Wouldn’t it be great if transformations could go on autopilot?
Unfortunately, despite what we wish for, they can’t. They need strong and resilient teams driving transformations to success.
In this blog, you’ll learn how to set up your Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE) for success. Everything in this blog is from our experiences in the field.
Our story begins at the very first LACE Summit, where we met for the first time. Heads of LACE teams from across the globe were brought together, where we were able to collaborate, exchange ideas, and benefit from each other’s experiences. This took place on October 6, 2022, when Amadeus welcomed Orange, Renault, Vodafone, and Scaled Agile, Inc. to the Amadeus headquarters in Sophia-Antipolis, France.
We left the LACE summit with practical examples of
LACE team setups
The event was not only fun but a real eye-opener.
What to Consider When Setting up Your Lean-Agile Center of Excellence
We identified four focus areas when creating a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence:
It’s important to consider your progress in the transformation journey and transformation ambition.
Most LACE teams have a Hub-and-Spoke setup. This includes relays in the organizations they support (SAFe® champions). Most LACE teams include HR and Finance in their decision process and roadmap.
Based on input from other LACE teams, it’s not easy to map a LACE organization. The organization has plenty of connections and direct or dotted links with other groups.
You usually start with a small team of change agents representing different areas. They’re willing to drive the change, experiment, and learn fast. These team members may only dedicate a limited part of their capacity to the transformation at the beginning. But they’re willing to go the extra mile.
Skills in the LACE are global and include R&D, HR, Finance, Product Management, Design Thinking, and Communication. Use external consultants as you develop the skills of your internal change agents at the start of the journey. The goal of these external partners should be to enable your LACE team to drive transformation on their own.
As the scale of your transformation increases, you will also need to scale your team. You may need to create new transformation teams to support simultaneous transformations in different areas (portfolios).
At Amadeus and Vodafone, we use the Hub and Spoke model. This enables decentralized decision-making and concurrent transformation initiatives in different areas. It also brings alignment on important transformation topics with a strong Hub.
At Amadeus, we also have SAFe champions. We nominate these champions and train them on SAFe SPC curriculum. Once trained, they become strong change agents in the organization. They sustain the change in alignment with the LACE support.
The most critical success factor when you start is nominating a strong authentic leader. This leader understands the business and the challenges the company is facing. It should be someone eager to drive the change and with energy and resilience to resolve impediments and roadblocks along the way. Pairing two leaders—one from Business and one from IT—will increase alignment of the transformation from the get-go.
Since most transformations start in IT, organizations create a Head of LACE position in IT. The role usually reports to the Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Technology Officer (CTO). This underpins the importance of the transformation. It also creates a direct line of communication with executives within the organization.
But, in this case, the Business Executive Sponsor is crucial to the transformation. They enable acceptance of the transformation team in the Business organization. Otherwise, there is a risk that business engagement will lack. People will perceive the transformation as IT only.
At Amadeus, there is a double reporting line of Head of LACE both to the CTO and a dotted line reporting into HR. This double reporting enables the LACE to dig into engineering perspectives. It also gives them a transversal mandate to guide the people and culture evolution.
Agile Coaches usually report to one line organization led by the Head of LACE. This ensures
Consistency of implementation approach
It’s important to note that a successful LACE is a collaboration, not a line organization. The LACE needs more cross-functional and cross-departmental capabilities. These capabilities anchor the change in the organization.
Diversity of capabilities
Depending on your transformation goals and environment, you’ll need different skills and capabilities. Your transformation will evolve. This means your required skills and capabilities will also evolve. New challenges and impediments will come up.
A typical LACE team can include the following skills and capabilities:
Agile Coaching and Training
Agile Methods and Tooling
Change Management and Communication
Representation of Finance, HR, line managers, and change agents
In a regulatory and compliance environment, include the following experts in your LACE team:
Transformation requires focus. Change agents and change champions have jobs that keep them busy. Other priorities get in the way. Transformations can feel like you’re changing tires on a highway at full speed.
To counterbalance conflicting priorities, try the following:
Upfront investment in alignment
Involving line managers of your change agents
Negotiating transformation goals as part of yearly performance goals
A small team of dedicated SPCs can speed up your transformation. When you start to scale on an enterprise level, the impediments will get bigger and harder to address.
At Amadeus, the LACE runs the transformation. They use SAFe Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) for prioritization. They use an Agile Release Train for the execution.
A Strategic Portfolio Review (SPR) drives the transformation LPM. The SPR includes executives from all business units. These executives share:
Impediments where the LACE needs top management support
Amadeus holds the SPR quarterly.
They also organize bi-weekly Portfolio Sync meetings. These meetings include executive representatives. They address Epics and operational progress of the transformation train.
Some of the SPR members are also Business Owners of the transformation train. This generates better alignment and valuable discussions with the team members.
Lean-Agile Center of Excellence Challenges and Tips
The Lean-Agile Center of Excellence will face challenges throughout the transformation journey. The following two challenges are particularly critical to overcome.
Challenge 1: Executive engagement
Transformation is not a sprint but a marathon. It’s not enough for executives to give their buy-in at the beginning of the transformation. They shouldn’t expect business results with minimal effort.
Many transformation teams struggle to get continuous executive engagement needed for sustainable change.
To keep executives engaged, always start with the WHY. Define the clear business outcomes you want to achieve. You don’t need to get engagement from all executives at once from the very beginning. Start with one. Build trust. Show quick incremental improvements, and let them become your biggest advocate.
