12 Tips for Implementing Lean Portfolio Management in Large Portfolios

In 2021, Gartner shared a report on three steps for implementing Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) using SAFe®. Paired with SAFe community stories, it’s helped organizations feel confident beginning their LPM journeys. 

Today, some of the largest organizations in the world have implemented strong LPM practices, roles, and outcomes. 

I’m sharing some of the learnings from my journey inside one of these vast organizations. I’ve also included great insights from the LPM community at large. 

These learnings are organized into 12 brief tips you can use in your own LPM implementation. 

If you’re interested in learning more about one of these tips, take a minute to fill out the survey at the end of this post. It will inform my next blog in this series, where I’ll explore one of these 12 tips further.

12 Tips for Implementing Lean Portfolio Management in Large Portfolios

Tip #1 – Align with Executive Leadership on the Reason for Change

When implementing Lean Portfolio Management at a large organization, you’re often updating the effectiveness of hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars of decision-making. You’re also affecting tens of thousands of people within the organization. 

Change at this span requires top-level alignment and scripting. 

Take the time to align with existing executive strategy leaders, c-suite, and senior financial leadership in articulating the existing Portfolios. This practice will lead to long-term success. 

Begin with the end in mind by determining the strategy and outcomes. This will ensure alignment with executive leadership on both these fronts. It will also make the implementation of my next tip easier.

Tip #2 – Gain an Understanding of the Organization’s Strategy

Once you understand the strategy, you can help innovative portfolios emerge. 

Alongside senior leaders, consider key questions. Base these answers on known strategic shifts and market research:

  • What new portfolios will we need to create in the upcoming two years? 
  • What results would we like to be touting in future shareholder calls? 
  • How do our current solutions create a blended end-user experience?
  • What pairings could we make across solutions to improve outcomes if we connected their work more?

Tip #3 – Discover and Map the Current Fiscal Decision Cycle of the Business

Your organization has a way to identify and earmark funds for a cycle. Many organizations have a 12-or-18-month fiscal process. They’re often aligned to the calendar year. 

Identify what critical decisions happen when in your organization’s current schedule. Then determine the action each decision initiates. Use the same skills you would use to map a value stream to map your fiscal process. 

For example, in many organizations, before using LPM, they identify the amount of capital to be allocated. This leads to allocating this large amount to each business portfolio to then be further broken into projects.

Tip #4 – Identify When You Can Responsibly Enable the Most Significant Change

Understanding the current state of your organization’s decision-making process is important. It presents the best time of year to make large changes. 

Here’s an example. 

Your company determines enterprise-level capital and operational expenditure goals for the upcoming year in June. If you change this for a single portfolio in January, it will get little traction. You’ve chosen the wrong time of year to make a critical change.

It’s best to give enterprise strategists a heads-up when introducing a new way of using strategic lean business cases. 

Having a conversation with your strategists a couple of months ahead of crafting the strategy for the next cycle will give them enough time to plan the new lean business cases, which will be funded as MVPs. 

This is an opportune time to introduce your new ideas. They’re more likely to have a lasting impact because it gives the organization enough time to prepare for the new process.

Tip #5 – Create the Current State Portfolio Canvas, Then Use It to Learn

If a change agent decides to place an existing set of ARTs into a Lean-Agile portfolio without taking into consideration the current state, this will lead to lots of re-work. It will also lack long-term effectiveness. 

Working with others is critical when articulating and mapping the current solution landscape. 

Completing the portfolio canvas as a Lean Portfolio Management team ensures all team members’ perspectives are considered. This makes for a more accurate vision of the current portfolio state.  

Use the canvas to visualize which bundles of ARTs and value streams will best accomplish your enterprise goals.

Tip #6 – Launch One Portfolio at a Time, Giving Each Due Attention

Trying to adapt every portfolio to LPM at once is unlikely and unwieldy at this scale. As is the case when launching ARTs, it’s important to give each SAFe portfolio due attention. 

Use the Adopt LPM practice guides for each new portfolio. Ensure each portfolio completes every step from the practice guides. Apply the same rigor and love to each portfolio.

Additionally, the LPM implementations for each portfolio should remain in concert with one another. Remaining aligned with Enterprise Portfolio Management will prepare you for the next tip.

Tip #7 – Maintain the Larger Connected Systems of the Organization as You Launch New Portfolios

When implementing Lean Portfolio Management in large organizations, there will be periods of flux. Sometimes, some areas of the business will be using LPM practices while others aren’t. Therefore, it’s important to apply systems thinking so you don’t lose focus on how decisions affect other areas of the organization.

For example, let’s say a retail portfolio begins implementing digital coupons with LPM faster than a digital consumer portfolio still using a yearly or multi-year set of practices. In this situation, the end consumer will feel a brand disconnect that could harm the business. 

Understand the status of all portfolios in the lifecycle of maturity and implementation. Architecting the change of the connected portfolios is vital to achieving business agility.

Tip #8 – Gain Competence in the Business You Are Part Of

Lean and Agile understanding is a beginning, not an end. A transformation leader helping shift portfolios towards LPM should understand the organization’s context. 

Consider a transformational leader who pushes LPM practices without understanding the regulations which surround the business. Is it ok to prioritize all epics across the board similarly? 

In your company, do you have funds that must be spent on certain types of solutions and outcomes? Non-profits, for example, may have earmarked funds towards specific solutions that, if unmet, could mean losing their non-profit status. 

True innovation lies in these context-based understandings.

Tip #9 – Ensure Outcomes of the Portfolio Events Are Clear and Agreed upon before Closing an Event

Be clear and consistent when sharing outcomes and resultant actions with the value streams in the portfolio. Ensure the members of the value streams—teams, ARTs, leaders, and associated people managers—know when and where to expect the communication. 

Communicate outcomes of the portfolio events widely. The various events intend to create alignment for the members of lean portfolio leadership, the associated value stream members, and other enterprise portfolios. This enables flow across the entire organization.

Tip #10 – Embrace Impediments as Opportunities to Learn and Change with Others

Portfolio-level change agents, Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE) leaders, and Value Management Office (VMO) members will encounter multiple transformation impediments. 

These impediments range from: 

  • Personalities vehemently against changing the status quo
  • Leaders who add ad-hoc work to the system without aligning with the company’s goals
  • Systems that aren’t yet built to handle the new way of working gracefully
  • And more 

Pair outside of your normal list of co-workers. Pairing with your detractors (like those mentioned in the bulleted list above) will help you grow. It will also make the difference between ‘transforming’ LPM and ‘doing’ LPM. Courageously be ready to state that a better answer can be built together.  

In my own journey, portfolio leaders I partnered with who were at first my biggest detractors to change often became not only my biggest change champions but have continued to reach out for help and advice after moving on to new organizations.

Tip #11 – Be Patient with Yourself and Others

Implementing Lean Portfolio Management is more complex than taking a class and launching LPM effectively in the next few weeks, especially when multiple portfolios exist in the organization. 

Transitioning the way millions, sometimes billions of dollars, are utilized is a responsibility to take very seriously and with appropriate patience. 

One way to do this is by adjusting how you set your goals. 

For example, you may be tempted to set a goal like ‘I will have LPM launched in 1 year.’ This is large, overwhelming, and potentially unrealistic. When you can’t achieve it, you’ll feel frustrated. 

Instead, focus on a goal that is more specific and focused on a smaller, more realistic step. 

One way to adjust the above example is ‘I will partner with finance and enterprise teams to align on the current financial tracking and agree on an improved future state with a prioritized backlog to get there within 6 months.’ 

This method does three things for you. It gives you a smaller time frame to work with and specific steps to help you on your way to the overall goal of launching LPM. It also helps you have patience for yourself. Finally, it grounds you in the original why for the change when things get chaotic.

