Agile Planning to 100% Capacity? Don’t Do It!

Agile team planning

Someone asked me the other day why Agile teams don’t plan to full capacity. Think about this scenario: during the last PI, a team on the ART achieved 50 percent of its planned business value. Stakeholders weren’t pleased with that result. When the team held its retrospective to examine its performance, several issues came to light. High turnover and lots of team members shifting between teams prevented them from finding their groove. People were experiencing burnout from moving too quickly while trying to correct quality issues.

As a scrum master, I coach my teams to plan to less than 100-percent capacity (see scenario above). But I understand why that doesn’t always make sense to stakeholders. They worry that it will result in even fewer met commitments. Teams need a way to talk to stakeholders about how they need to plan less and yet somehow deliver more. It’s easy to criticize the stakeholders. Of course they’re going to ask for more—that’s their job! They may not understand why agile teams estimate and how they plan agility. They don’t see the burden that agile planning to maximum capacity places on the team.

We need to shift the stakeholders’ perspective. So, here are five key things I’ve learned about capacity and predictability that could be persuasive input.

1. Agree on what capacity means

In a recent iteration planning meeting, I asked the team to give me a number that represents our capacity. There was general consensus that we should plan to 80 percent capacity. It didn’t take long to realize that we all had different ideas about what it means to allocate 80 percent of our capacity. Is it 8 points per person? Or 80 percent of 8 points? Doesn’t SAFe® tell us somewhere? 

SAFe doesn’t prescribe a measure. Whether we agree that our team’s capacity is 45 story points or 200 hours, what matters is that the team agrees to some quantitative measure of their capacity for progress. 

2. Balance business needs with team capacity

A little pushing outside our comfort zone is a good thing, and can even be inspirational. Often, it’s uncomfortable to try new things, such as setting goals to do more or work faster than we have before. Yet that discomfort can lead to growth and achievement. Think about athletes getting better by pushing themselves to do things they’ve never done before—run faster, lift heavier, jump higher. As a team, we want to win the championship!

But when we push too much, we experience burnout, high turnover, and a lack of creative problem solving because we’re constantly rushing to meet deadlines. Take the athlete analogy—rest, recovery, and refueling via sleep and nutritious meals are essential to an athlete’s success. Otherwise, they risk injury, burnout, and decreased athletic output. Simply put, we need to help the team find its balance so it can thrive. 

3. Find confidence in your understanding of the work

Whether your team is developing software, creating marketing strategies, or negotiating a contract, the amount of time required to complete any given task will vary. New teams and ARTs might take more time as they’re forming and storming. Building a new product could take more time during the early development stages because we don’t know how it will be received by customers.

When estimating the size of work, my team uses several perspectives. We assess work based on three criteria: volume, complexity, and our knowledge about the work. We ask ourselves questions like: Have we done this before? How much space do we reserve for the unknowns? Through conversations, we all gain a better understanding of the work. Our certainty in estimating fuels our confidence that we’re pushing ourselves to achieve excellence without the risk of burnout.

Agile team planning

4. Protect space for built-in quality and problem solving

I like to keep a monthly budget for personal finance. I know from experience how unwise it is to spend all the cash I earn! I need to be able to respond to life’s unknowns, so I reserve some income for savings. It’s also smart to invest in the future. Early in my career, it was hard to imagine allocating any of my hard-earned salary for investing. (“I’ll start next year!” I’d tell myself.) But every day that went by was a missed opportunity.

The same concepts apply to teams approaching problem solving and innovation. We need “savings” to respond to life’s inevitable unknowns. Innovation can be applied incrementally, like little investments. When the team is constantly rushing to meet an overwhelming list of iteration goals, it’s like living paycheck to paycheck. 

5. Slow down to speed up

As a sailor in the U.S. Navy, I learned the saying, “slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” When we were performing meticulous, potentially dangerous tasks aboard naval ships, time was of the essence, and safety and accuracy were paramount. Go too fast and you risk sloppy performance, decreased accuracy, and an unsafe environment. Conversely, go too slow and you risk the mission. As sailors, we lived by “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” to develop awareness and learn to strike the balance between speed and accuracy.

Agile teams are similar. They need time and space to define and automate their processes and to create the environments and infrastructure to ensure built-in quality.  Slowing down this PI helps accelerate the next, and with higher predictability.

As I was writing this post, I spotted a conversation about capacity happening in the SAFe Agilists forum on the SAFe Community Platform (login required). Forums like these are great places to ask questions, share your knowledge, and learn something new. I hope you’ll check them out the next time you’re looking for advice.

About Sam Ervin

Sam is a certified SAFe® 5.0 Program Consultant (SPC)

Sam is a certified SAFe® 5.0 Program Consultant (SPC) and serves as the scrum master for several teams at Scaled Agile. His recent career highlights include entertaining the crowd as the co-host of the 2019 and 2020 Global SAFe® Summits. A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Sam lives in Denver, CO, where he enjoys CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting.

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Next: The Power of Customer Feedback in Prioritizing Work

VoC: The Power of Customer Feedback in Prioritizing Work – Agility Planning

Welcome to the third post in our value stream identification in practice blog series. You can read the first post here about preparing for a successful workshop. And the second post here with helpful tips for identifying value streams. 

Power of Customer Feedback

The Scaled Agile Voice of the Customer (VoC) is a community of our most inspiring customers. All of whom are driving measurable change at their organizations. 

This group of individuals comes together—virtually and twice a year—to share, connect with each other, and give us feedback to help us prioritize our most important work. Pretty simple, right? But very powerful in practice.

That power resides in how the VoC has been designed to promote continuous exploration and customer centricity. Each time we meet, we do exercises that encourage our community to look both backward (this is what we built based on your previous feedback) and forward (defining what our epic priorities should be). For example, at our last VoC event, Dean Leffingwell spent some time reviewing what we had worked on over the past six months.

Power of Customer Feedback

We also went through an exercise called “Prune the Product Tree,” which is designed to reveal the features most important to our customers. Participants place apples, which represent features, onto a tree. Items nearest the trunk are a higher priority than those placed farther up the tree. 

From our customers, we heard quite clearly that organizing around value was the top-rated epic. The overwhelming agreement within the community around this feature kicked off a renewed internal focus on Principle #10: organizing around value. Although we now had our purpose, we weren’t sure how to get started, nor what part of organizing or mapping value was the biggest challenge. So before jumping in and creating new tools and materials, we went back to our community to gain more clarity about the needs.

We asked some of our participants to spend 30 minutes with us in an empathy interview. We wrote a script of eight, open-ended questions designed to help us understand how organizing around value applies to their context. The questions were intended to uncover the obstacles they faced in organizing around value. Some of the biggest challenges were related to preparing for the workshop and getting executive buy-in to attend. One aha moment was when we learned how many organizations stand up ARTs without relying on the Value Stream Identification Workshop. So, our new guidance would actually need to reflect that reality. 

