How We Used DevOps to Rework Our SAFe® DevOps Course – The SAFe Approach

There’s no faster way to kill a conversation among a non-technical crowd than to begin discussing DevOps. For many, DevOps is that “technical thing” that IT teams do to automate testing. Or, to paraphrase an actual conversation I once had with a client:

“Doesn’t DevOps use that guy Jenkins to monitor something called technical debt so that we can have a cleaner Git, which somehow allows our Kubernetes to Docker? All I know is that our operations people don’t like it when we release on demand, and our annual software releases just deliver last year’s trends too late.”

There are many of us who probably own a small share of the responsibility that has brought about that sort of (mis)understanding. Part of creating an environment that will help a business survive and thrive in the post-digital economy is to do better at explaining the “why” as much as the “what.” To begin making amends for my previous DevOps shortcomings, let’s focus on the “why” of DevOps, and how it led to the recent refactoring of the SAFe® DevOps courseware. 

The SAFe Approach to DevOps

SAFe Approach to DevOps

After more than a decade of experimenting and learning, the DevOps community has discovered that effective DevOps entails a deep appreciation for culture, automation, Lean flow, measurement, and sharing (CALMS). In other words, DevOps requires that energy be directed toward each of these areas—not necessarily equally, but in balance—to achieve desired outcomes. SAFe echoes this belief, with one modification: sharing is a natural component of culture, which makes room for ‘recovery’ as a new element. Hence, SAFe’s CALMR approach to DevOps. What’s more, we aim to explore the notion that DevOps only applies to technology. In fact, we’ve found great success applying the CALMR approach throughout our business.

Culture. In SAFe, DevOps leverages the culture created by adopting the Lean-Agile values, principles, and practices of the entire Framework. Nearly every principle of SAFe, from Principle #1, take an economic view, to Principle #10, organize around value, applies to DevOps. DevOps enables shifting some operating responsibilities upstream, while following development work downstream into deployment, and operating and monitoring the solution in production.

Automation. DevOps recognizes that manual processes are the enemy of fast value delivery, high productivity, and safety. This is because manual processes tend to increase the probability of errors in the delivery pipeline, particularly at scale. These errors in turn cause rework, which delays desired outcomes. Automating the Continuous Delivery Pipeline via an integrated ‘toolchain’ accelerates processing time and shrinks feedback cycles. It’s this feedback—from customers, stakeholders, solutions, infrastructure, and the pipeline itself—that provides objective evidence that solutions are (or aren’t) delivering the expected value.

Lean flow. Agile teams and trains strive to achieve a state of continuous flow, enabling new features to move quickly from concept to cash. The three keys to accelerating flow are reflected in Principle #6, visualize and limit WIP, reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths. All three are integral to the ongoing optimization of the Continuous Delivery Pipeline. I describe each one below in the context of DevOps.

Measurement. Achieving extraordinary business outcomes with DevOps requires optimizing the Continuous Delivery Pipeline. Solutions, the systems on which they run, and the processes by which they are delivered and supported must be frequently fine-tuned for maximum performance and value. What to optimize, how to optimize it, and by how much are decisions that need to be made on a near-constant basis. These decisions are rooted in Principle #1, take an economic view, and Principle #5, base milestones on an objective evaluation of working systems—not merely on intuition. Thus, the ability to accurately measure delivery effectiveness and feed that information back into relentless improvement efforts is critical to DevOps success.

RecoveryTo support frequent and sustained value delivery, the Continuous Delivery Pipeline must be designed for low-risk releases and fast recovery from operational failure. Techniques to achieve a more flexible release process are described in the Release on Demand article.

Refactoring DevOps with DevOps

At Scaled Agile, we do our best to “Be SAFe.” With that directive, we constantly seek ways to apply the mindset, values, and principles behind the Framework to our daily work. During the continuous exploration cycle within our last PI, Product Management discovered an opportunity to improve our DevOps course to better suit the post-pandemic way of learning. Leveraging our culture, we were able to successfully DevOps DevOps in the PI that followed. Here’s what we did.

How We Used DevOps

MeasurementBy investing in and monitoring measurement, the team was able to identify an abnormality in the system before it materialized into something larger.

