SAFe Program Consultant Training – Review

I want to give some perspective on SAFe and the training that I have been attending these last few days.  The training itself is not actually over, but we are very near the end.  Just one day left, but it is dominated by the SPC exam and open Q&A on advanced topics.  In other words, we have covered the essence of SAFe.

Ad Hoc, Pragmatic and Transformative

When I think about organizations or departments trying to become Agile enterprises, I generally categorize those efforts into three approaches.

The “Ad Hoc” approach is typified by a grassroots movement or an executive decreeing “be Agile” with no one really knowing what that means.  A lot of organizations have some teams in this condition – they try Scrum, try some other Agile-ish things, and have modest successes.  When the enterprise is large enough, these ad hoc approaches reach a natural limit of effectiveness before they become severely blocked by organizational considerations.  Then, the leadership of the organization must turn to systematic approaches to becoming an Agile enterprise: the Pragmatic approaches or the Transformative approaches.

The “Pragmatic” approach acknowledges the difficulty of change, particularly for those in middle management.  There is still a deep acknowledgement of the Agile values and principles, but the pragmatic part is to say that the organization will take quite a long time to adopt those values and principles end-to-end, top-to-bottom.  These pragmatic approaches typically have low risk and good results.  SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) falls into this category along with DAD (Disciplined Agile Delivery) and possibly others that I’m not aware of.

The “Transformative” approach acknowledges the deep nature of Agile as a cultural transformation that can be done quickly when there is urgency to do so.  There is still an acknowledgement that Agile can be difficult for many people as it requires a change in mindset and deep habitual behaviours.  These approaches are transformative because they require all protagonists in the enterprise to be open to this deep and fast change to a new culture.  LeSS (Large Scale Scrum) and RAP (Real Agility Program) are both systematic transformative frameworks.

SAFe, as a pragmatic approach, has a number of excellent features that will help an organization accomplish its business and technology goals.

Scaled Agile Framework – Practical, Pragmatic, and Still Pure Agile

One big concern I had about SAFe, based on other people’s comments, was that it somehow was compromising the values of the Agile Manifesto.  I want to say clearly and unequivocally that SAFe is most certainly true to Agile.  This fact was demonstrated multiple times and in multiple ways throughout the training:

  • Explicit statements that SAFe is based on the Agile Manifesto.  At one point, Dean Leffingwell emphatically repeated several times that “we live or die by the Agile Manifesto!”
  • Clear examples of SAFe implementations making choices based on the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto.  It was common to talk about situations where SAFe ScrumXP teams, Agile Release Trains and the people involved made decisions based on “individuals and interactions”.
  • Practices and guidelines that implement the values and principles of Agile are pervasive throughout SAFe.  The Inspect and Adapt meeting, Program Increments, daily business collaboration with SAFe ScrumXP teams, customer collaboration through various forms of backlogs, reviews and demos, focus on simplicity and technical excellence with Architectural Runway, Test-Driven Development and other Agile engineering practices.
  • The instructors (not just Mr. Leffingwell) often mentioned their own philosophy of being flexible with the SAFe “framework” by making appropriate context-specific changes to the details.
  • Even participants in the class who have already started using SAFe in their organizations shared stories that clearly indicated a strong emphasis on the values and principles of Agility.

At the same time, SAFe manages to create a relatively simple interface with a traditional management organization.  This is critical and what makes it really effective as a pragmatic approach to enterprise agility.  For example, at the Agile Release Train level, there are nine roles identified (e.g. System Architect, Product Management, Business Owners).  The explicit acknowledgement and identification of these roles and how they interact with the SAFe ScrumXP teams through meetings, artifacts and other processes and tools helps an organization to map Agility at the staff level to traditional concepts at the middle-management level.  This interfacing is also pervasive throughout the SAFe framework and occurs at all levels of effort from individual team members up to high level business leaders.