Now that we had a sense of next steps, we knew it was important to bring our customers along for the journey to keep us moving in the right direction. We created a study group representing a smaller subset of our VoC community. As the name implies, this group’s purpose is to gather and apply a critical eye to new intellectual property and how it serves the challenges they identify. 

This VoC study group has been critical in helping us understand the complexities large organizations face as they organize around value. But we’re not finished yet! With this group’s help, we’re developing new pre-workshop guidance. Our goal is to create new tools that will better serve our internal champions by:

  • Generating buy-in: getting executive level and internal support for holding the workshop. The 10 Tips for Value Stream Identification blog post is a good place to start. 
  • Preparing for the workshop: tasks that should be completed to ensure a more successful workshop. Read more in the Three Steps to Prepare for a Successful Value Stream Workshop blog post.
  • Facilitating the workshop: guidance for creating an interactive and action-oriented event.
  • Taking action: tips for implementing workshop results. 

In fact, we’re testing it out this quarter with the study group. And, as always, keeping the customer at the center as we design, test, and iterate. 

Want to see the impact of the group’s feedback on early guidance? Some of the updates include:

  • Value Stream and ART Identification Workshop toolkit. Or, navigate to the “Implement” tab on the SAFe Community Platform, selecting “SAFe Toolkits & Templates,” then selecting “SAFe Value Stream and ART Identification Workshop Toolkit 5.1.” 
  • What’s new in SAFe 5? How about Operational Value Streams as first-class citizens?

About Jennifer Roberts

Jennifer Roberts leads the Voice of the Customer community

Jennifer Roberts leads the Voice of the Customer community within the Marketing Enterprise Solutions team. Prior to joining Scaled Agile, she worked at Cisco where she led the global social selling and demand generation team. She lives in Boulder, Colorado and does not believe chili has beans.

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Next: 10 Tips for Value Stream Identification

10 Tips for Value Stream Identification – SAFe Implementation

value stream identification

Welcome to the second post in our blog series about value stream identification in practice. Read the first post here about preparing for a successful Value Stream and ART Identification workshop.

When deciding where to launch an Agile Release Train (ART), it can be tempting to look within existing organizational boundaries. But, considering Lean-Agile Principle #10, which reminds us to organize around value, we must challenge ourselves to look outside of our comfort zone, and consider a team more optimally focused on delivering value. 

In light of organizational politics, doing so can be challenging, if not scary. To help people focus on the task at hand, we’ve developed a Value Stream Identification workshop. It can be especially helpful for organizations that aren’t actively managing value streams. It also teaches all those who attend the Implementing SAFe® course the method to facilitate a value stream identification event.  

All SPCs are trained to facilitate a value stream mapping activity. But executing these workshops is an art mastered only after you’ve done in-depth studies on the topic (check out Value Stream Mapping by Karen Martin and the SAFe Value Streams article to start), and have participated in several events under the guidance of a skilled practitioner. 

If you’re a new SPC who doesn’t have the opportunity to co-facilitate an event, here are 10 tips to help make your first few value stream identification sessions more productive.

  1. Your operational value stream is probably bigger than you think.

When considering your operational value stream, remember the baseline definition of a value stream:

“… set of actions that take place to add value to a customer from the initial request through the realization of value by the customer. The value stream begins with the initial concept, moves through various stages of development and on through delivery and support. A value stream always begins and ends with a customer.” 

Or, simply stated, from concept to cash. 

In my years of helping organizations better understand their value streams, I’m often presented with initial maps that begin with input from an upstream process and end with an output to a downstream process. These aren’t value streams. To understand the value stream that your ART serves, it’s likely you need to zoom out from the perspective you’re most familiar with and consider the products and services that you support. I often direct people seeking to understand their value streams to start with the products or services section of their organization’s website. Another point of reference is the organization’s earnings report. A profit and loss statement will often represent the organization’s operational value streams.

  1. Your development value stream probably doesn’t follow organizational structures. 

The development value stream, which is where your ART(s) will align, represents the design-build-test activities that support change within the operational value stream. Though it may be tempting to align development value streams and ARTs to the organization’s reporting structures, this is suboptimal. To determine the best development value stream alignment, you must first understand the complexity of the social network required to serve the operational value stream. How? By gaining clarity around architectural complexity, or understanding who must collaborate and how often to develop valuable changes to the operational value stream. Over time, our goal is to simplify and optimize both technical and business architectures. To start doing that, we must do our best to optimize for flow by reducing bottlenecks associated with handoffs and dependencies.

After identifying the operational value stream, we continue the conversation of value stream identification. This is where we seek to understand the systems that support the operational value stream, and which steps of it they interact with. The resulting picture will help us make a more informed decision of where to align our development value stream, and determine which type(s) of development value stream supports our operational value stream.

  1. Agreeing with operational and development value stream alignment is harder than you think. 

Aligning around value, though critical to delivering better products and services to customers faster, is often challenging. In large enterprises that historically reward those who operate well within the hierarchy, the goal to operate well cross-functionally may feel difficult. The leaders of each functional area are asked to relinquish control of their organizations to better serve the customer. Though few will argue the merit of such a decision, we must be empathetic to the fact that this sort of change is difficult and often scary. 

As a value stream identification workshop facilitator, you’ll find it valuable to proactively partner with the organization’s change management professionals to better understand the audience impacted by the workshop. These change professionals can help you better understand potential roadblocks and relationships. And they can recommend conversations you should have before the workshop to begin establishing trust, rapport, and purpose. 

value stream identification
  1. You may have more guidance than you think.

Understand the nuance between value stream identification and value stream mapping. Value stream mapping is the art and science of defining, measuring, and optimizing value streams and capabilities over a long period of time. SAFe discusses value stream identification in the context of launching an ART. It’s where we need to have an informed discussion of the most logical place to launch an ART based on our best understanding of how value flows within our area of influence. Value stream identification doesn’t replace value stream mapping but certainly proves the need to invest in the latter.

Words matter. When referencing the one- to two-day workshop to determine the best place to launch an ART, be careful to reference this as value stream identification. A business architect’s job is to maintain and optimize value streams and their underlying capabilities. If they overhear a well-intended SPC state that they intend to map a value stream in a day or two, the SPC may inadvertently make an adversary out of a would-be supporter. 

If the organization you’re working with happens to have business architects on staff, then there may be many more inputs available for the value stream identification conversation than you’d initially suspect. If so, seek to partner with the business architect and leverage the assets they’ve created. At the very least, the fact that these people exist indicates an undeniable organizational willingness to organize around value.

  1. Your business architecture will make it hard. 

The architecture of a business, the flow of processes and interactions from concept to cash, will introduce complexity to the value stream identification exercise. Those complexities will typically represent years of acquisitions (without integration), good and bad relationships, canceled projects, partially finished projects, and other forms of organizational debt.

One of the most exciting—and troubling—things about an Agile transformation is how the new ways of working effectively shine a spotlight on issues that have been plaguing the organization for years. This is your opportunity to do something about it. Remember, the goal of value stream identification is to make an informed decision about the best, most logical place to launch your release trains. And those ARTs will evolve as the organization and architecture change. The goal isn’t to solve all of the organization’s challenges. But be aware of what you learn so that you can address the challenges and complexities moving forward. 