Culture of shared ownershipInstead of figuring out who was to blame for the findings, the team focused on figuring out what was taking place in the system and what we could do to resolve it. We conducted customer research, market research, member interviews, and instructor interviews. And we discovered that the reason why people weren’t teaching the DevOps course was that we hadn’t prioritized it for online learning enablement. In short, DevOps was not one of our most taught courses, so economics hadn’t yet dictated that enabling that courseware was the most important job to be done. The people who worked on the refactor were a truly cross-functional group. There were technical team members, such as the Framework SME, design experts and exam designers, and non-technical members, including the Product Owner, Product Manager, operations, business development, and legal. 

Lean flowWith the work identified, we broke down the DevOps course update into stories and managed everything based on the cross-functional capability of the dev team. We prioritized the work based on the economies of job bundling, sequenced it based on dependency, and ranked it based on need. We focused first on updating course content based on known defects and 5.1 updates: a shippable unit of value. We based redeveloping the course storyline on new team capabilities and market feedback: another shippable increment of value. Next, we focused on developing, deploying, and validating the digital classroom based on the newly created assets and the capabilities of SAFe® Collaborate—yet another shippable increment of value. Finally, with all the assets live through a dark launch, we were able to release on-demand based on optimal timing for our training partners.

RecoveryAs mentioned, we released the SAFe® DevOps course update and digital classroom via a dark launch. Meaning that the assets were live and ready to use but available only to a small number of test instructors. As these instructors delivered the updated training via the virtual classroom, team members could note improvement opportunities, correct defects in real time, and in the event of a catastrophic failure, revert the class to an alternate learning environment at a moment’s notice. 

Room for growth: automationAs the team worked through the DevOps update, it became apparent that we overlooked a particular aspect of CALMR in our own adoption: automation. As an organization that creates many digital and print assets with a varying degree of content redundancy, we noticed that we missed an opportunity to save time and better ensure quality through automation. In its most simplistic form, we recognized the benefit of managing a repository for commonly used assets. In a more advanced state of automation, we thought it would be cool to leverage a content management system that would allow us to update all instances of an artefact across all assets from a single repository.

Relentless Improvement

DevOps, like SAFe, Agile, or Lean, is a never-ending pursuit of relentless improvement. Our team was again reminded that no matter how good you are, even if you’re the people writing the playbook, that there are always ways to do things better. DevOps was developed to bridge the gap between software project teams and operations teams to better assure quality and speed within delivery cycles. DevOps comes from the same software-centric roots as Agile, and we’re learning that applying DevOps also extends beyond the problems which it was initially designed to solve.

How may the concepts of CALMR support the type of work you do? Join the conversation and share your experience in the forums on the SAFe® Community Platform (login required).

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: Why the Most Successful PMs and POs Share a Brain

Why the Most Successful PMs and POs Share a Brain – Implementing SAFe Successfully

In SAFe®, the Product Owner (PO) and Product Manager (PM) roles are critical for many reasons. We’ll start with the basics, the why, and the roles and responsibilities of each.

Product Owner (PO) and Product Manager (PM) roles

POs and PMs are essential to the success of SAFe. While they share areas of concern, both have their own focus. They both care about the Continuous Delivery Pipeline, they both iterate, and they both have content authority around their backlogs. They’re both responsible for continuous improvement, ensuring capacity for the architectural runway, communicating and collaborating on the vision and roadmaps, and much more.

And, they both focus on execution.

The PM leverages Customer Centricity and Design Thinking to reason about product enhancements, new product ideas, as well as innovation. The PO focuses on flow for development, release execution, and incremental delivery. And, they both embrace the Continuous Delivery Pipeline and the DevOps mindset. 

But there’s another element to the importance of their roles: their relationship with each other. The most successful POs and PMs share a brain.

There are many aspects to why this matters, so let’s synthesize them into three main “whys.”

Product Owner (PO) and Product Manager (PM) roles

Knowledge transfer, information coherence, and flow

OK, that’s actually three in one, but I put them together for a reason. These roles share a common goal. To inspire and transfer knowledge from the brains of who’s closest to the customer (PMs, Business Owners, etc.), into the brains of those responsible for execution (POs and teams). And, they need to do this with the highest possible level of information coherence, while removing delays and achieving flow.

