading products for an ever-changing market. It helps them define employee engagement and purpose in the organization and drive customer-centric innovation in a value-driven market. The framework links strategy and executions and shapes the organization’s scale language and culture practices.
The Core Competencies of SAFe Framework
The primary goal of SAFe is to help organizations improve their business agility by focusing on seven key areas. These are:
- Team and technical agility
- Agile product delivery
- Enterprise solution delivery
- Lean portfolio management
- Organizational agility
- Continuous learning culture
- Lean agile leadership
1. Team and Technical Agility
Business agility, according to the SAFe framework, begins with the team and technical agility – and specifically with the agile team.
An agile team consists of five to eleven members whose core responsibility is to define, build, test, and, depending on the industry, deploy value in short time boxes called iterations. The team uses agile methods such as scrum and kanban or a combination thereof.
Each iteration begins with an iteration planning event where the team plans what it can deliver. The product owner represents the customer on the team and provides guidance on what needs to be built.
The team meets to discuss the progress towards their goals every day in daily standups. At the end of each iteration, the team presents their work in an iteration review where they reflect on areas that need improvement before the next iteration.
2. Agile Product Delivery
Integrating agility into a product can be a big challenge to any medium to large organization. SAFe makes this process simpler by helping organizations adopt customer-centric approaches to product development. Whether the product is new or already in the market, SAFe’s methodology prioritizes customer experience and fast delivery.
Agile product delivery is made up of three dimensions:
- Customer Centricity and Design Thinking: This ensures that the product or service developed and released to market is feasible, desirable, sustainable, and viable. More importantly, it ensures that the product development decisions are made with customer interests and tastes at its core.
- Develop on Cadence: For an organization to improve its business agility, it must schedule the release of its products on demand. This means that all release sequences are tightly controlled regardless of the market uncertainty.
- Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) and DevOps: An agile business must be able to deliver customer-centric solutions at any point in the product development lifecycle when the need arises. The continuous delivery pipeline is the backbone of DevOps and defines the automation of every step in software development and delivery process.
3. Enterprise Solution Delivery
Enterprise solution delivery is the process large organizations use to develop, release, operate, and continuously improve software products. This agile competency has three dimensions and nine aspects that shape how a large organization incorporates sophisticated agile practices in its systems.
The three dimensions of enterprise solution delivery are:
- Solutions Engineering with Lean Systems: This uses Lean-Agile approaches to coordinate and align solution engineering. The practices are vital to the design, testing, execution, deployment, and decommissioning of organizational systems. It also helps the organization make the right procedural investments, such as public vs. private cloud systems.
- Coordination of Trains and Supplies: This dimension focuses on integrating value streams into the organization’s mission.
- Continuous Evolution: The goal of continuous evolution of live systems is to ensure that the development pipelines and existing systems remain at their optimal operation states at all times. This is critical to the organization’s capability to deliver value and solutions during and after a product’s aftermarket release.
4. Lean Portfolio Management
Portfolio management is a core aspect of SAFe. The framework adapts traditional portfolio management into a better Lean-Agile model to make it possible to view the overall products and services overview and compare the organization’s funding with its goals at a glance.
The Lean portfolio management system works based on three core processes:
- Agile Portfolio Operations: This covers the support and coordination of decentralized programs.
- Strategy and Investment Funding: Ensures that the organization’s portfolio is aligned with its strategy and investments.
- Lean Governance: Eliminates barriers and enables the oversight teams to run more efficiently by focusing on what is best for the customer and the organization.
5. Organizational Agility
Every organization must collect, analyze, and act on feedback to meet customer demands and adapt to market changes. The SAFe framework helps organizations become more agile by facilitating team-level and organization-level agility in how it processes both internal and external feedback.
There are three dimensions to organizational agility:
- Strategy Agility: This is the organization’s ability to adapt to dynamic market trends.
- Lean Business Operations: SAFe enables separate teams in the organization to adopt Lean principles and processes to deliver services and products that solve customer problems.
- Lean Thinking and Agile Teams: SAFe encourages individual members of teams and individual teams in the organization to embody and practice Lean-Agile methods.
6. Continuous Learning Culture
Every organization that strives to improve its business agility must invest in a continuous learning culture. This means everybody and every team in the organization must be open to new ideas, processes, technologies, and information. The SAFe framework itself, presently in its fifth version, is a good example of how a platform can leverage continuous learning to adapt and scale.
The framework advocates for continuous learning to improve business agility based on three dimensions:
- Culture of Innovation: The organization must encourage employees to be creative and think out-of-the-box to develop solution-driven products.
- Learning Organization: Individual employees must strive to learn to help the organization adapt and evolve.
- Relentless Improvement: Teams can become more agile by focusing on constant albeit small improvements of their processes, solutions, and products.
7. Lean-Agile Leadership
An organization can only improve its business agility when its management team is agile. When successfully implemented, SAFe’s Lean-Agile principles can guide an organization’s leadership to lead by example. It helps them understand the principles of modern business agility and provides the framework that is essential to shaping the mindsets and culture that encourages organization-wide agility.
Today’s businesses, particularly medium and large organizations, must be agile to compete with newer and smaller businesses and startups. The SAFe framework does a lot more than aligning business values with market demands, informing individuals and teams, and inspiring businesses to predict customer problems and develop solutions. It is an all-encompassing platform that guides every individual and team in a business organization towards business agility.
About the Author
Caroline Li completed her MSc in Economics at the University of Leeds in 2011, and has progressed through her career to become a freelance tech-writing consultant. In her spare time, she runs an art & yoga blog, cooks, travels and makes pottery.”