Is SAFe® the only framework for an agile scale-up?

At scale, the correct choice is dependent on your agile ambition – SAFe® (Scaled Agile Framework) adoption can deliver the greatest long-term benefits but will require significant buy-in from executive stakeholders and an effective change programme.

Alternatives to SAFe® – building out from scrum

If you are already operating in an agile way, you may already have lots of scrum teams and scrum masters. However, remember that scrum is fundamentally about building something and sometimes the extra control of SAFe or project management is required.

An immediate route to aid organisational agility is to create dedicated and skilled product owners

For any large-scale organisational transformation, QA recommends the formal adoption of product owners. This is a critical role of the scrum agile methodology and acts as a conduit into both the scrum teams and the business overall and therefore should be a dedicated role.

To ensure the scrum team does not get blocked by waterfall approaches of other business and technology functions, you will need to invest in product owner and agile project management skills to support your agile ambitions.

Which project management method is best for an agile environment?

The Dynamic System Development Method (DSDM) Scrum framework takes the more traditional concepts of project management but adapts in how to make this approach work in an agile way.

For project management we recommend AgilePM and AgileBA, which are based on the DSDM; one of the many flavours for implementing agile (others being scrum and XP for example).

Consider the following when you compare the two methods:

  • DSDM has roles of both project manager and business analyst; scrum does not.

  • DSDM considers deployment, governance and business change; scrum does not.

  • All agile methods integrate user acceptance testing (if required) throughout development, rather than leaving it to the end. However, DSDM also mandates a final end-to-end test as part of its deployment phase, while scrum does not.

An alternative route for business analysis and project manager practitioners that need to view change more holistically, especially from a customer experience viewpoint, is AgileDS. This benefits those looking beyond the functional and into the non-functional requirements of the product. For project managers especially, it extends their viewpoint across the whole value cycle.

If your project management function is heavily invested in PRINCE2, there is an alternative approach with the PRINCE2 Agile route. However, PRINCE2 Agile is not compatible with SAFe – if your long-term ambitions are towards scaled agile – we would not recommend that approach.

Ensuring testing and service management are ready for organisational agility

The testing and service management functions will also require to adapt to and adopt agile working practices.

To support mature testing functions, we would suggest the Agile Testing certification. Within maturing organisations, the service function often moves into the scrum team structure to create a test-first culture.

The ITIL/ITSM functions are common release blockers in agile adoption – with conflicting metrics of resilience versus speed. We advise the adoption of an agile service management and process mindset to ensure they understand the art of the possible in this space.

The alternative is to look at DevOps adoption, to be covered in another article.

Still ready to move to SAFe?

SAFe is an at-scale lean-agile framework for achieving agile practices at scale. It is best adopted as a transformation of all roles within a single product line. It moves the entire organisation and all functionary roles to agile working practices. As well as the core skills, implementing at scale is a change in working practices and culture. SAFe requires a substantive investment but can be implemented at scale. Compared to the first option, this approach creates a common lexicon, framework and approach from the top of the transformation, wrapping it around the behaviours of the existing scrum culture.

It requires a more substantive change in roles, responsibilities and working practices – however, its application, as it implements from a strategic to a product build level, works very well in an enterprise as it puts everyone on an agile transformation journey.

SAFe does not work as a project management structure. It is built around programmes consisting of long-term agile teams. A programme is made up of 50 to 150 people. There is no concept of project – you are moving to a service design and product approach to implementation.

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