Following the Implementation Roadmap

While every transformation journey is unique, many organizations rely on the Scaled Agile Implementation Roadmap for guidance on proven steps to get from “Going SAFe” to seeing business results. Successful implementations share common attributes: early participation from executive leadership and a workforce well trained and educated in Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) practices.

Following these crucial steps will help organizations on their way through their SAFe transformation to reach true enterprise agility. While no two adoptions are identical, and there is rarely a perfectly sequential step-by-step implementation in any enterprise, businesses getting the best results typically follow a path similar to that shown in the Roadmap.

Here are the steps of Identifying Value Streams and ARTs, Creating the Implementation Plan, and launching the first ART.

Identify Value Streams and ARTs

One of the first steps to expanding SAFe is to identify the Value Streams within the enterprise. Attempting to shortcut or breeze through this step would be the same as putting your foot on the brake at the same time you are trying to accelerate. Getting value streams right, however, creates an organization optimized to facilitate the flow of value across functional silos, activities, and boundaries. Read more about this critical move for implementing SAFe.

Identifying Value Streams is possibly the most important first step in launching a successful Agile Release Train (ART). Value Streams are the primary Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) construct for understanding, organizing, and delivering value to the customer and thus to the enterprise itself. Understanding the actual flow of value in an enterprise is a challenge that can only be addressed in the specific business context, and can become more and more complicated as enterprises grow larger.

Creating the Implementation Plan

Once the value streams and ARTs have been identified, it’s time to start putting the plan into action. Identify the teams on the initial ART launch. Decide which team members will fill which roles. Schedule the training of each of these roles and the PI Planning event.

It is also never too early to start thinking about when additional ARTs and value streams would roll out across the organization.

By this time, the new vision is typically being communicated around the company, principal stakeholders are aligning, and people are starting to sense that something big is in the air. Creating a Program Increment Roadmap helps to outline the hypothesis of when, where, and how the rollout might occur at a high level. Read more about Creating the Implementation Plan.

Launching Agile Release Trains

Launching Agile Release Trains (ARTs) is critical to applying Lean and Agile development practices across large numbers of teams and practitioners. ARTs are a foundational construct that brings up to 125 people together to plan in a set period of time called a Program Increment (PI). As a building block of SAFe, ARTs help enterprises achieve the ubiquity, cadence, and alignment needed to increase the productivity, quality, value delivery, and strategic alignment of their software and systems development.

Launching an Agile Release Train typically requires two important steps:

  1. Training the teams within the ART in a two-day SAFe for Teams class
  2. Participating in a two-day PI Planning event

These two steps are required to not only train the teams to understand all the key concepts, principles, and core values of SAFe, but also to allow them to participate in the decision-making process of defining the key objectives of the next PI.

Over these four days, the organization will:

  • Build a predictable model for Program Increment Planning, objective setting, program execution, and adaptive feedback that provides a continuous flow of value to the user or marketplace
  • Train up to 125 team members (typically organized into 8 – 12 Scrum teams for a common program) in the principles of the Scaled Agile Framework and the implementation of SAFe® for Teams in an enterprise context
  • Align the teams to a common enterprise mission and product backlog, and plan for the Program Increment (8 – 12 weeks of value) through software and solutions
  • Establish Iteration Plans and measurable PI objectives
  • Introduce prospective Product Owners and Scrum Masters to the principles and practices unique to their role in the Lean-Agile enterprise

With the teams and stakeholders trained, and the new way of working now in effect, the organization is now prepared to evolve and improve.

Supporting the momentum: pitfalls to avoid

Even after having gotten past the tipping point of deciding to implement the Framework, it is important to watch out for the common challenges and pitfalls of full organizational transformation.

While every SAFe implementation is unique, many follow the same patterns, face the same challenges, and require the same steps to achieve true enterprise agility. While following the Implementation Roadmap can help organizations stay on the right path during their journey, it is also important to watch out for the common shortfalls outlined by Dr. John Kotter is his book Leading Change:

  1. Failing to establish a sense of urgency
    A leading person is needed for “tooting the horn” and driving the change. Without a sense of why this change is important, the organization will fail to see the value.
  1. Not creating a guiding coalition
    SAFe® Program Consultants (SPCs) and executive SAFe® Agilists (SAs) need to buy in and believe in what they are doing. If leadership has not bought in, the implementation will fail. It’s impossible to have one without the other.
  1. Underestimating the power of vision and strategy
    Organizational change is not something that can be done without a solid plan in place. The enterprise must understand all the players and where they fit in the transformation.
  1. Under-communicating the vision
    It’s not possible to over-communicate the vision. Alignment is key. If a single person on a given team does not understand what the vision is, it has not been communicated well enough.
  1. Permitting obstacles to block the vision
    Roadblocks (like those listed here) will always come up. Don’t let them defeat the effort or stop the forward momentum that’s already been created.
  1. Failure to create short term wins
    Keep moving forward, follow the Implementation Roadmap, and launch Agile Release Trains (ARTs)! Creating those short-term wins is critical to keeping the momentum and convincing those remaining doubters and pragmatists of the real value of SAFe.
  1. Declaring victory too soon
    It is important not to get too excited after the first ART is launched. Changing habits takes a lot of time and practice. Make sure to keep that first train on the tracks as this new way of working and thinking takes root within the company. This isn’t an overnight fix.
  1. Neglecting to anchor changes firmly in the culture
    Declaring victory too soon is the fastest way to lose track of the most important aspect of a SAFe transformation: changing the company (and executive team) culture within the enterprise. Culture comes from habits, and habits come from constant reinforcement of the goals that are trying to be reached. Anchor new approaches in the culture. The only way the culture can be grown is to establish a new set of habits, and that is what SAFe does.

These common pitfalls are ones that many organizations experience when moving toward full SAFe adoption. If the transformation feels stuck, take a look at the above factors, Inspect and Adapt, and search for the root causes of the blocks.

Continuing to monitor the system for flow and blocks is key to maintaining a SAFe implementation.