  1. Your technical architecture will make it harder.

As messy as an organization’s business architecture may be, it’s likely that its technical architecture is worse. I’m talking about outdated systems, mainframe databases, hard-coded variables, and systems that we’re not too sure of what they do, but certain that it’s something important. The conceptual diagrams of most architectures tend to look like a hurricane. 

Though challenging, this is also a huge opportunity. If the intent is to move faster and with greater stability, you must invest in reducing technical debt, refactoring, and modularizing their architecture. The value stream workshop can help identify some of the largest risks in the technical architecture and begin aligning people in a way that will support a better future state.

A good way to think of investments in business and technical architecture is to reflect on this video

value stream identification

The goal of a race is to cross the finish line first. Pitstops are an obvious bottleneck in that process. To alleviate delays in the pit, engineers and team owners had to invest in developing specialized skills among the pit crew and specialized tools optimized for efficiency. And redesign the car with the intent of making every component on it as fast as possible. This includes the architecture for changing tires, fueling, and more. These days, nobody is polishing the windshield. Instead, the visor on the driver’s helmet has been optimized to minimize glare, shed water, resist fog, and with roll-offs for when things get messy. 

What’s your organization’s race car? What investments do you need to make in the car so that your organization can achieve its goals? Investments in architecture aren’t optional. But you should make it clear how each investment will help the organization perform at a higher level.  

  1. There are several types of operational value streams.

When considering operational value streams in an organization, it’s important to be aware that there are more than one type.

Fulfillment value streams represent the steps necessary to process a customer request, deliver a digitally enabled product or service, and receive remuneration. Examples include providing a consumer with an insurance product or fulfilling an e-commerce sales order. 

Manufacturing value streams convert raw materials into the products customers purchase. Examples include consumer products, medical devices, and complex cyber-physical systems. 

Software product value streams offer and support software products. Examples include ERP systems, SaaS, and desktop and mobile applications. 

Supporting value streams include end-to-end workflows for various supporting activities. Examples include the life cycle for employee hiring and retention, supplier contracting, executing the annual budget process, and completing a full enterprise sales cycle.

  1. Development value streams support operational value streams.

While operational value streams may vary significantly depending on their purpose, the development value stream steps are fairly standard: design, build, validate, and release the systems that support the operational value stream as it delivers value to the end-user. The titles of the people who work within the development value stream will vary based on the specific type of work being done, but the responsibilities of the people involved with the development value stream will be aligned with the steps mentioned above.

  1. This is only a starting point.

Remember, the value stream identification workshop is designed to help people determine the best, most logical place to launch a release train. The decisions made in the workshop are a starting point. Following the workshop, reflect on opportunities to improve business operations, technical architecture, and the benefit of actively managing value streams for flow. Launching your first ART, development value stream, and portfolio is only the beginning of a lifelong pursuit to improve.

  1. Once you start, evolve and seek excellence. 

As you continue to optimize your operations and architecture, expect that the ART configuration and team topology will evolve. As the Agile Manifesto reminds us, we hope to build resiliency through a commitment to responding to change by following a plan. And the SAFe House of Lean reminds us how important it is to commit to relentless improvement in pursuing value delivery.

Look for the next post in our blog series about how our voice of the customer sessions influenced Scaled Agile’s recent value stream work. 

In the meantime, you can download the updated Value Stream and ART Identification Workshop toolkit by navigating to the “Implement” tab on the SAFe Community Platform, selecting “SAFe Toolkits & Templates,” then selecting “SAFe Value Stream and ART Identification Workshop Toolkit 5.1.”

Value Stream Identification

About Adam Mattis

Adam Mattis is a SAFe Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT) at Scaled Agile with many years of experience overseeing SAFe implementations across a wide range of industries. He’s also an experienced transformation architect, engaging speaker, energetic trainer, and a regular contributor to the broader Lean-Agile and educational communities. Learn more about Adam at

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Next: Three Steps to Prepare for a Successful Value Stream Workshop

Three Steps to Prepare for a Successful Value Stream Workshop – SAFe Transformation

Value Stream Workshop

The Value Stream and Agile Release Train (ART) identification workshop are some of the most critical steps to generate meaningful results from your SAFe transformation. That’s because it enables you to respond faster to customer needs by organizing around value. This workshop can also be the hardest step. It’s complex and politically charged, so organizations often skip or mismanage it.

A savvy change agent would invest in the organizational and cultural readiness to improve the chances of its success. Attempting to shortcut or breeze through change readiness would be the same as putting your foot on the brake at the same time you’re trying to accelerate. Get this workshop right, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful SAFe implementation.

Why Is It So Difficult? 

Aside from the complex mechanics of identifying your value streams, there is also a people component that adds to the challenge. Leaders are often misaligned about the implications of the workshop, and it can be tough to get the right participants to attend.  For example, a people leader could soon realize that ARTs may be organized in a way that crosses multiple reporting relationships, raising the concern of their direct reports joining ARTs that don’t report to them. 

In reflecting on my battle scars from the field, I’ve distilled my advice to three steps to prepare the organization for a successful workshop.

Step 1: Engage the right participants

The Value Stream and ART identification workshop can only be effective and valuable if the right audience is present and engaged. This is the first step to ensure the outcome of the workshop solves for the whole system and breaks through organizational silos.

“… and If you can’t come, send no one.” —W. Edwards Deming

The required attendees will fall into four broad categories:

  • Executives and leaders with the authority required to form ARTs that cut across silos.
  • Business owners and stakeholders who can speak to the operational activities of the business, including ones with security and compliance concerns.
  • Technical design authorities and development managers who can identify impacted systems and are responsible for the people who are working on them.
  • Lean-Agile Center of Excellence and change agents supporting the SAFe implementation and facilitating the workshop.

Use some guiding questions to identify the right audience for the workshop within your organization. Are the participants empowered to make organizational decisions? Do the participants represent the whole value stream? Is the number of attendees within a reasonable range to make effective decisions?

Step 2: Build leadership support and pre-align expectations

To support engagement and address potential resistance, I recommend performing a series of interactions with leaders in advance of the workshop. In such interactions, the change agent would socialize a crisp and compelling case for change in the organization, supporting the “why” behind running the workshop.

The change agent needs to be prepared to address leader trepidation about the possibility of having their reporting-line personnel on ARTs that they don’t fully own.  Most compelling is a data-based case made by performing value-stream mapping with real project data to expose the delays in value delivery due to organizational handoffs. 

Interaction opportunities can include one-on-one empathy interviews, attending staff meetings, internal focus groups, and overview sessions open to all workshop participants. 

I highly advise setting expectations with leaders in advance of the workshop. This will help them understand the workshop implications, help identify potential misalignment or resistance, and coach them in how to signal support for the workshop purpose.  

