SAFe – Lean Agile Mindset

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In my previous blogs we have seen what is the need for SAFe and also had a high level view of SAFe four different configurations that organisations can leverage to fit to their needs. In this blog let us see what changes do we need in the thought process as Leaders to drive the Lean Agile mindset.

One of the biggest challenges any organisation face is change. The transformation from one mindset to another is not easy. As Gandhi ji said,You must be the change you want to see in the world”.

When we change our thinking and change ourselves, it become possible to change those around us. If you want a change in your organisation, as a Leader you should take the first step in that direction. It is not enough for Management to commit themselves to quality deliveries. They should very well know what is that they should be doing to meet the objective and this is something that cannot be delegated.

In the words of Deming – People are already doing their best. The problem is with the system. Only management can change the system.”

House of Lean:

To implement SAFe, Leaders and Management should learn and adopt a Lean-Agile Mindset. As depicted in the figure below (From SAFe Distilled 4.5):

Most crucial aspects of Lean-Agile Mindset are:

  1. Lean Thinking – This consists of six concepts as in the picture above:
    1. The Roof i.e. Value or the Goal
    2. Value delivered is supported by four pillars of Respect for people and culture, Flow, Innovation, and Improvement
    3. Foundation for pillars is Lean Leadership. This is what holds everything together.
  2. Embracing Agility – SAFe is completely dependent on the capabilities of Agile teams and leadership. The goal should be to enhance Agile methods.

Let us see each one of them in a little more detail:

  • Thinking Lean – Lean got its birth from the Manufacturing industry, but slowly got its roots in Software and system development. 
  • Roof – This represents the value to be delivered or Goal to be achieved. Focus is on achieving this Goal or maximum value in the shortest sustainable lead-time. Therefore the goal is not just to achieve the end deliverable but also focus on high morale, satisfaction and happy customers (Internal and External) But the question is HOW?

Pillar # 1 – Respect For People And Their Culture –

In an organisation it is the people who does all the work. That is why it is very critical for an organisation to understand and respect the culture. For growth it is very critical, to change its culture. Furthermore, respect should not be limited to its own employees, but should as well get extended to external stakeholders. This is where when doing PI planning, timezone, cultural differences need to be respected when working in globally distributed teams.

Pillar # 2 – Flow

As the definition states, flow is moving steadily or continuously in a current or stream. For SAFe to be successful, value or goal to be delivered should be continuous and react to fast feedback and make adjustment accordingly. Continuous flow help in early feedback and correction.

Pillar # 3 – Innovation

Flow surely helps to achieve the end goal effectively. But how do we ensure Flow is effective? This is where innovation comes into the picture. To practice innovation, Leaders must focus on:

  • Gemba – Japanese Concept – It advises management to get out of the closed-door office and be on the ground with the team at the workplace. 
  • Keep time aside for Innovation – We shall ensure to keep a focused time aside as a part of the regular development cycle. SAFe has specifically insisted on Innovation and Planning iteration within its framework.
  • Capacity should figure out accordingly – With 100% utilisation and daily firefighting innovation or value add is not possible.
  • Cross-check Innovation with customers and to deal with bad decision simply make another decision (“pivot without mercy or guilt”)

Pillar # 4 – Relentless Improvement

Organisations focus should be to continuously learn by introspection and adaptation. Leaders should look at the facts and then act. Determine the root cause of the problems faced and work on the solutions immediately. Fix it there and then. 

Pillar # 5 – Leadership – Foundation

For successful adoption of Lean Agile mindset, leaders, managers, and executives of the enterprise should be held responsible. Therefore, leaders must learn these new and innovative ways to be successful.

Embracing Agility – The right half of the Lean-Agile mindset is, of course, Agile 

In a nutshell, moving to a Lean-Agile development framework will surely be a huge change. Practices are different, but also the entire belief system including core values, culture, and leadership philosophies are different. 

To begin the Lean-Agile journey and incubate new habits into the culture, leaders, and managers should first adopt the values, mindset, and principles provided by SAFe, Lean thinking, and the Agile Manifesto. This new mindset creates the foundation needed for a successful Lean-Agile transformation.

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.