Here’s an example from a recent PI Planning event I attended. The first day went swimmingly. The management problem solving workshop resulted in six adjustments to planning that were designed to help the teams. The PM spent 30 minutes kicking off day two talking about the adjustments and not too many people asked questions. But during the breakouts, all hell broke loose. The PM texted me saying, “I don’t think they heard a word I said!” The teams and POs argued about the changes, and this caused total chaos. All of which resulted in a huge “flow stoppage” to the entire PI Planning event. Looking back, I realized that the PM didn’t socialize the changes with the POs before day two kicked off, and the POs hadn’t bought into the shift. This completely interrupted any knowledge transfer and information coherence. Why did this happen? Because the PM and POs didn’t share a brain around the changes.

Transparency, content authority around their respective backlogs, and decentralized decision making

SAFe is a series of connected work items, some represented in Kanban, and others represented simply as backlogs. The Team backlogs are a combination of work being pulled from the Program Backlog with work from the local context. With that content, authority comes great responsibility to the product or solution, as well as the enterprise. The Program Backlog comes into PI Planning in the form of economically prioritized work items (Features).

Product Management leveraged their stakeholder management network as input to prioritize the work so that the teams can pull work for the PI that has the highest value to the business. The team backlog comes into PI Planning in the form of capacity allocated for other work items (maintenance, exploration, etc.), and is also prioritized, but slightly differently. The team backlogs are prioritized mostly for flow and execution of the value being pulled, which doesn’t necessarily align directly to the actual WSJF of the Program Backlog. 

For this to work, POs and PMs need early transparency into both sets of backlogs so they can make Lean and Agile decisions around the work, and maintain content authority around their respective backlogs. In other words, they need to share a brain around all of the work. Specifically, what capacity allocation are we recommending for maintenance? For refactoring? For exploration? And for new Feature development? What if something happens? What are our working agreements? By sharing a brain around these aspects and working agreements, POs and PMs can make real-time decisions as well as decisions around the backlog in which they have content authority.

Sharing a brain builds trust

We know that an environment that has trust creates a sense of safety for everyone involved. When PMs and POs really start sharing a brain and trusting each other to make decisions, magic happens. This is probably last on our list, as it’s the foundation for the previous two “whys.” 

I’ve been fortunate enough to have shared a brain with a few awesome PMs. And the impact of these relationships had real quantitative value. For example, literally anyone on the train could ask either of us a question and they’d get the same answer. This was so incredibly powerful. No more delays in answers or direction. No deviation from the vision. While of course we always want to encourage divergent thinking, there are always aspects of the backlog that have a strong answer (and direction), and others that could use a more collaborative approach. Knowing that both of us could be trusted to have the same answer controlled any backlash, but also created that sense of trust. The teams literally saw us as one, and whether the answer was: “I need to collaborate with my PM,” or a “specific answer,” they trusted us both implicitly. Just as we trusted the teams to deliver, they became extremely predictable in delivering against their objectives. This bi-directional trust not only helped us achieve our highest value in the shortest amount of time, but it created behavior models for others throughout the enterprise to follow. 

Product Owner (PO) and Product Manager (PM) roles

The How

Now that we’ve discussed the why, let’s look at the how. How the heck do PMs and POs actually share a brain? 

Well, it starts with some “symbiotic-ness,” First, having a common passion around the work creates some synchronicity as well as symbiosis. Then, learn to like each other, evolve, and explore common interests. Eventually, if enough time, emotional intelligence, and willingness occur, the PM and PO grow to love each other. This creates the ability to have extremely healthy dialogue, heated debate with no attachments to preconceived outcomes, and of course, that brain sharing.

Start with something simple. Get to know each other. Ask about each other’s family, their values, and their personal aspirations. Make lunch dates and keep them. Share food, common interests, and personal time. Realize that a successful relationship relies on true personal connections, not just what happens at work.

Here’s another example. After working with one particular PM for some time, her house burned down. The CEO of the company called me to let me know, and specifically asked that I didn’t call her. Well, at that point, we had shared such a deep relationship that I asked myself, “What would she want me to do?” She would want me to call her. So, I did. Together, we cried. She shared what she was going through. Of course, I offered to help in any way I could. She said that just the kindness of the gesture was enough for now, and that she promised she would ask for help when she got through the trauma and devastation at hand. 

None of that could have happened without the power and evolution of our POPM relationship. Sharing a brain. Getting to know each other. Sharing knowledge and understanding. Being transparent, while playing our own roles on the train. Creating trust within the organization that anyone could ask either of us a question and get the same answers. All this may seem like the soft stuff, but it’s how we grow our social networks, our relationships, and open up to share ideas, values, and opinions on how to deliver the highest value to our customers and society. 

