Avoid Transformation Anxiety!
A Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) Transformation goes beyond adopting the framework, which updates an organization’s roles, practices, and deliverables with Lean-Agile principles. A SAFe Transformation also includes embracing the Lean-Agile culture, mindset, and leadership. This new way of working allows for teams of teams to deliver business value on a regular cadence, with greater employee and customer satisfaction.
A SAFe Transformation is typically accomplished through training and coaching, with many companies investing in top talent to help lead the journey. If you want your Transformation to be a success, then it's best to come to the table prepared. Since becoming the first SAFe Implementation Gold Partner in 2012, our experienced coaches have learned how to effectively assist companies in this endeavor, and so we invite you to take advantage of their knowledge in this guide.
Watch this 3 minute video to discover how SAFe Guides Your Digital Transformation
Important Considerations in a SAFe® Transformation
Transformation Vendors: Are They All the Same?
Selecting the right vendor to partner with in your SAFe Transformation is critical to your success. Change (even positive change) is difficult, but it does not need to be a miserable experience.
Some vendors take prescriptive approaches ("this is what you do and how you do it"), and some organizations appreciate this. These are the organizations that typically want to adopt technical practices without changing their political structure. This is natural; after all, change is scary, and people who enjoy power can have a hard time giving it up. But problems will inevitably arise when hanging on to the traditional "command and control" way of working, as too much centralized control tends to inhibit true agility.
Since ICON began implementing SAFe in 2012, we have learned that the SAFe Implementations that truly stick and sustain are the ones that go beyond adoption of mechanical practices and into the realm of cultural Transformation. In the article 5 Little Changes that Make a Big Difference in Your SAFe Transformation, Mitch Malloy describes the importance of the Lean-Agile Mindset fueling the Lean-Agile Toolset. Without a Lean-Agile Mindset, you will never obtain a deep understanding of how to use Agile tools to their maximum capabilities. The Lean-Agile Mindset is detailed below in the SAFe House of Lean.
We believe that the SAFe House of Lean provides the foundation for how to select the right partner: the right vendor will demonstrate Respect for People and Culture, help you focus on establishing and improving Flow, ensure Innovation is woven into every process and decision, foster Relentless Improvement, support Lean-Agile Leadership, and drive Value.
If you want your stakeholders and internal champions to fully understand, contribute to, and own your Lean-Agile and SAFe Transformation, then consider hiring a vendor with highly experienced and collaborative coaches and trainers. These coaches will be deep in the Lean-Agile mindset and can encourage those meaningful conversations that lead to successful change initiatives.
Like we said, change is difficult, but it doesn't have to be a miserable experience, so find someone you like and trust, who meets you where you are, shows empathy for your situation, and offers a path that makes sense for you.
Avoid Defeat—Know Why SAFe Transformations Fail
You’re likely aware that SAFe Transformations require discipline, commitment, and time, but knowing why Transformations fail will best prepare you for success. In the article 8 Common Reasons Why SAFe Transformations Fail (and How to Avoid Them), Saahil Panikar, SPCT and Saajan Panikar, SPC teach you how to identify the pitfalls in advance so that you can perform the necessary actions to get back on track. Your 8 warning signs include:
- Doing too much too fast
- Not providing adequate training
- Over-reliance on outside consultants
- Giving up because the road is too bumpy
- Lack of guiding coalition or transformation team
- Forgetting to create short-term wins
- Expecting transformation to be inexpensive
- Forgetting that culture change comes last
One of the best things you can do to avoid failure is follow the SAFe Implementation Roadmap. You don’t have to implement SAFe this way, but according to Scaled Agile Inc, the Roadmap graphic and 12 article series offer a proven formula for successfully implementing SAFe.
For more tips and tricks to dodge SAFe failure, read the article. And if you think your organization is so unique that these tips won’t work for your organization, then we encourage you to reconsider. According to the authors, “That's not why SAFe Transformations fail. Sure, context matters, but at the end of the day, large enterprises across all industries have the same problems.”
