A couple of days back I was talking to a colleague about scaled agile, and the comment was "SAFe big picture diagram on scaled agile framework site is scary with information overdose".
At first I just laughed at that comment, and then later, when I thought about this a bit deeper I thought maybe my colleague was right. I mean if I take all my knowledge out of my brain and look at that diagram to begin with, then probably I would feel the same. I have been following SAFe versions and their progression from the very beginning and thus, it seems a natural progression and advancement. Dean Leffingwell and the team at Scaled Agile has been tremendous in improving the overall completeness of the framework to the current version of 4.6
So, if we try and understand SAFe in layman terms and try and keep that big picture diagram out of the equation, how can I explain SAFe? It seems a challenging task, so let me give it a try..
So, the obvious question first - Why SAFe? Whats wrong with other Agile methodologies?
Well nothing is wrong with Agile at all, its perfectly fine. Actually, SAFe is built on the principles and the agile manifesto and its agility comes from them. Agile needed extension of sorts as it was not a complete end to end methodology, for example it tells you how to manage a single or a couple of agile teams, but it does not really marry up the DevOps and Lean aspects wit it. Yes, its true that you can apply them by doing some first-aid kind of treatment.
For me, this is the exact thing which SAFe solves. SAFe is built on 3 primary bodies of knowledge.
Lean Product Development.
These three things make SAFe Deep, Broad and Scalable. So it actually means that now SAFe becomes a framework which is not restricted or seen inapt for other departments of the organisation. This is a framework which can be applied on any scale, for all departments and with multiple levels of configuration. This framework actually focusses on Enterprise Grade organisations where we have to work with more than 100+ people and alignment is required between enterprise level strategies and team level sprint goals.
What does "Scale" mean? Does it has an impact on roles of people?
Yes, scaled agile brings changes to the entire eco system of an enterprise. You would need help of SPC (Certified SAFe Program Consultants) to drive this transformation in your enterprise. Sometimes, you can have more than one to help the transformation. It has 4 levels defined and at each level, the complexity of implementation increases.
Large solution level
Team level SAFe is the most basic and essential configuration. This is the closest SAFe gets to the pure Agile methodology. There are variations and improvements here too, but still this is where you still see 2 week iterations and usual cadence based stuff. Then we go to the program level and here you see all the roles scaled up in their responsibilities and areas of focus. Scrum Master Role is scaled to Release Train Engineer. Product Owner role gets scaled up to Product Management. Scrum Teams get scaled to Agile Release trains (sometimes referred as "team of teams"). Individual team backlogs are derived from the program backlog.
It is worth mentioning here, that scaled agile framework is not about a single teams agility. Usually we observe that organisations allow some of the technical teams to work in a Scrum environment and claim that they are agile. I love to call this agile adoption pattern as "Water - Scrum - Fall", where all the planning of the project happens in a very traditional way (usually takes months to get the project sow), requirement gathering, elaboration and development happens using scrum and final testing (system assurance and user acceptance) still happen as big falls with the whole software.
Move away from Water - Scrum - Fall
Scaled Agile breaks this pattern and actually proposes the Agile practices for the entire organisation for all departments involved in the enterprise. There are practices available even for Human resource departments, PMO, recruitment and overall budgeting and planning using which the entire enterprise can be Agile and make huge savings and benefits from this methodology.