Strong LPM Goal examples (same as the ones from the text)

Tip #12 – Be an Active Part of the LPM Community

We all learn from each other, so share what tips you discover! SAFe Studio has an LPM forum dedicated to sharing community insights. 

I found my LPM community by attending webinars, conferences, and meetups. I then reached out and connected to those who either inspired me or were asking for help.

I’m so excited to hear about your experiences, and others are too!

Want More LPM?

Hopefully, one or more of these tips provoked a new idea for your LPM implementation. 

If you’re interested in learning more about these tips, take a minute to fill out this survey. It will help us determine which tip to explore further in a future blog post. Cast your vote to ensure we pick the one you want to learn more about.     

In addition to these tips, here are some resources for getting started and the most out of your LPM implementation. 

Log into SAFe Studio to access our LPM resources


About Rebecca Davis

Rebecca Davis is a Scaled Agile Framework team member within Scaled Agile, Inc.

Rebecca Davis is a Scaled Agile Framework team member within Scaled Agile, Inc., a SAFe Fellow, SPCT, and a Principal Consultant. She has led multiple transformations as a LACE Director, RTE, Portfolio Manager, and Coach. Rebecca has experience helping organizations create joy in the workplace by connecting employees to each other and user outcomes.

Connect with Rebecca on LinkedIn.

Three Key Components of Healthy Agile Transformations

Improving your health is important so you can live a longer life. The same goes for your Agile transformation.

Certain habits improve your transformation’s health. Like eating healthy and working out do for our bodies.

I’ve seen these habits improve and sustain Agile transformations in many organizations:

  • Change leaders pave the way
  • Strategy connects directly to the work
  • People strategies activate engagement

Each of these habits signals your organization embraces real change. And embracing change is the foundation of a sustainable Agile transformation.

Restating the three bullet points

Change Leaders Pave the Way

Leadership is the most important part of a healthy Agile transformation. I’d go as far as saying leaders can make or break transformation efforts.

So leadership teams must lead the change for it to stick. They do this by leading by example at all levels of the organization (from the portfolio to Agile teams).

Change leaders also follow SAFe® Lean-Agile Principles and Core Values when making decisions.

Principles and values guide decisions

Leaders should embrace and demonstrate the principles and values in their leadership roles. And consult them when making a change to one of their transformation strategies.

Easterseals demonstrates one way to apply this thinking in this customer story. The company applied SAFe starting with Lean-Agile leadership. They placed change leaders in key roles. And then added the principles and structures to guide their decisions.

Some organizations disregard the principles and values to tailor SAFe. They make this modification to fit SAFe into their culture. But this creates an anti-pattern.

These modifications may include:

  • Changing the names of the roles identified in the Framework
  • Picking and choosing which ceremonies to hold
  • Training leaders on SAFe without proper leadership coaching and guidance

SAFe is not a prescriptive framework. Yet it’s important to maintain its foundational principles and values. This ensures a healthy Agile transformation.

Read more about how to apply the SAFe Core Values in a work setting here.

Operational excellence objectives facilitate improvements

Change leaders extend their reach through Lean-Agile Communities of Excellence (LACE). LACEs should share transformation learnings across portfolios. This aligns each portfolio to Lean-Agile practices and leadership. It also helps to create a Continuous Learning Culture.

Transformation leaders in the LACE should also spearhead improvement initiatives within the organization. Also, they should focus on cross-training initiatives. This solves bottlenecks and other flow issues.

Leadership sponsorship extends beyond sustaining to accelerating change

In a healthy Agile transformation, leadership doesn’t stop at sponsoring the change. They go as far as participating in and accelerating the change.

When this does not happen, the following pattern can occur.

A Fortune 100 large enterprise pivoted from Waterfall to Agile. (Notice Lean was not even part of the conversation).

Leadership did not choose the method for this transformation. Instead, they pushed this decision to the leaders in each business unit.

You can only imagine what happened. Some business leaders chose SAFe. Others tried a hybrid approach and pulled practices from several Agile frameworks. Others decided to ‘baby step’ it and start with small teams. None of the teams in this ‘small team’ example took into account all the dependencies on the other teams.

Six months in, one leader asked: “Where can I get a holistic view of our product delivery and how we are tracking against all our initiatives?”

With so many frameworks and practices in play, there was no easy way to answer this.

Other impacts?

Business units often worked on initiatives with other business units. But they did not have a common cadence. Or alignment on dependencies or ceremonies. It became chaotic to figure out how to execute together to deliver on business requests.

If leadership selected one framework and language, that would have united the organization. And made the transformation smoother.

This example demonstrates why leadership needs to extend beyond sponsorship to participation. It ensures a transformation’s health and, thus, long-lived success.

Strategy Connects Directly to Daily work

Leadership is in place. Now what? Everyone in a healthy Agile transformation engages in their work. To improve employee engagement, show employees how their work makes a difference.

Make this connection through transparency about your strategies. Show how they align with your enterprise’s Vision and Mission.

How do you make this a healthy habit? By sharing updates during all hands or other standing company-wide meetings.

One way Scaled Agile, Inc. shows its employees how they’re impacting enterprise strategy is through color coding. We assign each strategic theme a specific color (on brand, of course). In System Demo, the agenda is color-coded by the corresponding strategic theme.

screenshot of recent system demo with color coding by strategic theme
Agenda from a recent system demo

This transparency is important, especially when the strategy must pivot. It’s important employees understand the following before any work stops or changes:

  • Learnings from the pivot
  • The reason for the pivot

Be thoughtful about how you communicate this information with your organization. This is work that many spend the majority, if not all, of their time on. It’s important to be sensitive to this.

Porsche shared an example of strategy transparency at the 2021 SAFe Summit. Their executive leadership committed to how they wanted to work. And which KPIs they would drive with their products. Leadership did this on stage in front of the entire digital division. This commitment launched the digital sector into its first ARTs and PI Planning.

This shared strategy gave employees a reason to stay engaged with their work. They knew they were working towards a common goal across the digital department.

Once employees understand company strategy, they can connect it to their daily work. This connection is important for improving engagement too. Engagement is the final piece of maintaining a healthy Agile transformation.

People Strategies Activate Engagement

One indicator of a transformation’s health is its most important asset: people. To keep your transformation healthy, you must keep your people happy. One way to do this is through actively engaging them in their roles.

Generate future-focused learning opportunities with paths for Agile roles

If employees see growth opportunities, they will likely remain at their current company.

See these recently updated articles for career development inspiration:

Each article includes role descriptions by category. These descriptions provide opportunities for growth in each of these Agile roles.

specific responsibilities for each Agile role

Organizations can create paths and learning opportunities based on these role-specific focus areas.

Refresh engagement strategies to align with the current workforce

When employees were asked, “What’s one thing that keeps you from being engaged?” they responded with the following reasons:

  • No autonomy
  • Lack of safe space
  • No clear career direction
  • Lack of vision and inspiration
  • Missing feedback

As mentioned in the previous section, engagement creates happier, more motivated employees. Happier and more motivated employees sustain a healthy Agile transformation.

If your engagement strategies need a refresh, try these suggestions:

  • Overhaul outdated engagement strategies
  • Align intent with your organization’s social purpose
  • Facilitate a relational and emotional connection with employees
  • Generate future-focused learning opportunities
  • Transform your ceremonies into learning socials
  • Connect individual contributions to the organizational vision
  • Minimize disruptions to allow for flow
  • Look for patterns of inattentional blindness
  • Meet people where they are
  • Co-create a path to re-engage

To learn more about people engagement strategies, watch my talk from the 2022 SAFe Summit. It’s on the SAFe Community Platform: In It to Win It! People Engagement Strategies to Propel your SAFe Transformation. (Tip: Command + F search the talk title or scroll to the Leading the Change section of the page.)

