“Why do we need a framework to scale agile? What does scaling agile even mean? Is it just another money-making scheme? Is it just a vehicle for Leffingwell to make a name for himself?” These were the kind of comments I started making back in 2013 when I first heard of SAFe (I even found the acronym annoying – especially that small ‘e’). I didn’t like the sound of it and didn’t trust it either. You would be right if you described me as an aggressive skeptic.
However, I acknowledged that I had limited knowledge about the framework: I’d read a few blog posts and scanned a website, but not been on any of their training. I found it tough to argue from such a position of relative ignorance? So, last week, I went on a 2-day ‘Leading SAFe 4.0‘ course with Radtac.
Am I still a skeptic? I still believe that we should try not to ‘scale’ if we can: keeping teams small and independent makes most sense to me, but I will admit that SAFe makes some good points. So what are the pros and cons and when would it / would it not make sense to use SAFe?
I like SAFe because it …
- is applied across the whole organisation and demands buy-in from the very top
- applies a revolutionary change (which may reassure people that positive change is coming)
- is a plug ’n’ play framework/model (i.e. it is defined at quite a granular level, even down to the structure of certain meetings) which many organisations will find comforting
- is flexible and modular (e.g. you don’t need to take value stream level if size doesn’t deem it necessary)
- encourages team autonomy and localised budget control
- tries to bring alignment across the globe (especially through visualisations)
- tries to connect with suppliers and bring them into the system
- caters for org-wide architecture considerations
- dedicates a regular period for innovation and planning (about two weeks each quarter)
- encourages continuous learning and personal development
- highlights the failings of an organisation (e.g. if org doesn’t have a robust, defined strategy)
I don’t like SAFe because it …
- needs wide-scale adoption
- applies a revolutionary change (so will meet resistance)
- is (overly) complicated
- uses too much jargon (although this could be good if the organisation needs revolutionary change – and brings a single voice … although I’m not sure why they had to mess with hierarchy of stories: esp. epic being top level and story being so far down)
- tries to synchronise iterations
- needs the involvement of someone who has experience in SAFe to lead an implementation (and there aren’t that many people with the relevant experience)
- needs investment (emotional and financial)
- really needs co-location / amplifies the problems encountered with distributed teams (e.g. pulling everyone together for a 2-day PI planning meeting)
- encourages long-term roadmaps, planning and estimation (e.g. a 6-12 month plan with “reasonable fidelity”!)
- requires coordination of too many people
- encourages building up team sizes (shouldn’t we be focusing on de-scaling / removing dependencies and reliance?)
When might it make sense to use SAFe?
If you’re a large corporation, working in a heavily regulated industry, which focuses on a narrow range of products, then I concede that the pros might outweigh the cons for you. But, if you are a large organisation that has sub-divisions that can be kept independent, or medium-sized, then I’d encourage working out how to keep independent over employing SAFe. If you’re a small firm, don’t go there.
Am I still skeptical about the need for a scaling framework? I can see that some companies might benefit from SAFe, but would still start by challenging an organisation on why they thought they needed such a framework. SAFe does make some good points and I think every team could benefit from employing some of its suggestions (e.g. re autonomy, innovation, bringing suppliers into the system), but don’t think scaling is something we should encourage.
Will I take the SAFe exam and become SAFe certified? Sure (the cost was included in the course price). Will I renew it after 12 months (at the cost of $100)? Not sure: ask me in 12 months.
What do you think about SAFe? Have you implemented it in your organisation? What do you think the pros and cons are?