Challenge 2: Transformation ownership
As the LACE team, avoid becoming a ‘Doctor’s office’. People should not come to you for quick pain relief and fast results with the least effort. With this method, if something is not working, it immediately becomes your fault.
Ownership of the transformation and business results should stay in the delivery organization. The LACE team is an enablement team. They partner with different business areas to
Become a catalyst of change
Drive continuous improvement culture
Help address roadblocks on the way to success
Tips for solving these challenges
Here are some tips for solving the two challenges mentioned in the previous section.
Engage your executives in your roadmap
Train executives. Coach them. Involve them in the planning through retrospectives, system demos, and other formats.
Why is this important?
You’ll need their support to get everyone on board. Then you’ll need their approval (and even more so, their sponsorship) to implement changes in the organization.
Don’t get out of breath
You are of no use if you run out of energy. Take time with your work. Make sure your teams have the right workload to avoid feeling like they’re gasping for air. Don’t be too wrapped up in meeting your own goals and forget to engage your team.
Changing for the sake of change won’t be enough for your teams
People need a compelling reason to change. Engage colleagues by building a vision and defining a burning platform. We’ve seen this work in many transformation journeys.
Change agents should work as a team and support each other
Organizational transformation is tedious work, and it is not a one-person job. Use PI (Planning Interval) planning to align priorities. Ensure the team works toward the same objectives.
Celebrate success together as a team and boost motivation
Short-term wins encourage team members to be more engaged and positive about the work.
Some people believe SAFe and agility are for technical people, like engineers. But this is not always true. Practicing Agile ways of working means planning work and delivering value based on the customer’s wishes. By this, all aspects of a company should be Agile.
So, your transformation team needs representation from everywhere. This includes business, HR, Finance, Procurement, and more. They will be your change agents in different areas of the business.
A Checklist to Keep Your LACE on Track
Setting up a LACE team can be overwhelming. Oftentimes, as an internal team, you may only have one chance to get it right.
Here’s a checklist based on experience from the trenches to help your LACE team get it right on the first try.
1. Design a purpose-driven transformation that ensures continuous executive engagement.
Secure a transformation sponsor at the executive level
Define common objectives (OKRs) with your sponsor
Connect to strategy and define transformation narrative
Involve executive leaders in prioritizing the LACE backlog of transformation initiatives
2. Define and evolve your LACE vision/mission, transformation scope, capabilities needed, and your operating model.
Host a LACE Kickoff to define your vision, mission, ways of working, initial scope, and metrics
Ensure nomination of HR and Finance representatives and establish a good mix of Business and Technology representatives in your LACE team
Co-create transparent rules of engagement between your LACE team and transformation the initiatives you’re supporting
Join forces and connect with the strategy team in your organization, Cultural Center of Excellence, or Digital Transformation office (when applicable) to support broader enterprise transformation and cultural change
Drive alignment on vision, mission, and why story when you scale across the organization and make your transformation inclusive to all transformation teams
3. Invest time in communication, focusing on different and sometimes unique needs of stakeholders. Remember, there is no successful transformation without successful communication.
Create an engaging communication strategy and communication plan for different target groups
Experiment; be bold and creative
Promote transformation stories, testimonials, and learnings in different formats (e.g. regular demos, newsletters, videos, podcasts, etc.)
Organize regular Agile events or internal Agile conferences to bring your transformation stories to life and connect change agents and enthusiasts in the organization
Don’t forget that executives represent a crucial communication target group; invest time in understanding their communication needs
4. Adapt to change, scale with alignment, and measure success.
Evolve your transformation scope over time and adjust your LACE capabilities depending on the current focus area of transformation
Scale transformation with SPC Champions in different areas and connect them via Community of Practice to drive excellence, community spirit, and pride in driving transformation together
Measure NPS of your LACE team for different transformation initiatives you are supporting
Additional LACE Resources
If you’re interested in setting up and driving a successful LACE, we would love to invite you to the next edition of the LACE Summit. It will be planned at Amadeus Sophia-Antipolis, France in October 2023. Join us to hear and share about your favorite topic. Stay tuned!
Sandra Bellong, Head of Lean-Agile Center of Excellence at Amadeus, is a senior people manager, project manager, and Agile/SAFe specialist with a strong background in business analysis and development design. She is a dynamic, engaged, and motivated actor in Agile transformations, process and methodology improvements, and always in the scope of high customer satisfaction.
Alena Keck, Head of Lean-Agile Center of Excellence at Vodafone, is passionate about helping large global companies reach the full potential of business agility and overcome challenges of Agile transformation at scale. Her mission is to be a strong change agent who creates strong transformation teams and growing Lean-Agile leaders. Her motto is “Transformation is a Team Sport.”
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
SAFe Enterprise: This enterprise-level subscription provides SAFe training and resources.
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.
Even when metrics are captured, improvement areas might remain blurry without a shared understanding of what the metrics mean and show.
How do teams with different skill sets, business objectives, and types of work all use the same measurement domains to gauge success? How do they know if they are on track to achieve PI Objectives and Iteration Goals?
We asked Scrum Masters from five different teams to answer five questions about the metrics they use to measure flow, outcomes, and competency. Their answers were illuminating, and we’re excited to share the results in a new article series titled “SAFe Metrics for Teams.” Each article will highlight one or more teams and take a close look at how they use SAFe metrics in their own domains.