Connect people to the Vision, Mission, and each other

In a remote/hybrid post-COVID environment, it can feel like you’re working on an island. It’s hard to feel connected to the people you no longer share an office space with.

This connection is important for creating a healthy Agile transformation. Connect people to the following to remind them what they’re working for:

  • The organization’s Vision
  • The organization’s Mission
  • Each other

It gives them the drive to work through the uncomfortable parts of transforming.

Ways you can connect people in your organization:

  • Schedule volunteer opportunities for teams
  • Add standing mystery 1:1s to the company calendar
  • Share rotating appreciations for individual team
  • Highlight positive customer experiences, interactions, or success milestones
  • Champion learning networks


It takes work to maintain your health. Maintaining the health of your transformation is no different. Incorporate these three components into your Agile transformation. It will give you a strong foundation for sustainable change. And prolong your Agile transformation life.

Other resources to incorporate into your transformation routine. You can think of them like supplements if we’re sticking to the health metaphor:

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.

View all posts by Audrey Boydston

How Executives Make or Break Transformations – SAFe Agile Transformation

SAFe Agile Transformation



trans· for· ma· tion | \ ˌtran(t)s-fər-ˈmā-shən  , -fȯr- \

1: an act, process, or instance of transforming or being transformed

Though transformations are widespread, not all feel successful.

I am blessed to have been able to take part in many transformations.

And in the transformations I’ve been a part of, I’ve found similarities. This goes for Agile transformations, digital transformations, business transformations, and my own more personal transformations.

In this blog post, I’ll share executive behaviors that I’ve seen produce unhappy employees and decreased outcomes:

  • Lack of clarity and communication
  • No connection to middle management
  • Passivity

I will also share patterns that created positive outcomes for the employees and the end users:

  • Leading with heart
  • Leading with honesty
  • Leading with accountability
  • Leading by example

Executive leadership is not the only impact on success or failure. But I’ve seen and felt that strong agile executives enable transformations to be motivational and positive.

SAFe Agile Transformation

Three Ways Executives Break Transformations

Beginning a transformation and not following through can have immense ripple effects throughout an organization.

To begin a transformation, we must ask people to change. Change is something humans have a natural negative reaction to unless they feel safe.

Transformation failures start with this basic premise: we must feel safe to change. Executives who don’t enable safety at scale are not enabling a transformation. 

Lack of clarity and communication

Executives are decision-makers.

Leaders must remember that those under their supervision must live with their decisions. Thus, the leader needs to listen to the ideas and concerns of everyone involved before making and imposing a decision.

This does not mean leaders must follow the suggestions or ideas of everyone. But they must hear and consider what those under their supervision believe before making a decision.

A leader needs to make decisions in a way that those affected by the decision can believe they were heard. Those affected should also know there were reasons why their ideas were not incorporated into the final decision.

Leaders are not “commanders” but must make decisions and be clear about them. Transformations with executives who attempt to please everyone in the moment only ensure that nothing is clear. In this situation, happiness is, at best, temporary.

No connection to middle management

Middle managers have complicated jobs with conflicting priorities. They must focus on in-the-moment concerns as well as long-term strategies. Also, they must find ways to care about the humans that work for them while completing the larger mission of the company. And in most cases, they are not incentivized for these behaviors. 

Rewarding these middle management behaviors and outcomes builds a system unable to transform:

  • Siloed improvements
  • Heroics by individuals over systemic improvements that eliminate the need for heroics
  • Meeting dates at the sacrifice of employee and end-user well-being


Passivity is the biggest failure of executive leadership in times that need change and transformation.

Passive leadership, in my experience, is executives who say they want a transformation and even hire a team to do so and then stop getting involved.

To create a generative culture of engaged workers, a leader must engage.   Executive leaders who step back from the decisions and motivations of their workforce may have happy accidents. But they won’t have the intentional system that builds the culture required to keep their enterprise focused on the appropriate risks and learnings to speed up outcomes.

SAFe Agile Transformation

Four Ways Executives Make Transformations

I’ve managed to interact with many executives throughout my career. Because of this, I’ve internalized my belief on what makes an “agile executive.”

Agile executives hold these transformation leaders accountable for outcomes and results while taking accountability for removing blockers and giving the group the time needed to change. They vocalize and act upon SAFe transformation as a journey that should have measurable and time-bound moments but is never complete.

Agile executives understand their most important asset is the people who work within the company.

Leading with heart

The desire to inspire others comes to mind first. Agile executives are purposeful about inspiring individuals they come across day to day as well as large groups. They do this through clarity of vision but also by taking the time to do so. They find pride in making others feel better, even momentarily, for having spoken with them.

The agile executive doesn’t talk at people; they talk with them and encourage others to talk with each other along the way. Agile executives understand their most important asset is the people who work within the company. They understand this in economic and human terms: employees who are happy, enabled, and mission-driven produce better economic outcomes than those who are not.

SAFe Agile Transformation

A motivating example of leading with heart is in the customer story from Porsche’s leadership. I felt inspired by these agile executives’ connection to the heart of their workforce and how they brought that heart to life together across organizational boundaries. 

Leading with honesty

Agile executives know that if those they lead doubt for one second that they are being honest with them or that they don’t have the best interest of their people at the forefront, harm will occur.

Depending on the products the enterprise creates, this harm could result in not only decreased customer outcomes but actual physical or mental harm to employees and end users.

Agile executives know that trust doesn’t occur in meetings; it happens in moments between them. And they encourage leaders throughout the company to know the same. They own up to mistakes immediately and celebrate those who act upon errors as learning moments.

Leading with accountability

Agile executives hold themselves and others accountable for the transformation at hand. They provide clarity of strategy, prioritization reasoning, and clear intent, creating a fertile ground to hold people accountable.

They also select and empower a group of trusted individuals who have shown desire and competency to move the full business along. To do this, they look for those who believe the company mission and customer outcomes could improve through change and have the relentless positive energy to make it happen.

Agile executives hold these transformation leaders accountable for outcomes and results while taking accountability for removing blockers and giving the group the time needed to change. They vocalize and act upon transformation as a journey that should have measurable and time-bound moments but is never complete.

A personal vignette

This moment continues to stick with me as a clear example of leading with honesty and accountability.

When I was a senior director a few years into leading a SAFe® transformation inside an organization, a new C-suite leader asked to meet with me in her first couple of weeks on the job.

During this meeting, we discussed where I saw opportunities and what I was hoping to achieve over the next year. She ended the call with a few statements that renewed my energy and began an amazing working relationship.

She said:

I appreciate your candor and ability to see the full system. I know this is a journey, not a destination. My ask is to continue to be bold, open, gritty, and kind. My other ask is a challenge to you. If you can help the teams and trains gain 5 percent efficiency in how they produce their work, we will have $$ (number left out on purpose, but it was A LOT) to fund additional efficiencies and improvements. Be the person who tells me how to do this, what you need from me, my peers, and the organization to succeed. I will be there with you, and I ask you to be accountable to that initial result, with more challenges from me after we succeed.

Leading by example

Agile executives are action-based. The transforming organization mimics their actions, not their words.

First, they ask for and receive coaching and education, knowing that lifelong learning is how they got to their position. And no title they have eliminates the need to continue learning, especially in today’s changing age.

Then Agile executives work hard to form teams amongst their peers, exemplifying team behaviors and living the same practices they ask their employees to have. They share their improvement backlogs and communicate their wins, failures, and hopes authentically. 

Finally, agile executives show up, physically and mentally, to events made up of cross-functional roles spanning hierarchies held within the organization, encouraging behaviors that create alignment and discouraging siloes. They learn the words of the transformation and frequently meet with those they hold accountable for the transformational steps. This ensures space to raise and resolve risks, blockers, and detractors to progress.

