Introducing SAFe, the scaled agile framework

SAFe is a programming knowledge base that aims to enable you to apply lean-agile practices at enterprise scale. Will it take your development projects where they need to go?

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SAFe also supports different cases for release schedules: releasing on the PI cadence, releasing less frequently or releasing more frequently. While the development cadence is 10 weeks, release can happen at any time. Former Agile Conference Chair Johanna Rothman, and new author of “Agile and Lean Program Management,” suggests that small batches are possible even within large program teams. As she puts it, "I want small releases every single day (if possible), and monthly if not daily." 

Is SAFe the end, or the beginning?

In his 2013 blog post “UnSAFe at any Speed,” Ken Schwaber argues that SAFe is essentially the Rational Unified Process (RUP) rebranded as agile, and that after the failure of RUP in the marketplace, the RUP people came to agile. Dean Leffingwell, the lead author of SAFe, was a senior vice president at Rational Software Corporation (now a division of IBM), and many of the contributors to SAFe do have a Rational or IBM background. One highly-placed source suggested that where the Agile Software Movement came out of practice, RUP, SAFe, and other methods were derived theory-first, not out of what has worked, but instead on what should work, based on models. 

Reading the SAFe descriptions, however, gives a different impression. Most of the pieces of SAFe are familiar, borrowed from existing agile methods that work. The package and the organization may be new, but most of the pieces of SAFe are practices with some success behind them. The argument that SAFe derives from theory has less credence than the argument that SAFe is a transitional point sold as the end goal. 

One advantage of SAFe is how easy it is to transition to. You "just" train key implementers, leadership, management, and the team in a few days then flip a switch, in a manner of speaking. While obviously there'd be a lot more to do for the adoption of Lean-Agile development, the new structure can accommodate managers, directors, architects, analysts and every other role, with no need for painful transitions or job changes. 

That leads to a concern that SAFe is a transitional step, just the first and least painful. In a continuously improving organization, the steps six months or a year after a SAFe transition are unclear. 

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SAFe may be a good step, and an improvement, for a large organization, but the cookie-cutter approach will only get you so far. After that, the organization needs to figure out what improvement should happen next, and that requires context. Agile coach Yves Hanoulle puts it this way "For most of these I would say, SAFe goes further as they are ready to go, not far enough as they should go." 

With a half-dozen certifications, the Scaled Agile Academy aims to provide something for everyone. From two-day courses like SAFe Agilist (for management) and SAFe Practitioner (for people who are a bit more hands-on), to the four-day program consultant and then full-blown consultant/trainer program, SAFe offers plenty of opportunity to earn credentials.

This story, "Introducing SAFe, the scaled agile framework" was originally published by CIO.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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