SAFe® is increasingly becoming a Systems-Thinking foundation for Software Development rather than a Programme-Delivery Practises Library.

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to Boulder for one of the first classes for the soon-to-be-launched SAFe®4.0 for Lean Software and Systems Engineering, bookended by a few other learning and discussion activities with Dean Leffingwell and other key figures at Scaled Agile Inc.

The class was the evolution of what used to be the SAFe® Program Consultant, and is now focusing much more on context-sensitive customisation of the Framework (emphasis because it’s a framework, not a prescriptive religion), and the change leadership required to make new behaviours and mindsets stick for better customer outcomes.

One thing that struck me very powerfully is that SAFe® has undergone a significant change over the last 2 and a bit years since I went through SPC certification. In 2013, SAFe® was very much based on practises, that assumed a pretty consistent macro context: that of program delivery within an enterprise portfolio, in an organisation that hasn’t seen much if any Lean/Agile ways of working. All the learning material was based on tried and tested patterns that had consistently shown effective outcomes.

However, it seems to me that this has evolved. Now the emphasis is on a set of principles and mindset, whose primary basis is Systems Thinking.

The macro context hasn’t changed much — except perhaps that Lean/Agile is not quite as new as it was — but the focus on principles is explicitly and consciously designed to enable customisation and adaptation based on the specific local needs and micro context.

In the key learning activity for organisations’ leaders and those who influence them: Leading SAFe®, the first half of the material is based on principles, designed to tip the thinking towards Systemic-optimised Outcomes. The remainder then answers the question which always comes from the target audience: I buy that. How do I make it happen? using established success patterns that provide what all Early/Late Majority Adopters (by definition) demand: evidence and confidence.

If the wider Agile community starts to pay attention to truth and intent, and does a little more Go-And-See rather than continuing making wild and unfounded assumptions, we will hear rather fewer pompous accusations of Unprincipled Recipe Thinking than we have to date.

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Martin Burns

Transformation Consultant at CA Inc (formerly Rally)
Previously: Leader of software delivery portfolios in large scale orgs.
Specialism: Transforming complex delivery organisations to be more Lean/Agile.
Mindset: Continuous Improvement Obsessive
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CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 The Great SAFe® Switch by Martin Burns is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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