Can SAFe Make the World a Better Place?

Recently, someone asked me to explain the benefits of SAFe® over other Agile frameworks. Before I answer, I want to point out that I am not opposed to other scaling frameworks (we don’t do that!). What I can do, however, is speak from my own experience and give you some insight into why I choose to specialise in SAFe.

One of the best books I read last year was Switch: How to change things when change is hard, by Chip and Dan Heath. The book talks about communicating a vision and uses a great analogy of the elephant and the rider. The rider represents the rational self, and the elephant the emotional self. If the rational brain interests you, I suggest you look at the customer stories at the Scaled Agile website. There you can explore a treasure trove of case studies based on data.

I’m going to focus on the elephant. A common question in SAFe classes is where the data sits behind the statistic, “30 percent increase in employee engagement.” I usually answer this question by telling a true story about a Programme Manager I worked with called Steve (his real name isn’t Steve). 

Steve worked in a large organisation for 20 years. Over the years, he honed his craft by emulating those who had gone before him. He worked his way up the project management ladder and became highly respected by all who had the pleasure of working with him. There was just one problem, Steve had learned that the best way for his projects to succeed was to be at the centre of everything. Every decision went through him, and every status report had to be filled out precisely the way he did it; if not, you would have to do it again. Now, this all sounds sensible: Steve knew what his stakeholders needed to know, and he made sure that they had the information they needed to sail through his milestones with minimal fuss. There was one fly in the ointment: Steve had to work 60 hours a week to maintain control.

The organisation that Steve works in decided to go SAFe and identified his programme as an ideal candidate to launch an ART. Steve was willing to try but was sceptical about a new approach. We followed the SAFe Implementation Roadmap, trained everyone and got ready for PI planning. This is the point in our story when everything changed.

In the first PI planning, the room’s energy was unlike anything seen before. Because everyone who needed to be there was in the same room, the teams managed to unblock a capability in the first hour of the first team breakout that had stumped everyone for three months. The momentum continued to build from there; the ART launch was a tremendous success.

To understand why I think SAFe is so brilliant, we need to fast forward a few PIs. It was the summer season, and Steve took some time off to relax and soak up the sun. For the first time in years, Steve was not on his phone. He was not checking emails. He relaxed. When I caught up with him shortly after his holiday, he said, “Thanks to SAFe, I’ve got my life back.” Steve was no longer working crazy hours to stay in control. He had let go of many day-to-day decisions. He trusted the teams to make the calls on the things they were close to so that he could focus on the strategy.

I believe that SAFe is so fantastic because it gives us just the right balance of guidance and flexibility. The 10 SAFe Principles help us put the changes in behaviour into practice. As a coach, they are at the front of my mind whenever I’m thinking about implementing SAFe. And for people like Steve, they help put the mindset into practice and apply it to their own context. We can’t be overly prescriptive; every context is different. 

Steve’s story is far from unique; I’ve seen many people’s lives change for the better as they embrace a new way of working. That is why I do what I do. Business benefits are essential, the ability to respond to changes in the market is critical, but I’m all about the people. 

It’s no accident that the first value of the Agile Manifesto is individuals and interactions over processes and tools, or that the first pillar of the SAFe House of Lean is respect for people and culture. What could be more important than making the world a better place for people to work? What could be more valuable than improving the happiness and wellbeing of our people?

So, can SAFe make the world a better place? I believe so!

About Tim

Tim-  SPCT

Tim is an experienced SPCT who has been working in Agile and software for the last 12 years. Over the years, Tim has worked in a variety of industries such as telecom, pharma, and aviation, leading large transformation initiatives. Connect with Tim on LinkedIn.

1 thought on “Can SAFe Make the World a Better Place?

  1. This is a BRILLIANT article. For me I have just recently started my journey in SAFe and I feel the same. Work is work however it’s the people that make it more enjoyable. If you can motivate people in the right way and work together as team you can achieve many things. Having that positive mindset is the goal to success. Nurturing and cultivating people to achieve that high performing team is the ultimate goal which in turn means projects get delivered and stakeholders are happy.

    What I would say the journey is hard, it’s intense when starting to implement SAFe. Not everyone has the right mindset, the attitude to thrive in a team. The top level leadership team still think in (dare I say it) waterfall. Which makes you think. The stakeholders want to implement SAFe, they are the advocates of SAFe however they are the ones that need to be coached more than the teams. Once we do that it will be phenomenal.

    Having a few people with the right mindset and energy can conquer through these difficulties. Having a SAFe expert like Tim Jackson on a programme makes such a difference. His attitude and passion for SAFe, not just the theory but the implementation of SAFe is out of this world.

    For those of you who also believe this or even want to work in this way embrace this article as this way of working can happen.

    Thank You Tim for this article.

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