Playing it SAFe to thrive in the 21st century

The transition from traditional software development models towards agile and lean processes has been in full swing for some time. Businesses have seen the benefits of these new ways and want ways to use the same principles and frameworks more broadly. They recognise that while the 20th century was characterised by business stability, the 21st century requires businesses to be far more adaptable and able to change and pivot as new competition and changing circumstances emerge. That’s led them to search for ways to change how they are organised.

We are seeing a fundamental shift from technical agility to business agility.

The methods that were developed and used for decades were developed in a time of relative stability. But the waterfall approaches and their ilk don’t cut it in today’s world. The world is changing too fast. Customer expectations have changed – they expect organisations to deliver value far more rapidly and far more often than previously. We need new ways of doing business to achieve this.

If the focus is just technical agility, there is value but businesses don’t release technical solutions. They release holistic solutions. Business agility really is talking to having the entire organisation work together in alignment to be much more responsive to the ever-changing world so it can capitalise on opportunities as soon as they arrive.

Over the last decade the Scaled Agile Framework, or SAFe, has been evolving. With SAFe 5.0, which was released as a preview in September 2019 and formally made available in January 2020, the framework refocusses with a transition from technical agility to business agility.

SAFe 5.0 broadens the goal from technical agility to business agility by building a more explicit capability around customer centricity and design thinking. In addition, two new strategic competencies have been added to SAFe’s previous five competencies of the lean enterprise. The new “Organisational Agility” and “Continuous Learning Culture” competencies focus on the fundamental ability of an organisation to pivot and respond to ever changing markets and opportunities that emerge and continuously learning fast so they can keep up with the challenges and changing world.Agile and lean practices work well in relatively small teams. With up to a dozen people principally focused on software development, these methodologies and frameworks have delivered great results. But in an enterprise, you may have several teams that need to coordinate and work together. And there’s a desire to take these successful practices and integrate them into the rest of the business.

The customer was already always at the heart of the framework, but not as explicitly as it could have been. SAFe 5.0 is very exclusively focused on customer centricity, and design thinking.

SAFe has been around since 2011 and is the most mature framework for scaling agile in the enterprise. Larger organisations and businesses looking for an integrated solution to assist them from the team to the portfolio level are good candidates for the SAFe framework. It brings together lean, agile, DevOps, design thinking and systems thinking without being prescriptive. It provides a framework that can be applied flexibly. The entire SAFe framework is very comprehensive and provides support and guidance across a wide sphere of different business functions. But it can be used selectively and adapted to meet specific needs and challenges.

For example, a business may find its agile teams are working well individually but integrating their work is challenging. SAFe provides guidance that can be used to address that problem.

That’s an important distinction over some other tools. SAFe is a framework, not a methodology. Many people conflate those two words but they’re quite different. A framework is a body of guidance around a particular domain whereas a methodology is a much more prescriptive approach. SAFe is not a methodology and shouldn’t be handled like that. Every context is different so you need to understand the intent of the framework.

The SAFe framework is very comprehensive with 13 certified role based training courses and an implementation roadmap which is essentially a pattern that can be followed to successfully implement SAFe. There are over 500,000 SAFe practitioners globally and Elabor8 is a Scaled Agile Gold Transformation Partner, having first embraced SAFe for its clients in 2013.

Businesses are looking for predictable success. Last century, they achieved this by determining a market need and building systems and processes to deliver what the market wanted. As the market was relatively stable, they could take their time to list requirements, design, develop, test and maintain systems. Changes to the system were usually incremental refinements.

Today’s world moves much faster. New market entrants offer faster, better and cheaper solutions to customers and integrate faster than seems possible. They do this through agile development techniques and lean business processes. But doing those things in a large business that requires coordination across multiple domains can be challenging. SAFe 5.0 gives businesses the tools and guidance they need, without being prescriptive, to help enterprises use the best of agile to let their business thrive in the 21st century.


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