Trojan-Horse-Agile through SAFe
I view the agile movement as giving power to those who do the actual work. Who needs a framework when all we need is teams talking directly to customers to validate new ideas in short iterative learning loops? Lets figure out the rest as we go along.
This approach is not possible for managers in most large companies. They need something that is proved to work, they need “best practice” and wont take “hippie agile” advice. SAFe is a collection of agile practices tried on companies all over the world put together in one framework (n.b. framework not toolbox)
The framework is easy to sell to large organizations because it feels safe(!), has good track record (all our competitors are doing it) and if it works for everyone else, it must work for us (if not, I bet it’s our fault). So lets use the silver bullet that solves all our competitors problems.
However putting agile practices in to a framework does not make the framework agile (even if you call it agile). Back when Toyota were making looms they where not concerned if a competitor could copy their newest invention. Even if the competitor copied every single piece they wouldn’t have any idea of why the loom was constructed that way. At the time the competitors had finished the copied loom, Toyota would have build a new better one.
There is no such thing as “best practice” but only “current good practice”. SAFe is but a collection of practices that other companies have done in their organizations, that might have worked for them but they might not work for you. Using best practices that where developed in other organizations is just like a copy of a Toyota loom, you don’t know why you are doing it and you don’t know how to make it better.
If you are working with SAFe try to introduce real agile mindset along the way. Have a lot of team retros. Let the teams inspect & adapt. Use the possibility to have hackathons and ship it days. Educate managers and let them drive the change. Study the house of lean and the agile principles. Inspire the leaders to live and act in an environment of constant improvements.
Don’t get stuck in the framework. Use it as a trojan horse for learning how to do the agile practices that works in your organization. Get better in your own environment, with your own ideas, constantly inspecting and adapting indefinitely.