SAFe Implementation for Businesses: 7 Best Practices

SAFe Implementation: Start here first

Before we cover the best practices, it is important to highlight some of the critical stages of implementation.

We will start with the prerequisite stages for its implementation. These prerequisites (though general) are primarily for organizations that try to implement SAFe from scratch without external professional assistance.

  • Train internal staff on the principles of agile production (if you are using experts to help, then they will assist in the training).
  • Train members of the executive team on lean-agile principles of management.
  •  Create functional teams that are familiar with working in a Scrum or Kanban framework.

Having those out of the way, the rest of the steps involve more discovery and actions.

  • Identify Value Streams and Agile Release Trains (ART) 
  • Establish the ARTs (if they aren’t already established) to realize the identified Value Streams 
  • Launch more ARTs, extend to the Portfolio and repeat for all other parts of the organization.

Need more a more definitive guide? Check out one of our previous articles: SAFe Implementation 101 - A complete Guide for your Company

Best SAFe Implementation Practices

1.Train and Empower

To successfully drive your organizational change, you need to have a team. At first, this team might be external consultants, but over the long term, this will be your “Lean-Agile Change Agents.” This is the team that will provide the knowledge and engine to power your change. It is important that, organization-wide, everyone knows who the Lean-Agile Change Agents are to use this team as a resource when implementing SAFe and continue to use them as a resource after implementation.

2.Balance Team Autonomy and Synchrony

Our second best practice is a balance between team independence and collaboration. This is essential to the deployment of SAFe in any enterprise. As expected, teams form Agile Release Trains to deliver solutions to complex problems. 

It is impossible for managers and executives to closely watch all the work in the various Value Streams in an enterprise organization. The team members must be able to work alone or in their immediate teams as needed. This is not to say they cannot collaborate across teams (see below). Still, they should take responsibility for their work and truly own their expertise, similar to the Lean-Agile Change Agents mentioned above.

Members of the various teams must also work in perfect synchrony with themselves and other groups, thus establishing cross-functionality. Not only do the individuals need to work well within their team, but they must also work together across multiple teams, as an ART typically has 50-125 people.

  1. Plan PIs early and often 

Agile teams must be briefed on the expected results of each Program Increment (PI). As such, PI planning is essential to the successful deployment of SAFe in any business environment. During these planning meetings, every member of the groups within the Agile Release Train converge to discuss the items of an iteration, which is expected to last anywhere from 8 – 12 weeks (the individual teams will have smaller iterations within this).

Only then will each team return to the drawing board to discuss how they will work to affect the required value. As soon as a team finishes a PI, they should be ready to start another. Therefore, it is the PI planning team's job to maintain a steady backlog of PI initiatives and determine the priority of each PI so their ARTs can tackle them in order.

  1. Review and Retrospect separately

At the end of a program increment or sprint, it’s common to review the work the team finished. This is often referred to as a Sprint or Iteration Review. During this gathering, the team can demonstrate the work that they accomplished during the last iteration. This is a good chance for stakeholders to give feedback before the piece of value is finally delivered to the customer.

Another ceremony in SAFe is known as the “Iteration Retrospective” (similar to the Sprint Retrospective). This is where the team discusses what went well and what they could improve on. Continuous improvement is a cornerstone of the Agile manifesto and will always have a place in Agile methodologies and SAFe. This ceremony gives the team a chance to discuss what can be improved within their section of the ART.

These meetings must stay separate and focused. In the review, we are discussing and demoing the functionality of the product or service. In the restrospective, we are discussing our process and how to improve during the next iteration.

Product reviews are produced by team members regarding the product features, which have been completed at the end of each iteration. On the other hand, retrospectives seek to review already-shipped products for points of improvement at the beginning of new iterations. Both these meetings are crucial to the deployment of SAFe due to the simple fact that it creates room for innovation through better ideas when things don't go as planned.

5.Establish Continuity

SAFe teams are tasked with developing continuous streams of a product or service from the same product owner, perhaps as updates or bug fixes. Some organizations may need to incorporate DevOps and automation to ensure that they are delivering value and integrating their bug fixes and features continuously. Not only does this help keep the customer updated on the product or service, but members of an organization are always on the same page throughout the development stages.

6.Inspect and Adapt 

In addition to examining the process of ARTs and increments in retrospectives, the teams responsible for implementing SAFe should continuously inspect the Agile Release Trains that deliver within the product or service value stream. Is SAFe helping reduce your lead time (time from the value proposition to delivered piece of work)? Are teams aligned with what they are working on and why they are working on it? Do staff at all levels know the purpose of their work to the overall vision of the organization?  SAFe health checks will help you figure this out if you are lost.

7.Slowly Scale

One of the Scaled Agile Framework Implementation Roadmap's last steps is to “Extend to the Portfolio.” This essentially means expanding the SAFe practices to other parts of your organization. There are going to be numerous additional Value Streams and ARTs for you to define and refine. It is necessary to take your time with these. Ensure a few iterations with your initial Program Increments have passed so that you can take lessons learned from the first iterations to other parts of the business. SAFe is hardly a one size fits all approach, and neither is SAFe Implementation. Taking your time to thoroughly define the ARTs, Value Streams, and Program Backlog will greatly benefit your organization in the long run. Do your best to avoid the “everyone knows how to do this now” thought when scaling your practices.

All in all, there is no one way to implement SAFe successfully. Dynamic differences often occur due to the prevailing circumstances facing various organizations. However, the roadmap and practices (if followed carefully) have the best chance at ensuring a smooth transition into the realm of business agility using the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe).

Want to know more about SAFe Implementation?

SAFe Implementation 101 - The complete guide for your company
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