METRICS SURVEY QUESTIONS
What metrics does your team use to track outcomes?
How do these metrics help your team define and plan work?
What flow metrics does your team use?
How has your team used metrics to drive continuous improvement?
How does your team self-assess competency?
Let’s get started!
Applying SAFe® Metrics for a Sales Operations Team
Sales ops teams are charged with enabling the sales team to hit their growth targets. This means sales ops should do work that creates a better, faster, and more predictable sales process, including:
Lead management and routing
Sales team onboarding
Continued learning and development
Contract management solutions
Sales process optimization
By nature, sales ops work is often routine and process-heavy. It’s a lot of “run the business” or “business as usual” (BAU) work. Despite its sometimes repetitive nature, the pace and volume of this work will affect sales team objectives. Agile marketing teams are often in a similar position.
Plus, enterprise-level sales are getting more complicated. There’s more technology, data, tools, and systems than ever. For sales leaders, this complexity means spending more time managing systems and less time working with teams and growing territories. As sales teams face increasing pressure to become more customer-centric and responsive, the demand for Agility also grows.
How can sales ops teams embrace the same Agile spirit and practice that drives other business areas like development and IT? More specifically, how can a sales ops department employ measurements like flow, outcomes, and competency in the same way as other SAFe teams?
For Kate Quigly, a senior Scrum Master with the sales ops team, it starts with the right mindset and clear goals focused on helping sales teams embrace Agility in their planning and operations. We asked Kate to lift the lid on her team’s process for using metrics, pursuing improvement, and applying SAFe measurement domains. Below, Kate explains how the sales ops team makes SAFe guidance work for them.
Question: What metrics does your team use to track outcomes? How do these metrics help your team define and plan work?
Answer: Outcomes are the perfect opportunity to assess which work is worth doing and what value is delivered. Here are the metrics we use to measure outcomes:
The nature of our work makes it fairly simple to craft SMART PI objectives. Here’s an example of a good PI objective for a typical sales ops team:
Example: “To grow strategic accounts by five percent in Q1 2023, create three account plans per region, and complete five live training sessions with sales by the end of Q4 2022.”
This objective would align with our team’s mission to bolster the sales team’s performance and operations in several ways:
It empowers sales to develop their account plans in the future. With this capability, sales can immediately take action to capture new opportunities in expanding regions.
It’s written to help sales achieve growth targets, which could be a strategic theme and/or PI Objective for the entire ART.
It enables future work that will contribute clear business value.
Team Business Value
Business value assignments are where we learn whether the right work was planned and completed correctly. We can use business value scores to understand the following:
Did we plan the right mix of work? For us, this could mean uncovering the wrong balance of BAU work vs. “user-facing” projects.
Were we able to complete our committed objectives? If not, why?
Were our objectives clear and measurable?
Are we delivering value?
Iteration goals keep us focused on the most important work. Because iteration goals are not always reflected in a single story, we can check each iteration to see if visible work is actually contributing to our iteration goals (and PI Objectives). We want to discover if completed stories actually support the iteration goals. If there’s misalignment here, and we’re planning proper capacity, trouble could be around the corner.
Team Purpose Statement
While objective metrics are critical, qualitative assessments also matter. We often refer to our team purpose statement to check whether planned work needs to be rephrased, reexamined, or re-scoped to align with our core purpose.
Question: What flow metrics does your team use?
Answer: Since we’re a relatively new team, we’re still honing the best set of metrics. I recommend using a variety of metrics as each one can highlight valuable insights. Right now, we use the following metrics most often:
Team velocity should be a stable, predictable measurement that helps the team forecast capacity for future work. Velocity metrics should never be compared across teams or used as a productivity measurement. Too much emphasis on achieving the right number can cause teams to “game” the system.
I use some standard questions to spark conversations, including:
Is our team velocity significantly dropping? Let’s discuss why.
Is our team velocity significantly increasing? What’s the cause of this increase?
In particular, we look at the number of rollover stories from one iteration to the next. The root cause of these rollover stories can reveal issues with prioritization, role competency, and dependencies. This analysis helped our team discover a missing toolset needed for data management work.
We use cycle time scatterplot charts to show lead time and cycle time. These charts capture when an item starts and finishes. Low cycle time means the team is performing well and value flows fast to customers. Items with high cycle time are easy to identify and retrospect on.
Measuring flow time helped us find a recurring delay within the legal department. The delay caused an issue with generating new contracts, which are critical for our internal customers (sales) to finalize their work within a fixed timeline.
This data helps us talk about problems in a new way by asking the following:
Why did some items take so long to complete? What could we have done differently? Are there action items we can do to improve?
Our average time to finish an item is X amount of days. What improvements would lower this for even more efficiency?
Distribution is crucial for understanding whether we’re spending time on the right mix of work types. The team believes (rightly) that BAU work should be shown and recognized. Common BAU work includes:
Analyze closed lost/won deals
Training, onboarding, and enablement
However, I’ve had to coach the team on how to incorporate this type of work into Scrum, and how to balance BAU with “new development” work, which we affectionately call “special projects.” For our team, special projects would include work like:
New system implementation for key account management
For us, all of these metrics roll up into two primary dashboards. We frequently use the following charts to check our progress:
Iteration and Release cumulative flow diagrams help visualize the work. These diagrams show cycle time, work in progress, and throughput.
