Tomorrow, I will be presenting at the Agile Tour in Montreal, Canada. My topic is "Agility at Enterprise scale, and the Foundations of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)". SAFe is a knowledge base, a set of proven practices to help you implement agile for large teams. Safe is publicly available (and free) at http://scaledagileframework.com/
To put it simple, because Scrum does not work for large teams. To be fair, this is not really true. For larger projects, you can use Scrum and apply techniques such as Scrum of Scrums. You can easily find guidance on scaling Scrum on different blogs, white papers, or books such as A Practical Guide to Distributed Scrum (all royalties donated to charitable organizations).
So yes, Scrum can work for larger teams. You can extend core Scrum so that it meets your specific needs for agility at scale. Then why would you choose SAFe over Scrum? Well, one approach is to start from core Scrum and scale by adopting other agile practices to supplement Scrum. Another approach is to leverage the SAFe framework, as out-of-the-box, it already includes guidance for agility at the team level, at the Program level, and at the Portfolio level. SAFe is based on Scrum, so you are in good shape if you already adopted Scrum in your organization.
SAFe Adoption: Where To Start?
Because SAFe covers multiple levels, it is a valid question to wonder where you should start. Of course, there is no universal answer to this question. Each organization is different, and you must find the best approach for your specific environment.
Start at the Portfolio level:
To ensure adoption success at this level, Portfolio managers and executives need to master Agile and Lean thinking. It usually requires some cultural change that may represent a challenge.
Moreover, it may not be appropriate to do agile portfolio management if the product is not developed by agile teams.
Start at the Team level:
SAFe adoption by development team is usually easy as it relies on well-known agile approaches such as Scrum and XP. This may seem a good argument in favor of starting SAFe at the team level. Nevertheless, using SAFe with one team on a pilot project will not guarantee that you can do it with two or more teams. So it will prove nothing regarding your ability to adopt SAFe for agility at Enterprise Scale.
Start at the Program level:
To test SAFe in your organization, it is often a good approach to start at the program level. This is where you will uncover and address the different agile at scale challenges. At the program level, you have to:
- Organize and coordinate effort for multiple teams (team of teams)
- Synchronize work and develop in cadence
- Deliver business value (created by multiple team)
Your ability to deliver a Program Increment involving multiple agile teams is a measurable objective.
Staring your first Agile Release Train (ART)
If you decided to start your SAFe adoption at the Program level, it is now time to launch your first Agile Release Train. SAFe is for agile at Enterprise scale, with 5 to 12 teams in a program (roughly 50-125 people, with 5 to 9 members per team).
A Program Increment is a timebox, an period of time for completing system-level work. The duration is usually 10 weeks (five 2-week Sprints). And a Program Increment starts with Release Planning.
During Release Planning, teams work together to
- Understand the project context (business context, vision, features, architecture and development practices)
- Identify the Program Increment Objectives (based on Teams PI Objectives)
- Identify Stories, risks, and dependencies
- Create a plan (Program Board) for the Program Increment
At the end of Release Planning, the Program team delivers the Program Objectives and the Program Board than contains the main features, milestones and dependencies. Individual teams are now ready to start their work.