A SAFe Dialogue

I want to write a few words about SAFe.  It’s been a hot topic but, now, it’s on fire.

When I returned from SAFe class, there were definitely pieces about it which gave me cause for concern.  Mostly, they were around points made in the training and how they would manifest in the hands of someone who was not experienced to an inexperienced audience.  For example, there was guidance on a Scrum Master ratio of 1:4 (teams).  The ratio may be possible when you have teams who are high-performing but, not at all appropriate for new teams starting out.  Anway, following my training, I worked with my first Release Train and the experience was powerful.  Watching the teams come together to collaborate with their Product Management, Leadership and other Services there to work with them and ensure the “tracks” stayed clear was, frankly, a sight to behold.

There’s a risk of any framework not working well and it’s not the framework that makes it risky.  It’s people.  People make frameworks and processes work.  The buying of any framework is also risky because of people salespeople.  The person selling SAFe has an obligation to represent more than just the framework.  SAFe is Agile at scale which means there are cultural and tactical elements.  To get the results organizations want they must pay attention to and work on both.

I don’t believe Dean Leffingwell set out to take people out of the equation or diminish Agile in any way.  I don’t believe he has executed the launch and adoption of SAFe to take focus away from the people either.  Possibly, there could be language added in the abstracts to speak more to the culture or people aspects but, the consultants who are out there training it have roots in Agile and I trust in them to maintain, teach and strike the right balance. I also trust in them to recognize that frameworks are guidelines and there’s no one-size-fits-all implementation.  Just as with the implementation of Scrum, there’s give and take at first and work continues to get as close as possible within the constraints that exist….until they don’t any longer.

I would rather some c-level person see the SAFe framework and give Agile a go than not.  I’m also glad there are people out there who are courageous enough to post their thoughts in order to get a constructive dialogue going.  Also, can’t we all just get along while having constructive disagreements?

5 thoughts on “A SAFe Dialogue

  1. Good thoughts, Valerie! Thanks for sharing. I too had some reservations during SAFe training such as the Scrum Master-to-team ratio you mentioned, and the hardening sprints among others. That said, I’ve been encouraged by the commitment of Dean and Scaled Agile Inc to continually improve the SAFe framework based on feedback from the field.

    Also, thanks for the call to respectful discourse in the community. I’m with you 100%. Flame throwing, ad hominems, and other debate-by-distraction tactics do not add value, take our eye off the actual content of the message, and set a poor example for what’s acceptable behavior in our community and in the world of software development generally. It’s disconcerting to see this behavior persist in the community. It weakens our own philosophical underpinnings and message – either we care about people and building humanizing systems of work or not. If we do, let’s stop personally attacking each other and promoting the tabloid-style messages of those who do.

    Who knows, we just might realize changes to the world of work a heck of a lot faster!

    • Hi Josh, I wouldn’t dismiss the outrage of some of the leaders in the agile field so lightly. These are the ones who spoke up. Others – and I can tell you there are many – don’t for exactly what you note here – respect and the bad taste flaming leaves in your mouth. However, might they be outraged for a reason? If so, do you know what that might be?

      For a community that was founded on “people over tools and process” there is little in SAFe for that focuses on people, and a huge tool vendor in the arena. These things just don’t add up. There are good people like you and Valerie. And there are others just in it for the profit.

  2. Hear, hear! This is the point I keep trying to make over and over again when people mistake one part of SAFe – even if it’s the “Big Picture” – with everything Dean envisioned for a successful Enterprise Agile solution at scale. You can take any one aspect of any tool or process and it will fail you if you don’t understand it correctly. This is why expert facilitators – Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches, Release Train Engineers, etc. – are so vitally important even after all these years.

  3. Hi Valerie,
    thanks for this post. A lot of the recent discussions about SAFe seem to be from people who do not have any experience with SAFe at all (see Ken’s last blog post about that topic). I really understand that there are valid concerns about SAFe and I also acknowledge that SAFe has it’s own specific risk profile. Still I believe there is much value in that framework and in the end it is always the people and their culture that matters (see http://www.agilerescue.de/is-safe-unsafe-my-thoughts/).

  4. Quote:
    “Imposing an agile process from the outside strips the team of the self-determination which is at the heart of agile thinking.” -Martin Fowler, 2006, the “Agile Imposition” blog post

    The era of mandating Agile and mandating specific Agile practices is probably over. The new wave is probably based on sociology and invitation, rather than methodology and mandates.

    SAFe, Dad, MOM, YourFramework, Scrum, FrameworkDuJour and Kanban are all perfectly OK, provided the people who do the work get a legitimate INVITATION to discuss with everyone else….

    a) …what the business problems to solve actually are, and
    b) …what Agile techniques and tools might actually help, and
    c) …what experiments are next, to see what can actually work.

    If the folks are invited into that wider conversation, and invited to help write the story about solutions, and encouraged to experiment, great. Otherwise, YOU ARE ISSUING A MANDATE which we know does not get great results.

    “… imposing agile methods introduces a conflict with the values and principles that underlie agile methods.” -Martin Fowler, 2006, the “Agile Imposition” blog post

    Mandate-of-practices is the culprit here, no any one framework. The mandate-of-Agile-practices wave is likely peaking right now. It’s hard to see right now, but it is probably over. The results are in and they are not great. The next wave is based in the sociology of INVITATION. The next wave puts people first, rather than practices.

    Open Agile Adoption is a sociological technique that uses invitation instead of mandates to get a good and lasting Agile adoption. It focuses on people, THEN practices. It incorporates Open Space, game mechanics, storytelling and most importantly, the passage-rite concept as described in cultural anthropology. The Open Agile Adoption technique can be used at any time to improve Agile adoption results. It’s based on the hypothesis that engagement & good results are correlated, and that ENGAGEMENT is the name of the name. Anyone can use it for free, get good results now, improve it, and make it better.

    “So I hope I’ve made clear that imposing agile methods is a very red flag. ”
    -Martin Fowler, 2006, the “Agile Imposition” blog post

    Related Links:
    Agile Imposition (Martin Fowler) http://martinfowler.com/bliki/AgileImposition.html
    Mandated Collaboration http://newtechusa.net/agile/the-recipe-for-botched-agile-adoptions/
    Open Agile Adoption http://www.OpenAgileAdoption.com
    Gaming Happiness http://www.GamingHappiness.com

    Daniel Mezick

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