The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) helps organisations implement lean-agile practices at an enterprise level. Its 10 core principles should be the foundation of your scaled agile approach. Find out more about these principles and how they can contribute to your agile implementation.
As evidence for the benefits of agile mounts, the uptake of agile in organisations – stepping up from team, department and project level use – has likewise increased. The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) is the most popular framework for implementing lean-agile practices at an enterprise-wide level.
The foundation of SAFe rests on 10 core principles that, when properly implemented, form the basis for agile best practice in any organisation. These agile principles embed a methodology, framework, and mindset that’s value-led, waste-averse and encourages continuous learning and improvement.
Why the SAFe® principles matter
Launched in 2011 by Scaled Agile Inc, SAFe was the first formal framework for scaling agile accounting for different parts of an organisation and their interdependencies. It was designed to integrate the extensive bodies of knowledge from various lean-agile practices, as well as the experiences and lessons learnt from practitioners, into a comprehensive framework that would help apply agile organisation-wide.
The 10 SAFe principles have been developed as concise and universal practices applicable to organisations across different industries. Implemented as designed, they should improve employee engagement, time-to-market, solution quality and team productivity while embedding agile practices and efficient systems in the organisation.
The purpose of having these principles at the heart of the Scaled Agile Framework is to offer a versatile guide to introducing and implementing agile within an organisation rather than specific step-by-step instructions. This recognises that organisations differ by sector, size, culture and maturity, so it is not possible to offer a prescriptive approach to scaling agile. Starting from these principles allows organisations to identify areas of strength and weakness at a general level, which can then lead them to develop more granular improvement cycles.
The 10 principles of the Scaled Agile Framework®
- Take an economic view. The objective of this principle is to have agile teams aim for the best quality and value for the smallest expenditure of time, money and effort. This often manifests as ‘deliver early and often’, which gives rise to agile’s iterative nature and allows it to be adaptable in dynamic environments. Not only does it help practitioners focus on value, it also helps them become more efficient by reducing waste and rework.
- Apply systems thinking. This principle encourages organisational leadership to take a holistic approach to solution development that considers all aspects of a system and its context for its design, development, deployment, and maintenance. It focuses on the interconnectedness of different roles and elements and gives practitioners a wider perspective on problem-solving. Once agile practitioners understand that the solution is a system and the enterprise is also a system, the alignment helps to optimise the value stream.
- Assume variability; preserve options. This risk management approach asks system developers to go against their natural instinct to reduce variability. The idea instead is to cultivate potential opportunities for as long as possible so that solutions can readily adapt to changing circumstances. This mindset broadens possible avenues for solutions while giving practitioners the tools and techniques to remain versatile. Responding to change is also a key principle of the Agile Manifesto.
- Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles. The iterative nature of agile is probably its most visible practice. It allows agile teams to seek and integrate feedback and make improvements quickly, in line with established and emerging customer requirements. This principle embeds agility through its focus on flexibility in the face of uncertainty and emphasises that practitioners should be folding in experience and feedback to make improvements each cycle.
- Base milestones on objective evaluation of working systems. This principle recognises the difference between output and outcomes and underlines the importance of measuring outcomes, that is, collecting evidence to ensure the solution adequately addresses the initial problem. It teaches agile practitioners to avoid assumption and to seek objective data and evidence that they’ve met their milestones to prove that achievements are genuine, beneficial outcomes.
- Make value flow without interruptions. While it may appear that this principle states the obvious, it is highly dependent on the organisation’s ability to recognise value and optimise its people and systems to increase throughput in order to deliver value faster. This principle encourages a holistic understanding of value streams and how to improve them, including removing bottlenecks and shortening queues and wait times.
- Apply cadence, synchronise with cross-domain planning. This principle is about balancing known elements (to increase confidence) with sufficient uncertainty (to foster opportunities) and then implementing integrated solutions with enough predictability to succeed. This encourages organisational leadership to achieve flow and increase speed and access to value.
- Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers. A fairly straightforward principle that asks organisations to respect practitioners’ skills, knowledge and experience as the basis for management getting out of their way when workers are delivering outcomes. Additionally, this principle supports providing workers with autonomy and encouraging innovative and creative solutions.
- Decentralise decision-making. Decentralisation eliminates delays, increases empowerment and fosters innovation by allowing the people with the most knowledge and context to expedite action. While strategic decisions are best centralised, decisions that are frequent, time-critical and context-specific should be given to the people closest to the situation as they are best placed to evaluate and solve issues.
- Organise around value. Large organisations often find this principle difficult to adopt due to established hierarchies and the challenge of securing buy-in for wholesale enterprise-wide change. However, this principle is about making agile teams cooperative and value-driven where they can identify value streams and create organisational pipelines to optimise throughputs and outcomes. Reorganising the business structure may be of benefit.
How scaled agile can help your organisation
The Scaled Agile Framework is designed to assist large organisations with introducing and aligning their teams to a lean-agile mindset. Importantly, it helps those organisations with one or two agile teams implement agile throughout so the entire enterprise can benefit from a more standardised approach. While it isn’t the only framework of its kind, it is the most popular due to its structured nature, which makes it ideal for organisations with little or no enterprise-wide agile maturity.
Key benefits of Scaled Agile include:
Increases speed-to-market: The alignment of cross-functional teams in the organisation and their focus on customer needs enables these needs to be met faster through quicker decision-making, a reduction in obstacles and more streamlined operations. The focus on value flow across a number of SAFe principles supports this.
Improves team engagement: SAFe gives agile teams a common language that facilitates collaboration and communication, which translates to better employee engagement. The SAFe principles that support knowledge workers to achieve autonomy and decentralise decision-making can help to reduce management interference and increase employee satisfaction.
Increases productivity: Better team engagement contributes to productivity, and SAFe helps agile teams focus on value and avoid waste in its principles. The agile practice of creating a continuous improvement cycle also reinforces productivity gains.
Improves quality: Quality is a core feature of the SAFe methodology dues to its customer-led, value-driven principles. Agile teams are encouraged to focus on objective outcomes at each stage of the project cycle, from conception to delivery, to ensure benefits realisation.
The benefits of SAFe certification and training
SAFe certification gives agile teams a solid foundation to embed its 10 principles, taking them from mindset to best practice. For optimal alignment of goals, values and practices, certification should occur across the enterprise, to ensure the introduction of agile is standardised, comprehensive and well-supported.
Certification starts with a SAFe training course, including supplementary study materials, followed by an exam. Candidates pursue formal SAFe certification for a handful of reasons: 77 percent for professional development and 63 per cent to prove their knowledge in a growing area. Seven in 10 companies are at the beginning of their agile journey, accounting for the increase in demand for SAFe professionals.
PM-Partners offers the full range of SAFe courses with Leading SAFe, SAFe for Teams and Lean Portfolio Management among the most popular options. For best alignment of goals, values and practices we recommend as many people as possible seek certification. If you are unable to run organisation-wide training, select key people to lead the change: SAFe for Teams for project managers and team leaders; SAFe for Architects for Scrum masters and solutions/systems architects; Implementing SAFe for those roles who will be stepping up to drive the implementation as the organisation’s SAFe Practice Consultant (SPC), as well as programme and portfolio managers; and Leading SAFe for executives and senior project managers.
SAFe is the most popular agile framework for enterprises, giving organisations a structured guide to introducing and implementing agile at scale. Its 10 core principles lay a foundation for agile teams to take the framework from mindset to best practice with versatile applications for projects and organisations in a range of industries. Certification of agile teams or key personnel helps to embed these agile principles and practices with confidence and allows practitioners to support and improve implementation at an enterprise-wide level.
Ready for the benefits of enterprise-wide agile? Introduce the Scaled Agile Framework to your organisation with PM-Partners’ SAFe courses or SAFe consultation services. Contact us (1300 70 13 14) to find out if SAFe is right for you.
SAFe® and Scaled Agile Framework® are registered trademarks of Scaled Agile, Inc.