This metric surfaced an interesting “stair step” pattern, which could indicate rushing at the end of the iteration. Once identified, we were able to find some key bottlenecks that are unique to the sales environment.
Burndown charts. These charts can predict the team’s likelihood of completing the committed work in a given time period. By visualizing the work in this way, you can see if delivery is on track, will complete early, or will be delayed.
Question: How has your team used metrics to drive continuous improvement?
Answer: These metrics help us identify mistakes, whether it’s a missed dependency, unclear acceptance criteria, or errant planning. For example, I’ve seen our team continually battle context switching, indicated by a large amount of work in progress (WIP).
The context switching was causing us to miss more meaningful opportunities. For sales ops, this could mean putting new dashboards on hold and instead prioritizing new account research. During team retros, we can use questions like the following to identify improvement areas:
Are there too many items “in progress” which can result in costly context switching?
Are there too many items “in progress” which can signal a bottleneck problem in our workflow?
Is there a large amount of work that is “not started” that may cause us to delay or miss upcoming milestones?
Stop starting and start finishing by limiting WIP
Swarming or pairing to complete work faster
Teams identify and embrace metrics depending on how you set the stage and approach these conversations. Again, for us, the priorities are clarified by focusing on the most valuable work instead of giving all planned work the same priority level. We must continually ask: “what’s the most value we can deliver this week, this iteration, and this PI?”
Question: How does your team self-assess competency?
Answer: As a new team, we’re focused on the team and technical agility assessment, which was just distributed to the team. I am very excited to use this as another tool to start team conversations about improvement areas.
Kate shared a few other key ways that sales ops teams can “think” Agile and adapt SAFe practices to their business domain:
Will the planned work allow sales team members to be more decentralized, productive, and empowered in their job?
Is the planned work only planned because “that’s the work we do”?
What work would support cross-functional capabilities for sales teams/members?
Example: A standardized sales deck with editable fields to eliminate dependence on graphic design support.
What processes can be automated to create economies of scale?
Example: An automated, repeatable de-duplication process for faster and more accurate CRM data management.
Overall, changing their way of thinking about work and measuring value has helped the sales ops team embrace Agile principles and improve alignment across the ART. As a result, they have better tools for visualizing, categorizing, and prioritizing BAU work with critical projects while also seeing the real value they deliver.
About Kate Quigly
Kate is a Senior Scrum Master at Scaled Agile, Inc. She has many years of experience coaching Agile teams with high energy and creativity. She is passionate about lifelong learning, experimenting with teams, and creating a collaborative culture. Connect with Kate on LinkedIn.
About Madi Fisher
Madi is an Agile Coach at Scaled Agile. She has many years of experience coaching Agile teams in all phases of their journeys. She is a collaborative facilitator and trainer and leads with joy and humor to drive actionable outcomes. She is a true galvanizer! Connect with Madi on LinkedIn.
This post is the second in a series about success patterns for large solutions. Read the first post here.
Backlog refinement is integral to the Scrum process because it prevents surprises and maintains flow in iterative development. Regular backlog review ensures the backlog is ready for iteration planning. An Agile team understands how much they still need to refine the backlog items before the next iteration planning and beyond.
When applying SAFe®to large, complex, cyber-physical systems, you must expand backlog refinement to include more viewpoints. The complexity of a large solution is rarely fully comprehended by one or a few individuals, and the size of the large solution exacerbates the impact of risks that can escape into large solution planning.
So how do we find the balance between overpreparation, which limits ownership and innovation by the solution builders, and under-refinement, which can undermine the solution and the flow of value delivery?
To answer these questions, we adapted the following success patterns for large solution backlog refinement.
Use the Dispatcher Clause
The dispatcher principle guides large solution refinement by preventing the premature dispatch of requirements to Agile Release Trains (ARTs), solution areas, or Agile teams. Premature dispatching can cause risks like:
• Misalignment in the development of different solution components • Missed opportunities for economies of scale across organizational constructs • Sub-optimization of lower priority solution features
In contrast, making the right trade-off decisions at the right level drives holistic and innovative solutions.
Key stakeholder viewpoints that are often overlooked include marketing, compliance, customer support, and finance. Ensuring these voices are heard during refinement work can prevent issues that might remain undetected until late in the solution roadmap.
For complex solutions, we discovered that a planning conference is more effective than pre-and post-PI Planning events alone. This event mimics a PI Planning event and is intended to align upcoming PI work across ARTs and solution areas. To keep the conference focused and productive, it should only include representatives from the participating ARTs. We will cover specific planning conference details in a later blog post.
The goal of the planning conference is to provide a boundary for the large solution refinement work. Preparation for key decisions that can be made in the planning conference should be part of the refinement work. But making key decisions is part of the planning conference. However, key stakeholder inputs that cannot be reasonably gathered during the planning conference should be included in the refinement work.
For example, in Figure one, a review of the key behavior-driven development (BDD) demo and testing scenarios by a customer advisory board is valuable input in refinement. The customer advisory board will not attend the two-day planning conference, so their advance input provides guardrails on the backlog work that’s considered.
Agree on the Definition of Ready
The definition of the readiness (DoR) criteria for a large solution backlog is often multidimensional. Consider, for example, the architectural dimension of the solution. The architecture defines the high-level solution components and how they interact to provide value. The choice of components is relevant to system architects in the contributing ARTs and stakeholders in at least these areas:
• User experience • Compliance • Internal audit and standards • Corporate reuse • Finance
Advancing the backlog item—a Capability or an Epic—through the stages of readiness often requires review and refinement from the various stakeholders.
