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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.