After all, who doesn’t want that?

Check out these articles to get different perspectives about PO and PM roles, responsibilities, and relationships:

About Jennifer Fawcett

Jennifer Fawcett - 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 has 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.

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Next: SAFe and Business Architecture

SAFe and Business Architecture – Lean and Agile Journey with SAFe

SAFe and Business Architecture

As organizations begin their Lean and Agile journey with SAFe®, SPCs will introduce a tool designed to help organizations determine the best, most logical place to launch their first Agile Release Train (ART). The Value Stream and ART Identification Workshop are designed to help organizations identify the sweet spot where an opportunity to deliver value intersects with a clear problem to solve, leadership support, a clear product or solution, and collaborating teams.

It’s challenging to meet the criteria mentioned above, which is why many are tempted to launch ARTs within easier-to-identify constructs such as organizational silos. This rarely works. As we know, value often does not follow the organizational hierarchy. However, it’s important to understand that value stream identification is the first step in an ongoing practice of flow management to optimize the speed of delivery, quality, and customer delight. 

Why we perform value stream identification

Words matter, and there’s a clear distinction between value stream identification and value stream mapping. We advocate identifying value streams as you get started with SAFe. Value stream mapping is an ongoing practice of understanding, tuning, and planning how the organization will deliver value against its strategy in the long term. 

  • Value stream identification is something we seek to accomplish in a day or two
  • Value stream mapping is a practice that we sustain indefinitely 

Depending on an organization’s state of maturity in the realm of business architecture, one can inform the other, and neither is independent of the other. 

The role of business architecture

The role of business architecture is to provide clarity of how an organization’s capabilities and infrastructure come together to deliver business outcomes. The business architect is responsible for developing artifacts that help the organization operationalize strategy and assure the operational and technological enablement of core capabilities across value streams. In the context of this post, it’s important to understand the difference between how business architecture and SAFe use the word “capability.”

Capability, as defined by SAFe: Artifacts that may originate in the local context of the solution or occur as a result of splitting portfolio Epics that may cut across more than one value stream. Another potential source of capabilities is the Solution Context, where some aspect of the environment may require new solution functionality. In a SAFe context, the delivery of a capability requires collaboration between more than one ART. 

Capability, as defined in business architecture: An expression of what a business does and can do.

Though when exploring the discipline of capability modeling, the nuance between the two definitions disappears, the terms in common usage may cause confusion early on. It’s likely that we’ll dive deeper into the relationship between SAFe and business architecture and provide more clarity of how the two disciples come together on a midterm horizon. To provide additional understanding of how these words may come together, consider the context of a shipping services provider.

Capability: Package tracking.

Process: Generate tracking number.

Value stream: From order received to package delivered.

System: System ‘X’ is the system used to realize the tracking capability.

Service-oriented architecture (SOA) or microservice: Tracking could be an SOA service or microservice depending on the architecture of the system. But either instance refers to the specific mechanisms that deliver the intent of the capability.

Capability (as used in SAFe): Real-time package tracking.

Notice how capability, as defined in SAFe, extends the functionality of how capability is defined in the context of the business architecture discipline. This may give an indication of how future guidance could evolve.

Value stream mapping

The goal of value stream mapping, as defined in business architecture communities, is to map value delivery processes from concept to cash within a business. The SAFe definition of an operational value stream, the sequence of activities needed to deliver a product or service to a customer, aligns with most other common definitions of the term. SAFe also provides distinction and guidance for interacting with different types of operational value streams to include fulfillment, manufacturing, software production, and supporting value streams. Depending on the altitude of your perspective within an organization, these categories of value delivery may seem too granular, too broad, or just right. 

In the discipline of business architecture, architects are responsible for mapping an organization’s value streams from macro to micro. For example, a top-level value stream map for a shipping services provider may look something like this.

SAFe and Business Architecture
Example: top-level operational value stream

This simplistic view likely represents thousands of integrated software systems, multiple complex distribution hubs, scores of human hands, and millions of packages each day. Through the discipline of value stream mapping, business architects have the responsibility to understand and map how an organization does business. It starts with the macro perspective illustrated above. And continues to the micro level of how, within the context of the routing box above, shipping crates are planned, packaged, and sequentially loaded into trucks or aircraft given the specific weights, classes of service, and destinations of parcels on any given day.

