Definitive Guide to SAFe – Scaled Agile Framework
What is Scaled Agile Framework – SAFe?
The Scaled Agile Framework or SAFe is a template for scaling Agile principles and tools to
large organizations. SAFe is a framework meant to cover the entire organization. It provides guidance to work at enterprise Portfolio, Value Stream, Program, and Team levels.
Team Level using SAFe
The team level works very much like standard scrum although the teams can also work in kanban. At this layer we have an Agile Team which is cross functional and works together to deliver working systems every two weeks which are called an iteration. The content for the iteration is determined by a product owner who is in charge of the team backlog. The iteration starts with a planning meeting where the team decides what user stories they
can deliver by the end of the iteration. Each day the team meets to discuss their progress
and at the end of the iteration they demo the results to the product owner to make sure they had delivered what she had wanted. Then they get together to retrospect what they can improve for the next iteration before starting the cycle again with a new planning meeting. All of this is guided by a Scrum Master who make sure the team works smoothly within the process and that it keeps improving.
Program Level Using SAFe
The program level is very similar, we have a team comprised of multiple teams working to deliver a larger system together. This can range from 50 to 125 people. This team of teams is called an Agile Release Train or ART and it will also timebox its effort into Program Increments or PIs which are 5 iterations by default.
The content for each PI is determined by a Product Manager in the Program Backlog in the form of Features, and will provide most of the content for the Team Backlogs. The train is governed by an RTE or Release Train Engineer who acts as the train’s scrum master, ensuring it runs smoothly and remains on track. He is the Program Manager of the program level.
Each PI starts with a planning meeting in which all members of the teams get together to hear the vision and roadmap of the train and the features for the upcoming PI. Each team than plans what objectives they can achieve in this PI, while identifying dependencies with other teams on the train as well as risks. The teams commit to these PI Objectives as a group providing visibility to Business Owners and Customers of what they can expect in this
To make sure the train will meet its objectives, we have both a bi-weekly meeting of the scrum masters and the Release Train Engineer and a system demo at the end of every iteration. This is a demo of the integrated system which ensures that we don’t have one team running ahead but that the whole train is iterating together.
Since we want trains to run as fast as they can we need to provide adequate architecture and infrastructure. Each PI serves as the time to lay down the tracks for what we think we will need in order to achieve our goals in the following PI. This is called the Architectural Runway and is facilitated by the train’s System Architect.
We said each PI is five iterations long, but we’ve only planned four iteration. The final iteration is called an IP Iteration or Innovation and planning iteration. The innovation part is the time for the teams to engage in creative ideas, it’s the time for ship-it days or hackthons. The planning part is when we have time to do three things as a train: demo our accomplishments for the PI, maintenance for the train by retrospecting on how we can improve our collaboration in the next PI and finally plan our next PI together. The IP iteration also serves as en estimation guard band to make sure the teams deliver on their commitment.
Value Stream Level Using SAFe
The value stream level provides the means to coordinate ARTs who are building even larger solutions, which a single ART can’t deliver by itself. At this level we have Solution Management as the content authority, the Value Stream Engineer as the coach and guide and a Solution Architect to help ensure good architecture is used. The Value Stream runs on the same PI cadence as the ARTs and has planning, solution demo and inspect and adapt for cross-ART capabilities.
Portfolio Level Using SAFe
The Portfolio Level is different yet similar, Program Portfolio Management helps dictate direction for all underlying Value Streams, by deriving strategic themes from the enterprise strategy and allocating budgets to value stream to support these themes. They also manage cross Value Stream initiatives which impact several solutions in the form of Epics.
This was a quick explanation of what SAFe is and how is works. In order to succeed it is important to train leaders and teams in the new Lean-Agile mindsets and SAFe principles and practices of the new way of working and launch release trains in Project Management.