Some people have grumbled about the complicated diagram as “proof” that SAFe can’t be Agile.  But a different way of looking at the diagram is that it is comfort for management.  I really appreciate this.  Back in 2004 and 2005 when I was consulting at Capital One on their first enterprise attempt at Agile, one of the coaches I was working with shared a story with me about the importance of comfort.  The project manager for an important project was very nervous that there was no Gantt chart in Agile.  At a personal level, she needed the comfort of having a Gantt chart to track the work of the team.  The coach for this project told the project manager “please, make your Gantt chart – just make sure that you let the team organize themselves without being disturbed to help you with the Gantt chart.”  Most Agilists are anti-Gantt.  This was a real eye-opener for me.  That project manager went on to gain confidence in the Agile team and was able to eventually discard the Gantt chart.

SAFe isn’t just a framework, it’s actually a scaffolding.  When you build an arch, you need a scaffold to keep everything in place until the keystone is in place.  In creating an Agile enterprise, you use SAFe as a scaffold to get you to Agility.

Lean, Agile and Leadership

This training has also spent a lot of time discussing Lean thinking, Lean product flow and Lean leadership.  SAFe asserts four principles of Agile Leadership:

  1. Take a systems view
  2. Embrace the Agile Manifesto
  3. Implement product development flow
  4. Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers

I like this list.  I might change the wording slightly, but in going through the details of what these mean, it is clear that if leaders could adopt these principles, every organization would be a much better place to work.

There is a fair amount of time spent on helping leaders make the shift in thinking from traditional “scientific management” to “Agile leadership”.  There are a lot of good reading references given in these discussions including “Five Dysfunctions of a Team”.  There is also a lot of time spent on value stream thinking including some great discussion exercises.

Organizational Structure in SAFe

SAFe does not define all the structures throughout the whole organization.  By design, it is not end-to-end, top-to-bottom.  It does define a structure for three levels of activity: the team level, the program level and the portfolio level.

At the team level, SAFe relies on a slightly modified version of Scrum and Extreme Programming (XP) that it calls SAFe ScrumXP.  As a Certified Scrum Trainer, I’m confident that the Scrum described is “good enough” to be legitimate Scrum even if there are small variations.  One example is in the idea of commitment.  Scrum espouses the value of Commitment.  In “old” versions of Scrum, the Scrum Team was required to commit to the work of the Sprint (the business scope).  SAFe keeps this concept.  However, if you look in the most recent version of the Scrum Guide, this concept is no longer present.  One thing that I think is absolutely fantastic is that several of the XP technical practices are required practices in SAFe: Test Driven Development, Continuous Integration, Pair Programming, User Stories, Acceptance Test Automation and Refactoring.  I wish that Scrum would get around to officially requiring these practices.  This set of canned answers is sometimes an irritant for Scrum folks, but the fact is that, again, middle managers are often made more comfortable by being provided with concrete answers.  And, in my not-so-humble opinion, SAFe is providing the right answers.  Since all this is at the Team level, middle managers are even more comfortable because they can tell all these staff-level people how to work.

At the program level, SAFe scales the basic concept of a Sprint up to a larger “Program Increment” (PI) concept.  The core concept that holds the program level together is the Agile Release Train which is based on a limit to the number of people who can work effectively in a social network (Dunbar’s number ? 150).  Again, SAFe is quite definitive about process at this level: Sprints are 2 weeks long and PIs are 5 Sprints long (10 weeks).  Timeboxing is explained effectively with the concepts of cadence and synchronization as a way to ensure predictability at the program level.  Unlike the simplicity of the Team level, the Program level in SAFe introduces a number of important connectors to transitional organizations.  This is done through defining several roles that have extremely close analogues to traditional roles (and even use a lot of the same names), and through other artifacts such as vision, roadmap, non-functional requirements, and features.  There are even a number of recommended metrics for evaluating the performance of the program (not the people).

At the Portfolio level, SAFe simplifies again somewhat in that there are no new aspects of cadence or synchronization introduced, and the number of defined roles and artifacts at this level is relatively small.  One important difference at this level compared to the Program and Team levels is the introduction of a Kanban approach used to feed “Program Epics” to the Agile Release Trains at the Program level.  At this level, Kanban is used to drive the flow of value, but there is not as much emphasis on continuous improvement here (although there is when SAFe discusses leadership).  At all three levels, there is a constant emphasis on the lean concept of focusing on value rather than cost.  This comes in many of the details, but may be a bit difficult for middle managers.  Fortunately, the Portfolio level  includes some excellent advice on working with budgets and allocating those budgets to business vs. technical needs and based on the effort required at the Program level with the Agile Release Trains.  SAFe recommends revisiting budgets every six months (I believe this is meant to be every 2 Product Increments) and is the only aspect of cadence and synchronization at the Portfolio level.