The following are useful expectations to set with the participants in advance to help shape how they view the upcoming workshop:

Value Stream Workshop
  • Allow the designs to emerge during the session. This is meant as a collaborative workshop.
  • Expect to be active and on your feet during the session, actively contributing to the designs.
  • Be present and free up your schedule for the duration of the workshop as key organizational decisions are being made.
  • Alleviate the anxiety of broad, big-bang change by clarifying that they get to influence the implementation plan and timing to launch the ARTs.
  • Address the misconception about organizational change by explaining that ARTs are “virtual” organizations, and that reporting lines need not be disrupted.

Step 3: Prepare the workshop facilitators

A successful Value Stream and ART identification workshop will have the main facilitator, ideally someone with experience running this workshop. Additionally, you’ll need a facilitator, typically an SPC, per every group of six to eight attendees. Prior to the workshop date, schedule several facilitator meetings to prepare and align them on the game plan. This will go a long way in helping your facilitators project competence and confidence during the workshop. Discuss the inherent challenges and potential resistance, and how the facilitators can best facilitate such moments. Share insights on change readiness based on the leadership interactions and empathy interviews. Finally, prepare a shared communication backchannel for facilitators, and build in sync points during the event to ensure alignment across the groups.

While these simple steps and readiness recommendations don’t necessarily guarantee a successful workshop, they’re a great starting point. You’ll still need to understand the mechanics of identifying value streams. This is what Adam will cover in the next post in our value stream series. Look for it next week.

In the meantime, check out the new Organize Around Value page on the SAFe Community Platform.

About Deema Dajani

Deema Dajani is a Certified SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT).

Deema Dajani is a Certified SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT).
Drawing on her successful startup background and an MBA from Kellogg Northwestern University, Deema helps large enterprises thrive through successful Agile transformations. Deema is passionate about organizing Agile communities for good, and helped co-found the Women in Agile nonprofit. She’s also a frequent speaker at Agile conferences and most recently contributed to a book on business agility.

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Next: Leading the SAFe® Conversation to Win Over Your Peers

Leading the SAFe® Conversation to Win Over Other Leaders

Has your agency, program, corporation or company given Agile a try? Perhaps with one of the myriad techniques or methodologies out there? Perhaps with a homegrown model that would “fit just right?” Let’s explore some of the questions you might encounter along the way as you connect with other leaders, and field some tough conversations. 

In my role as an advisor to aid US government leaders in their journey, I’ve worked with them through common perceptions to achieve greater success. Topics such as Agile not being one-size-fits-all. Situations where they may have Agile teams but certain processes slow things to a crawl, even with faster development. In these particular cases, it’s necessary to realize that it’s not just about converting your waterfall teams. Instead, let’s understand your leaders’ desired outcomes, accept the reality of the current landscape, and talk about ways you can navigate these challenges and gain support for pursuing business agility with the Scaled Agile Framework® ( SAFe®).

Explaining SAFe

While many people have heard of SAFe, they haven’t necessarily experienced the Framework in action. Or if they did, perhaps it was during an implementation where the agency tried to implement everything on the Big Picture at the same time. As a leader, one of the first challenges you’ll likely face as you seek to begin your journey is helping your peers understand what the Framework is and what it isn’t. This is a pivotal moment where your own understanding is critical.

Leading the SAFe®

* * * * * * * * * *

Tip: Use the SAFe overview to describe SAFe as opposed to the Big Picture. The overview illustrates that the Framework provides seven core competencies, made up of twenty-one dimensions, all designed to help you connect with your customer and achieve greater Business Agility. Each competency and its dimensions provide potential starting points, and can serve to prompt discussions regarding desired outcomes.

* * * * * * * * * *

When I meet with leaders, executives, and officers, I describe SAFe as:

  • A vehicle that will help you reach greater Business Agility.
  • A framework of proven techniques, patterns, practices and principles that can be leveraged to focus on the outcomes that matter the most.
  • A knowledge base of the best patterns, practices, and principles from Lean, Agile, and business thought leaders. All of which can help you accelerate the delivery of value to the warfighter or customer with increased quality, with people who are inspired and engaged.
  • A set of patterns, practices, and principles that will help your people find a new way of working. One where they can deliver more value, sooner, at a pace they can sustain and improve.

While the descriptions above are not canned sayings, I hope that they help convey the spirit and content that describes SAFe. Because it’s more than something to “just do” by launching an Agile Release Train (ART). 

Here’s what I don’t say:

  • SAFe says you will get all these benefits by training everyone and launching an ART.
  • SAFe is the number one scaling framework so you should use it.
  • SAFe will fix all of your problems if you have a SAFe Program Consultant (SPC) helping you.

Why do I avoid positioning SAFe as something that can make problems miraculously disappear? Because it’s imperative that leadership conversations are grounded in core values such as transparency.

* * * * * * * * * *

Tip: One of the best ways to help a leader understand what’s possible with SAFe is to connect them to another leader who has already started the journey to agility. There are many officers, civil servants, and executives that have accomplished their mission with greater speed and quality. Connecting with the SAFe Community through meetups, forums, and informal learning networks is a great place to find them.

* * * * * * * * * *

Talking about the Tipping Point

When leaders are open to exploring options to change the way work is done, it’s often because they’ve reached a point where they realize that something needs to change.  This is not the time to sugar-coat things.

The reality that change is hard and takes time must be part of the initial conversations.  Otherwise, organizations risk creating a foundation that’s built on fear, mistrust, and uncertainty. During these conversations, having a partner that can help you navigate your leaders’ questions, concerns, and perceptions will help greatly. If that’s not possible, please do some research and learn about others who have embarked upon the journey in your industry. In addition to the people you can find in the communities, you can tap into a variety of customer stories about organizations that have implemented SAFe. Most of these contain candid descriptions of the challenges, growing pains, and successes.

Leading the SAFe®

* * * * * * * * * *

Tip: Mindset matters. Initial conversations go much smoother when both the presenter and the audience have individuals with a growth mindset. If the one seeking to implement the framework or the leaders of the organization or program have a fixed mindset, you may want to work to resolve that impediment prior to beginning your journey.

* * * * * * * * * *

Once you have the audience, it’s time to talk about the journey ahead, This is where transparency, alignment, and execution begin. Whether you’re leveraging the Introducing SAFe® 5.0 PowerPoint available from the SAFe Presentations and Videos page, or using one of the toolkits available to SPCs and SPCTs, the goal is to obtain leadership engagement—not just support. In addition to providing a general understanding of the Framework and Business Agility, I’ll facilitate discussions with senior civil servants, officers, and executives to better understand:

  • What are the outcomes they desire?
  • What keeps them up at night?
  • What are the expectations?
  • What have they tried that’s worked?
  • What have they tried that hasn’t?
  • What’s in the way?
  • What does success look like to them?
  • Will they invest in learning about a new way of working?

Once you and the leaders have aligned on the journey ahead, the SAFe Implementation Roadmap provides a guide to leading change as you pursue a new way of working.  Remember, it’s a roadmap, not a prescription or process. You’ll still need to have more conversations to figure out how to align and adjust.

