When it comes to scaling your Agile project, the Scaled Agile Framework or SAFe is probably one of the best ways to meet your company’s growing needs. Not only do SAFe tools provide instant visibility across your portfolio, value streams, programs, and teams, they also allow you to understand the progress of your project, the dependencies it has, and the impediments that must be overcome.

SAFe helps teams come together to plan and integrate their efforts and avoid working in silos. It makes all the team members contribute towards a common objective. SAFe helps in bringing structure to agile adoption amongst large-scale organizations where multiple teams need to be aligned together. 

The Challenges of Adopting SAFe 

If you are looking to support continuous progress, get visibility into your teams’ decision-making, act on priorities, and efficiently manage dependencies, there are many ways in which you can benefit by adopting SAFe. 

However, just investing in SAFe is insufficient to drive the intended outcomes. Accurate implementation requires you to understand the constraints that come with scaling large-scale Agile projects. Let’s have a look at some of these constraints and consider how SAFe can help you overcome them: 

• Long-term planning and iterations for large teams

One of the first challenges Agile teams face while scaling their projects is carrying out long-term planning and iterations for large teams. While development teams continuously work in refining their iterations, marketing teams have to ensure they meet the commitments of their clients.  

Planning ahead of time can help you keep pace with the needs of your organization as well as your customers. Start by designing a long-term roadmap, that establishes motivation and clearly states what teams are expected to deliver. Then align the teams’ backlogs to your vision and the roadmap. Encourage them to continuously share detailed task plans for upcoming iterations, identify and address issues, and tweak the roadmap to accommodate the changes. 

• Ensuring agile adherence and sanity across cross-functional teams 

When many large teams use many tools to build a scalable Agile project, ensuring adherence and sanity across cross-functional teams is a common hurdle. 

To overcome this challenge, you must first determine if your organization’s transformation prioritizes adherence to specific agile frameworks. Identify which factors influence adherence, such as standards compliance, speed, cost, technology, or customer requirements. Then plan for the optimal degree of transformation with your large-scale agile framework based on your organizational goals and objectives.

• Defining of epics (portfolio, program, business, and architectural epics): With any Agile project, it is crucial to realize value rapidly. That’s why epics and initiatives are integral to SAFe as they allow projects to be built incrementally and prioritized according to value. However, teams often hit a roadblock when it comes to defining epics or initiatives that require analysis and understanding of ROI before implementation, due to prior misconceptions or a lack of knowledge. 

Before you can begin scaling your project, you must understand and define the various epics within. Portfolio epics span multiple agile release trains and are broken down into program epics that belong to a single train. Business epics provide value to customers. Architectural epics improve the portfolio’s ability to deliver value. You must also ensure that you convert all of your current proposals, projects, and programs to epics so that you have a better understanding of what your trains might be, and which resources you can dedicate to work on them. 

• Management of many product owners 

Another challenge that restricts Agile teams from deriving maximum value from SAFe is the management of the different product owners. The presence of multiple product owners leads to numerous voices, opinions, and decisions being made. These tend to hamper accountability and transparency across Agile projects, often requiring complex coordination and alignment. 

To manage the different product owners, you can appoint product managers that focus on strategic objectives. By managing multiple product owners, product managers can streamline the process of backlog management, while having the visibility needed to drive results and eliminating bottlenecks that impact velocity. 

• Planning and execution of multiple simultaneous deliveries: 

For Agile teams working on several iterations and sprints to meet scaling demands, the problem begins when they have to plan and execute multiple deliveries simultaneously. Although the deliverables in the sprints they are working on are ready for a release, the teams still may not be sure of how to go about the process. 

Streamlining the release process requires teams to break down the different aspects of their tasks into smaller, manageable chunks. They can start by sharing the business context and specify a handful of features that are integral to their sprint. They can then move on to allocating stories across their sprints while presenting their Program Increment objectives and risks. Doing so can significantly reduce the challenges of executing multiple releases, and make planing and management much more straightforward.  

• Ensuring code quality 

Another common challenge that teams face while looking to scale their agile projects using SAFe is maintaining high code quality. The frequency of release must be high, keeping pace with the demands of users. As a result, code quality often gets negatively affected. Crucial steps may be omitted, shortcuts may be taken, and the testing process may be condensed so that products can be released faster.  

Meeting the challenges associated with maintaining high code quality requires you to embrace practices that have quality as the foundation. These include modern requirement techniques, architecture techniques, development techniques, testing techniques, as well as current deployment practices. If your core practices are sound, you will be in a much better position to understand the importance of Agile and drive innovation faster. 

• Seamless collaboration, coordination, and communication between teams 

When so many individual teams work on scaling projects, management of collaboration, coordination, and communication between them is also a challenge that has to be dealt with efficiently. 

Make sure to clearly define roles and responsibilities from the beginning, so every member of the team is aware of what he/she is expected to deliver. Encourage team members to ask questions and leverage them to drive clarifications, discoveries, and process improvements. Make feedback an integral aspect of team meetings so teams can introspect what went wrong, and what can be done better to improve outcomes.

• Availability of knowledge and expertise needed for adoption and implementation of the framework

Almost all Agile teams today are – in one way or another – working towards scaling their Agile projects. The problem lies with them not knowing what SAFe means, or with what elements comprise the framework. A lack of knowledge and expertise can significantly impact adoption and implementation.

Before embracing SAFe you must first understand what the framework does, which aspects of Agile development it addresses (and what it doesn’t), the roles of different members at different levels, and the various terminologies that define the framework. Once you understand the multiple aspects of SAFe, implementing the framework becomes straightforward. 

Introduction to other frameworks 

Although SAFe is one of the most frequently adopted frameworks for scaling Agile, other frameworks may also help organizations streamline the scaling process while allowing their teams to maximize value. These include:

• LeSS Huge - breaks down projects into different requirement areas so different teams can work on them

• DAD or Disciplined Agile Delivery - simplifies Agile decision-making by taking a people-first approach

• Nexus - focuses on an integration team to coordinate the work of all Scrum teams

• Spotify Squad Framework - focuses on autonomy so teams can enjoy a sense of collective ownership and contribute positively to the goals of the organization. 

Conclusion

SAFe is the perfect framework for organizations looking to apply Agile concepts – even to large teams and projects. Given the many benefits of this framework, there’s a lot you can achieve by adopting SAFe. However, before doing so, you must be aware of the constraints that come with scaling Agile projects and how you can overcome them. 

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