agiile agile-at-scale agility kanban SAFe scrum

How to Deliver Better Agility at Scale: Stop Criticizing SAFe and Improve on It Instead

In the last five years SAFe or the Scaled Agile Framework has experienced tremendous growth and adoption at large organizations. The evidence is not just in surveys, such as the large one conducted by Digital AI which I share below, but also by simple word of mouth that confirms many large organizations are adopting it.

Digital AI Survey 2021 – Agility At Scale

However, SAFe has plenty of issues which are undeniable:

  • High level of complexity, 
  • Long planning events, and even planning for those events,
  • An everything-including-the-kitchen sink approach to their methodology, every year it grows, and adds more stuff which makes it unwieldly and hard to fully comprehend.

For these reasons, and also because of some unhappy customers, including Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches, SAFe does trigger strong negative emotions on many. 

However, there are very few well organized approaches that are valid alternatives to SAFe right now. Large Scale Scrum, DAD, and Nexus have had minimal success at scale, and even LKU’s Kanban has few large scale implementations.

So what to do? Our first recommendation is not to criticize what’s obviously broken, or sub-optimal in SAFe, but to focus instead on the good parts:

  1. The synchronized cadence for all teams in an organization or division is a brilliant idea, follow it. Call it iterations, or Sprints, or anything you want, but have it.
  2. Using Kanban for Portfolios, and Programs is right, and commendable. We would add to that that you consider using Kanban for Marketing, Sales and HR as well.
  3. The Program Board is the best visual way to show dependencies that I have found in a long time, we do recommend using it if needed. Of course it is better if you could remove the dependencies themselves, but that is another discussion.
  4. The idea of quarterly agile planning across teams is a good one, you don’t have to follow their recipe, but doing it is smart.

Now for the most important second step, find a very experienced Agile Coach who has done many Agile Transformations using Scrum, Kanban and SAFe, and who does not show a bias to any approach, but wants to use the best from each. Working with this professional, create a custom agile approach for scaling agility at your organization.

Remember: the goal is to add the minimum amount of agile processes and know-how to make your organization more effective, and efficient.  

Enterprise Agile Coach, Agile Program Manager, Software Engineering Manager & Developer who is a fan of Kanban, Scrum, and SAFe. I am constantly pursuing leading edge technologies, and nowadays those are Crypto, Blockchain and decentralized applications which represent the future of software. On the personal side I am a seeker of truth, who loves freedom, people and nations. I firmly believe we live once, and we must make it a better journey for ourselves, and for others. Two quotes I admire: “Who is wise? One who learns from every man… Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations… Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot… Who is honorable? One who honors his fellows.” – Ben Zoma “Kites rise highest against the wind – not with it.” – Winston Churchill

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