Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A(nother) Response to SAFe Criticisms: Part 2

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

In the first part of this series, I explained my intent behind answering some of the criticism for SAFe and asked for concerns that you would like to see addressed. I haven’t received any direct feedback, but the offer still stands. In the meantime, I’m going to dive into some of the more common criticisms I’ve seen already published. I’ll try to focus on one concern or small group of related concerns per blog post.

25% Scrum Masters
Edit: I originally published that "This is something that I have yet to find on the SAFe website but did come up in my SPC training. And I can tell you that it was not well received! If you want to hear about exactly how well it went over, just ask Valerie Santillo. Here’s what I got out of it:"

It has since been pointed out that this guidance is on the main website. I'm not sure if this is a new addition or an oversight on my part. It can be found in the Scrum/Agile Master Abstract in the Details section, under the heading "Sourcing the Role: A Part Time Responsibility".

Accommodating Reality
The truth of the matter is that you can’t always get Scrum Masters that are dedicated to that role. This should absolutely be avoided if possible, especially when working with teams new to Agile. What they’re saying by 25% is that, if you absolutely cannot get someone to be a fully dedicated Scrum Master, you should expect the role to take up about 25% of their time. I’d say that should about cover the administrative aspect and keep the wheels moving, but that’s about it.

Four Teams
A better approach is to make Scrum Master a dedicated role and allow them to work with multiple teams. The 25% recommendation tells me that Scrum Masters can handle at most four teams. Again, if you can avoid it, I would recommend having fewer than 4 teams sharing a Scrum Master. The most I’d personally recommend is two, with a preference to only one. However, this guidance is supposed to accommodate reality, and sometimes you just don’t have enough SMs to go around.

Starting Point
The 25% justification really only works when you’re just starting out and trying to get organizational buy-in. If you can suck it up and make it work well enough then, hopefully, your management will see the benefit a good Scrum Master could make and will make it happen. They’ll remove the part-time role, reduce the number of teams per Scrum Master – anything necessary to continue the improvements the teams have started making. That was actually the case with my first team. They went through their “Sprint 0” and their first two regular Sprints without a dedicated Scrum Master. They were struggling, but they were showing management that they were committed to making Agile work. I was allowed to come in as their Scrum Master – and only as their Scrum Master – to see how it would work. The rest, as they say, is history.

Final Destination
Good Scrum Masters always talk about how it’s their job to work themselves out of a job. If that’s the case, then eventually you’ll have teams that don’t have Scrum Masters. In those cases, there are certain responsibilities or overhead that the Scrum Master took care of which will now fall to the team. In those cases, the overhead work will need to be accounted for. From a Sprint Planning perspective, I think that cutting the velocity to account for 25% of a team member’s time for Scrum Master duties is entirely appropriate.


That’s my response to the “25% Scrum Master guidance” from the SAFe training. Hopefully I was able to provide some context to show that it’s not as evil as you might have thought. Whether I was successful in addressing this concern or not, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Continuing the Series
Part 3: HIP Sprints

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