Understand the Secrets to Lean-Agile Leadership
There is a major difference between a SAFe Transformation and a SAFe adoption. In an adoption, SAFe practices are mechanically utilized by the organization (sometimes this is called "Installing the Agile"). This does not mean that the organizaton is transforming.
For a true SAFe Transformation to occur, the Lean-Agile Mindset and Culture have to really set in. The best way for this to happen is through Lean-Agile Leadership. Characteristics of Lean-Agile leaders include:
- Prioritizing business value (not outputs)
- Backing off and giving others a chance to lead
- Communicating a higher vision, a “why”
- Leading by example and demonstrating purpose
- Showing self-awareness
So how can you and others in your organization acquire such characteristics? There are several ways. To start, check out our article 6 Videos that Reveal the Secrets of Lean-Agile Leadership, curated by Susan Strain. This article offers 6 videos, written descriptions, and key takeaways that explain the benefits of various Lean-Agile Leadership qualities.
Here's an example of one of the videos, adapted from Captain David Marquet's talk on Greatness and his book Turn the Ship Around!. Marquet shares his Lean-Agile philosophy of intent-based leadership and decentralized decision making (SAFe principle #9). The takeaway? The vast majority of decision making has no strategic importance. Allow workers to think, decide, and act for themselves so that they can develop their own leadership skills.
We also recommend that individuals involved in a transformation take a Leading SAFe course with SA Certification or an Implementing SAFe course with SPC Certification, both of which teach attendees what it means to lead a Lean-Agile Transformation at Enterprise scale. Having internal SAFe Agilists (SAs) and SAFe Program Consultants (SPCs) is an excellent way to transform your organization's culture. These are individuals who remain a part of your organization and are committed to modeling and sharing Lean-Agile practices.
Another (and probably the most effective) option is to hire one or more experienced SPCs to model and teach Lean-Agile behaviors and practices to those in your organization. These individuals sometimes have years of teaching and coaching experience and know the tips and tricks to accelerate the adoption of a Lean-Agile Mindset. Their ultimate goal is to prepare organizations to succeed and sustain on their own; they are wholly dedicated to communicating the value of a Lean-Agile way of working.
The best Lean-Agile leaders are those who are willing to collaborate, listen, and share as much knowledge as possible. If you want to truly transform to a better culture and way of working, then you must start with Lean-Agile Leadership.
For some free tips on teaching and leading SAFe, check out 10 Teaching Tips for your First SAFe Classes co-authored by Scott Green & Randy Smith and 5 Tips for Leading a Great Inspect & Adapt Workshop by Randy Smith. Sometimes it can be tough leading the unfamiliar, and these articles should help you feel more comfortable when the time comes.
Choose the Right People for the Right SAFe Roles (+ 3 Tips)
The SAFe Framework consists of multiple levels with a number of new and critical roles. How do you know if you're selecting the right people for the right positions? Start by reviewing the definitions of these roles and their practical responsibilities in the SAFe Role Dictionary, a useful tool. If there is still confusion and uncertainty when selecting people for key roles, then an experienced coach can provide guidance in selecting the right person for the job. Below are some quick tips for selecting and grouping the right people from Nishant Sasidharan. If you find these tips helpful, then let us know and we will continue to add more!
1. Don’t just hand the RTE role to the Program Manager! Instead, consider the candidate's communication skills.
The Release Train Engineer (RTE) is a servant leader responsible for driving the end to end delivery of the Agile Release Train. Sounds like a job for someone organized and responsible, right? Turns out there’s a lot more to it.
Too often, companies give the RTE role to a Program Manager without fully understanding that an RTE’s primary job will be to coach and lead conversations at all levels. The best Program Managers are lucky enough to have strong leadership and communication skills, but sometimes this isn't the case. For an RTE to accomplish his responsibilities effectively, he has to be an exceptional communicator who can mentor teams with honesty, transparency, and an open mind.