Find out for yourself how government agencies are getting buy-in for SAFe. Explore the agenda for SAFe Day Government and consider attending. I’ll be giving a talk with my colleague, Michael Robertson, about Following the Implementation Roadmap. The event is also a great place to connect with your peers and find out how they’re using SAFe. I hope to see you (virtually) there.

About Phil Gardiner

Phil Gardiner, an SPCT, is focused on enabling people to achieve sustainable success through greater business agility. He has served various markets from Fortune 10 corporations to the U.S. federal government.

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Next: Happy Anniversary, Agile Manifesto!

Happy Anniversary, Agile Manifesto!

Agile Manifesto!

Happy anniversary, Agile Manifesto! It’s hard to believe you were created 20 years ago this month, in a ski lodge in Snowbird, Utah. The world was a very different place, then, wasn’t it?

Enron was #7 on the Fortune 500 list. Python, PHP, and Lisp were popular programming languages. Apple was getting ready to introduce the first iPod, and Microsoft would later premiere the Xbox. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” would become that year’s most popular movie. Wikipedia was about to launch.

Like many great inventions, Agile Manifesto, you were born of necessity. Your founders were frustrated with the way software was being developed back then. It was a linear, top-down, bureaucratic, waterfall process, saturated with documentation. The inherent conflict between the rigid, hierarchical power structures inside most corporations and the adaptive, fast-moving, ever-evolving world of software was a constant source of frustration. The development process often omitted the customer’s point of view. And there wasn’t much flexibility to adapt to inevitable changes before the software shipped. (Microsoft Windows XP, released the same year, literally shipped to customers on millions of CD-ROMs!)

A Better Way to Build Software

So when your developer founders got together for a week of skiing, eating, talking, debating, and writing in February of 2001, they brought with them a bunch of ideas (some say Agile’s origins actually date back to 1968.) Their hope was to suggest a better way of developing software, one they could use themselves and share with others. They wanted to capture a set of working agreements based on trust, respect, and collaboration. Rather than simply following fixed requirements, timelines, and contracts, they aspired to deliver working products that would satisfy customers—in a working environment that they themselves would find rewarding.

Let’s revisit what they came up with, shall we?

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.” By using the present tense here, your founders baked collaboration and continuous improvement into the heart of your guidance. And unlike with traditional charters and constitutions, they position your beliefs not as absolutes, but as comparisons: “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” That speaks to your emphasis on adaptability and collaboration.

And let’s not forget your 12 principles. It’s interesting that over the last year many of us have had to re-think principle #6: “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.” Because of the pandemic, many of us simply can’t be together in person: a face-to-face Zoom meeting is the best we can do. Yet even as the world changes at what feels like a steadily accelerating pace, these principles remain a compass for practicing agilists. The methodologies and frameworks may be different, but your common tenets hold us fast to what really matters.

How about your name? One interesting fact many people may not know about you, Agile Manifesto, is how you came by the name “Agile.” Apparently there was a lot of debate over what to call you. Some wanted to use the term “lightweight,” while others thought that had negative connotations; some wanted to use the word “adaptive.” In the end they decided on Agile, and they used it strictly as an adjective.

Look at You Now, Agile Manifesto

Today, “Agile” is very much a noun—and that too is a source of debate. You probably never would have guessed that you’d give birth to an entire industry of training, coaching, consulting, and tooling. You’ve been translated into more than 60 languages. People have even developed Agile Manifestos for non-software disciplines, including marketing and HR.

Other “management fads” like TQM and Six Sigma have come and gone, but you’re still going strong, Agile Manifesto. In fact some might say you’re just getting started. The fact that software has eaten the world certainly helped your growth. Research finds that eight in ten organizations have adopted or are planning to adopt Agile, and your tenets are endemic in some of the most successful companies in the world: from Amazon, Apple, and Google to Walmart, ExxonMobil, and Lockheed Martin. Many organizations climbing the NASDAQ charts in the last decade build software according to your tenets but don’t even call it Agile: according to some, this indicates you’ve crossed the chasm.

Scaled Agile - Agile Manifesto!

But don’t let the “industry” of Agile fool you, Agile Manifesto. Anyone who’s practiced Agile approaches can tell you that it’s not about the processes, titles, tools, or stickies on whiteboards. It’s about working together with trust and respect, building products with quality and empathy, and collaborating with responsiveness and transparency. As one of your founders, Jim Highsmith, described in your history:

“At the core, I believe Agile Methodologists are really about “mushy” stuff—about delivering good products to customers by operating in an environment that does more than talk about ‘people as our most important asset’ but actually ‘acts’ as if people were the most important, and lose the word ‘asset.’”

A Better Way of Working

SAFe itself is indebted to you, Agile Manifesto, for providing the foundation for a new, more effective way of working. We have 700,000 practitioners in 20,000 companies across the globe, and it’s likely no two of them are using SAFe in quite the same way. The ability to adapt a methodology like Agile or SAFe to make it effective for one’s own environment relies on strong principles. So this month, we want to celebrate you by diving into your tenets and principles with our community!

In the vein of continuous improvement that you established with your birth, Agile Manifesto, we invite the community to take this opportunity to look forward. How can we keep evolving your manifestation in our day-to-day work? How can we use your tenets to keep improving how we collaborate and build products that customers will value? What about you might need to change to accommodate our ever-changing world, or to expand your use outside of software? How might we invite more women and people of color to participate with you?

Let’s Celebrate

Here are a few ways we’re celebrating you, Agile Manifesto, over the month of February. We hope YOU, our community members, will join us in these discussions.

Agile20 Reflect Festival: A Journey from Waterfall, RUP, Lean-Agile to SAFe

February 10 // 9:00 AM MT // 16:00 GMT
This panel discussion, co-hosted by Radtac and the London SAFe Meetup, will feature Dean Leffingwell, co-creator and founder of SAFe. Dean will share his perspective on the Agile Manifesto and how it continues to influence his work in applying Lean-Agile methods at enterprise scale with SAFe. You’ll also get a chance to hear some of his memorable career experiences and lessons learned as an entrepreneur, CEO, methodologist, author, coach, and willing critics’ foil.

Applying the Agile Manifesto at Scale: A Panel Discussion

February 22 // 10:00 AM MT // 17:00 GMT
The Agile Manifesto is now 20 years old. So it’s fair to ask, given all the advancements in the last 20 years, Is the Agile Manifesto still relevant? Does the Agile Manifesto scale? Does it meet the needs of enterprises developing the biggest and most complex software and systems? In this panel discussion, five SAFe Fellows (Andrew Sales, Eric Willike, Inbar Oren, Michael Stump, and Robin Yeman) will address these questions and reflect on the vital role that the Agile Manifesto plays in SAFe and how it remains as relevant today as ever. The panel will also consider which principles of the Agile Manifesto require increased emphasis at scale, which ones require an expanded perspective, and what shortcomings need to be addressed.

