The Complete Guide to Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)
Ready to learn about the Scaled Agile Framework?
In order to compete in the current market, teams in your organization might have to work harder to change for the better, respond faster to customers, and be more resilient to setbacks.
So how do you transform your teams to be harder, better, faster, stronger?
By uniting all the teams in your organization with Scaled Agile practices!
In this article, we’ll take a look at the Scaled Agile framework, what it is, its core principles, how it impacts your business, and the best tool to help you implement it.
And away we go!
- What Is Agile?
- What Are Scaling Agile Frameworks?
- 7 Core Competencies of SAFe
- When Is It Safe to Use the SAFe Framework?
- The Best Tool for Scaled Agile Framework in 2022
What Is Agile?
Note: This is a crash-course on Agile to help you get accustomed to the method behind Scaling Agile teams. If you want to skip ahead to the section on Scaled Agile Framework, click here.
When smartphones came around, they completely transformed the way we live, to the point where we can’t function without them:
Well, that’s kind of what Agile did for the software development industry!
Before Agile development, teams created a fixed plan and spent months and even years developing a complete product.
But this simply took way too long!
Just like how the iPhone popularized smartphones, the 2001 Agile manifesto introduced millions of professionals to the Agile method.
Overnight, the development process shrank from years to just a few months.
According to Agile methodology, you break your project down into smaller development cycles called sprints. Sprints are short bursts of work that last between 2-4 weeks.
During the sprint, an Agile development team creates a working software model with just the essential features.
At the end of each sprint, users try out the new software and give their feedback on how to improve the product in the next sprint. This process continues until you’ve created something that excites your customers.
What Are Scaling Agile Frameworks?
As Agile became popular, many software development teams implemented it immediately.
But that led to a major problem.
Only the developers used Agile practices to manage their work, while the rest of the departments like marketing, HR, etc. followed traditional management practices. Additionally, different development teams within the company used a different Agile framework!
With each team working independently, it can be difficult for development teams to collaborate and work together on large projects.
So how do we solve this problem?
In order to unite these teams, scaling Agile was essential. It laid the framework for organizations to scale up their operations and provide a large solution to their customers.
Now let’s look at the Scaling Agile frameworks that make this possible:
A. LeSS (Large-Scale Scrum)
Want to connect multiple Scrum teams?
LeSS is a good starting point, as it’s very similar to Scrum. They have similar practices, meetings, and roles.
The LeSS framework lets all your Scrum teams collaborate on a single project. That means a LeSS team can consist of tens, or even hundreds of Scrum professionals.
In this case, LeSS is more, literally!
In LeSS, all the team’s product owners report to the head product owner who’s in charge of the entire software.
B. DAD (Disciplined Agile)
Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) is a hybrid framework that consists of principles from Scrum, Kanban, XP, and more. We call it the ‘Frankenstein’ of Agile development!
Disciplined Agile is not strictly a Scaling Agile framework, rather a platform that helps Agile teams make better decisions so they can achieve their project goals.
It helps everyone to coordinate efficiently in order to solve a complex problem, something a great ‘DAD’ would do for his kids!
C. SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework)
Scaled Agile Framework is an Agile methodology that allows large companies to implement Agile practices at an enterprise level.
Like other scaling agile frameworks, SAFe combines different Agile practices, but it has an extra ingredient in the mix: Lean thinking.
In a nutshell, Lean thinking is an Agile practice that ensures that no time, effort, and resources go to waste during the software development process.
SAFe also aligns the development process with the broader business goals of your organization. Over the years, SAFe has evolved in order to adapt to the changing needs of businesses. In this article, we will talk about the latest Scaled Agile framework: SAFe 5.0.
7 Core Competencies of SAFe
The Scaled Agile framework manual is like a cookbook!
It contains the ingredients and steps required to implement Agile practices at every level of the organization.
However, there is no cookbook that caters to everyone, right?
Depending on the needs of your organization, Scaled Agile offer 4 cookbooks or configurations:
- Essential SAFe: basic configuration for medium-sized teams
- Large Solution SAFe: for large organizations delivering complex software
- Portfolio SAFe: for above-mentioned organizations who also want to manage their financial operations
- Full SAFe: includes all the configurations mentioned above
Each configuration is centered around a combination of 7 core competencies. Now, let’s take a brief look at each of the 7 competencies of this Agile framework:
1. Team and technical agility
The Agile team is the most crucial part of SAFe. Without them, your organization will never be able to create products or software that solve customer problems.