Figure one is an example Definition of Ready Maturity Model. It shows the solution dimensions that must be refined in preparation for the solution backlog. Levels zero to five show how readiness can advance within each dimension. The horizontal contour lines show that progression to the intermediate stages of readiness is often a combination of different levels in each dimension.
This delineation is helpful when monitoring the progression of a backlog item to intermediate readiness stages on a Kanban board.
The key to balancing over-preparation and under-refinement is to distinguish between work that an ART or solution area can complete independently without a high risk of rework. For example, final costs could be prohibitively high without a Lean business case to scope the solution. Another common high-risk impact of under-refinement is unacceptable usability caused by the siloed implementation of Features by the ARTs.
The Priority BDD and Test Scenarios in Figure one represent how features are used harmoniously. These scenarios provide guardrails to help ARTs prioritize and demonstrate parts of the overall solution without significant rework of a PI.
Identifying the dimensions, levels, and progression of readiness is a powerful organizational skill for building a large solution.
Leverage Refinement Crews
Regular large solution refinement is necessary to ensure readiness. The complexity of a large solution warrants greater effort and participation than Solution Management can cover. And the number of key decisions grows in direct proportion to the size of a solution.
Our experience shows that roughly 10 percent of those who participate in large solution development should participate in a regular refinement cadence. If the total participation is 450 people, then 45 representatives from across ARTs or solution areas should set aside time for weekly refinement iterations.
Backlog refinement for a large solution requires more capacity than a typical backlog refinement session. The refinement crews determine a cadence of planning, executing, and demonstrating the refinement work. One-week iterations, for example, help drive focus on refinement to ensure readiness.
We also discovered that refinement crews of six to eight people should swarm refinement work within iterations. These groups are usually created based on individual skills and their representation within stakeholder groups. Alignment with crews and dimensions or skillsets is determined during the planning of refinement iterations. The goal is always to move the funnel item to the next refinement maturity level in the next iteration.
Our experience says that each refinement crew requires at least three to four core participants. The other crew members can come from stakeholder organizations outside the Solution Train.
Readiness progress must be reviewed on a regular cadence with solution train progress. Progress can be represented in the Solution Kanban between the Funnel and Backlog stages, as shown in Figure two. In our example, these stages replace the Analyzing state provided as a starting point in SAFe.
The organization must also allow each refinement step to vary over time, as it makes sense for the solution. For example, as the development of the solution progresses toward a releasable version, the architecture should stabilize. Therefore the readiness of the backlog item in the architecture dimension should progress very quickly, if not skip some readiness steps. As solutions approach a major release, the contributors’ capacity can shift from readiness to execution of the current release or readiness for the next release.
Because refinement happens in a regular cadence of iterations, weekly, for example, the refinement crews should be empowered to make these decisions in refinement iteration planning.
Employ Dynamic Agility
So is there a definitive template of dimensions with levels and a step-by-step process for determining the DoR? Not quite. And we don’t think that a prescriptive process is best for most organizations.
Instead, we advocate for using the organizational skill of dynamic agility.
As the size and complexity of a solution grow, so do the number and type of variables: compliance type, hardware types, skills required, size of the development organization, size of the enterprise/business, specialization of customer types, and so on. This complexity is augmented by company culture challenges, workforce turnover, and technology advancements in emerging industries.
Individuals’ motivation and innovation suffer when they get lost in the morass of complexity. When things don’t get done, more employees are added to help fix the problem. This workforce growth only magnifies the complexity again.
In contrast, the organizational skill of dynamic agility stimulates autonomy, mastery, and purpose for individuals within teams, teams-of-teams, and large solutions.
Consider the House of Dynamic Agility represented in Figure three.
How can dynamic agility be applied to large solution refinement? DoR identification and maintenance of its dimensions and levels happen through a regular cadence of the right events. How often should these occur, for how long, and who should attend? What elements will represent and communicate the DoR? What roles are best suited to own and facilitate the management and use of DoR over time? How will collaboration across the organization happen most efficiently for maximum benefit? These questions are best determined in the context of the large solution.
Large solutions require a balance of preparation and execution to achieve an optimal flow of value. Conducting backlog refinement in preparation for a large solution planning conference and PI Planning lets decomposed work items be implemented without risk of rework. Avoiding over-specification in refinement allows ARTs to innovate and accomplish within the guardrails of refinement. Enabling large solutions to leverage dynamic agility builds ownership, collaboration, and efficiency in a large-scale endeavor.
Look for the next post in our series, coming soon.
About Cindy VanEpps, Project & Team, Inc.
From crafting space shuttle flight design and mission control software at Johnson Space Center to roles including software developer, technical lead, development manager, consultant, and solution developer, Cindy has an extensive repertoire of skills and experience. As a SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT) and Model-based Systems Engineering (MBSE) expert, her thought leadership, teaching, and consulting rely on pragmatism in the application of Agile practices.
About Wolfgang Brandhuber, Project & Team, Inc.
Dr. Wolfgang Brandhuber has been a Scrum Developer, Product Owner, Scrum Master, Chief Scrum Master, and Agile Head Coach in various Agile environments. His passion is large solutions. Since the advent of the large solution level in the Scaled Agile Framework in 2016, he has set up and helped solution trains improve their complex systems. During his 18 years as a professional consultant, he worked over 16 of those in the Agile world and more than nine years with SAFe. Among other certifications, he is a certified SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT), a Kanban University Trainer (AKT), and an Agility Health Trainer (AHT).