Aspire to Your Own Transformation

Transformational agile executives have a good sense of themselves and their role in the overall scheme of the endeavor in which they’re engaged. Leaders cannot take themselves too seriously but need also to recognize that their conduct establishes a pattern for those under their leadership to follow. Agile executives teach by example as much as by any other means available to them. 

Leadership requires that a leader respect those under their supervision and treat them as equals. Regardless of the type of transformation which you are deciding to lead, I hope this blog inspires you to inspire others and to continue aspiring to your own transformation.

Be the change.

About Rebecca Davis

Rebecca Davis is a Scaled Agile Framework team member within Scaled Agile, Inc.

Rebecca Davis is a Scaled Agile Framework team member within Scaled Agile, Inc., a SAFe Fellow, SPCT, and a Principal Consultant. She has led multiple transformations as a LACE Director, RTE, Portfolio Manager, and Coach. Rebecca has experience helping organizations create joy in the workplace by connecting employees to each other and user outcomes.

Connect with Rebecca on LinkedIn.

Adopting ABC – AI, Big Data, and the Cloud

How the Business Agility Value Stream will prepare you to win in the post-digital economy with AI, big data, and the cloud.


At the 2021 Global SAFe Summit, Dean Leffingwell presented the idea that we are at the threshold of a new technological revolution. A post-digital economy that’s being driven by the adoption of ABC: artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and the cloud. Dean further explained how the Business Agility Value Stream (BAVS) creates a system that will allow businesses to rapidly react to the insights provided by ABC.

If you’re anything like me, listening to Dean’s talk generated many different ideas. In fact, several weeks passed before I went back and re-listened to the keynote to identify the core intent of the talk.

Those insights are what I’m sharing with you today: an understanding of the BAVS and how the concepts of ABC fit into the future of organizations using SAFe.

The Business Agility Value Stream

The value stream construct has been discussed in every version of SAFe dating back to SAFe 2.5 (2013). However, the conversation wasn’t top-of-mind until SAFe5 and the introduction of SAFe Lean-Agile Principle #10, Organize Around Value.

Now, and rightfully so, every organization that seeks to embrace SAFe is challenged to identify and optimize how value reaches the customer via their operational value streams (OVSs). We then challenge organizations to go a step further and optimize the relationship between the OVS, its supporting development value streams (DVSs), and the Agile Release Trains (ARTs) that realize them by considering complexities of the business architecture, technical architecture, and how the people who support the systems are dispersed. 

We do our best to support SAFe enterprises and SPCs in this difficult conversation with the Value Stream and ART Identification workshop, and the newly released Value Stream Mapping workshop (both are available on the SAFe Community Platform). Even with the assets and expert consulting available, changing and optimizing the system to focus on outcomes instead of outputs is no small undertaking. And for what purpose?

Though optimizing these value streams is a goal, we must also consider why optimized value streams are so important and what to do with them.

Enter the BAVS.

business agility stream

Powered by optimized OVSs and DVSs, the BAVS puts those charged with strategy in a position to: 

  • Sense market opportunities
  • Formulate a hypothesis to exploit the identified opportunity via the Lean Business Case
  • Gain alignment and approval to pursue an MVP through Lean Portfolio Management (LPM)
  • Organize around value by introducing the MVP to existing ARTs (or if needed, standing up a new ART)
  • Leverage the tools of Agile product management and design thinking
  • Develop a customer-focused solution
  • Deliver the MVP in 2–6 months via the continuous delivery pipeline
  • Monitor the solution in LPM to determine if the hypothesis holds true or needs to be reconsidered
  • Continue to deliver value and learn until the business opportunity has been fully leveraged

What is ABC?

With the system optimized and the BAVS in place, you are likely now left wondering how the enterprise is expected to sense emerging business opportunities. Though expertise and experience continue to play a role in how opportunities are addressed, we can no longer afford to guess where the next opportunity lies. Partly because an uninformed guess is full of risk to revenue, team stability, and market reputation, but mostly because uninformed guesses could rapidly destroy a business. In the post-digital economy, the amount of time required for an organization to recognize an opportunity, ruminate about how to address it, and then put the plan into action is far greater than the window of opportunity will remain open.

This is where ABC comes in—its three elements power the modern decision engine. 


There are bound to be some really cool applications for AI, but I suspect that the majority will be less dramatic than its portrayal in Hollywood. For many of our organizations, AI will be put to use to address customer service, mitigate fraud and other risks, optimize development processes, and identify emerging trends in data. In terms of the BAVS, when leveraged, AI will serve as the trigger that identifies market opportunities and threats that the BAVS will respond to through business insights, operational efficiencies, and intelligent customer solutions.

Big Data

For AI to work effectively, the algorithms require access to large amounts of data—the more the better. Fortunately, many companies have decades worth of historical data and are collecting more each day. The problem that many organizations are addressing is how to pool that data into an easily accessible common format, but that is a conversation for another day. 

Data is the answer. And for it to power organizations, it cannot be bound by organizational politics or structures. The key to enterprise success in the next digital age is in the organization’s data. We only need to ask the right questions of the data. 


With so much data and so much analysis required to make sense of it all, we are fortunate to live in the age of infinitely scalable infrastructure via the cloud. Imagine 15 years ago the amount of work required to bring 100 new CPUs online to address a complex problem. An undertaking of this magnitude would have required new servers, racks, bandwidth, electricity, and a facility to store the new hardware. It would have taken months to a year or longer to bring online.

Today, we can scale our infrastructure to nearly infinite capacity with the touch of a button, and descale it nearly as fast. We have the capacity (cloud), we have the resources (data), and we have the capability (AI) to win in the post-digital economy. The only thing that stands in the way of exploiting those elements is changing our system of work to keep pace.

What Will You Do with ABC?

The purpose of the Scaled Agile Framework is to help organizations thrive in this technological revolution and those that are sure to come. The mission of SAFe is to work differently and build the future. The path to achieving our mission and purpose is constantly evolving with the world of business and technology. Though we don’t claim to have all of the answers, we’re confident that we can provide the tools and intent to help organizations solve for their own unique context.

The BAVS is the latest evolution of a perspective that started nearly eight years ago with improving the delivery of technology to the enterprise. We’re excited to see what organizations do with ABC and how their BAVS delivers value and change to the world. Especially as all we do becomes more interconnected and the true possibilities of the near-limitless potential of people become more apparent.

About Adam Mattis

Adam Mattis is a SAFe Fellow and 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 adammattis.com.


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The Unparalleled Value of Emotional Intelligence – Business Agility Value Stream – Part Two

If you’ve read the first post in my blog series, you may have been inspired to think about how the emotional intelligence competencies manifest in every step of the business agility value stream. From identifying and sensing the opportunity to learning and adapting to ultimately delivering on the business opportunity. So, if we can measure emotional intelligence competencies, my hypothesis is that they, directly and indirectly, impact flow and outcomes as well.

Let’s go step by step in the business agility value stream and see how applying emotional intelligence directly impacts flow and outcomes.

business agility

Sensing the opportunity involves market research, data analysis, customer feedback, and directly observing customers in the marketplace. Applying your own self-regulation, empathy, and social skills can help you have more productive empathy interviews, obtain less-biased, face-to-face research, and control how you react to customer feedback. 

This key step in the organizational agility competency involves not only leaders applying ‘go see’, but offering the same ‘go see’ opportunities to other key roles in the development value stream so that they can better understand and reason about the problem to solve. This expands the social networks so that they can apply and evolve their emotional intelligence competencies to effectively communicate, pitch, reason, and articulate effective hypothesis statements that inspire and engage innovation.

