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InfoQ Homepage News Lean and Agile Leadership with the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

Lean and Agile Leadership with the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

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The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) provides practices, roles, activities and artifacts for applying Lean and Agile development at enterprise scale.

At the Scaling Agile for the Enterprise 2015 congress on January 22 in Brussels Dean Leffingwell will present how the Scaled Agile Framework can be deployed to realize enterprise-class product or service initiatives. He will explore principles of lean/agile leadership which support managers and executives to gain knowledge and skills for leading software enterprises. The event is presented by the Agile Consortium Belgium and managed by UNICOM. It will be covered by InfoQ with Q&As, write-ups and articles.

InfoQ interviewed Dean about deploying the scaled agile framework, building cross functional agile teams and aligning teams, the people part of SAFe and the principles of lean and agile leadership.

InfoQ: Can you briefly describe the scaled agile framework, focusing on what it is and how can it be deployed in organizations?

Dean: The Scaled Agile Framework, (SAFe) is a freely-revealed, on-line knowledge base of proven success patterns for applying Lean and Agile development at enterprise scale. The SAFe website ( allows users to browse the “SAFe Big Picture” to understand the roles, teams, activities, and artifacts necessary to scale these practices to the enterprise.

Based on immutable principles of Agile development, Lean systems thinking and product development flow, SAFe is being adopted by hundreds of the world's largest software dependent-enterprises, across all industry segments. SAFe adoption delivers substantial business benefits in faster time-to-market, and higher quality, productivity and employee engagement. For more on SAFe, visit the website and be sure and check out the Case Studies from companies like Intel, Discount Tire, John Deere, Nokia, ValPak, Telstra and more.

InfoQ: The scaled agile framework can be used to align teams and support collaboration to deliver software with large numbers of teams. Can you elaborate on this?

Dean: One of the keys to SAFe is the alignment of multiple agile teams around value streams. Value streams are a lean construct that provides an organizational pattern for understanding and delivering a continuous flow of value. Value Streams are realized through programs called Agile Release Trains (ARTs). ARTs are long-lived teams of agile teams that serve as the delivery mechanism for value streams. Each train has the dedicated resources necessary to continuously build and release valuable solutions.

There are a few key concepts to ARTs:

  1. ARTs work on a fixed, reliable schedule, which just like Agile team iterations, provides a regular development cadence, a dependable velocity (great for planning and budgeting), and predictable planning. They also provide any needed architectural and UX guidance, and release governance.
  2. Most of the people that are needed on the ART are dedicated to the train, regardless of functional reporting structures. This makes it easy to apply SAFe, without having to reorganize the enterprise.

InfoQ: Can you explain how SAFe can help organizations build cross-functional agile teams?

Dean: This is another great thing about ARTs. Once you understand what your Value Streams are, enterprises then can determine who should be dedicated to a particular value stream, and then build Agile Teams and ARTs with the people best suited for that mission. ARTs plan together, work together, and are aligned around a common mission that is communicated on a regular cadence through Program Increment (PI) planning events. PIs are akin to Iterations at the team level, however, each PI aggregates a series of multiple-team iterations into a larger quantum of both time and value, a level suitable for business review, reflection and, when necessary, changes in direction.

InfoQ: Can you give some examples from case studies how organizations have deployed SAFe to increase their focus on delivering value to their customers and increase their business results?

Dean: Absolutely.

For example, Scott Prugh from CSG just posted a great video on how SAFe and lean and flow principles improve deployment related issues by 5X. see case study CSG international.

Intel MDO has also adopted SAFe, and their fun results include “Launching Eight Agile Release Trains in Two Months”, resulting in “substantially increased visibility and release predictability”, as you can see at implementing SAFe - MDO test case.

There are also case studies from Nokia (decreased time to market by 27 weeks), Telstra (50% reduction in delivery cost), John Deere (50% reduction in software maintenance costs), BMC Corporation and others. And they keep coming in.

InfoQ: Lyssa Adkins wrote an article in which she shares her view as the agile coaches' coach on SAFe. She stated that "SAFe completely relies on “agile-acting” people". What is your view on this?

Dean: We couldn’t agree more. SAFe relies on agility as the core practice for building systems, and we clearly stand on the shoulders of Agility and the Agile Manifesto. SAFe respects the fact that “people do all the work”. For ARTs to have the most success, everyone needs to be trained in the values and skills of agility.

There’s also much more to the people part of SAFe. If you look at the Big Picture, you’ll see many people in many critical roles, and a link to the House of Lean, and Lean-Agile Leaders. The foundation of SAFe and the House of Lean is Leadership. The basis is pretty simple: the ultimate responsibility for the adoption and success of the lean-agile enterprise lies within the existing managers, leaders, and executives. These important people must be trained in Lean and Agile principles, base their decisions on this long term philosophy, and take personal responsibility for Lean-Agile success. It’s a big transition, but the end result is happier, more engaged employees who deliver higher business value.

InfoQ: At the Scaling Agile congress in Brussels you will talk about the principles of lean and agile leadership. Can you describe these principles?

Dean: Absolutely, as mentioned, SAFe builds upon Agile, Lean Systems Thinking, and product development flow. The ten principles I will discuss are:

SAFe Lean-Agile Principles

Building on Agile, Lean Systems thinking and product development flow, we

  • Take a systems view
  • Understand the economics of the value chain
  • Develop systems iteratively and incrementally
  • Integrate and test frequently; adapt immediately
  • Manage risk and efficacy with fast, synchronous learning cycles
  • Facilitate flow: Limit work in process, reduce batch sizes; manage queue lengths.
  • Synchronize with cross-domain planning and collaboration
  • Base milestones on objective evaluation of working systems
  • Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers
  • Decentralize decision-making

InfoQ: What makes these principles so important, how can they help organizations to increase their agility?

Dean: They are a distillation of the critical foundational values and principles that make SAFe safe. If you understand and apply these principles, you will likely achieve substantial business benefits, the kind that only adherence to a core set of values and principles can deliver, regardless of business context and method specifics. They are embodied in SAFe, through and through.

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