The Training

I’ll admit that overall I didn’t particularly enjoy the training.  I love SAFe.  As a trainer myself, I’m too critical perhaps.  Certainly, the training I deliver has evolved over ten years of work with lots and lots of feedback and mentorship.  However, in the Agile community, the overall standard for training has improved greatly over the last 5 years and I would love to see our three trainers who helped with this course improve their delivery.

There are a also some general comments about the training that I would like to make that are about personal preference.

First, I would prefer more small exercises that are experiential.  For example, there was a great deal of time spent on centralized vs. decentralized decision-making and leadership which could have been compressed greatly with a simple exercise like the “Command and Control Walking Simulation” which takes about 5 minutes to drive home the point unequivocally.  The first two days were largely lecture with a couple big exercises (both the lecture and the big exercises were generally good).

Second, the slides.  The slides.  The slides.  The slides… and more slides!!!  Too much by far.  And using the slides for lecture made it very difficult to stay on track for time with lots of slides missed or touched on only very briefly.  This is anxiety-inducing and boredom-inducing for me.  Some people like lots of slides, but most people don’t.

Third, not enough breaks for a 9 to 6 training session.  Usually just one break in the morning and one in the afternoon as well as a short lunch.  Two breaks and a longer lunch would have made it much more tolerable from a personal comfort level.  At one point on the third day I just had to take an extra break and I ended up missing about 30 minutes before I felt ready to come back.

Final Words

I’m happy I invested in this for both myself and for Travis.  We have learned a lot about SAFe, a little about Agile and Lean, and we are both excited about offering SAFe-related services to some of our clients.  At this point I am convinced that it is appropriate and good under some common (but not universal) conditions.

I will probably write several more articles about SAFe as I process the information and start to relate it to more specific aspects of Agile, Lean, organizations, management, leadership, productivity, and, of course, our own Agile Enterprise framework, the Real Agility Program. I’m excited and happy to see that the two frameworks are not competitive or exclusive in any significant way… more about that of course!

Try out our Virtual Scrum Coach with the Scrum Team Assessment tool - just $500 for a team to get targeted advice and great how-to information

Please share!
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Agile Management – Two Quick Links

First, I did a conference telecast today.  You can download the recording of the talk “Recession Proof Your Business with Agile Management“.

Second, Esther Derby has written a good article about what management needs to do to have a successful agile implementation.

Try out our Virtual Scrum Coach with the Scrum Team Assessment tool - just $500 for a team to get targeted advice and great how-to information

Please share!
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

ANN: Agile Software Engineering Practices training by Isráfíl Consulting

Isráfíl Consulting is finally prepared for the first series of its Agile Software Engineering Practices training courses. This series is offered in partnership with Berteig Consulting who are graciously hosting the registration process. Their team has also helped greatly in shaping the presentation style and structure of the course. The initial run will be in Ottawa, Toronto (Markham), and Kitchener/Waterloo.   

Topics covered will include Test Driven Development (TDD), testability, supportive infrastructure such as build and continuous integration, team metrics, incremental design and evolutionary architecture, dependency injection, and so much more. (This course won’t present the planning side of XP, but covers many other aspects common to XP projects) It makes a great complement for training in Agile Processes such as XP, Scrum, or OpenAgile. The overview slide presentation is available for free download from the Isráfíl web site.

The courses are scheduled for:

The course is $1250 CAD per student, and participants receive a transferrable discount of $100 CAD for other training with Berteig Consulting as a part of our ongoing partnership. I initially prototyped this course in Ottawa this December, and am very excited to see this through in several locales. Class size is limited to 15, so we can keep the instruction style more involved. The above schedules are linked to Berteig Consulting’s course system and have registration links at the bottom of the description. Locations are TBD, but will be updated at the above links as soon as they’re finalized.

A further series is planned for several US cities in March, and we’ll be sure to announce them as well.

