Essential SAFe – “Implementation Starting Point”

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In one of my initial blogs, we touch based on the 4 configuration that SAFe provides. These configurations can fit from small organisations to large enterprises. It is flexible enough for organisations to leverage to their specific needs. In this specific blog and the following blogs, we would deep dive into Essential SAFe. It is the starting point for SAFe implementation in the organisation. 

Essential SAFe is the root of the SAFe framework and serves as the foundation for other configurations. My earlier blog SAFe Birds Eye View talks about Roles associated in this configuration.

Essential SAFe configuration covers the most fundamental elements of the framework.

10 Fundamental Elements:

The following 10 important elements of Essential SAFe are applied to all SAFe configurations.  These elements are critical for successful Agile development. If an organisation effectively leverage these 10 critical elements, they can unearth the full potential of SAFe.

The Ten Essential Elements in Essential SAFe:

  1. Lean-Agile Principles – In order to stay onto the correct path, organisations should ensure following the Nine essential principles that guide teams to make sure that they are heading in the right direction following the basic fundamentals 
  2. Real Agile Teams and Trains – These cross functional Agile teams and trains ensures teams have all the skill sets to develop a working, tested piece of the solution. These teams are fully cross-functional and self- organising.
  3. Cadence and Synchronisation – Cadence helps providing platform to different SAFe and Scrum ceremonies that are important for any development process. ART (Agile Release Trains) team get clarity in roles and objectives through these cadence. Cadence ensures different ceremonies at team or program levels are held at a scheduled time. It helps all stakeholders to collaborate and understand different perspectives.
  4. Program Increment (PI) Planning –  If Essential SAFe is the heartbeat of entire SAFe framework, Program Increment i.e PI Planning is the heartbeat of Essential SAFe. There is no event as powerful in SAFe as PI planning. This event serves as the heartbeat for the ART, aligning all the teams on the ART to a shared mission and vision.
  5. System Demo – How do we measure the work done during a Sprint iteration or PI iteration? The basic measurement is through working solution. Every two weeks, working solution is presented to different stakeholders in the form of Demo. This is the primary measure of the ART’s progress. Every two weeks, work of all teams on the train for that iteration is demonstrated to stakeholders. Based on Demo, stakeholders then provide the feedback so that the train is on course and can take corrective action.
  6. Inspect and Adapt (I&A) –  The way we have Retrospective sessions in Scrum, the I&A session is conducted at the end of every PI. This is a dedicated session to look through the solution and identify the things that went well, what are the improvement areas and action items to keep the train on the right track. It’s a scheduled opportunity to define the improvements needed to increase the velocity, quality, and reliability of the next PI.
  7. Innovation and Planning (IP) Iteration –  The IP iteration occurs at least once every PI and help in multiple ways. It serves as an estimating buffer for meeting PI objectives and dedicates time for innovation, continuing learning, and PI planning and I&A events. 
  8. Architectural Runway –  Architectural Runway helps in the continuous flow of value through the Continuous Delivery Pipeline. It provides the necessary technical foundation for developing new Features. The architectural runway is the primary tool used to implement the Framework’s Agile Architecture strategy. 
  9. Lean-Agile Leadership – As in the words of Deming It’s not enough that management commit themselves to quality and productivity, they must know what it is they must do. Such a responsibility cannot be delegated.” For SAFe to be effective the organisations leadership must take responsibility for Lean-Agile adoption and success. Therefore, transformation can only be done when leaders are actively participating and taking responsibility for the implementation.
  10. DevOps and Releasability – For organisations to bridge the gap between development and operations SAFe’s recommends ‘CALMeR’ approach to DevOps. It provides the culture, automation, Lean-flow, measurement, and recovery capabilities. Releasability focuses on the business’s capacity to deliver value to its customers more often and according to market demand. 

As stated earlier, Essential SAFe is the heart of the Framework and is the starting point for implementation. Let us see what is in the core of Essential SAFe i.e. Highlights of ART

ART – Core Of Essential SAFe:

  • The ART helps in alignment of all the stakeholders. It helps clarifying vision and road map to teams, management, customers. 
  • ARTs helps in delivery of the features i.e. user functionality and the enablers i.e.  technical infrastructure that are needed to deliver value.
  • All the teams follow the same iterations i.e. same start dates and end dates of the Sprints
  • Every ART delivers testable solution at the end of two weeks and is demonstrated to all the stakeholders on a common platform. 
  • Program Increments (PIs) provide longer, fixed time boxes for planning, execution, and inspecting and adapting. Normally, one PI is for 6 Sprints i.e three months with 2 week sprint cycle.
  • PI is done face to face and remote users are encouraged to join through a live video conference to ensure alignment and collaboration.
  • ARTs work on continuous delivery pipeline to regularly develop and release small increments of value. This enables teams to release solutions at any time the market demands i.e. Release On Demand
  • ARTs provide common and consistent approaches to system architecture and user experience (UX).
  • DevOps is a mindset, a culture, and a set of technical practices that provides communication, integration, automation, and close cooperation among all the people needed to plan, develop, test, deploy, release, and maintain a solution.

To conclude most of the critical aspects of SAFe framework are covered in Essential SAFe. In the blogs to follow, we will see each components of Essential SAFe in details.

References: SAFe Distilled 4.5 and Scaled Agile Framework

Written by 

Neeraj is Masters In Information Technology from Symbiosis Pune and a seasoned PMI certified Project Management Professional (PMP)®, Certified Scrum Master (CSM)® and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO)® with 16+ yrs of exp in Project Management/Agile/Business Analysis and Quality Assurance across diverse organizational domains.