June 22, 2021

How Essential SAFe Drives Business Agility

In today's highly competitive and ever-changing markets, organizations need to adapt to changes quickly. The Scaled Agile FrameworkĀ® transforms entire enterprises, leading them to an agile and customer-centric business approach and ensuring faster time-to-market.

Gerald Aquila

Gerald Aquila

530 words ā€¢ 5 minutes

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What is SAFe?

SAFeĀ®, or the Scaled Agile Framework, is a collection of best practices and artifacts for efficiently building and delivering products and services based on lean-agile concepts. Initially designed for software projects, it is also increasingly being used for complex development projects that share similar characteristics.

The main goal of SAFe is to help product development teams work more structured and continuously and execute releases more predictably. The framework is customer-centric, enables effective product development, and allocates resources like agile teams efficiently. Innovativeness and quick reaction to market changes are the focus of this process management model.

SAFe Is "Not Project Management"

One of the leading SAFe consultants in Austria, Axel Straschil, recently dropped an interesting line: "SAFe is not project management." Although typically seen as part of project and portfolio management (PPM), this framework is entirely different from traditional and hybrid PPM.

SAFe is a process management model with no finish dates and therefore cannot be a project or program by classical definition.

And there is more to it: SAFe intentionally skips the project kick-off/teardown concept to save resources. Naturally, this only works if the overall environment and the project team stays the same.

This already gives us a good idea about the Scaled Agile Framework: It is an efficient, agile way to deliver release-driven, complex, and high-quality products. Moreover, SAFe is aimed at enterprises with typically 100+ engineers/developers.

Essential SAFe

SAFe is a modular framework that can be deployed in multiple configurations or stages. The initial stage is also the foundation for all other SAFe configurations and is called Essential SAFe. This configuration is the entry-level variant that allows enterprises to implement the framework quickly. For now, we will focus solely on Essential SAFe, as this configuration is by far the most widely deployed.

The idea of Essential SAFe is that business managers and engineers work together to define requirements in a way that they bring actual business value to the customer or end-user.

The image below shows the process management model with all its elements.

Essential SAFe Figure 1: Overview Essential SAFe (Ā© Scaled Agile, Inc.)

Essential SAFe focuses on developing and delivering a single "Solution" based on a so-called Agile Release Train (ART). An ART is divided into Program Increments (PI) that are between 8-12 weeks in length and form the temporal component in SAFe. During this time, multiple agile teams of an ART deliver incremental value for the "Solution." At the beginning of each Program Increment, a PI Planning occurs, where all agile teams of an ART come together and plan the next Program Increment together.

Note that you will find these characteristics in all other SAFe configurations as well.

SAFe vs. traditional and hybrid PPM ā€” Stay up to Date

As we have already learned: SAFe is entirely different from traditional and hybrid PPM. We will provide you with more insights into this process management model in the upcoming weeks and how it goes beyond the boundaries, we know from traditional PPM.

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Relevant Project Management Terms

Agile Teams  

Agile teams consist of 5-11 people who define, develop, test, and deliver an increment in a given iteration (1-4 weeks). They work with agile methods such as Scrum, Kanban, or extreme programming (XP). In SAFeĀ®, multiple agile teams form an agile release train.

Agile Release Train (ART)  

An agile release train consists of multiple agile teams (between 50 and 125 people) who work together to deliver solutions for a program. One characteristic of an ART is that its program is constantly being developed, so it has no end date. The division of an ART into multiple program increments enables flexible and incremental planning.

Program Increment (PI)  

A program increment is a specific period in an agile release train during which agile teams deliver software and systems. Releases can occur at any time and frequency. A PI is between 8-12 weeks long and helps teams work at a specific pace and deliver results faster. At the beginning of each iteration, a PI planning takes place.

Program Increment (PI)-Planning  

Program increment planning is an event where all agile teams from an agile release train plan the next program increment together. This two-day event occurs with every PI change (every 8-12 weeks) and is organized by the release train engineer. The goal is to structure agile teams and involve them in the planning and prioritization process of features.

Scaled Agile FrameworkĀ® (SAFeĀ®)  

The main goal of SAFeĀ® is to help product development teams work more continuously and efficiently and execute releases more predictably. Innovativeness and quick reaction to market changes are the focus of this process management model. SAFeĀ® is aimed at companies with more than 100 developers.

Glossary