About Malte Kumlehn, Project & Team, Inc.
Malte helps deliver complex ecosystems, people, Cloud, AI, and data-powered digital transformations toward business agility. He pioneers intelligent operating models for portfolios with large solutions as a SAFe® Fellow, advisory board member, and executive advisor in this field. He guides executives in developing the most challenging competencies that allow them to deliver breakthrough results through Lean-Agile at scale. His experience has been published by Accenture, Gartner, and the Swiss Association for Quality over the last ten years.
How to use the gap between where you are and where you want to be
This post is part of the ongoing Practice Makes Permanent blog series. Read the first post here.
OK, so your Lean-Agile transformation is stalling. It’s not delivering the increased value and reduced delivery times you expected. Your teams are struggling and perhaps updating their resumes. You thought that implementing the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) would bring you these outcomes, but you’ve discovered you’re not using all Ten Critical Success Factors of SAFe. Perhaps you’ve discovered that you’re not actually implementing SAFe correctly as you intended, which means you’re probably not gaining the full value of what the Framework has to offer. The key to taking full advantage of this realization is to be encouraged rather than discouraged. We can’t improve until we see the improvements that are needed. The purpose of this article is to help you see that these discoveries should be cause for celebration, not concern.
One of my favorite books (and authors) is Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline. In his book, Peter describes the concept of creative tension as ”the tension between vision and reality.” It’s the concept of discovering the gap between where you are and where you want to be and using that gap as energy to make improvements. Think of it as a transformational snowball effect.
SAFe guidance depicts the perfect scenario where an organization exemplifies all seven core competencies, delivering high quality and accurate value to customers, and having the kind of culture and work environment that makes it a great place to work. Then we look at the current reality and realize we have a long way to go to reach this nirvana state of business agility.
Sometimes that gap seems insurmountable, unachievable, and perhaps just unrealistic. As we identify that first improvement opportunity and implement that first improvement effort, we start to see some excitement and engagement. We’re still a long way from that nirvana view, but we’re starting to make progress. And that creates more energy for the next effort. So, we take on the next improvement effort, and there seems to be just a bit more engagement and hope that we can move forward. And that’s where we start to see the snowball effect of relentless improvement.
For each improvement we make, we gain more energy, engagement, and willingness to change. And we start to go faster. And faster. And faster. And now, that relentless improvement pillar seems to make more sense, and in fact, becomes part of our DNA. As Peter Senge stated, “The most effective people are those who can ‘hold’ their vision while remaining committed to seeing current reality clearly.”
Positive change is contagious. It brings excitement and hope to the organization. That energy must start somewhere. So, as Taichi Ohno said, “If you are going to do Kaizen continuously … you’ve got to assume that things are a mess. Too many people just assume that things are all right the way they are … If you assume that things are all right the way they are, you can’t do Kaizen. So, change something!”
My point is to change something with a huge grin on your face because you can see the snowball effect of creative tension pulling you upward.
So, when you see that gap between your current reality and where you want to be, you should view it as an opportunity, not a negative situation. In other words, you should view every improvement opportunity with excitement and anticipation of where you can go next on the journey toward business agility.
As change agents, we’ve learned that empathy along the transformation journey is vital. We know how hard it is, so we fully understand why you skipped some of the steps. But now is the time to restart or renew that journey. In subsequent posts, we will talk about specific activities and components we can use the creative tension approach to jump-start a Lean-Agile transformation. The goal of this series is to help you find the next opportunity to accelerate that snowball effect in your transformation.
Check back soon for the next post in the series.
About Dwayne Stroman
Dwayne is an Enterprise Transformation Coach and Trainer and SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT) with more than 20 years of experience. He is ultra-passionate about helping large organizations learn how to build the right products and deliver optimal value through learning and customer validation. Dwayne uses his SPCT role to help several Fortune 100 companies, as well as many growing companies in finance, retail, healthcare, and logistics, realize the benefits of a Lean-Agile mindset. Connect with Dwayne on LinkedIn.
A big part of my personal life revolves around motorcycles, specifically road racing and coaching. When I’m working with new racers or track riders who want to improve their skills, the first thing I do is ask them to complete this sentence: “Practice makes _____.” Almost everyone says “perfect!” But usually, the opposite is true. When racers go out on the track and continue to repeat bad habits, such as not moving their eyes down-track or using poor body position, they simply cement the wrong technique, which is more difficult to correct later. I always teach riders to focus on learning the basics and build on these good techniques until they become permanent. We all start with the belief that practice makes perfect. However, if you practice the wrong things, the only thing you perfect is the wrong approach. (Note: I want to thank Nick Ienatsch from the Yamaha Champions Riding School (YCRS) for helping me see the importance of learning the right skills before starting to practice. Working with Nick and the crew at YCRS and ChampSchool taught me so much about the importance of getting the basics right.)
Switching sports metaphors, a favorite phrase from football coaches (Marv Levy may have been the first to use this) is to “learn how to do it right and then practice it until you never get it wrong.” That’s how we bake in the right techniques, and where practice makes permanent is our ally.
When implementing SAFe®, it’s common to bring in old habits from your organization’s history. It’s hard to break free of these past practices but it’s even more difficult to change them once they’ve been brought into the transformation effort. There are many common anti-patterns that organizations practice and make permanent, including:
Multiple Program Backlogs (whether real or virtual) make it difficult for the teams or ART to focus on the most important thing to work on; this damages Lean flow due to context switching.
