2017 SAFe Summit: The Continued Rise of Agile at Scale

I recently represented Gorilla Logic at the SAFe Summit 2017 in San Antonio, Texas during the first week of October. The Summit proved the market for scaling Agile is growing…a lot. Even if it’s prescriptive, it can still be Agile. Here are three main takeaways from our Gorilla perspective:

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers.

According to the latest State of Agile Survey by Version One, SAFe is now the number one scaling method cited by survey respondents (28%) and Scaled Agile had some numbers to back up that success.

So far, more than 160,000 individuals around the world have been trained in SAFe and 45,590 were trained by their partners in the last year. Speaking of partners, Scaled Agile now has over 145 partners working with large-scale companies from Latin America to Finland, from the USA to South Africa… you get the gist.

Prescriptive? Yes. Agile? Yes.

One of the most interesting trends I noticed while networking during the conference was that several financial companies are looking into or going through Agile transformations at scale with SAFe. This got me thinking — these kinds of large companies require alignment and visibility in order to make decisions every day, and this is not easy to achieve. So, even when they’re going the Agile way, they won’t let their development teams light a fire and sing kumbaya holding hands. Transitioning into Agile is sometimes perceived by large enterprises as loss of control. A smooth transition into SAFe requires transparent communication between management and teams and a buy-in from executive levels.

Curiously, SAFe (which has been labeled as “too prescriptive” to be Agile) is showing them the path to success by understanding how business value is being mapped to their features, release trains and teams working together.

In summary, Agile can be prescriptive. But as the mind behind it, Dean Leffingwell, stated, “it’s prescriptive because it’s complex stuff.”

Prescriptive Agile

The Train is Leaving (Pun Intended).

During the Summit we saw case studies from different adopters like Intel, Vantiv, Standard Bank, Capital One, Thales, LIC and Air France-KLM. Also, the key players in Agile portfolio management tools have tailored solutions for scaling with SAFe and exposed their products at the exhibitor’s hall.

The presenters shared fairly common experiences. Before implementing SAFe, most companies lacked a holistic architecture and speedy time-to-market. After implementing SAFe, companies encountered more employee engagement, improved communication, speedier time-to-market, improved predictability and increased productivity. Even with all of these perks, implementing SAFe across an organization can be a daunting task. However, the right Agile partner can make all the difference.

Agile consulting companies made up a big part of the crowd since they understand that SAFe has got to be in their services portfolio, as customers ask about it more and more.

The conversations geared towards interesting factors like decentralizing control (great talk by don Reinersten), Agile HR with SAFe (of course people want to know what happens to their roles) and SAFe for government — because governments want to hop on the train, too.

Gorilla Logic has boarded the train as a partner with Scaled Agile. We currently staff 15+ teams across our customers running SAFe implementations. Those implementations of scaled Agile differ from customer to customer. For example, some customers only implement Essential SAFe while others have a large solution.

Using SAFe the Gorilla Way

Each Scaled Agile Partner is different and Gorilla Logic is no exception! Gorilla teams are thoroughly integrated into release trains, PI Plannings, Program, Portfolio, and Value Streams. In the case of our customers, the levels above the teams are managed by the customer, and all implementation details are owned by them. Team members have provided mixed reports on the effectiveness of their given implementations, most notably the program level feature readiness and coordination.

Coordination is key when large sets of teams work together to provide value to a customer or collaborate in large system delivery. Scrum of Scrums is one of the approaches that helps teams provide instant visibility across the product, program and release train.

Some release trains conduct the Scrum of scrums daily, while others get together weekly. Frequency and duration depend on the nature of the work and how tightly coupled their features are.

Product Increment (PI) planning is another ceremony Gorilla’s customers take very seriously, bringing all teams together in large auditoriums to discuss priorities and commit as a release train. Teams evaluate dependencies and risks through techniques like ROAM.

The notion of a team within a release train is very important for our customers, they swarm on issues across teams when the highest priority feature requires it.

In keeping with the idea of “fail fast” our SAFe customers understand the value of keeping an efficient Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment pipeline. Each team is able to autonomously deploy their solutions and ensure appropriate automated tests run at every deployment environment. Deploying small changes is key to keeping the pipeline running smoothly and providing customers the benefit of change without the drawback of too much risk.

Conclusion

SAFe Summit solidified how scaling is one of the trends in Agile talk lately. The amount of adopters is growing and there’s a true need for companies training new practitioners and coaches who can help organizations in their journey.

The different talks had a common vision for Agile values through the framework fostering visibility, alignment, transparency and decentralized control. At Gorilla Logic we have realized the importance of these values and as a SAFe partner, we coach our customers throughout their transformations.

Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts on our experiences with different SAFe implementations.

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