They consist of team members with varying skills like developers, graphic designers, UX professionals, etc.
Each team member has a specific role to play, such as:
- Product owner: decides the product backlog (list of features to be worked upon)
- Scrum master: ensures that the team works together efficiently
- Development team: collaborate to create the final product
Remember how an Agile team has to develop the product in a 2-4 week long sprint?
In order to collaborate quicker, they host meetings, such as:
- Planning: deciding what to work on a sprint
- Daily standups: meet up every morning for a status update on the project
- Review: demonstrate a working software prototype to stakeholders
- Retrospective: analyze sprint performance, and identify how to improve
But for a large organization or project, one Agile team isn’t enough.
You need multiple Agile teams that work on different parts of the project, like product management, quality, testing, operations, etc.
That’s why you require an ART (Agile Release Train) to bring them all together. It’s a self-organizing collection of multiple teams to help you execute the big project.
Multiple Agile teams come together to form a large consolidated team called an Agile Release Train, in order to deal with a large project.
But how does that happen?
Let’s find out:
2. Agile product delivery
Your ART works within a program increment (PI), which generally lasts for five iterations.
Here’s what happens in a PI:
- Step 1: A PI planning session is held. Here, The ART identifies what can be delivered.
- Step 2: Agile teams use a program board to visualize all the tasks discussed during PI planning, and see how they are dependent on each other
- Step 3: The teams work on the task in the program backlog
- Step 4: At the end of a PI, the ART demonstrates the integrated software
- Step 5: Teams identify how to improve in the next PI
Wait a second…this is exactly what happens in a regular Agile iteration!
But why do we need this?
By integrating multiple teams, the organization can provide a constant stream of products and services to the customers.
That’s not all.
ART meetings get all the teams to understand what the customer wants and identify a practical solution. So customers always get a product that they deserve!
An Agile Release Train hosts multiple Agile meetings to help teams collaborate so they can speed up the development process.
3. Enterprise solution delivery
Believe us, building an enterprise scale software is no walk in the park!
You need hundreds of talented engineers and software development professionals to pull it off.
Even after the Agile development process, you would still need your teams to maintain the system, fix bugs, and keep it secure.
As a result, a single ART might not cut it.
In that case, your organization would need a solution train.
Imagine the solution train as a ‘Matryoshka doll’.
Instead of a doll inside another doll, a large solution train contains multiple Agile release trains and suppliers. And inside those ARTs, there are individual Agile teams.
The solution train coordinates everyone in those dolls (ARTs and their constituent Agile teams) to create a complex software solution.
Just like in previous competencies, the solution trains host ceremonies like planning, demo, and retrospectives for all of the ARTs.
ARTs form an even bigger team called a Solution Train in order to work together and create a large enterprise scale software.
4. Lean portfolio management
If you noticed, the first 3 competencies only talk about how enterprise scale projects are built, but not what should be built and why.
For that, we have to look at Lean portfolio management.
The senior leadership uses Lean principles to connect the strategic theme to the development process.
Wait, what’s a strategic theme?
In simple terms, it’s a strategy an organization needs to take to achieve business goals.
For example: ‘Appeal to younger audiences with a video streaming service’
Connecting development to the strategic theme ensures that software development teams only build things that contribute to the organization’s goals.
Now, back to Lean Portfolio Management.
It helps leadership identify high-value investment opportunities quicker.
Since the Agile framework allows products to be developed faster, you get faster feedback from customers.
Faster feedback means you get to know what ideas help achieve company goals and what don’t. So you can double down your investment on what works, and reduce funding on what doesn’t work!
LPM practices ensure that all your investments don’t go to waste, and you’re always a step ahead of your competitors.
5. Organization agility
To play catch up with market changes, organizations need to be in a position to adapt their strategies quickly.
However, on an Enterprise level, most organizations are slow to react and are even unwilling to adapt and take advantage of new opportunities.
As a result, many of them struggle to keep up:
But don’t worry!
This won’t happen to your organization once you decide to increase its business agility (ability to adapt quickly). And to increase business agility, everyone in your organization should adopt lean thinking.