SAFe and Business Architecture
Example: routing value stream

SAFe seeks to optimize the operational and development value streams that make the top-level run. In the example above, there are likely operational value streams within the distribution centers that physically move packages, others that control the movement of vehicles, and still others that produce the technology to seamlessly coordinate those events, which is typically where we operate in SAFe. 

SAFe focuses primarily on the development and management of development value streams, with the intent of optimizing the design/validate/deploy activities that make an operation run. Though as the world becomes more digitally integrated, the conversation is likely to evolve.

Many organizations seeking to embrace the methods outlined in SAFe lack an existing value stream body of knowledge. And one of the first steps to take to achieve a successful transformation is to begin focusing on value. The Value Stream and ART Identification Workshop helps provide the value perspective, and will likely surface organizational challenges that have historically served as a barrier to a value focus. These include communication barriers, duplicative technology systems, and business processes, and a lack of alignment within the organization. These challenges are not because of SAFe, but because the organization seeks to optimize for speed of delivery, solution quality, and customer satisfaction. You must address the problems that surfaced in value stream identification to achieve the desired outcomes. 

Once an ART is launched, the work of optimizing for value delivery continues. Launching an ART will lead the organization with a powerful step forward. But to truly optimize the entire system, you’ll likely need to invest in value stream mapping through and by embracing business architecture practices.

Capability mapping

With the value stream identified, an evolution to business architecture seeks to understand the capabilities of an organization. Simply put, knowing how each of the processes on the value stream map incrementally supports the delivery of value. Capabilities provide the organization with an as-is view of how the organization operates.

For example, the ultimate goal of someone who ships a package is for that package to arrive at its intended destination on time. The capability of tracking intends to provide the customer with the assurance that their goal, the aim of the value stream, will be fulfilled as expected. Additionally, it provides transparency should the service expectations fall short.

SAFe and Business Architecture
Example: Business capability

Capability modeling

Capability modeling is an extension of capability mapping that helps inform how the business may need to alter its capabilities to achieve some sort of strategic intent. That could include improved customer satisfaction, more transparency, or even the expansion or contraction of the organization.

SAFe and Business Architecture
Example: Implementing strategy with capability modeling 

For organizations that want to compete in the digital age, the ability to leverage business architecture and capability modeling when testing an Epic’s hypothesis is the ultimate fuel to feed ARTs. Effective Lean Portfolio Management helps provide the objective clarity to understand the impacts of strategy and validate hypotheses. That vision clarifies how business architecture and capability mapping investments work along your journey to business agility and thriving in the digital age.

Where to start

Some level of business architecture capability exists in many organizations at some level. The best place to check if your organization has existing value stream or capability maps is with the office of the chief strategy officer. 

If your organization doesn’t have existing artifacts, the SAFe Value Stream and ART Identification Workshop is a great tool to continue the conversation beyond informing the launch of the first ART. You can use the guidance in the toolkit to identify the operational value stream and apply it to your altitude of influence to fully articulate how the business area delivers value. You can reinforce your map by fully identifying the people who work within the value stream, the systems that support the value stream, and the people who work on those systems—all as guided by the workshop. The main differentiator between this effort and the initial Value Stream and ART Identification Workshop is the intent of mapping with more precision for the purpose of developing a deeper artifact, versus the initial conversation which is focused on finding the best place to launch an ART. 

After you’ve articulated the value stream, you can reinforce it by considering guidance in the SAFe® DevOps course, which helps provide visibility into lead time, process time, and cycle time. Then, with the value stream articulated and the flow metrics in hand, the organization will be able to make informed decisions on how to best improve the rate of flow within the value stream. From there, opportunities will likely emerge to expand the work into other areas of the business, explore capability mapping, expand to experience architecture, and more. 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years of working with Lean, Agile, and SAFe tools, it’s that well-intended, value-add work to better the organization and customer experience always yields new opportunities.

Good luck!

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: The Challenge of Economic Prioritization

The Challenge of Economic Prioritization – Agility Planning

Economic Prioritization

On the surface, the foundations of job sequencing in considering the Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) prioritization schema seem logical. Do the smallest job with the greatest cost of delay first to deliver the greatest economic benefit. Though, in practice, it can be much more challenging. To survive and thrive in the post-digital economy, organizations need to change how they produce products, interact with customers, and define and prioritize work. To succeed in each of these areas requires a significant shift in organizational behavior, including how leaders interact with their peers. 

