SAFe is not agile! Here is why it might still be useful
Despite the contempt many of us agile folks have for SAFe, this “Scaled Agile Framework” might still have one useful purpose.
Note: this article is based on my experience and observations. You may disagree with my opinion. So I invite you to share your perspective with me.
Why many agile people hate SAFe
Just looking at the overview image of SAFe gives many agile folks (including me) goose bumps. This complex map of process hierarchies, roles and silos doesn’t look very agile to me. David Peirera wrote a great article about why so much about SAFe is not agile.
SAFe tries to take the agile Scrum framework (which was invented for 2-pizza teams of originally 10 or fewer people) and scale its use up to companies with thousands of employees. And to be honest, trying to scale agility to thousands of people will ALWAYS lose some agility — smaller teams simply can be more agile. So the goal of all agile scaling efforts (like LeSS, Nexus or the Spotify approach (not a framework!)) is to lose as little agility as possible along the way. And SAFe does a particularly bad job at that!
If SAFe isn’t really agile, why even bother to write about it? Why not simply dismiss it in favor of more agile scaling approaches? The answer is simple: SAFe is hard to ignore, because it has become the predominant “agile scaling framework” sold to corporations world-wide.
In the cases I have witnessed, SAFe was also sold in a rather unsustainable way: a team of SAFe-certified consultants comes in, “plans” the agile transformation and vanishes before the agile transformation has even started. The responsibility of making it all work is left to the client or to other agile coaches having to clean up the mess. This approach to an agile transformation is about as un-agile as you can get: plan, throw over the fence, run from responsibility.
As I’m based in one of the financial capitals of Europe, I have closely witnessed several attempted agile transformations of large banks and investment companies. I can remember one case in which highly paid consultants came into the banking tower, blinded the formerly…