Funding the minimum viable product (MVP) requires the motivation and social skills to help drive change, innovate, and communicate intent at scale. We all know this isn’t easy. It requires you to craft the “why” and use your social skills of influence and conflict management to negotiate and secure the funds. Some of the recommendations from the Lean Portfolio Management competency where we can leverage these social skills include:

  • Engage in participatory budgeting
  • Establish flow and stakeholder engagement through the portfolio Kanban system
  • Roadmap the portfolio
  • Integrate enterprise architecture and SMEs
  • Realize epics
  • Establish Lean budgets and guardrails 

Organizing around value requires even more of the social skills around communication, building new bonds, and fostering the information coherence necessary to build some of the world’s most complex systems. As well as the ability to connect to the customer so that our people embrace and understand what value they’re trying to deliver.

Team and technical agility and organizational agility not only aid in building these bonds but can leverage and grow all of the emotional intelligence competencies of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. This can be amplified with the coveted help from our scrum masters and RTEs. 

Connect to the customer leverages our Agile product delivery and enterprise solution competencies and their design thinking skills to listen, reflect, empathize, and connect with the people for whom we’re designing solutions. 

This requires going deep into the empathy competency of emotional intelligence by leveraging our service-orientation mindset so that we can foresee, recognize, and meet customer needs. Diversity is also important for the ongoing development of opportunities and awareness in all societies and social circles. If we can evolve the empathy competency in all aspects of product and solution delivery, we have the opportunity to excel beyond our competitors in delivering value. 

Delivering that MVP calls upon our product and solution delivery folks to lead, and our social networks to collaborate, iterate, communicate, and deliver using their motivation and social skills. It also pulls highly on our social networks to have courage, collaborate and cooperate, take risks, and instrument rapid change so that we can learn and adapt to our ever-changing market landscapes.

Pivot or persevere pulls on the need for empathy when things don’t turn out as desired and the time comes to pivot or persevere. Our Lean portfolio management fiduciaries reason about the data, facts, and outcomes of the MVP and could quite possibly pivot to a direction of a higher cost of delay at any moment. This means we need to abandon our emotional attachment to what we created and turn to the next-highest value delivery. Self-regulation and empathy both play strongly in this step of the business agility value stream. Having the emotional awareness of why our folks are for or against any change in this step can help mitigate any delays in fostering rapid change and learning. 

Deliver value continuously imposes that our product and solution delivery people and ARTs always work together to share knowledge, build out that continuous delivery pipeline, and innovate. The continuous delivery pipeline and our DevOps mindset enable that fast-feedback loop to foster our continuous learning culture. Our iterative and incremental heartbeat also facilitates that continuous value delivery and learning cycle. All require using our social skills to grow and enable knowledge transfer and information coherence so that the social network can continue to thrive and innovate.

Our learn and adapt cycle is integral to the process, Measuring our emotional intelligence competencies will help us learn and grow our own selves alongside the SAFe core competencies. After all, if we don’t learn about ourselves, how can we show up with our truest authenticity to grow and foster that continuous learning culture?

Lean-Agile leadership enables the business agility value stream, as does the evolution of everyone’s emotional intelligence. Leaders model and leverage all of the emotional intelligence competencies so that our development value streams can evolve both their business agility competencies and their emotional competencies. If we don’t consider human emotion, we can inhibit flow, people shut down and lose their motivation, and thus jeopardize providing value to our customers.

business agility

Now, if the business agility value stream is a perspective across operational and development value streams, then the benefits, interactions, and human impacts that the emotional intelligence of the development value stream network provides to the operational value stream will propagate and evolve. The interactions and modeling of emotional intelligence will have a bi-directional impact that will engage and accelerate the operational value stream in delivering value. 

I hope I’ve provided a perspective that it’s not just mastering the SAFe business agility process competencies that enable business agility. The evolution of human emotional intelligence impacts the flow and outcomes of the business agility value stream every step of the way. As I mentioned in part 1 of this blog series, Goleman’s personal competencies of self-awareness, self-regulation, and motivation fuel our human agency and our ability to manage our own emotions. The social competencies of empathy and social skills fuel how we handle relationships. Together, the evolution of emotional intelligence within our organization increases our ability to deliver value to our customers, as well as value to our individual people. What enterprise doesn’t want that?

At this point, you may be asking, “Well, how can I bring these into my SAFe transformation and journey toward business agility?” 

Here are a few techniques to get you started on your emotional intelligence journey:

  • Start with you. Allow time for self-reflection, self-work, and to recharge yourself. Leverage your retrospectives, your own personal plan-do-check-adjust cycles, and the teaming activities to evolve your emotional intelligence competencies. Integrate some emotional intelligence workshops with your leaders and teams to help evolve and experience the competencies, starting with self-awareness and self-regulation. This will help build trust so you can continue to unfold into the deeper and perhaps more sensitive competencies of empathy and social skills. 
  • Grow your own internal and external coaching network. In the same way that sports teams need coaches, our operational and development value streams and the individuals within them need coaches too. They help with all aspects of emotional intelligence, wherever folks may need or want assistance. They can provide the tools and techniques to become more self-aware, provide exercises for self-regulation and motivation, and practice empathy. Not to mention offer assistance to help people evolve their social skills. And even more powerful, coaches model the behaviors so that our social networks can lean into what they see and learn.
  • Create a community of practice around the competencies and practices. In the latest Leading by Example module that Scaled Agile released, one of the beautiful outcomes was a cohort that trusted each other and was willing to share their deepest challenges with authenticity. This type of network provides the power of a safe space that people can always come back to, to practice, share ideas and concerns, and grow without judgement or fear.
  • Help evolve assessments around Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence Competency Framework. And measure the evolution within your people and the enterprise. You’ll start to see some correlations between the SAFe measurements of flow, competencies, and outcomes.
  • Share with our community. We’d love to hear how evolving your enterprise intelligence will help your employees achieve their aspirations and help customers receive better products and solutions.

And, reach out to me. I’d love to hear how it’s going so I can learn and grow with you! I may not have been born with emotional intelligence but I’m passionate about learning and evolving with you. Find me on LinkedIn.

About Jennifer Fawcett

Jennifer is a retired, empathetic Lean and Agile leader, practitioner,

Jennifer is a retired, empathetic Lean and Agile leader, practitioner, coach, speaker, and consultant. A SAFe® Fellow, she has contributed to and helped develop SAFe content and courseware. Her passion and focus have been in delivering value in the workplace and by creating communities and culture through effective product management, product ownership, executive portfolio coaching, and leadership. She has provided dedicated service in these areas to technology companies for over 35 years. Connect with Jennifer on LinkedIn.


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The Unparalleled Value of Emotional Intelligence, Part One

Not everyone is born with emotional intelligence. Most people associate intelligence with IQ (intelligence quotient), a number that represents a person’s reasoning ability, measured using problem-solving tests. Emotional intelligence is a series of learned human behaviors that can also be measured.

And some of the science behind it confirms that emotional intelligence is a better indicator of how well a person will succeed in their career. It can also be a measurement of value that can determine whether or not a company is progressing toward business agility.

This blog post is based on Daniel Goleman’s work; he has about 16 books written on the topic. The one that I gravitated to was Working with Emotional Intelligence because it has a framework around the competencies that we can grow. That framework goes deep into self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. I’ve worked with all of those competencies to help evolve SAFe transformations. Why? Because evolving one’s emotional intelligence is germane to the critical roles, events, and activities that occur. Emotional intelligence competencies affect the human aspect of change, the natural resistance to change, and the ability to inspire everyone around shifts in direction, visions, and ultimately, value. 

I personally find the topic fascinating. In the title of Goleman’s book, “Working” is the key word. Emotional intelligence isn’t something we’re born with, and honestly, not everyone chooses to “work” with this type of awareness and the elements that support their growth.

emotional intelligence

Goleman categorizes five dimensions of emotional intelligence:





Social skills

And those five dimensions fall into two buckets: personal competence, and social competence. He cites each competency that supports them as independent (each makes a unique contribution to your job or life performance), interdependent (each draws to a certain extent upon others, with some strong interactions), and hierarchical (the emotional intelligence competencies build upon each other). Goleman goes on to say that they are all necessary, but not sufficient. In other words, having emotional intelligence does not guarantee that you’ll develop or display competencies such as collaboration or leadership, which are crucial in any SAFe transformation. Other factors such as your organization’s climate or culture or your personal interest in your job, will highly influence how the competencies manifest.

