Essential SAFe®

Many organizations are approaching SAFe® cafeteria-style: adopting some practices and principles and leaving other — generally more technical — ones out. While it’s true that SAFe® is designed to be a flexible framework, it is also designed as a system, which requires a few basic components to be functional and effective.

This driving desire for simplicity encouraged the creators of the Scaled Agile Framework® to develop the concept of Essential SAFe® — a lightweight but comprehensive version of SAFe® that will still ensure sustainable success. Read to learn the essential elements of any SAFe® system.

Essential SAFe®

Lean-Agile Principles

At the heart of any SAFe® Agile transformation is a holistic adoption of Lean-Agile principles. Lean-Agile principles provide a mental model that enables sustainable delivery, improvement, and growth across the enterprise.

Principles like Deliver Fast by Managing Flow and Optimize the Whole enable the entire organization to function from the same mindset, based on the same set of values. These values enable continuous improvement and encourage respect across the enterprise, two critical components of any successful transformation. Click to learn more about Lean principles and how Lean and Agile work together.

Lean-Agile Leaders

Implementing SAFe® involves introducing new practices, activities, and principles — and to do so successfully, teams need to understand the vision driving the change. Cultural shifts are never easy -- but leaders well-versed in Lean-Agile principles can provide guidance, structure, and vision when it is needed most. 

Lean-Agile leadership needs to come from the very top — it’s up to executives to set the tone for the transformation and demonstrate effective leadership by example. Learn about Lean leadership from LeanKit co-CEO Jon Terry here.

Agile Release Trains and Agile Teams

One of the essential elements of SAFe® is the basic structure for organizing teams around value delivery; this begins with the ART (Agile Release Train). 

In SAFe®, the Agile Release Train is the primary value construct at the program level. It’s a self-organized assembly of teams that works together to plan, execute, and measure the impact of product solutions.

ARTs are organized around an organization’s primary value streams, and are made up of Agile teams. They work toward a continuous flow of incremental releases of value (defined as customer value), in a timebox called a Program Increment (more on this later).

Cadence of Value Delivery

In Essential SAFe®, Agile teams apply Scrum and/or Kanban practices to frequently deliver fully integrated increments of value. To enable a more proactive approach to solution development, SAFe® Agile teams rely on a steady cadence of value delivery to receive and incorporate feedback from customers as quickly as possible. Using timeboxes allows SAFe® organizations to synchronize efforts across teams and ensure consistent alignment with customer needs.

Program Increment Planning

A Program Increment is the largest plan-do-check-adjust (PDCA) learning loop in SAFe®. It’s a cadence-based interval for building and testing the value of a system increment. PI planning is a face-to-face planning event with a standardized agenda where teams use the organization’s Vision to plan their work for the next PI.

System Demonstration (Demo)

Held at the end of each iteration, the system demo is the primary measure of ART progress. It’s a demonstration of the system being built in that ART, and is the primary means for gathering immediate, ART-level feedback.

Inspect and Adapt Workshop

This is a significant event held at the end of each PI, designed as a regular time to reflect, collect data, problem solve, and take action on improvement actions needed to increase the velocity, quality, and reliability of the next Program Increment.

IP Iteration

Most organizations adopting Lean/Agile practices are doing so with one goal in mind: faster, more sustainable value delivery. Since the Program Increment is a primary driver of value delivery, it’s tempting for organizations to jump from PI to PI to ensure a constant flow of value delivery.

Of course, with every Agile team relentlessly focused on value delivery, that leaves little time to come up for air and discuss improvement, innovation, and growth. This is why the Innovation and Planning Iteration — a regularly scheduled, cadence-based time for important, growth-minded activities that are difficult to fit into a continuous, incremental value delivery system — is important. The IP iteration ensures that innovation and thoughtful planning are built into every enterprise system.

Critical Roles

There are several key roles that must be performed in order to maintain a healthy SAFe® organization. Project Management, Release Train Engineers, and System Architects and Engineers provide technical authority, and encourage a healthy, effective development process. Product Owners and Scrum Masters help teams deliver on their objectives. SAFe® views the Customer as part of the Value Stream, and relies on feedback from the customer throughout the entire solution development process.

Architectural Runway

When Agile was being used almost exclusively by software development teams, the practice of Emergent Design — an evolutionary approach to discovering and extending design only as necessary to implement the next step -- was an excellent way to maintain agility and focus. 

As Agile practices matured and spread across enterprises, it became apparent that emergent design could not sufficiently or effectively support the complexity of enterprise-level system development. More intentional architecture was needed — to pave the way for supporting upcoming customer needs by building in key technical capabilities.

Together, intentional architecture and emergent design create the architectural runway needed to create and maintain large-scale solutions. Relying upon an architectural runaway enables organizations to keep program velocities high, while avoiding the downfalls of trying to implement emergent design at scale: Poor solution performance, bad economics, and slower time to market.

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