Be SAFe on Your Agile Journey

August 19, 2020

When we talk about SAFe, in a nutshell we are talking about agile concepts on a much larger scale.

SAFe for Lean Enterprises is a knowledge base of proven, integrated principles, practices, and competencies for achieving business agility using Lean, Agile, and DevOps.” (Scaled Agile Inc.)

In an earlier blog post, I shared an overview of agile concepts and adoption of agile principles which is accessible here.  What does all this mean?  To give it justice, I recommend exploring a 2-day SAFe class like SAFe For Teams for an in-depth overview.  For the purposes of this blog, I will go over the very basics of what it means to scale agile to fit larger programs and productions. 

Agile and SAFe Basic Terms and Definitions

  • Scrum: Scrum is a subset of Agile. It is a lightweight process framework for agile development.
  • Product Owner: Prioritizes and owns product backlog. Accepts or rejects work.
  • Scrum Master: Servant leader of the team and ensures they have a trouble-free work environment. This may include removing any team blockers and shielding the team from external interference, along with coaching the team.
  • Sprint: A time-boxed and repeated team iteration, where the scrum team commits to completing an amount of work.
  • Product Backlog: A collection of work items which are prioritized by the product owner and estimated by the scrum team.  These work items are fed in future sprints and committed to by the scrum team.
  • Sprint Backlog: The sum of work committed to by the sprint team for the current iteration.  This work is prioritized and estimated by the scrum team.        
  • Cadence: The rhythm or tempo of the sprint iterations.  Popular sprint cadences are between 2 and 3 weeks. The cadence depends on how the team can work best in their circumstance.  Standalone teams must choose the cadence which delivers value to the customer most efficiently. 

So how do we start to scale? There are 3 key concepts which need to be a part of the conversation:

  • Synchronization: When multiple teams are involved and they are no longer standalone teams, to best deliver value to the customer, the teams must operate on the same schedule of iterations.  When this happens, we call that synchronization.
  • Agile Teams: On large projects or product development efforts, there will be multiple and separate teams, all of which who will be working in an agile methodology on different parts of the development effort.  These are our Agile teams.
  • ARTs or Agile Release Trains: An ART is a team of agile teams known as the Agile Release Train.

NewWave’s work with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Medicare and Medicaid Innovation Center (CMMI) is an example of a large program which can be broken down into multiple separate, medium, and large platforms to ensure all the platform teams on the ART are coordinated together and in sync with each other. One reason they need to be in sync with each other is to make sure any dependencies between the agile teams on the ART are addressed prior to any release.

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is used to help ensure all those teams are working hand-in-hand together for overall product delivery efficiency.  SAFe will ensure interdependencies are uncovered and it ensures our platforms are in sync for production deliveries, in short it would ensure we have achieved a level of business agility that would be used to satisfy our client.

As NewWave’s Agile Coach, part of my responsibilities are to make sure we have trained and engrained the agile concepts to all our team members. I also lead training and educational workshops for our staff on SAFe concepts though SAFe classes such as the one I mentioned earlier, SAFe For Teams. Once individuals and teams are trained on these principles and concepts, we can start doing releases using the ARTs, Agile Release Trains.

Agile 101 Course at NewWave

In summary

We need to learn to walk before we run.  This is why it is critical to know the basics of agile before we can scale it to fit larger programs.  SAFe is a process that enables programs to coordinate and deliver large products by ensuring all agile teams across all platforms are coordinated and synchronized. Enjoy your agile journey and have a SAFe trip.

Bill Wheeler

Bill Wheeler

Program Delivery Project Manager

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