Friday, January 17, 2014

A(nother) Response to SAFe Criticisms: Part 1

Full Disclosure: I am a certified Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) Program Consultant (SPC).

Before you continue reading this somewhat lengthy, multi-part blog post, let me lay out the prerequisites. Well, really just the one. If you are not already at least somewhat familiar with Dean Leffingwell’s Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) then this post is not going to be as meaningful to you. The official website for SAFe is, although there are others out there (Andrew Blain, for example) who have done a good job of explaining what SAFe is.

Last year Dean Leffingwell (and SAFe in general) had a significant presence at Agile2013. In response, Ken Schwaber wrote a provocative blog post entitled “unSAFe at any speed”. What Ken failed to accomplish was to produce criticism that was any more founded than your run-of-the-mill angsty hearsay. He did, however, manage to set off a civil war within the Agile community over whether or not SAFe should be allowed in the Agile club or beaten until silenced or killed. I have been rather surprised at how many “Agilists” have chosen the latter.

Agile has always appealed to my inclusive nature. The goal is outlined in the Agile Manifesto and its 12 Principles. Anything that strives to deliver within the paradigm of the Manifesto and its Principles can be considered Agile. All approaches have strengths and weaknesses, and all approaches focus more on some aspects than others. In the end, though, all approaches are well-intentioned efforts to elevate teams to their potential. I think that’s beautiful, I really do.

A roadblock that has existed for years is that of large organizations who are not already Agile. Getting these behemoths to shift the way they work, much less the way they think, is no easy task. Many have taken the “All or Nothing” approach – either adopt an existing Agile approach in its purest form, wholesale, with no alterations, or surrender yourself to your competition, wither away, and die. Neither of these options is particularly appealing to most of these organizations, so they ignore Agile and continue their status quo.

Along comes Dean Leffingwell and SAFe and, all of the sudden, you have an Agile approach that the organization can use to become Agile. Of course it looks different from the other options currently available, but that’s kind of the point. It aims to establish Agile Principles and Lean Thinking in larger enterprises in increments that are actually realistic. Just as every Scrum team is different, every organization that adopts SAFe does so in its own way. And, just like Scrum, a lot of the implementation details cannot be neatly outlined in a guide or abstract for anyone to pick up and repeat without putting in any of the effort.

The reality of the situation makes the Purists out there really uncomfortable. A lot of criticism has been published. I am going to attempt to address some of this criticism. My intent here is not to get everyone out there to use SAFe. Heck, I don’t even intend for everyone to like it. My intent is to clarify a few misconceptions, first and foremost the one that SAFe is not Agile.

I’ll be publishing my response in multiple parts in order to accomplish this intent. The number of parts depends, at least partially, on you. I want to know what criticisms or misunderstandings of SAFe you would like me to respond to. I would further ask that you communicate with me as a respectful professional (and I’ll do the same). I’ve seen this topic get out of control without ever getting to root cause. Not that I have delusions of grandeur or anything, but I’d like to think that I can help find and address the root cause of these criticisms without it turning into a shouting match. I guess we’ll find out.

Series Posts:
Part 2: 25% Scrum Master
Part 3: HIP Sprints

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