Leadership believing that their job is to direct work, which is in direct opposition to SAFe Principle 8 (unlock intrinsic motivation) and SAFe Principle 9 (decentralize decision-making).
Not using the IP iteration for its vital purpose to be a buffer for capacity and to support ongoing innovation, improvement, and synchronized planning.
Using PI planning as a readout of assigned plans, rather than allowing the teams to use team breakouts to discover the best plan to meet business needs.
Objectives given to the teams rather than teams creating their own objectives. When teams review the vision and roadmap and then create their own objectives, they gain engagement and alignment with business and Product Management to demonstrate they understand the value needed.
A common issue we see is organizations treating SAFe as a buffet where you can pick and choose what you implement and what you don’t. While SAFe is highly configurable and is not at all prescriptive, there are key elements that you must implement for real success. These 10 critical success factors are the basic components that you learn and practice until you never get them wrong.
This doesn’t mean that you must be perfect to start. Learning to implement SAFe correctly is just like learning to ride both fast and safe. You learn the proper techniques and continue to inspect and adapt until you get it right, then practice these techniques until they become instinctive. That’s when the speed comes. The same concept applies to your SAFe implementation—learn the 10 critical success factors and practice them until they become instinctive. You will make mistakes along the way because getting these factors right takes time and effort. But if you continue to focus on these basics, they become part of the culture and the norm for your organization. That’s when you experience the true value of a SAFe implementation.
Practice Makes Permanent Blog Series
In this blog series, I aim to share my experiences from the field in helping organizations master and apply good, basic, Lean-Agile and SAFe practices to promote successful SAFe implementation.
Upcoming topics I plan to cover include PI planning, the Program Backlog, and SAFe roles. My hope is that as part of this effort, you will be able to achieve business agility through the Lean-Agile mindset.
Dwayne is an Enterprise Transformation Coach and Trainer and SAFe Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT) with more than 20 years of experience. He is ultra-passionate about helping large organizations learn how to build the right products and deliver optimal value through learning and customer validation. Dwayne uses his SPCT role to help several Fortune 100 companies, as well as many growing companies in finance, retail, healthcare, and logistics, realize the benefits of a Lean-Agile mindset. Connect with Dwayne on LinkedIn.
Globalization is an important growth strategy for Scaled Agile. Localization of SAFe content enables our customers worldwide to participate and learn in their own native language. And it helps drive the adoption of SAFe across international markets.
We need several key ingredients to create a great global product. One of them is people. Since I started working at Scaled Agile, one of the most rewarding experiences was building a global SAFe In-country Review (ICR) team comprised of SAF SAFe experts —known as SPCs and SPCTs—from around the globe. All of them are highly experienced Agile coaches and transformation leaders who are changing the way people work in their respective countries. I’ve had the utmost pleasure of working closely with this team and I can tell you that they are fantastic people!
At Scaled Agile, translation quality, including that of our glossary, is critical. We don’t simply translate a term. We make sure every term has been discussed and thoroughly vetted by our passionate ICR team. Does the term or concept exist in the target language? If the concept can be translated in multiple ways, which one is most appropriate given the context? Do we use the traditional translation of the term or the anglicized version? Does the transliteration make sense instead? These are just a few examples of the questions that our ICR team addresses on a regular basis.
After all, the glossary is an integral part of the learning experience. And we need to ensure that SAFe content is well-translated and of high quality. Thanks to our ICR team’s effort, the SAFe glossary is now available in 13 languages.
The holiday season is a perfect time for reflection. I’d like to take a moment to recognize the contribution of the ICR team and properly thank everyone who contributed. The list below includes past and current ICR team members (listed in alphabetical order by the first name). These individuals went above and beyond to contribute to the SAFe community by sharing their knowledge and devoting their time. They’re helping to make SAFe more accessible to learners worldwide.
I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to our special ICR team because we couldn’t have done it without you! I look forward to working with everyone in the new year as we will continue to update the SAFe glossary and focus on courseware translations.
Wherever you are, whatever you are celebrating, I wish everyone a healthy, happy holiday season!
Interested in becoming an ICR? Please click here to learn more.
About Yuka Kurihara
Yuka is Director of Globalization Services at Scaled Agile, Inc. She has 20+ years of experience building corporate globalization strategies and leading localization technology and operations in enterprises of all sizes. Connect with Yuka on LinkedIn.
The title of my post may read like acronym soup but all of these concepts play a critical role in SAFe, and understanding how they’re connected is important for successful SAFe implementation. After exploring some connections, I will suggest some actions you can take while designing, evaluating, or accelerating your implementation.
KPIs and OKRs
The SAFe Value Stream KPIs article describes Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as “the quantifiable measures used to evaluate how a value stream is performing against its forecasted business outcomes.”
Health of day-to-day performance
Work to create sustainable change in performance
Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) are meant to be about driving and evaluating change rather than maintaining the status quo. Therefore, they are a special kind of KPI. Objectives point towards the desired state. Key results measure progress towards that desired state.
But how do these different concepts map to SAFe’s Operational Value Streams (OVSs) and Development Value Streams (DVSs)? And why should you care?
Changing and Improving the Operation
Like Strategic Themes, most OKRs point to the desired change in business performance. These OKRs would be the ones that company leadership cares about. And they would be advanced through the efforts of a DVS (or multiple ones).
