Do you remember when the business imperative was improving feature cycle time? As if we just needed to deliver more stuff faster to win in the marketplace. I wouldn’t say that times have changed, but I would say we were just scratching the surface, and rightfully so. After all, we have to start somewhere. The adoption of agile methodologies have proven successful in helping redefine the characteristics and behavior of development teams and, in the process, have certainly helped speed feature delivery cycle time. Great! Is your business more successful now?
Our goal then, and now, should have been to improve time to value. What good is it to deliver more stuff faster if it’s not the right stuff? How do you know whether it’s the right stuff? How do you make smarter decisions so that you know?
Agile & Lean at Scale
The Agile Manifesto explains the key tenets of agile transformations that lead us to this thought: It’s all about value, vision and quality—and rethinking what quality means—in terms of customer value. I didn’t make this up … a team of really smart people from different organizations and industries collaborated and the result is a truly inspiring set of guidance to help teams focus to deliver faster, smarter and better. The thing is, without adopting this guidance at scale, without thinking about what value means and how to prioritize investments into the delivery of value from the top down, we’re back to the same old decision-making process that often takes us off track.
Business owners, portfolio managers, analysts, solution architects, product managers … all of these roles that operate largely on the “business” side need to think lean and agile and collaborate with engineering continuously to drive the organization as a whole to work faster, smarter, better. Aristotle said: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Think about that in terms of creating a unified, collaborative organization that marches to the same drum beat, uses the same language, follows the same process to make decisions and drive change. Regardless of whether you are operating at the portfolio or team level, or somewhere in between, you are essentially planning and executing, planning and executing. Your deliverables may be different but the goal is the same: deliver value faster, get feedback, rinse and repeat.
Addressing the Whole Transformation
Convinced? Maybe just intrigued? Fair enough. Let’s talk about how to do this, starting with my warning: Change is hard, especially when you’re trying to transform the mindset of an organization and do real work at the same time, so it’s not for the weak or meek. I’m not trying to scare you, just making sure you enter this with eyes wide open.
With that out of the way, let me enforce the need to consider the whole transformation to be successful; this is not just about the process and it’s even less about the tools that support that process. It’s about the cultural change, first and foremost. There is no tool or magic pill for that. A well-defined, cohesive process is key, however, in uniting the tribes, so in this way it helps with the culture issue. Finally, embedding a well-defined process in tooling just makes things easier because you knock off the requirements related to collaboration, traceability and reporting with the tooling. Remember: people, process, tools.
SAFe is the Recipe
So what scaled agile process should you use? Well, I can tell you that you do not need to develop your own process, there are several out there. I favor the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) for a number of reasons: it is extremely well-defined, it covers nearly any size and complexity, and it is flexible despite what some may think. At the same time, it’s just a framework—there is no one size fits all and you do not have to adopt every aspect. But you don’t need to start from scratch, either. Be smart about this and take advantage of the invaluable insight that went into the development of SAFe 4.0. My team has done that and I’ve worked with several large enterprise organizations that have as well.
I love analogies to illustrate a point and simplify what might otherwise be complex, so let me leave you with this one: scaled agile transformations are like cooking. Start with a simple recipe (especially if you’re an inexperienced cook), learn the art and how to adjust seasoning as you go, and fine-tune the dish after feedback from your family. Then try it again. Do you get it? Same with scaled agile: Start with a good framework (SAFe), learn about it, take what is valuable from it for your organizational needs and try it out for an iteration, get feedback from your team and make adjustments to the process for the next iteration. Simple.
Please visit our SAFe landing page on jazz.net for all things “SAFe”! We are here to help you with your scaled agile transformation (SAFe or not), so don’t hesitate to reach out.
The IBM SAFe Team (firstname.lastname@example.org)
About the Author/ Amy Silberbauer
Amy is a Solution Architect charged with the definition and delivery of the Enterprise Scaled Agile and IBM DevOps Plan solutions and strategy for the IBM Watson IoT line of business. She is a recognized subject matter expert on scaled agile and software development lifecycle solutions, including enterprise modernization, SOA and collaborative DevOps. She has been with IBM for 29 years and has two decades of software development experience as an engineer, architect and manager. She is a certified SAFe Program Consultant experienced in leading and consulting on multiple internal and external SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) transformations.
Connect with Amy on LinkedIn.