Try out our Virtual Scrum Coach with the Scrum Team Assessment tool - just $500 for a team to get targeted advice and great how-to information

Please share!
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Crystal Clear – A Book on Small Teams (pt. 2)

Crystal Clear: Human-Powered Methodology for Small Teams - Book Cover

I recently started writing a book review on Crystal Clear: A Human-Powered Methodology for Small Teams by Alistair Cockburn. Check out the first part of my review. I have read Chapter 1 entitled Explained (View from the Outside). It was a very interesting chapter that set Crystal Clear as the answerer to Alistair Cockburn. It made many aspects of the Crystal family clear in my mind. I enjoyed the questions, and the answers were insightful and helped me to put the ideas into a whole picture.

At the moment I am reading Chapter 2 entitled Applied (The Seven Properties). Frequent Delivery, Reflective Improvement, and Osmotic Communication made sense to me and aligned somewhat to my own beliefs. When I started reading the fourth property, Personal Safety, certain parts seemed fine, while others set off warning bells. I believe that the purpose of any team is to progress. This is achieved through trust, respect and unity.

Cockburn says “Once personal safety and amicability are established, a useful, playful dynamic may emerge. People may wage competition with each other. They may argue loudly, even to the verge of fighting, without taking it personally. In the case where someone does take it personally, they sort it out and set things straight again.” – page 31.

The statements above concern me. Cockburn addresses trust by saying that people will not take it personally. Respect is lost because they “… May argue loudly, even to the verge of fighting”. I would be unable to say that I respect someone if I yell at them or even raise my voice. Now unity is completely destroyed. For some reason our society and many societies around the world not only condone competition, it is seen as a way to judge attributes of excellence in an individual. This is not a good sign for our progress towards unity in human civilization.

I agree that being polite and not stating one’s opinion is harmful for trust. However, it is preferable to use consultation instead of competition. Imagine that a team is encouraged to compete with itself to achieve better results. Would there not be feelings of resentment or heightened levels of stress? Now imagine a team that is encouraged to consult and raise the team together without focusing on individual success. Would not this team feel excited to be around each other? Would they become fast friends and grow as a unit? Would family members of the team be enthusiastic to be included in picnics and socials?

Now the big question:
What is better, individual success or team unity that add value to not only the team but all who interact with them?

I will continue to read this book and post my reviews. I find it interesting that this book has helped to see the confusion that is happening all around the world in terms of progress, success, and human development.

I welcome any comments on my posts.

Try out our Virtual Scrum Coach with the Scrum Team Assessment tool - just $500 for a team to get targeted advice and great how-to information

Please share!
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Crystal Clear – A Book on Small Teams

I have just started reading Crystal Clear: A Human-Powered Methodology for Small Teams by Alistair Cockburn. I was not too sure what this book would provide for me in the way of relevant learning.

I am intrigued that this work came out of years of experience by Alistair. This quote from the book “Crystal Clear does not aspire to be a “best” methodology; it aspires to be “sufficient,” in order that your team will shape it to itself and then actually use it.” gave me hope. I work on a small team and I wonder about which practices will best suit our situation. I also wonder how our team can use tools and processes then reflect on their usefulness to decide if we will continue their implementation.

I am interested in reading the whole book, but a little concerned that there will be too much techno-words used throughout. I have a background in business, marketing, and the web but not to the degree of the some of the other books that I have read.

What learning have you gained from working on small teams? Have any of you read this book? If so, did you gain any insights that would help my team to develop?

Try out our Virtual Scrum Coach with the Scrum Team Assessment tool - just $500 for a team to get targeted advice and great how-to information

Please share!
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Patterns of Agile Adoption by Mike Cohn

Mike Cohn has written an excellent article that covers a number of different options that can be taken when someone in an organization desires to implement an agile method.  These Patterns of Agile Adoptions are described as three sets of contrasting options:

  1. Start Small vs. Go All In
  2. Technical Practices First vs. Iterations First
  3. Stealth Mode vs. Public Display
Try out our Virtual Scrum Coach with the Scrum Team Assessment tool - just $500 for a team to get targeted advice and great how-to information

Please share!
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail