The scaled agile framework (SAFe) helps larger organizations manage the challenges they face when practicing agile. The scaled agile framework was first introduced in 2011 by software industry guru Dean Leffingwell in his book Agile Software Requirements. The framework details a set of workflow patterns for implementing agile practices at an enterprise scale. This is achieved by guiding roles and responsibilities, planning and managing work, and establishing certain values that large organizations must uphold.
Understanding the scaled agile framework
One of the key strengths of the scaled agile framework is its ability to promote the alignment and successful collaboration of multiple agile teams. It is not a single methodology. Instead, it provides a broad knowledge base of proven best practices.
Some core values and principles of the scaled agile framework
- Alignment – SAFe requires that all employees understand the goals of the business and collectively move toward achieving them. Importantly, the flow of information runs upward and downward in a timely manner. This is in stark contrast to the traditional top-down or hierarchical approach.
- Built-in quality – all teams operating under SAFe principles must never sacrifice quality for agility. Practices that increase quality output should be incorporated into five key dimensions: flow, architecture and design quality, code quality, system quality, and release quality.
- Program execution – teams must be able to routinely execute high-quality programs that are aligned with company values.
- Apply systems thinking – large solutions invariably have many interconnected parts in vast organizations. Here, solutions are defined as products, services, or systems delivered to an internal or external customer. Team members should understand how their role fits into the bigger picture. This can be achieved by considering three key areas: the solution itself, value streams, and the enterprise building the system.
- Take an economic view – everyone must understand the economic impact of project delays and act accordingly. Operating within lead budgets and developing an understanding of economic trade-offs are a good place to start.
- Limit work in progress (WIP) and manage queue lengths – reducing work in process gives key stakeholders a more holistic understanding of project development. Here, achieving flow through maximizing throughput is the priority. This entails limiting the prevalence of overlapping work and the amount of work tackled at a given time. Work should also be carried out in smaller batch sizes and be less complex.
Strengths and weaknesses of the scaled agile framework
The most obvious strength of the scaled agile framework is that it allows large businesses to have the best of both worlds. In other words, they can tap into the power of agile and efficient software development while still maintaining centralized, enterprise-level decision making.
The framework also delivers benefits in project alignment. Alignment can sometimes waver in agile environments when developers lose sight of broader company objectives. Centralized decision making again comes to the fore by ensuring that strategic objectives remain a key focus during product development.
Perhaps ironically, SAFe tends to add layers of oversight and administration that many large organizations are trying to negate.
With administrative roles assigned for multiple projects, some argue that developers have little of the freedom or flexibility that characterizes agile environments.
The “bigger picture” thinking of SAFe also leads to longer planning cycles and fixed roles within development cycles. Again, this contravenes agile development principles around delivering short sprints to bring products to market quickly. Broadscale thinking also hinders the creation of continuous loops that are important in ensuring quality at every step of the process.
- The scaled agile framework was developed to help large organizations bring better products to market in a timely fashion.
- The scaled agile framework is based on several values and principles that help project teams in large or complex workforces collaborate effectively.
- The scaled agile framework gives large organizations greater access to agile project development while maintaining centralized decision making. However, the effectiveness of this decision making when paired with agile principles is questionable.
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