But, how did we get here? 

Why does what seems right feel so hard? 

What can we do?

Siloed behavior and organizational politics

Organizational structure and a slow operating cadence have created a specific environment within workplaces. One where large organizations encourage people and leaders to prioritize the work system over customer needs and speed to market. 

It’s not their fault; it’s the system they inherited. 

In the decades following the Second World War, the capacity to serve consumer needs had been owned almost entirely by large organizations with the capital to establish complicated supply chains and manufacturing processes. These organizations, not the consumer, dictated products, delivery cadences, and market rhythms. Until recently, those behaviors proved profitable.

2001 proved to be a proverbial “canary in the coal mine,” which indicated business disruption on the horizon. With the mass adoption of the internet, software distribution was no longer reserved only for organizations with the capital and infrastructure to produce thousands of diskettes and manuals. The dot-com era brought forth an environment that allowed any developer with access to the internet the ability to distribute software without the overhead of production. If they intended to compete, large software companies realized that they needed to be more customer-centric, faster, and value-focused. Thus, the drafting of The Agile Manifesto.

In 2021, accelerated by COVID, nearly all businesses across every sector are facing the same awakening that software companies did in 2001—no industry is safe from disruption. This time around, we’ve witnessed minimal to zero barriers to entry, a global workforce that has thrived working from anywhere, supply chains that are more nimble than ever, and desktop manufacturing capabilities that are largely inexpensive.

If storied businesses aim to survive in the threat of total disruption, they must change organizational behaviors related to strategy, workflow, and systemic behavior. Though, to change these behaviors, it’s important to understand why organizations behave the way they do. 

Win culture

Win culture is pervasive within the organizational system and is the greatest challenge to overcome. The culture of winning has been hardwired into many of us from a young age, was fueled throughout the educational experience, and is carried forward into our careers. 

Starting in elementary school, students are tested and ranked based on their perceived abilities. These tests determine who is placed in gifted programs, remedial programs, or in a more traditional track. Parents desperate to see their children succeed and outperform their peers push them into after-school STEM programs, language studies, and other activities. Once on the advanced track, students compete to be among the best of their group. Only the best of the best will be admitted to the best colleges. Only the best from the best colleges will be accepted into the best graduate schools and offered the most prestigious jobs. 

From there, the need to win is amplified in the workplace. As one climbs the corporate ladder, the opportunity for advancement shrinks and the need to win over one’s peers becomes more frantic. Winning sometimes surpasses the team, the customer, and even the organization. It becomes about beating the competition to achieve more power, prestige, and income. 

Sound familiar? This is the system we have built. To paraphrase W. Edwards Deming, a system left unmanaged becomes inherently selfish, and only management can change the system. It begins with you and how you make decisions related to defining and prioritizing work.

Take an economic view

The first principle to embrace in defining and prioritizing work, as supported by the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®), is to take an economic view.  

In any organization, for-profit, nonprofit, and everything in between, economics must be the primary determinant of job sequencing. Or, which jobs can I do in the shortest amount of time that will generate the most revenue, save the most on expenses, or reduce our exposure to the greatest amount of risk?

Some may argue that the statement above may not seem very customer centric, but I would argue. Consider the perspective of a nonprofit, where the ultimate goal is to serve the most beneficiaries as possible while being a good steward of donor dollars. To be successful in this regard requires taking an economic view. Consider the perspective of a for-profit, and a quote from Sam Walton, founder of WalMart. “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down simply by spending his money somewhere else.” If an organization is building products that don’t represent the greatest benefit to the customer when the customer desires the benefits, the customer won’t buy the products or services. To understand which products/services/features the market demands, we must take an economic view. 

Economic Prioritization

Apply systems thinking

With an economic perspective in mind, the next principle supported by SAFe is to apply systems thinking. Or, accept the very real possibility that the most important job for an organization to pursue may not be the job that you personally feel is most important. One of the biggest problems with organizations that embrace a hierarchy without the benefit of a secondary operating system is that it’s easy to become myopic. People become enamored with the success of their silo and often forget that their organization alone doesn’t deliver customer value.  