And finally, the dimensions are generic. They all apply to most jobs, yet some jobs will require differing competence demands. For example, you’ll leverage some of them for different career paths within or outside SAFe transformations. 

  • Product managers, product owners, and architects will mostly likely lean on their motivation and empathy capabilities to share and inspire others through their vision, backlogs, and value to customers.
  • Release train engineers will lean on empathy and their social skills to foster healthy, thriving, innovative teams.
  • Operations folks will leverage their personal motivation and social skills to reach out to developers and teams to see how they can help and evolve the CALMR side of our DevOps practices.
  • And our c-suite of leaders and business owners will absolutely lean on most, if not all, of the competencies. Either way, in respect to those we serve, these competencies all have a long-lasting impact on organizations and humanity as a whole.

Hard Skills, Not Soft Skills

Now, you may not think you care about what some refer to as “soft skills.” The reality is that emotional intelligence represents hard skills and they have a long-lasting impact on how the people around you will ultimately behave and perform. These skills are probably the most difficult to embody because you have to work on yourself, make yourself vulnerable, and be emotionally transparent and available. And you have to show up for those major events with perhaps your highest level of awareness and the associated intelligence on how you handle your emotions. Holding successful events such as PI planning, participatory budgeting, value stream identification workshops, visioning, inspect and adapt, are just some of the critical activities within SAFe that absolutely depend on you working with your emotional intelligence competencies.

Here’s a summary of Goleman’s emotional competencies, and some advice on how you can apply them in your world.

Personal competence

We use self-awareness, self-regulation, and motivation to manage ourselves. And to recognize and understand our moods, emotions, and drives, as well as the effect they have on others. When we’re building our development value streams and designing our ARTs, this is critical. 

Self-awareness is knowing yourself, your internal states, your preferences and impulses, your cognitive resources, and your intuitions. Having self-awareness allows us to show up with humility and vulnerability around who we are and how we behave. This competency directly impacts our culture and how we learn together. 

Self-regulation builds upon self-awareness. It teaches you how to regulate and manage your internal states and your impulses. Being able to self-regulate enables you to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods—and to suspend judgment so that you think before you act. Self-regulation requires you, as a leader, to take time for yourself, recharge your batteries, reflect, and learn how you can improve. Self-regulation impacts SAFe implementations in many ways. Imagine you’re in that meeting where the in-house “un-self-aware” leader shows up with their own agenda and aggressively promotes their views—without listening, self-regulating, or empathizing with others. The result? Attendees shut down, feel disengaged, unheard, and even worse, not valued as humans. Now, imagine you’re in the same meeting where your most evolved, self-aware, and self-regulated leader shows up. This leader listens, empathizes, self-regulates their opinions, and engages the views inclusive of the entire group. People feel heard, appreciated, and excited to be a part of something. Which meeting do you think will have better outcomes?

Motivation includes the emotional tendencies that guide or facilitate us in reaching our goals. Motivation embodies a passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status. This is our inner drive to pursue goals with energy and persistence. What motivates us to pursue a hobby or to give back? And how do we show up, lead, and inspire with motivation? Motivation directly impacts how we get behind a vision and mission, and invest our passions and emotions into delivering value to our customers.

Social competence

I mentioned that personal competence, the first area of emotional intelligence, is a foundation or prerequisite for social competence. That’s because self-awareness is critical to be empathetic and grow the social skills required to scale. Why is that?

In order to work with emotional intelligence and grow our personal competence, we need to know ourselves intimately and be self-aware of our own behaviors. Once we develop that human agency, which includes self-awareness, self-regulation, and motivation within ourselves, we open up our personal aperture to model this behavior. And to help others and our organization authentically fuel and support that second operating system. That second operating system encompasses our social networks, our development value streams, and our Agile Release Trains (ARTs). Our development value streams are our people, aligned to a common goal or mission of delivering value to our customers.

Knowing yourself fuels the social competence dimensions of empathy and social skills.

These determine how we handle relationships. And in our SAFe enterprises, our social networks and social competence, and the development value streams in which they live, are critical for delivering value and the economics that fuel our enterprise mission. These competencies foster communication, knowledge transfer, and information coherence, which attempts to describe how much information in the current state of communication will remain after the state goes through the channel. The channel includes your teams, your ARTs, your developers, and ultimately, your business partners and customers. All are critical to delivering value to customers.

The first element within the social competence dimension is empathy. This is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. It’s the awareness of others’ needs, concerns, pains, and what it is they want to gain. 

From a scaling Agile and business agility perspective, social skills competencies are probably most important because they shape proficiency in inducing desirable responses in others.

They are deep and include adeptness in influence, communication, conflict management, leadership, initiating or managing change, building bonds, and collaboration. They also create group synergy in our teams’ capabilities. Think about it. Aren’t these all learned behaviors that we encounter every day in our SAFe transformations?

The premise of this blog post is that emotional intelligence has an unparalleled value that can be measured. But how? Emotional intelligence seems like a personal journey. But if we know this is important personally, then it has to have an impact at scale. And when we look at SAFe measurements of flow, outcomes, and competencies, they seem logical to measure from an emotional competence perspective as well. After all, we measure all the other competencies, why not emotional intelligence?

Learn More

If you attended the Global SAFe Summit but didn’t catch my talk about emotional intelligence, watch it on-demand here. Read Daniel Goleman’s book Working with Emotional Intelligence to evolve your emotional intelligence journey.

In the next post in my blog series, I’ll discuss how the emotional intelligence competencies, directly and indirectly, impact SAFe’s Business Agility Value Stream. And how you can leverage them for better results from a flow and outcomes perspective.

About Jennifer Fawcett

Jennifer is a retired, empathetic Lean and Agile leader,

Jennifer is a retired, empathetic Lean and Agile leader, practitioner, coach, speaker, and consultant. A SAFe Fellow, she has contributed to and helped develop SAFe content and courseware. Her passion and focus have been in delivering value in the workplace and by creating communities and culture through effective product management, product ownership, executive portfolio coaching, and leadership. She has provided dedicated service in these areas to technology companies for over 35 years. Connect with Jennifer on LinkedIn.


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To Accelerate Impact, Measure Team Performance and Cohesion

This post is part of an ongoing blog series where Scaled Agile Partners share stories from the field about using Measure and Grow assessments with customers to evaluate progress and identify improvement opportunities.

As organizations move from team-level agile to enterprise agility, predictive analytics and statistical insights play an increasingly important role in improving how organizations operate. Gartner predicts that this year, AI will create 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity globally, resulting in $2.9 trillion of business value. The rationale for this increased focus on data-driven insights is clear: while business environments continue to grow more complex and uncertain, the need for fast decision-making and agility has never been greater. 

By identifying potential problems before they become organizational challenges and applying proprietary algorithms to large amounts of data, we can identify patterns and direct organizational attention where it matters. But the insights must be shared in a way that helps change leaders improve their decision-making. 

To make complex statistical analysis useful, it should be presented in a way that inspires action.

The Impact Matrix: Measuring performance and cohesion

This challenge is the motivation behind the Impact Matrix, a canvas that immediately identifies how teams are doing based on two essential vectors of team potency: performance and cohesion. Getting an understanding of teams helps change leaders quickly recognize challenges, prioritize efforts, and develop improvements.

Let’s take a closer look at a sample Impact Matrix report and explore how it can accelerate an organization’s transformation efforts.

