Why SAFe is a wrong solution

I’m an Enterprise Agile coach in a big company with more than 30 software development teams. In recent days, one of the scrum masters told me, “I’ve read some articles about SAFe 4.6, and it seems a cool agile framework. I think we need to use SAFe in our company and …”.

I asked him, “Wow looks great, and think about this idea, What’s the #1 struggle we have in our company that we want to solve it with SAFe 4.6?”

“Hmm, You know, we have collaboration problem. There are lots of dependencies between departments and it makes everything slow and … The SAFe has a PI planning meeting and lots of roles and we can resolve our dependencies and create better alignment.”

“ People don’t want quarter inch drills. They want quarter inch holes”

Based on my observation and experience, Most of the companies try to use SAFe to create better alignment, collaboration and resolve dependencies.

People Don’t want SAFe, They want keep all teams align and deliver value faster

This story is not about that SAFe is a bad or good tool, SAFe has lots of good things but for our job, I think it’s a heavy and wrong solution. We can create better alignment with less cost and in a more effective way.

Why it’s heavy?

There are lots of roles, ceremonies, layers, artifacts and…. Many Agile practitioners think that SAFe is not Agile.

Dave Snowden: “SAFe is to Agile as Six Sigma is to Innovation and Sharepoint is to Knowledge Management A refusal to realise that the world is complex and an attempt to impose inauthentic order to development.”

Or based on Ron Jeffries, “If everyone in the organization were to read the fine print in SAFe, then the organization might very slowly evolve to the level of effectiveness that real Agile provides. That’s not going to happen. Managers and executives are too busy to read the fine print. They are too busy doing their job to study how to do their job. They will too easily fall into old patterns of management behavior, and when they do, SAFe will be installed in a fashion that won’t just fail to support Agile, but that will suppress it.

Why SAFe is the wrong solution for creating alignment?

In SAFe there’s an event called: PI planning. It’s a kind of secret sauce for SAFe to create alignment and resolves dependencies. The following image is a result of a good PI planning. (They call it program board which created after 2 days PI planning meeting)

I think this image is a terrible thing. Most of the SAFe consultants say, “It will solve your dependencies…”. Visualizing dependencies is a great thing, but you need to resolve it. Some of the dependencies, will not be resolved by just talking in a PI planning meeting. “We will do it for you on sprint 2…”.

The best question or action in this state is “Why we have these dependencies?”. I got the following things as the root cause in our company:

1- No real Cross-functional teams

2- Structure issues

3- Depended business domains

Something like the Spotify model:


https://blog.crisp.se/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/SpotifyScaling.pdf

For resolving dependencies, just talking about them in the PI planning is not a good solution. You need to change the structure of the organization, create real cross-functional teams based on small business domains.

Asad Safari

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