What is it?
It’s a framework that revolves around 4 values, such as respect for people and culture, managing workflow, focus on innovation and relentless improvement.
(If you want to know more about lean principles, click here.)
A lean enterprise should:
- Continuously optimize its business processes and workflows
- Organize and reorganize multiple teams in a way that increases value
Learn more about Lean project management here.
6. Continuous learning cultures
Organizations usually fall into the trap of assuming that their business model, processes, and products will continue to work well in the future.
Their stores and late-fee business model earned them millions in the early 00s. But when video streaming became popular, they failed to adopt the trend. And we all know what happened next…
To avoid being the next Blockbuster, companies have to transform them into learning organizations.
Employees at every level of the company, have to continuously learn and grow their skill sets and become knowledge workers (specialized experts).
Here’s how the Scaled Agile (SA) Framework helps:
- Team leaders are expected to be a jack of all trades and masters of a specific one.
- During a PI planning session, the Agile release train collaborates to create a shared vision of the organization’s future
- All teams within a large organization collaborate every day and try to solve problems they might face
But learning isn’t enough.
You need to put this knowledge to some good use, right?
Organizations also have to constantly innovate like how Netflix switched from mailing DVDs to video streaming, and we know how that turned out. Almost everyone either has a Netflix account or ‘borrows’ it from someone else! 😉
Here are a few ways how the SA framework encourages innovation:
- Focus on experimenting with interesting ideas for new products
- Determines ways to tweak the existing product
To prevent falling behind the trends, an organization’s employees should constantly update their skill sets, and innovate accordingly.
7. Lean-Agile leadership
Scaled Agile Framework relies on a well-defined hierarchy with managers and executives dictating things.
They set up the SA Framework for the entire organization and create an environment that creates high performing teams.
That sounds like a lot of responsibility!
How are they able to manage it?
Lean-Agile leadership requires leaders to understand these three things:
- Leading by example: exhibit traits of good leadership like authenticity, emotional intelligence, mentorship, etc.
- Focus on a growth mindset: transform their fixed mindset to a more open and positive mindset
- Leading change: be in charge of the organization’s Agile transformation by setting up the SAFe implementation roadmap.
Wait, what’s the SAFe implementation roadmap?
Remember the Wizard of Oz?
In order to find her way back home, Dorothy had to follow the yellow brick road.
Similarly, the SAFe implementation roadmap is the yellow brick road for leaders who want their teams to adopt SAFe.
The SAFe implementation roadmap shows managers the path they need to take in order to convert their organization into a Lean enterprise.
Leadership should take charge and set up SAFe for their companies responsibly.
When Is It Safe to Use the SAFe Framework?
SAFe is a comprehensive scaling framework that can be super effective for a large organization.
But, wait… not everyone can use SAFe all the time!
To make the most of it, you need to implement it at the right time and under the right conditions.
Here are 4 situations where you should use the SA framework for your business:
- When you want every team in your business to use the Agile approach
- When every Agile team wants to work independently, and you need a framework to keep them connected
- When every team is using a different Agile methodology in an inefficient manner
- When you want to cut down on development time
The Best Tool for Scaled Agile Framework in 2022
You now have an overview of Scaled Agile.
However, simply theoretically following the SAFe roadmap isn’t enough.
You need to have important tools to help you create an implementation plan.
And you also need some tools to help you stick to the plan.
Fortunately, Agile project management tools like ClickUp can help you do both!
ClickUp is one of the world’s highest-rated Agile project management tools. It’s used by highly productive teams from lean startups to huge organizations.
It has everything you need to help unify your Scrum, Kanban, and XP teams under the Scaled Agile framework!
Here’s how ClickUp can help:
1. Create and Crush Project Goals
SAFe exists so that every person in your organization is able to contribute to the greater good: your business goals!
And ClickUp makes it super easy to track all your business and project goals in real-time. In ClickUp, Goals are high-level containers that can be broken down into small, measurable Targets.
Targets are objectives your team needs to achieve in order to complete the Goal.
For example, one of our Goals would be: ‘Release software version 2.50’.
To reach the Goal, multiple Scrum teams would have to work in sprints.
They would have a list of tasks to complete in a sprint.
ClickUp lets you link this task list as a Target.
