Agility at scale is one of the crucial issues for large organizations. We interviewed four experts in order to put together an ebook, allowing to understand the contributions of agility at scale and SAFe. The following article is an extract from this ebook and allows us to know if SAFe really is an agile methodology.

Laurent Charles
Laurent CHARLES, CEO and co-founder of Enalean (Tuleap)

SAFe is not a method to be taken as a whole but rather a set of basic practices

This is an issue that can lead to debate and discussion. From the enterprise’s point of view, it’s true that, in order to take a global view of several projects being performed simultaneously, it seems vital that the work involved is orchestrated on the basis of coherent processes and shared progress indicators. From the teams’ point of view, this notion of “structuring the work for everyone” might seem to contradict the principle of autonomy inherent in the agile approach. Keeping in mind the principle of adaptation in agile, we can say that these processes and indicators should be open to evolution and modification whenever teams are no longer adhering to them or are suggesting something else.

Is SAFe agile? I’ve asked myself the following question: couldn’t SAFe be a first step on the road to agility?

This is paradoxical, as SAFe is sometimes seen as the ultimate goal of a large, agile organization, and this is how it is promoted. However, SAFe isn’t a method to be adopted in blocks but rather a set of practices to be used as a basis. So, why not take from SAFe only those things that are relevant to the organization’s goals and culture; that what isn’t agile before then taking a first step toward agile when you come from a traditional culture; and take the things that are scaled agile, like the Train, when you come from a Scrum team culture? After all, moving forward in this way by iteration is an agile approach.

Laurence Hanot coach agile
Laurence HANOT, agile coach at Zenika

The question is not whether SAFe is agile, but how it should be structured and interpreted

At first glance, SAFe looks like a diagram of a gas processing plant. And when you look more closely, it still looks like a very, very detailed and highly structured diagram of a gas plant. When we attend an SPC (SAFe Program Consultant) training course, we hear the trainer bore us for hours with the principles and values taken straight from the Agile Manifesto and the House of Lean, twisted and expressed in different ways (the 10 principles, the 4 core values, the 7 skills, and so on). I use the word “bore” because when you have been an agile coach for nine years, it does seem to go on a bit.

So, let me be clear: the question is not whether SAFe or Scrum or “the agile method is truly agile”. The question is what we do with those approaches. I’ve seen a lot of Scrum implementations that didn’t really involve agile at all. (In one example, “we measure velocity per person so as to eliminate the weakest”- a true story!) And it’s the same with SAFe.

Obviously, you won’t cook up very good dish by simply throwing together the list of ingredients in a recipe. The key is in the way you implement the recipe, interpret it, the way you taste it as you go along so as to adjust it, the way you add or remove an ingredient or spice, and the time and love that you devote to it with the aim of making people happy.

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