The Impact Matrix

As illustrated in this example, the teams (represented as dots) in an organization’s portfolio are positioned on the canvas based on their relative score across two vectors; performance and cohesion.

Depending on a respective team’s score and relative position, we can quickly identify a theme of focus, categorize a strategic approach, and pinpoint essential questions that leaders should consider when deciding next steps. 

Amplify: High performance, high cohesion (green zone)

Teams in the Amplify quadrant are performing at a relatively high level and there are no major disconnects between the team members. Organizations benefit from observing these teams, understanding what makes them perform consistently, and trying to amplify these norms across the broader organization. Some helpful questions to ask include, “To what degree is the environment enabling teams to perform at this level?” “What role does management play in empowering these teams to do so well?” and, “How can coaching help these teams sustain—and even exceed—their current levels?”

Align: High performance, low cohesion (yellow zone)

When teams are in the Align quadrant they are performing well, but there are significant disagreements and disconnects between team members. Organizations benefit from keeping a close eye on teams in this quadrant, as a lack of team cohesion is a leading indicator of deteriorating performance. Questions to consider for teams in this context include, “Are certain team members dominating conversations?” “Is there sufficient psychological safety so all team members can feel comfortable speaking up?” and, “Is there a clear purpose that team members can rally around?”

Mitigate: Low performance, low cohesion (red zone)

Teams in the Mitigate quadrant are indicating they need help: they’re not only performing poorly, but they’re also disconnected. Organizations benefit from listening to and engaging with these teams to help alleviate their challenges. Questions that may be helpful in this context include, “What are immediate actions we can take to ease the current situation?” “How can we better understand why the team feels challenged?” and “How can the organization give the team a safe environment to work out challenges?”

Improve: Low performance, high cohesion (yellow zone)

Teams in the Improve quadrant usually don’t remain there for long. These teams are performing relatively poorly, but they’re aware of their challenges—and typically, they take steps to improve their situation. Organizations benefit by helping these teams accelerate their improvement efforts and providing them with the necessary resources. Questions these teams should ask include, “What steps can the team take to start alleviating current challenges?” “How can the organization help?” and, “What insights do the data give us about where to start?”


By leveraging data and sophisticated analytics, the Impact Matrix helps change leaders accelerate their transformation efforts by focusing their work where it matters, pointing them in the right direction, and ultimately supercharging their ability to lead organizational change. Although data and meaningful analytics are insufficient to give you all the answers you need, they can help you ask better questions and complement your overall transformation strategy.

Do it yourself: Run the Impact Matrix on your release train or portfolio today to get a comprehensive picture of how teams are performing, and find out immediately where you can provide the most value to your organization. Activate your free Comparative Agility account on the SAFe Community Platform.

Matthew Haubrich is the Director of Data Science at Comparative Agility.

Matthew Haubrich is the Director of Data Science at Comparative Agility. Passionate about discovering the story behind the data, Matt has more than 25 years of experience in data analytics, survey research, and assessment design. Matt is a frequent speaker at numerous national and international conferences and brings a broad perspective of analytics from both public and private sectors.


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Why SAFe Hurts – Implementing SAFe in Business

Why do some people find SAFe® to be helpful in empowering teams, while others find implementing the Framework painful? To be honest, both scenarios are equally valid.

As I was beginning to refocus my career on transforming the operating models and management structures of large enterprises, I found that the behavioral patterns of Agile and the operational cadence of Scrum shined a spotlight on an organization’s greatest challenges. As a byproduct of working faster and focusing on flow, impediments became obvious. With the issues surfaced, management had a choice: fix the problems or don’t.

As we scale, the same pattern repeats, though the tax of change is compounded because change is hard. Meaningful change takes time, and the journey isn’t linear. Things get better, things get worse, then they get better again.

Consultants will often reference the Dunning-Kruger curve when selling organizational change.

Why SAFe Hurts
The Dunning-Kruger curve

The Dunning-Kruger curve illustrates change as a smooth journey. One that begins with the status quo, dips as the change is introduced, and then restores efficiency as organizations achieve competence and confidence in the new model. Unfortunately, that’s not how change works, and depicting organizational change this way is misleading.

Implementing SAFe in Business
The Satir curve

When I’d spend time doing discovery work with a prospective client, I’d instead cite a more accurate picture of change: the Satir curve. The Satir image depicts the chaos of change and better prepares people for the journey ahead. Change is chaotic, and achieving successful change requires a firm focus on the reason why the change is important—not simply the change itself. Why, then, can a SAFe transformation (or any other change) feel painful? Here are the patterns of SAFe transformation that I observed pre-COVID.

The Silver Bullet

An organization buys ‘the thing’ (SAFe) thinking it’s a silver bullet that will solve all of their problems. For example, the inability to deliver, poor quality, dissatisfied customers, unhappy teammates, and crummy products. SAFe can help address these issues, but not by simply using the Framework. The challenge we often face is that leaders just want ‘the thing.’ Management is too busy to learn what it is that they bought. That’s OK though. They did an Agile transformation once and read the article on Wikipedia.

How can you lead what you don’t know? How can you ask something of your team that you don’t understand yourself? Let’s explore. 

Start with Why

Leaders don’t take the time to understand what SAFe is, what problems it intends to help organizations solve, or the intent with which SAFe is best used. Referencing the SAFe Implementation Roadmap, its intent is to avoid some of this pain. We begin by aligning senior leaders with the problems to solve. After all, we’re seeking to solve business problems. As Kotter points out, all change must start with a compelling vision for change. 

With the problem identified, we then discuss if SAFe is the best tool to address those concerns. We continue the conversation by training leaders in the new way of working, and more importantly, the new way to think to succeed in the post-digital economy.

Middle Management

Middle management, sometimes distastefully referred to as the ‘frozen middle,’ is the hardest role to fill in an organizational hierarchy. Similar to how puberty serves as the awkward stage between adolescence and adulthood, middle management is the first time that many have positional responsibility, but not yet the authority to truly change the system.

Middle managers are caught in a position where many are forced to choose between doing what’s best for the team and doing what’s best to get the next position soon. Often, when asked to embrace a Lean and Agile way of working, these managers will recognize that being successful in the new system is in contrast to what senior leaders (who bought the silver bullet but could not make time to learn it) are asking of them.

This often manifests in a conversation of outputs over outcomes. In that, success had traditionally been determined by color-coded status reports instead of working product increments and business outcomes. Some middle managers will challenge the old system and others will challenge the new system, but in either context, many feel the pain. This is the product of a changing system and not the middle manager’s fault. But it is the reason why many transformations will reset at some point. The pain felt by middle management can be avoided by engaging the support of the leadership community from the start, but this is often not the case.

Misaligned Agile Release Trains

Many transformations begin somewhere after the first turn on the SAFe Implementation Roadmap. Agile coaches will often engage after someone has, with the best of intentions, decided to launch an Agile Release Train (ART), but hasn’t understood how to do so successfully.

Why SAFe Hurts
SAFe Implementation Roadmap

As a result, the first Program Increment, and SAFe, will feel painful. Have you ever seen an ART that is full of handoffs and is unable to deliver anything of value? This pattern emerges when an ART is launched within an existing organizational silo, instead of being organized around the flow of value. When ARTs are launched in this way, the same problems that have existed in the organization for years become more evident and more painful.

For this reason, many Agile and SAFe implementations face a reboot at some point. Feeling the pain, an Agile coach will help leaders understand why they’re not getting the expected results. Here’s where organizations will reconsider the first straight of the Implementation Roadmap, find time for training, and re-launch their ARTs. This usually happens after going through a Value Stream and ART Identification workshop to best understand how to organize so that ARTs are able to deliver value.