Check out the Twitter hashtag #AgileManifesto and follow us @ScaledAgile for more celebrations throughout the month.

About Hannah Bink

Hannah Bink - Marketing Success Team - Scaled Agile

Hannah Bink heads the Marketing Success team at Scaled Agile. She has nearly 15 years of B2B marketing experience and studied business at Pennsylvania State University. Prior to Scaled Agile, Hannah spent the majority of her career in telecommunications and healthcare sectors, running global marketing divisions. She is also author of the “Musings of a Marketeer” blog, and lives in Denver, Colorado.

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Next: Aligning Global Teams Through Agile Program Management: A Case Study

Scrum Master Stories: Improving Team Dynamics for Better Productivity – Agility Planning

Scrum Master Stories

I’m the scrum master for several teams at Scaled Agile. Throughout my time here, we’ve had team members leave the company. We’ve hired new team members. And we’ve reorganized around value, forming and re-forming new teams. During these times of change, we’ve needed ways to keep the teams motivated and working well together. 

I’m pretty fortunate as a scrum master in that my team members will tell me what they need—and they’re very vocal. There were certainly some direct conversations where they said, “Hey, we’re losing out on the interpersonal connections with other team members. The dynamic is changing. We feel like things are changing.” I appreciated the team giving me those very direct cues for what to focus on and how to find ways to maintain our team dynamic.

We have to know each other. We have to trust each other. We have to have good communication. It’s like a relationship; it takes a lot of work. It’s not something that just happens in a week. We made it through those times of change. The team sort of stabilized, which is nice to see, and now we’re in a place where we want to try and push a little bit further. So, we observe relentless improvement. We never just sit back and say, “We’re done getting better.” There’s a lot of giving and take and push and pull, but it’s important to make sure that your team members know they’re being heard and listened to. And that we’re all working toward a common objective. Those elements have been really crucial to getting the team’s buy-in and making sure they’re motivated.

Patrick Lencioni talks about vulnerability-based trust as being foundational for a high-performing because it gives team members the ability to ask for help and admit mistakes. For team members to trust each other, they need to be seen and heard. As a facilitator, I can create opportunities for that to happen. I lead by example to show a genuine interest in the lives of our team members and try to understand what motivates them. When preparing for a team meeting, I like to reserve 5 to 10 minutes in the beginning when there’s no pressure to make progress on the purpose of the meeting. Rather, it’s time reserved for maintaining our team dynamic. I’m not into American football, but I’ll ask my teammate questions about the team in her Zoom background. Recently, we heard a funny story from a teammate telling us about his “I turned 50” trophy on the shelf behind him. These moments help us see and hear each other, which in turn strengthens our trust and ability to work together as a team.

There are lots of things we can do to promote a sense of pride in our teams. During a recent reorganization, we allowed team members to choose their team names. One of our graphic designers was so inspired by the new team name, he created a badge that we include on any documents that our team uses.

Friendly competition is great to bring a team together (games are also a sneaky way to check your team’s understanding of a topic). We’ve played trivia, Family Feud, Jeopardy, Kahoot games, and even had an Olympic-themed PI Planning where teams could compete to win points. We gamify our hackathons and have competed in cultural diversity simulations. Each of these activities is designed to give the team something to rally around other than their day-to-day work and reminds them that they can accomplish more when they work together.

About Sam Ervin

Sam is a certified SAFe® 5.0 Program Consultant (SPC)

Sam is a certified SAFe® 5.0 Program Consultant (SPC) and serves as the scrum master for several teams at Scaled Agile. His recent career highlights include entertaining the crowd as the co-host of the 2019 and 2020 Global SAFe® Summits. A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Sam lives in Denver, CO, where he enjoys CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting.

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Next: Connect Your Learning Networks to SAFe

Connect Your Learning Networks to SAFe – Benefits of SAFe

Welcome to the final post in our series on learning networks. In previous posts, we’ve discussed the power of informal learning networkshow informal learning networks emerge, and how to uncover these networks in your own organization. In this post, I’ll explain how to connect your learning networks with SAFe®.

Benefits of SAFe

I like to think of these learning networks as essential tools in the toolbox of a SAFe enterprise as it works to create a continuous learning culture. Formal events are valuable, intentional, and complement a shift from formal to informal learning opportunities. Creating learning—or serendipitous—moments catalyze a change in mindset with curiosity at the forefront.

A Learning Mindset

Everyone is always learning, all the time, and creating a continuous learning culture is paramount to acknowledging that. 

The informal learning networks I’ve been describing align nicely with the three dimensions of a continuous learning culture.

  • Become a learning organization. Formal and informal learning networks can help you get there. Informal learning networks are a grassroots-level way to create a learning organization, without anyone actually realizing it. 
  • Create an innovation culture. Do your teams have the time and space to work on different, unique things and learn from each other? People in these networks are meeting, learning, and innovating together.
  • Cultivate a relentless improvement mindset. People in these informal learning networks are curious and always looking to get better at what they’re doing. Relentless improvement is how they think and part of who they are, and they’re meeting, learning, and improving together. 
Connect Your Learning Networks to SAFe

Creating a continuous learning culture is about more than learning how to code in a new system. People want to learn how to coach their leaders, how to mentor people, how to share what they’ve learned, and how to become lifelong learners in the process. And this culture enables people in a Lean-Agile enterprise to solve challenges behind the scenes. In my last post, I wrote about how people in informal learning networks aren’t interested in recognition. They’re passionate about learning new things and applying what they’ve learned to the enterprise. They seek out others with the same mindset, and that’s how the learning mindset and culture grows which is better for any organization and its success without doing much.

How SAFe Promotes Learning Networks

The fact that an organization has adopted SAFe in the first place is a catalyst for promoting these learning networks. So, where in SAFe do these learning networks appear? And where are the opportunities for informal learning networks to emerge as enterprises adopt SAFe, business agility and sustain their transformation over time? Let’s do some exploring.

Communities of practice

The best communities of practice (CoPs) I participate in don’t have a full, formal agenda. Instead, they leave space for thoughts and ideas to surface. CoPs don’t exist for people in similar roles to get together once a month with a guest speaker. Rather, they exist to organically create tremendous learning opportunities and thriving social networks. 

Before I left my last enterprise, I was an SPC at the time, and I started a CoP for all the SPCs across the organization. There were a lot of us, and I’m still active in a few informal learning networks that started from this CoP, as well as other CoPs that crossed organizational boundaries. Many informal networks start from the most casual conversations and events, some with just a few people, and expand from there—within and outside the organization.

Benefits of SAFe

Continuous learning culture

Fostering a continuous learning culture isn’t about checking boxes, bringing in external trainers, or transactional learning. It’s about tying these elements together from formal and informal events. And I remember being part of an organization that was great at this. 

