In recent years, many organisations have turned to agile methodologies to optimise their software development processes. And while the approach has been widely successful, some businesses – particularly larger enterprises – have experienced more difficulties than others in transforming their legacy approach into an agile mindset, culture and processes.
In response to these circumstances, the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) was designed to help large organisations successfully adopt agile methodologies. It is a set of practices to address the main obstacles that prevent companies from realising the benefits of agile, and includes methods to improve quality software, increase transparency, create predictable costs and schedules, and most important of all, focus on business value.
The origins of SAFe can be traced back two decades, when in 2001, a group of experienced software consultants created the manifesto for agile software development. Built around four core values that help steer the decisions of each stakeholder, these fundamental principles are key to ensuring success in a SAFe implementation. Specifically, SAFe focuses on alignment, built-in quality, transparency, and program execution, and by using these to guide their efforts, large organisations can create the culture, processes and mindset required to embrace agile methodologies. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
Alignment means that the whole organisation has a vision of where it’s heading and how to get there. This is crucial for any business that wants to stay competitive, because it enables them to deal with diverse, mission-critical issues ranging from rapidly changing markets, distributed teams, as well as a host of other challenges commonly encountered today.
SAFe alignment ensures that strategic decisions start at the portfolio level before progressing through production and solution management to the product owner roles. Commitments are communicated through Product Iteration Objectives and Iteration Goals, and these key organisational processes are delivered via an agile release train to support ongoing alignment.
- Built-In Quality
Put simply, built-in quality means that every facet of product development should focus on delivering the highest standards of quality at all times. While this may seem obvious, many organisations actually settle for just inspecting quality after the product – or the current iteration of the product – is complete. As many organisations have discovered to their cost, it’s rarely possible to force quality into a product after it’s finished, and as a result, have no choice but to release sub-standard products to the market, which may be negatively received or compare poorly to those offered by competitors.
In SAFe, built-in quality focuses on a range of topics, including flow, architecture and design, together with code, system and release quality. For instance, SAFe organisations focus on code quality via software engineering practices such as TDD/unit-testing, pair programming, collective code ownership, and coding standards.
In any healthy organisation, transparency is fundamental to building strong, empathetic relationships based on trust. It also ensures that when things go wrong, that embedded sense of openness makes addressing problems much easier. As a result, transparent business cultures usually create teams that are more robust and resilient.
Key to SAFe transparency is high visibility. For example, teams commit to short-term goals and then meet them, with objectives, measurement metrics and reports readily available across the organisation so everyone can remain fully up-to-date on progress against each goal.
- Program Execution
Drawn from the agile manifesto, SAFe program execution dictates that delivering systems that work reliably and consistently is of primary importance. Effective, functional software is a bigger priority, for instance, than comprehensive documentation. While transparency and alignment are important, organisations must first generate value streams if they are to succeed in the long term.
In general, effective program execution is derived from the other values. For instance, when reliable, quality mechanisms have been established, it becomes much more practical to detect, troubleshoot, and fix issues before they become critical, thus ensuring consistent system execution.
Organisations focused on agile software delivery using SAFe are on a continual learning curve where a commitment to quality, openness and value combine to improve business outcomes. In doing so, they are much better placed to empower their teams to face the challenges and opportunities of the modern business environment and ensure they can reap the benefits of agile transformation.
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