As soon as your Scrum team members check off a sprint task, you’ll see the progress percentage increase rise instantly!
And that’s not the only type of Target you can set in ClickUp!
You can choose units like:
- # – Numbers
- $ – Money
- ✓/⨉– Done/Not Done
2. Get a birds-eye view of the entire project in Timeline View
Pave your own yellow brick road for your teams!
This feature lets you create your own visual Roadmaps.
They display your team’s schedule and the sequence in which they need to complete tasks.
Here are more cool things you can do with the project timeline:
- Assign tasks to team members directly from the timeline
- Zoom in and out of the timeline to see tasks by day, week, or month
- Group tasks by assignee to see how much work a team member has to do on that day
3. Manage your tasks your way with Flexible Views
Whether it’s at the team level or enterprise level, every Agile team member has a different working style. Instead of your team adapting to a management tool, let ClickUp adapt to your team’s needs and responsibilities!
Here are the different project views that give your team members the agility they need:
A. For those who want to get stuff done: List View
Organizes all the tasks that need to be done in a neat to-do list.
B. For Scrum and Kanban teams: Board View
Arrange your sprint tasks on a virtual Kanban or Scrum board, so you can see what your Scrum team members are working on.
C. For the busy bees: Calendar View
Organizes your tasks in a calendar format so you can manage your busy schedule.
D. For the planning pros: Gantt View
Create a Gantt chart for the entire project and see which tasks are dependent on others.
E. For the supervisors: Box View
Lets you see what an individual team member is working on, and manage their workload.
F. For those who always need to be in the loop: Activity View
Displays the latest updates within an Agile team, an Agile Release Train, or the entire company.
4. Track your team’s progress in a snap with Dashboards
Scaled Agile is all about continuous improvement.
But you can’t do that without feedback.
That’s why ClickUp’s Dashboards allow you to visualize important Agile metrics. It lets you see what your Scrum team is doing right, and what they need to take it to the next level.
Currently, you can choose to visualize data with these Agile Widgets:
- Velocity Charts: how fast your Agile Scrum team completes tasks in a sprint
- Burn-up Charts: how much of the project your team has completed
- Burndown Charts: the amount of work remaining in your project
- Cumulative Flow Diagrams: reveals bottlenecks within the Scrum sprint
- Cycle Time: calculates the average time it takes to complete a task from the moment it’s created
- Lead Time: determines the average time a task to move a task from ‘In Progress’ to ‘Completed’
5. Speed up the development process with Automations
Tired of doing boring routine tasks every day?
You’re not alone!
According to a survey, around 40% of workers waste a quarter of their week on repetitive tasks. Save tons of time and just automate things with ClickUp instead!
For example, you can ask ClickUp to automate things like:
- Automatically assign people to specific tasks
- When the due date approaches, automatically change a task to high priority to encourage your team members to speed up!
- Automatically post a comment whenever the task status changes
- And 50+ more in-built functions!
What if you can’t find a specific Automation?
Create your own with ClickUp!
In ClickUp, an Automation has a simple formula:
If a trigger happens and a condition is true, a particular action is performed automatically.
For example, you can create an Automation like:
If task Priority changes from High to Low, change task status to Open.
Want even more features?
Here are a few features that can be used by anyone, not just Agile teams:
- Comments: share your feedback with your team on any task
- Pulse: visualize your team’s activity levels at any given time
- Custom Statuses: create your own statuses to suit your team’s Agile workflow
- Notepad: jot down ideas in a flash, and convert them into actionable tasks
- Native Integrations: use ClickUp with Zoom, Slack, Google Drive, and countless other tools
Switching to the SAFe framework can be highly rewarding.
In fact, it can boost your organization’s productivity by 35%!
However, unifying multiple Scrums teams under a single framework can be tough. You need to manage a system that works at the team level, program level, portfolio level, and at the enterprise level.
When you think about it, it’s like assembling a sandwich with many layers.
It’s gonna get messy!
The SAFe framework acts like a toothpick, holding the entire structure together!
However, implementing scaled Agile is not as easy as sticking in a toothpick. You need an Agile project management tool like ClickUp to help you manage this complex process.
ClickUp has all the features you need to implement the framework, such as Goals, Timelines, and more.
So sign up for ClickUp today and keep your teams SAFe from the dangers of unproductivity!
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