One time in particular, there was a fairly large internal Agile conference organized in one of our Texas offices. As a speaker for this event, I got to meet so many other coaches and agilists from business units that I didn’t even know existed in our enterprise. It was an amazing experience. The event launched numerous social networks that turned into learning networks for me—many that I’m still part of. Other times, less-formal events would just emerge. Events like unplanned coaching clinics we’d spin up to help associates discover growth areas that they could focus on within their role. A lot of mentoring relationships even grew from some of these. Suffice it to say, there was no shortage of available learning networks to lean into. Once I joined them, my traditional perspective about having to go outside of my organization to learn just disappeared.

IP iteration

The innovation and planning (IP) iteration is a perfect opportunity to build and expand informal networks. People typically have more time and space to explore and focus on something other than their day-to-day work. Oftentimes, we see leaders try to take this iteration off the schedule and go directly from one PI to another. There isn’t a pause for innovation or learning or preparing for the next PI. This is why I think the IP iteration is non-negotiable and should be a promise that all leaders make to their ARTs.

I’ve seen so many learning networks emerge during IP iterations, including from hackathons. After the hackathon demo, people that are curious about the outcome and want to lean in and help take it forward, often (quite informally) start a learning network.  Maybe they put some stories on a backlog. Maybe they decide to extend the network to more people outside of their teams and ARTs. That’s exactly how these networks start and grow.

What’s so great about learning networks is that you can meet with anyone from anywhere internal and external to your organization. You can create a protected space where people can connect and find new ways to improve their skills. Everyone can learn together from practicing SAFe.

Informal Learning Networks: Find One. Join One. Start One.

I participate in a number of informal networks. Some of them originated from past enterprises where I worked. Some of them originated from Agile conferences. Some of them originated from other formal facilitation groups that I’m part of. But they all share a key characteristic: the only constraints that exist are the ones that we may place on them ourselves.

At one time, I had four mentors that emerged from my learning networks. And from each one of those relationships, I created new, informal learning networks. I couldn’t wait to keep sharing what I learned, including practicing new skills. I wasn’t the only one who had external mentors, so I got to learn from others in the networks too. By joining all these learning networks, I sharpen my skills, and extend them in areas where it used to take me twice as long to do something. But now that I’ve learned from others, I can work smarter. The biggest benefit? It doesn’t actually feel like work when you’re part of a learning network.

In the first post I wrote for this series, I described the moment when I shifted from being a transactional learner to a lifelong learner after my leader told me to, “Just keep doing what you’re doing.” In your quest to be a lifelong learner, I expect that many of you are already part of an informal learning network—you probably just didn’t have a name for it.

I challenge and encourage you to find someone in your enterprise who’s interested in the area that your learning network is currently exploring. Invite them to collaborate with you. Although these networks are informal, they’re still open to everyone.

Here’s my advice around finding, joining, and creating a learning network:

  • Be curious.
  • Seek out a learning network. Find out how it started and what members are learning about. I can almost guarantee you won’t find a calendar entry for it.
  • Join a learning network. But not the first one you come across. Find one whose members are exploring and learning something you’re passionate about.
  • Start a learning network. All of us have topics that really excite us. What’s the one thing you spend your weekends learning more about? And how can you contribute your knowledge, expertise, and experience to help others learn? Start a learning network by bringing what you know into your daily collaborations at work. Chances are once you start sharing what you’re learning, people will come to you.

I truly believe that learning networks are a best-kept secret in organizations. Primarily because they catalyze learning and help organizations cultivate a continuous learning culture. What will you learn next?

About Audrey Boydston

Audrey Boydston is a senior consultant at Scaled Agile

Audrey Boydston is a senior consultant at Scaled Agile and an experienced SPCT, Lean-Agile coach, trainer, and facilitator. Her work focuses on continuous learning, building fundamentals, re-orienting around principles, and helping clients—from senior executives to developers—build networks and communities that support their transformations.

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Next: Launching an ART? Do a Gemba Walk.

Launching an ART? Do a Gemba Walk – Implementing SAFe

Launching an ART?

What if you could see a great example of SAFe® in the wild; a vision of a possible future as you prepare to launch your first ART? Would you want to stand in the middle of where the work is done and gain insights into what could inhibit your success? I’d like to share an approach I’ve used to leverage the power of a Gemba walk. I believe it to be one of the most powerful accelerators available for those considering implementing SAFe.

What is Gemba?

Gemba is a Japanese term that means “the real place.” It represents going to where the work is done or the place where value is created from a Lean-Agile perspective. Within an automotive plant, it’s the manufacturing floor, at a hospital, it could be the ER or operating room, and in the U.S. Government, it could be inside a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF).

Traditionally, a leader would take a Gemba walk to visit where the work is being done to observe the value being created and interact with the people and processes. Together, they can identify opportunities for improvement. Within SAFe, Gemba walks are among the collaborative research techniques product management will use for continuous exploration.

I encourage enterprise executives, Lean Portfolio Management executives, and ART stakeholders to take Gemba walks of PI Planning from a relentless improvement perspective. Gemba walks to allow them to truly understand the Framework while raising awareness of systemic issues that may require senior leadership assistance. Even before you’ve launched your ART, a Gemba walk of PI Planning is valuable. It is similar to someone looking to invest in a restaurant franchise who visits an existing location to get a closer look at what might be ahead of them.

While I have used this within large corporations, I have found it particularly applicable to the federal government. Many of the corporation-to-corporation or even business-unit-to-business-unit challenges that exist in the private sector do not apply as civil servant leaders are, ultimately, all part of the same overall entity. I’ve seen an incredible willingness for government leaders to share with others across agencies, such as the USAF/US Army program leader inviting NASA leaders to observe PI Planning before their ART launch. In this case, “the real place” is a live PI Planning event for an established ART.

Doing a Gemba Walk at PI Planning

As you can imagine, observing PI Planning before attempting to launch your ART will always provide valuable insights. Even if you only glean some examples of things you might do differently, there is no substitute for actually experiencing a live event.

I recommend you find the best example of SAFe you can and arrange to observe it with an experienced tour guide.

Tip: Look for ARTs organized around value, with dedicated Agile teams that meet the commitments they make themselves. If you can, find an ART where the Business Owners, Product Management, System Architect, and RTE have cleared their schedules to be 100-percent available during the entire event. Seek an ART where leaders demonstrate Lean, Agile, and SAFe values in how they work while genuinely seeking to cultivate transparency, create alignment, and deliver value together.

Interested?  Here are the steps I like to take:

1. Find an ART that represents the type of SAFe implementation you hope to achieve yourself. Starting with the practices alone can still bring value, as not every company, business unit, or government program is ready to weave the values and principles necessary for great success. Additionally, some see SAFe as a process to be implemented by the numbers, pushing practices out, and directing how everything will work. Others understand that implementing SAFe, or any scaling agile framework requires shifts in mindsets and people making decisions based on new values and principles. I focus on the latter, as it’s the one that creates the deep roots needed to sustain and grow.

2. Obtain permission from the program leaders, understand what values they seek from experience, and address any concerns. Often, this idea of a Gemba walk is part of the introduction email between leaders of both programs.