Before selecting your Program Manager for the RTE role, ask yourself: Is he/she an excellent facilitator? Negotiator? Communicator? Determine if this person would be a good servant leader, able to lead by example and serve the ART with the utmost integrity. If not, then you are better off considering someone who has experience connecting with people at all levels.
2. Form a Product Management Team consisting of those who already have a deep knowledge of your customer base.
Product Management is best as a team of people (not a single person) who have content authority for the Program Backlog. A Product Management team needs to be the internal voice of the Customer, working with Customers and Product Owners to understand and communicate their needs, define system features, and participate in validation. While selecting people for the Product Managment Team, look for those who are currently in touch with your customers directly and have the knowledge to convert the customer's voice into tangible outcomes.
3. Start by including a SAFe Portfolio Coach in the LPM Team to help guide the way.
As one of the five core competencies of a Lean Enterprise, Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) can help you apply lean and systems thinking most effectively to align the portfolio with your business objectives. The LPM team consists of five or so people responsible for the financials and driving the enterprise in the right direction. When forming this team, make sure that you have people who can advocate the Lean way of thinking. We strongly recommend having a SAFe Portfolio Coach work with team in the beginning; this will help the LPM Team get comfortable reviewing and prioritizing the Portfolio Backlog with senior level stakeholders on a regular cadence.
SAFe Transformation Maturity Evaluation Tools
As you undergo a SAFe Transformation, you'll want to know if things are going well and if you're making progress. To find out if you are acheiving your desired goals and outcomes, we recommend regularly measuring the health and maturity of your Agile teams, Agile Release Trains, and entire SAFe ecosystem. Whether your transformation is large or small, there are tools to meet your specific needs.
For small scale teams that have yet to engage a full-time Agile Coach, ICON offers a Maturity Assessment Tool for your SAFe Transformation, a free download developed after years of experience working on SAFe Transformations. Created by Susan Strain, this tool allows teams to assess their own Agile maturity, as well as the maturity of the SAFe ecosystem.
Scaled Agile, Inc.’s Metrics are another useful option for small-scale teams with offerings such as Iteration Metrics, PI Performance Reports, and Team Self-Assessments.
Please note that one size does not fit all! Many SAFe Transformations involve large scale efforts with different Team and Coach conditions – like the following:
- Multiple Teams – More than one (1) team
- Hierarchical Teams – SAFe Trains, Teams of Teams, Tribes + Squads, etc
- Multiple Coaches – One or more SAFe Coaches acting locally or geographically-dispersed
For large-scale efforts, try AgilityHealth® Radars. This premium assessment-as-a-service yields deeper insight and understanding into SAFe Transformations by assessing both the condition of the Teams and the condition(s) surrounding the Teams (Infrastructure, Systems Teams, DevOps Teams, Release Teams, Finance, HR, etc.).
Need assistance with the radars? ICON has a team of certified AgilityHealth® facilitators to help you learn. By applying highly focused, repeatable assessments, these facilitators clarify the behaviors to be adapted and create more predictable outcomes.
ICON includes large scale assessments as part of our coaching engagement service offerings. See the grid below to learn more.
It is important that your assessment is not about how well your teams execute Scrum or Kanban, but about the maturity of your SAFe Transformation. The results of the assessment should stimulate conversations about how to become more mature in the areas that are weak and how to encourage the areas that are strong so that they remain a part of the culture.
If you are unsure about which tool is right for you, don’t hesitate to contact us. ICON specializes in meeting you where you are, gathering the full picture of your situation before offering guidance.
Why the Best Organizations Set up a LACE (and you should too)
Once your SAFe Transformation has occurred, how can sustain your success? To continue achieving great business outcomes, your organization must fully commit to adopting and continuously improving the Lean-Agile way of working. The best way to do that is with a centralized leadership team that promotes collaboration and Lean-Agile best practices across the enterprise.
A Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE) is the SAFe term for a small, dedicated team of leaders and change agents who are responsible for driving lasting organizational change. Give it whatever name you'd like, as long as you have qualified individuals working together to drive Lean-Agile change.
So how does a LACE make a crucial difference in your organization?
- Acts as a central resource for teams to get help and guidance
- Standardizes Agile training
- Encourages common tool usage and makes education available to facilitate effective tool usage
- Helps implement Agile development practices, including Continuous Integration, Automated Deployments & Testing, Test Driven Development, etc
- Promotes cross-project/department communication and collaboration on Agile projects
Need assistance in growing or forming your company's LACE? We offer a private Lean-Agile Center of Excellence Workshop to help you create the mission statement and charter for your LACE, determine which LACE model is best for your organization, and create an action plan for short-term wins critical to organizational change.
Create a Product Organization
One of the many common misconceptions about SAFe is that it’s just an IT thing. Baloney. If you want a SAFe Transformation that sticks and sustains, then everyone needs to be on board and aligned by a common purpose; everyone needs to embrace the change.
So often, the IT and Business departments are run in separate silos with stunted collaboration and communication. Both share the same goal of creating great products for their customers, so doesn’t it make sense for everyone to get on the same page?
The key is to become a product-focused organization that unites the business discipline and context with the IT skills and competencies required to build great products. In other words, become a Product Organization.
So how do you become a Product Organization? To start, your entire organization must embrace alignment, built-in quality, transparency, and program execution (the 4 Core Values of SAFe), as well as enterprise agility. There are several ways to start down this path, and we recommend two solutions.
1. Lean Portfolio Management (LPM)
One of SAFe’s 5 core competencies of a Lean Enterprise, Lean Portfolio Management is about aligning the entire Portfolio (Business, IT, Legal, Finance, etc) on strategy and execution. A single Portfolio backlog is created, which is aligned through PI Planning and reviewed and prioritized with senior level stakeholders on a regular cadence. By creating an LPM capability that allows everyone involved to view all the work from one portfolio vantage point, your organization will experience unprecedented levels of openness and transparency. United under a common purpose and vision, the entire portfolio is empowered to create greater products with the utmost efficiency.
If you’re looking to learn more, check out one of our public SAFe Lean Portfolio Management courses. Taught by some of our most accomplished Portfolio SAFe Coaches, this 3-day course shows you how to provide a leaner, more Agile, governance model that helps each portfolio achieve its larger business objectives. We also offer private, onsite courses.
2. Enterprise Business Agility
Created AgilityHealth®, Enterprise Business Agility (EBA) provides advanced guidance on leading business agility transformations with seven key pillars (including Lean Portfolio Management). These pillars are:
- Customer Seat at the Table
- Lean Portfolio Management
- Org Structure & Design
- Agile Framework & Mindset
- Leadership & Culture
- Make It Stick/Sustain
- Technology Agility
The seven pillars of EBA are designed to create a steady flow of value and communication through your enterprise, leading to greater alignment across all of your business and IT functions. In other words, the seven pillars are the building blocks of a Product Organization.
Many companies who are advanced in their SAFe Transformations (18-24 months) are ready to take the next step of bringing agility to the entire enterprise. EBA supports your SAFe Transformation by taking the Lean-Agile environment to new business-related departments such as HR, Finance, Legal, and Leadership. EBA teaches executives how to embrace Agility, encouraging SAFe buy-in and alignment across the enterprise. To learn more about how EBA can help your company, check out Saahil Panikar’s article Creating Great Products with Enterprise Business Agility. He discusses how EBA fosters alignment within organizations, helping everyone become product-focused.
ICON provides complete SAFe Transformation services. Contact us for a free initial consultation.
After helping more than 200 companies transition to SAFe Practices, ICON's Transformation Coaches are capable of guiding the inexperienced through the Lean-Agile principles of SAFe. We specialize in collaborating wiht our clients to develop customized transformation plans.
Do you have questions about readiness, time-frames, costs, tooling, or anything else before beginning your transformation? We would love to help you get started.