Friday, January 24, 2014

A(nother) Response to SAFe Criticisms: Part 3

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.

HIP Sprints
One criticism that’s prevalent among SAFe’s detractors is the inclusion of the HIP Sprint on the Big Picture. This is another case of SAFe trying to accommodate reality for organizations new to Agile. HIP, by the way, stands for “Hardening | Innovation | Planning”. It definitely gives the vibe of “Waterfalling the Sprints” and deserves our attention.

Hardening should, in my honest opinion, be done away with as soon as humanly possible. However, if you’re brand new to Agile and have not yet built up your technical practices and hardware, releasing to Production without a hardening period is a bad idea.

SAFe does a good job of outlining what may be appropriate hardening activities versus those that could/should be done sooner. This is a good resource for new teams to get rid of hardening. Teams should focus first on getting activities that should definitely be done before hardening included in their Sprint Definition of Done. Then they move on to those that could be done sooner out of hardening. Eventually, they should aim to have their Release Definition of Done match their Sprint Definition of Done. At this point they could, potentially, go to Production with the completion of each User Story, which is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from a continuous delivery team.

I know, I know, having an “Innovation Sprint” is like having a “Kaizen event”. And yet, we hold Retrospectives as an opportunity to focus on improvement that should, in theory, be continuous. If your company does not support a culture of innovation then no framework will magically change that. However, if you have a team that has managed to eliminate hardening activities, they should be rewarded with a Sprint of unfettered innovation. Give them a couple of weeks to do what they want and they will surprise you with how much they accomplish! Heck, it may even help to transform the company’s culture to one that embraces innovation.

This aspect of “HIP” tends to have the least resistance as Planning is well-recognized as a fundamental component of successful Agile organizations. The final Sprint of the PSI should include the planning activities that will prepare the Agile Release Train for the upcoming PSI. These include the Solution Demo (PSI Review), Inspect & Adapt Workshop (PSI Retrospective), and PSI Planning (PSI Planning).

Most ARTs will get these activities done in the last 2-3 days of the PSI. The timing and duration are flexible, but the activities are essential, especially for new Agile teams. This may not make sense for continuous delivery teams, but neither do any of the other time-boxed meetings that provide the structure for time-based commitment approaches (a la Scrum).

Given my experience with new Agile teams, the HIP Sprint is a powerful tool. Without it, making the transition to Agile would be near-impossible. Is it a mature Agile practice? No, of course not. But is it better than continuing with Waterfall until the teams magically reach a state where they can do Agile without a HIP Sprint? Most definitely. That’s what I think, anyway.

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