Systems thinking encourages us to consider the whole value stream and customer journey. The principle also reminds us that the quality of a system (or customer experience) is only as good as its slowest/most painful component. As implied by Lean, to establish flow of any sort, we achieve the greatest benefit when we seek to optimize the slowest/weakest/most painful parts of the system. By applying systems thinking as part of an economic prioritization framework, we are reminded that the work we do is part of a system. The greatest benefit to that system may be investments in areas outside of one’s own area of direct influence. 


It’s hard to make decisions about the most appropriate prioritization of work. The difficulty is amplified when arriving at that prioritization requires consensus among peer groups that are typically in fierce competition with one another.

In my consulting career, I’ve seen many scenarios. Some where the people required to collaborate for prioritization struggled to even speak to one another. Some where people were reluctant to acknowledge that the task of another was more important than their own. As consultants and change agents who may be facilitating these prioritization discussions, we must lead with empathy. Project culture in organizations was often predicated with a “do this, or else” delivery requirement. At best, missed project delivery would kill a career. At worst, it could result in immediate termination. Many leaders and executives are in a position where their long-term bonuses are still tied to this sort of incentive, or have a hangover from management paradigms of the past. Overcoming these very real fears will require leading by example and providing psychological safety. Consider collaborating with an organization’s change partners to develop a strategy for helping decision-makers evolve with grace; pushing will not yield the desired result. 

Economic Prioritization

WSJF, the prioritization tool introduced by Reinertsen and applied by SAFe aims to make this difficult task easier. We consider WSJF in four micro-conversations:

  • Perceived user-business value
  • Time criticality
  • Risk reduction and/or opportunity enablement value
  • Job size

The conversation is facilitated by reviewing each of these elements in isolation from the others. For example, if we have a list of ten jobs, we’ll first determine the user-business value score for each using a modified Fibonacci sequence (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20) and scoring guardrails. The guardrails should represent work that has been done previously to ensure consistent estimation. In my experience, I’ve found it helpful to have points of triangulation identified for each element of WSJF that represent a 2, 8, and 20.

Economic Prioritization

WSJF is calculated by first determining the cost of delay through the summation of the user-business, time criticality, risk reduction and/or opportunity values, and then divided by job size. Based on the definition of the feature at the time, architects and other people who are responsible for delivering the work, will determine the job size independently of the other values. 

Considering Reinertsen’s guidance, we agree that the jobs with the highest WSJF value represent the highest-value jobs that can be done in the shortest time possible. 

It’s also worth noting that the WSJF prioritization isn’t final. We need to keep other factors top of mind, such as dependencies and availability of skills. And we need to make sure we always consider the economics and greatest benefit to the system.

Just-enough thinking helps us move faster

Consider the 10th principle behind the Agile Manifesto: the art of maximizing the amount of work not done is essential. We know that given the 80/20 rule, 80 percent of the value of a product comes from 20 percent of its features. The rest are rarely if ever, used. 

Consider your bank’s website. I suspect that when you log into your account, you focus on three primary functions: reviewing your checking account, reviewing your savings account, and transferring money between the two. Not that loan applications, external transfers, and mobile deposits aren’t important. But to get the most value in the shortest amount of time possible, you likely focus on surfacing checking, savings, and transfer first. Additional functionality would come in a subsequent release. Waiting until all of the functionality was complete before launching the online banking platform likely seems foolish in the context. 

WSJF forces us to focus on the features or ideas that are going to drive the most value at a given point in time. What are the checking, savings, and transfer functions relevant to you? Are you choosing to look at the work as a bank website, which is really big and would fail the prioritization conversation every time? Or have you broken the work up into smaller, high-value chunks? If you want your work to get prioritized, make sure that it’s small and highly valuable in the eyes of the customer. Small jobs move through the system (and delight customers) faster. 

It requires leadership

Shifting our approach to prioritizing work is hard, but so is meaningful change. Winning in the post-digital economy depends on an organization’s ability to rapidly shift to meet changing market conditions and customer demands. Leaders who position themselves and their teams to be resilient in the face of change will win the digital future. Those who delay or don’t change will struggle to remain relevant. 

What’s probably hardest of all is that for those in a leadership role, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will give them permission to behave in this way. In fact, doing so may come at great risk. Being a change agent is a difficult and thankless role, but one that organizations need now more than ever. If you’re a leader reading this post, it’s likely that your organization is already on the path to changing its work habits. It’s now up to you, the leaders, to determine how successful the change, and your organization’s future, will be.

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

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

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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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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