For example, if the business wants to move to a subscription/SaaS model, that’s a change in the operating model—a change in how the OVS looks and operates. That change is supported by the development of new systems and capabilities, which is work that will be accomplished by a DVS (or multiple ones).
This view enables us to recognize the wider application of the DVS concept that we talk about in SAFe 5. Business agility means using Agile and SAFe constructs to develop any sort of changing the business needs, regardless of whether that change includes IT or technology.
Whenever we are trying to change our operation, there’s a question about how much variability we’re expecting around this change. Is there more known than the unknown? Or vice versa? Are we making this change in an environment of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity? If yes, then using a DVS construct that employs empiricism to seek the right answers to how to achieve the OKR is essential, regardless of how much IT or technology is involved. We might have an OKR that requires business change involving mainly legal, marketing, procurement, HR, and so on, that would still benefit from an Agile and SAFe DVS approach.
These OKRs would then find themselves elaborated and advanced through the backlogs and backlog items in the various ARTs and teams involved in this OKR.
In some cases, an OKR would drive the creation of a focused DVS. This is the culmination of the Organize around Value Lean-Agile SAFe Principle. This is why Strategic Themes and OKRs should be an important consideration when trying to identify value streams and ARTs (in the Value Stream and ART identification workshop). And a significant new theme/OKR should trigger some rethinking of whether the current DVS network is optimally organized to support the new value creation goals set by the organization.
Maintaining the Health of the Operation
As mentioned earlier, maintaining the health of the operation is also tracked through KPIs. Here we expect stability and predictability in performance. It’s crucial work but it’s not what OKRs or Strategic Themes are about.
This work can be simple, complex, or even chaotic depending on the domain. The desire of any organization is to bring its operation under as much control as possible and minimize variability as it makes sense in the business domain. What this means is that in many cases, we don’t need Agile and empiricism in order to actually run the operation. Lean and flow techniques can still be useful to create sustainable, healthy flow (see more in the Organizational Agility competency).
Whenever people working in the OVS switch to improving the OVS (or in other words working on versus in the operation), they are, in essence, moving over implicitly to a DVS.
Some organizations make this duality explicit by creating a DVS that involves a combination of people who spend some of their time in the OVS and some of their time working on it together with people who are focused on working on the OVS. For example, an orthopedic clinic network in New England created a DVS comprising clinicians, doctors, PAs, and billing managers (that work the majority of their time in the OVS) together with IT professionals. Major improvements to the OVS happen in this DVS.
Improving the Development Value Stream
The DVS needs to relentlessly improve and learn as well. Examples of OKRs in this space could be: improving time-to-market, as measured by improved flow time or by improving the predictability of business value delivered, as measured by improved flow predictability. It could also be: organize around value, measured by the number of dependencies and the reduction in the number of Solution Trains required.
This is also where the SAFe transformation or Agile journey lives. There are ways to improve DVSs or the overall network of DVSs, creating a much-improved business capability to enhance its operation and advance business OKRs.
Implementing OKRs in this space relates more to enablers in the SAFe backlogs than to features or capabilities. Again, these OKRs change the way the DVS works.
Running the Development Value Stream
Similar metrics can be used as KPIs that help maintain the health of the DVS on an ongoing basis. For example, if technical debt is currently under control, a KPI monitoring it might suffice and hopefully will help avoid a major technical debt crisis. If we weren’t diligent enough to avoid the crisis, an objective could be put in place to significantly reduce the amount of technical debt. Achieving a certain threshold for a tech debt KPI could serve as a key result (KR) for this objective. Once it’s achieved, we might leave the tech debt KPI in place to maintain health.
It’s like continuing to monitor your weight after you’ve gone on a serious diet. During the diet, you have an objective of achieving a healthy weight with a KR tracking BMI and aiming to get below 25. After achieving your objective, you continue to track your BMI as a KPI.
Taking Action to Advance Your Implementation Using OKRs
In this blog post, we explored the relationship between operational and development value streams and the Strategic Themes and OKRs. We’ve seen OVS KPIs and OKRs as well as DVS OKRs and KPIs.
A key step in accelerating business agility is to continually assess whether you’re optimally organized around value. OKRs can provide a very useful lens to use for this assessment.
Start by reviewing your OKRs and KPIs and categorize them according to OVS/DVS/Change/Run.
You can use the matrix below.
If you find some OKRs on the left side of the matrix, it’s time to rethink.
Run-focused OKRs should actually be described as KPIs. Discuss the difference and whether you’re actually looking for meaningful change to these KPIs (in which case it really can be an OKR—but make sure it is well described as one) or are happy to just maintain a healthy status quo.
You can then consider your DVS network/ART/team topology. Is it sufficiently aligned with your OKRs/KPIs? Are there interesting opportunities to reorganize around value?
This process can also be used in a Value Stream Identification workshop for the initial design of the implementation or whenever you want to inspect and adapt it.
Find me on LinkedIn to learn more about making these connections in your SAFe context via an OKR workshop.
About Yuval Yeret
Yuval is a SAFe Fellow and the head of AgileSparks (a Scaled Agile Partner) in the United States where he leads enterprise-level Agile implementations. He’s also the steward of The AgileSparks Way and the firm’s SAFe, Flow/Kanban, and Agile Marketing. Find Yuval on LinkedIn.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 customerso 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.
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, 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.