3. Facilitate an orientation meeting before the planning event. This orientation allows you to introduce leaders from both programs, review the host ART’s schedule, and set the working agreements to ensure minimal disruption and maximum learning. Additionally, this meeting allows the host to share any context-specific ways they have leveraged the Framework. The visitors and the tour guide will understand the reasons for the changes before observing the event.

Tip: If remote, provide an overview of the tooling and methods used to replicate the deep collaboration model present in a face-to-face event.

ART’s schedule

4. Arrange for a dedicated tour guide who doesn’t need to facilitate the actual PI Planning event. If they have an SPC, as well as experience coaching ART launches, I recommend that the new program’s coach be the guide. Otherwise, the existing coach from the host program is a solid choice. The purpose of the tour guide is to help the visitors connect their knowledge to the field experience while highlighting best practices and answering questions in real-time without disrupting the host ART’s event. Ensure that everyone stays connected by having a persistent chat channel available for coaches and visitors throughout the event, and pre and post syncs to reflect on the insights gained.

Tip: If you consider bringing in an SPC as a coach or consultant, deeply explore their field experience. You might even find one who has a previous customer willing to share their perspective or allow you to observe their PI Planning event.

5. Allow visitors to observe the entire PI Planning event. If this isn’t feasible, see how many of the key events are available, such as opening briefings, team breakouts, plan reviews, management review, ROAMing of program risks, and the confidence vote. Understanding the host’s parameters and the visitor’s role can help you prioritize if time is limited.

6. Facilitate daily meet-afters between both sets of leaders. Standing meet-afters provide a safe forum to ask tough questions and discuss sensitive topics with honesty. Those who have the experience can share their tips and tricks with those preparing to embark on their SAFe journey.

7. Encourage connections between each visitor and the individual in their corresponding ART role. Personal relationships create an opportunity for those in the various roles to connect beyond the event. These introductions also can spark the creation of role-specific communities of practice.

Remember: SAFe is a framework, and while some essential elements, patterns, and practices lead to success, it is not one size fits all. As you look to customize your implementation, understanding why the methods are in place and which values and principles power them will serve you well.

A Gemba walk is one of the best ways to turn your knowledge of PI Planning into real understanding. It provides insights for hosts and visitors alike while creating community connections that foster alignment, transparency, quality, and execution.

Gemba resources

If you would like to learn more about Gemba within the Framework, check out the Continuous Exploration article. If you want to take a deeper dive, Jim Womack’s book, Gemba Walks Expanded, 2nd Edition is a great resource, and you can connect with one of the SAFe Fellows through the “Ask an Expert” forum on the SAFe Community Platform portal (login required).

About Phil Gardiner

Phil Gardiner, a SPCT, is focused on enabling people to achieve sustainable success through greater business agility. He has served various markets from Fortune 10 corporations to the U.S. federal government.

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Next: Uncovering Your Organization’s Hidden Learning Networks

Uncovering Your Organization’s Hidden Learning Networks – Business Agility Planning

 Learning Networks

Welcome to the third post in our series on learning networks. In previous posts, we’ve discussed the power of informal learning networks and how informal learning networks emerge. In this post, I’ll share how you can uncover these networks in your own organization. Chances are they exist; they’re just not necessarily in plain sight.

I’ve found that people in learning networks aren’t in them to put themselves in the spotlight. They’re interested in sharing what they’ve learned and learned from others. If that’s the case, how do you find these people and networks? It’s actually what you find around these people that will give you some clues.

Be curious: listen for hints of learning

Have any of these scenarios ever played out in your own organization?

  • Impediments that mysteriously disappear without any leadership involvement and people are asking “Who fixed this?”
  • Teams and ARTs delivering work that they’ve never had the skills to work on before.
  • Casual mention of “People in this business unit do this,” or “I learned that if we …” or “Did you know that …”

Informal learning networks help agility planning, solve real business and operational problems, often without anyone else knowing anything about it.

Be curious: explore the most unlikely of places

Now, think about that one business unit, team, or department where there’s low attrition, lots of innovation happening, and lots of employee excitement. 

Being a curious person myself, I remember looking across the landscape of my enterprise and noticing one specific Agile release train (ART) with about 145 people that had absolutely zero attrition, for a very long time. Nobody wanted to leave. They were completely engaged and enjoyed their work so much that people stayed, even when tempted by attractive opportunities elsewhere. Around the same time period, I also observed another ART that had the opposite environment. Picture a revolving door at the entrance. This ART struggled to keep people and couldn’t replace them fast enough to stay on track with their commitments.

As I reflected on my observations, two things became very clear. One ART was learning and one wasn’t. And that meant that one ART had informal learning networks and one didn’t. The people on the first ART I described, which I call the learning ART, were learning from every single place they could, internal and external. And they were bringing in what they learned and sharing it with their coworkers. “Just keep doing what you’re doing” wasn’t even part of the conversation.

This is exactly why I encourage you to explore and ask the question, “Does anyone know this technology, this Agile skill, etc.?” Explore outside of your specific area as you seek opportunities to accelerate your learning journey. Spend time not only with your teams and ARTs but with leaders in other areas—even those completely outside of your business unit. Taking that leap to start connecting with people in other business units is a crucial first step. Inquire about what they’ve learned, what they’re learning, and where they’re learning it from. Even just sitting down for a cup of coffee (in person or virtually) and talking to someone can be the best way to find these learning networks. Which, by the way, might be hidden from direct view but aren’t secret. 

Be curious: engage the people-connectors

As I alluded to earlier in this post, people in learning networks truly want to learn something and share it to mentor others, so, chances are they’re willing to tell you about everything they’re learning. I like to call them the people-connectors. These are the people that seem to know everybody, are curious, and are part of at least one internal learning network—which they probably started themselves.

Here’s an example of a typical conversation with a people connector.

Person 1: “We need to learn this skill.”

Person 2:  “Maybe we could bring someone in to teach us.”

People-connector: “I know someone on team K who has this skill and who’d be happy to teach it to you.”

Think about it: what you’ll remember most about that conversation is not how you got the connection but the learning you received from it. People-connectors are motivated to share what they’ve learned to better the organization. The more they connect people and share, the more they learn from others too. 

Learning Networks

Find and join a learning network  

One of the best benefits I’ve experienced working within large enterprises is that there are lots of people in various business units to connect with while on your learning journey. Many of us, including me, have unknowingly added constraints to our thinking about who we should collaborate with, such as people in our general area of business. A world of learning awaits as soon as you remove those constraints and find ways to connect with people in other areas.

But don’t stop there. Seek out others outside of your enterprise that has common learning goals and start a learning network with them. I’m in a variety of learning networks with people all over the world—and each of them started with one conversation or interaction.

Now that you know where to find these networks, read the final post in my blog series about how to connect your learning networks with SAFe.

About Audrey Boydston

Audrey Boydston is a senior consultant at Scaled Agile and an experienced SPCT, Lean-Agile coach, trainer, and facilitator. Her work focuses on continuous learning, building fundamentals, re-orienting around principles, and helping clients—from senior executives to developers—build networks and communities that support their transformations.

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