Implementing SAFe in Business
SAFe Implementation Roadmap

Moving Fast Makes Problems More Obvious

Moving fast (or trying to) shines a big spotlight on our problems and forces us to confront them. Problems like organizational silos, toxic cultural norms, bad business architecture, nightmarish tech architecture, cumbersome release management, missing change practices, and the complete inability to see the customer that typically surface when we seek to achieve flow.

The larger and older an organization is, the more problems there are, and the longer it takes to get to a place where our intent can be resized. Truly engaged leadership helps, but it still takes time to undo history. For example, I’ve been working with one large enterprise since 2013. It’s taken eight years since initial contact for the organization to evolve to a place that allowed them to respond to COVID confidently and in a way that actively supports global recovery. Eight years ago, the organization would have struggled to achieve the same outcome.

When I first started working with this organization, it engaged in multi-year, strategic planning, and only released new value to its customers once every three years. The conceptual architecture diagram resembled a plate of spaghetti—people spent more time building consensus than building products. And the state of the organization’s operations included laying people off with a Post-it note on their monitor and an escort off-campus.

Today, the organization is much healthier in every way imaginable. It’s vastly better than it was, but not nearly as good as it will be. The leadership team focuses on operational integrity, and how maintainable, scalable, and stable the architecture is—and recognizes that the team is one of the most important assets.

Embracing Lean and Agile ways of working at scale begins with the first ART launch. It continues with additional ART launches, a reconsideration of how we approach strategy, technology, and customers. And it accelerates as we focus on better applying the Lean-Agile mindset, values, and principles on a daily basis. This is the journey to #BecomingAgile so that we can best position the team and our assets to serve customers.

Change Is Hard

Change takes time, and all meaningful change is painful because the process challenges behavior norms. The larger the organization is, the richer the history, and the longer it may take to achieve the desired outcome. There will be good days, days when things don’t make sense, and days when the team is frustrated. But all of that is OK. You know what else is ok? Feeling frustrated during the change. It’s important to focus on why the change is taking place. 

A pre-pandemic pattern (that I suspect may shift) is that change in large organizations often comes with evolution instead of revolution. With the exception of a very few clients, change begins with a team and expands as that team gains success and the patterns begin to reach other adjacent areas of the operation. The change will reach a point where supporting organizational structures must also change to achieve business agility.

As mentioned, moving fast with a focus on flow and customer-centricity exposes bottlenecks in the system. At some point, it will become obvious that structures such as procurement, HR, incentive models, and finance are bottlenecks to greater agility. And, when an organization begins to tackle these challenges, really cool things start to happen. People behave based on how they are incentivized, and compensation and performance are typically at odds with the mindset, values, and principles that are the foundation of SAFe.

Let’s Work Together

SAFe itself is not inherently painful. The Framework is a library of integrated patterns that have proven successful when paired with the intent of a Lean-Agile mindset, set of core values, and guiding principles. Organizations can best mitigate the pain associated with change by understanding what’s changing, the reason why the change is being introduced, and a deliberate focus on sound change-management practices. If you’re working in a SAFe ecosystem that feels challenging, share your experience in the General Discussion Group forum on the SAFe Community Platform. Our community is full of practitioners who represent all stages of the Satir change curve, and who can offer their advice, suggestions, and empathy. Together, we’ll make the world a better place to work.

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 adammattis.com.

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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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The Power of Informal Learning Networks

Learning Networks

I can remember the exact moment when I went from being a transactional learner to a lifelong learner. I was in a meeting with my leader at that time, checking in on how things were going. “Just keep doing what you’re doing,” was his response. I don’t know if any of you have heard those six words in a corporate setting, but they were life-changing for me in terms of learning.

When I heard those six words, my immediate thought was that I didn’t want to. It felt like my learning journey was about to be stalled.  With that in mind, I started to think long and hard about what I wanted to pursue next in terms of my career, and what I needed to learn in order to get there.  Knowing that there were no current opportunities for formal, external training, I had to find another way to continue my learning journey. 

Through these reflections, I realized that I didn’t always have to attend external training or a conference to keep learning. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for all of the events I’ve had the opportunity to attend, all the times I shared what I learned with my colleagues, and how doing that helped me deepen my learning.

My aha moment came when I started to think about how I could learn from other associates in my enterprise and share what I learned with them. What I didn’t expect was that while learning from others, I uncovered a wealth of knowledge and experience in my own enterprise that was way beyond my expectations. And here I was, just starting to tap into it!

My first learning network

It was a typical cold and snowy day in January in Chicago when I started my first conversation around creating an informal learning network. What happened as a result forever changed how I approached learning. Another Agile coach in a completely different business unit and geographic location reached out to me to inquire about some of the workshops that I was creating and facilitating. Throughout our conversation, he shared some of the amazing things he was doing to coach his Lean-Agile transformation, and connected me with some other coaches and trainers in the organization. The more we collaborated, the more we learned from and with each other, and the more excited we were to start additional learning networks within and across our business units.

Fast forward more than three years and a move to another company, I’m still part of a number of informal learning networks with many of my colleagues from that organization. Every time we learn something new that we feel would be beneficial to the others in the network, we share it. And we learn more every time we share in these moments.   

What is a learning network?

If you were to research the words “learning network” via books or an online search, you might come up empty. There isn’t much out there on the topic. In fact, I was excited one day to see “learning network” listed in the index of one of my learning books. But it pointed me toward networks in general, which wasn’t helpful. Not long after that I was telling a colleague about one of my informal learning collaborations and I called it a learning network. It just seemed like the right way to describe it.

So, here’s my personal definition: A learning network is a community of people with a passion for learning and growing. Often, these are formal gatherings; you’ve probably been a part of one at some point in your career. Now, let’s extend that definition to an informal learning network where a community of people catalyze learning in and through others across and beyond their enterprises. I drafted this broad definition based on my own personal experiences reading books and articles, watching videos, and through lots of conversations with colleagues around the world.

Now that we’ve got a working definition, let’s dive into exactly what comprises an informal learning network.

Learning Networks

Characteristics of informal learning networks

The best way I’ve found to describe these learning networks is to share the questions people in these networks are curious about. So, here’s my synthesis of a lot of research around how we share what we learn across enterprises.

Learning Networks

And here’s something else I’ve learned about informal learning networks that grow over time. The most important skill you need to improve as a learner is to start asking questions like:

  • How do I learn faster?
  • What will you do about it? This happens when you realize you want to learn something and no one in your network has that skill.
  • What more can I be doing?
  • What can I change?
  • How do I sharpen my skills in this area?

Learning networks are successful in part because of some informal assumptions. An open-door policy (everyone is welcome), the fact that there are no rules, and that there’s no planned start or perceived end.

Sharing and reflecting

There is a flow to a typical conversation where people share and then reflect.

I know what you’re thinking: “How do people in these networks do their day-to-day work and still have time for these network activities?” 

Learning Networks

Engaging and spending time within these networks is not a time-consuming effort that is separate from current initiatives. Rather, it complements and enhances current delivery. Imagine if you were interested in working on a specific feature, yet didn’t have all of the knowledge and experience that was needed to accomplish it. Rather than pursuing something else to work on, you became curious about who in your network, or enterprise, may have the skill you need and would be open to offering you the opportunity to learn from them. This is one of the best ways to create learning organizations and extend them across an entire enterprise to create a continuous learning culture.  

Your personal learning journey

I believe learning within an enterprise takes on many forms, shapes, and sizes. I believe that the learning networks that I’ll be introducing to you in this blog series are the best kept secrets in enterprises today. And I also believe that each and every one of you, as change leaders, are best positioned to tap into these networks to create a continuous learning culture.

So, my challenge for you is to start thinking about your own personal learning journey and how these learning networks can help you along the way.

Continue your personal learning journey by reading the second post in my series about how learning networks emerge, the third post about how to uncover those networks, and my final post about connecting your learning networks to SAFe.

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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