Net Objectives and SAFe®

October 20, 2015 — Posted by Al Shalloway

Net Objectives has been assisting companies with Agile at scale for over a decade. As a contributor to SAFe with 3 SPCTs we definitely see the value of SAFe.  However, different organizations need different solutions, even when SAFe applies. In particular, when considering the adoption of SAFe, many people having the following questions:

  • We like SAFe but it doesn’t seem possible for us to just jump to it
  • How do I get different business stakeholders from different programs align with each other?
  • How do I get shared services working on the right thing when different programs ask them to do different things?
  • How do I implement the Agile architecture called for in SAFe?
  • How do I avoid the Scrum vs Kanban Infighting that’s taking place in my organization.
  • What do I do with my small teams that SAFe appears to be too big for?

We believe these are important questions that are readily answerable by viewing SAFe as a true framework and then deciding how to transition to it and how to both substitute practices and extend existing ones as needed.

Transitioning to SAFe®

It is rare that ready-made solutions fit an organization’s culture, structure and management philosophy.  Massive change often causes massive resistance, very often with good reason.  Management and teams need to learn to adjust to the new methods.  Net Objectives facilitates the transition to SAFe by:

  • Aligning management on the best roadmap for adopting SAFe
  • Providing organizations a checklist for adoption
  • Providing a method to create trains when the work-streams overlap so much that train creation is all but impossible up front
  • Providing training in adaptive management and double loop to help management to understand how they must manage differently

Expanding SAFe® Up to the Enterprise Portfolio and Down to Shared Services

Currently, the program portfolio is the topmost layer of the SAFe organizational hierarchy.  In most organizations, however, a higher level – the enterprise portfolio layer – exists.  This is driven by different business stakeholders who are determining the strategic initiatives of the organization.  These are then presented to the different programs which have their own portfolio layer (SAFe’s top layer) where they determine what to work on.   This works fine to a large extent, but becomes problematic when different programs compete with each other for shared services.   To mitigate these challenges Net Objectives extends SAFe® with two practices.  The first is the use of Minimum Business Increments (MBIs) and the second one is the use of Kanban at the shared services level.

Minimum business increments is the practice of first identifying your key target market and then building the minimum chunk of value that you can deliver to them that makes market sense.  Because MBIs are smallest items that can be built and delivered, they can be sequenced in the most beneficial manner (typically using SAFe’s weighted shortest job first).   MBIs often compete for shared service resources (especially for deployment).  By having an enterprise portfolio layer with a sequenced list of MBIs, shared services can best align their efforts with the needs of the entire organization.  Given they are being driven by multiple programs typically working differently, it is most effective to have them adopt a pure flow model such as kanban.

Agile Architecture

Agile architecture requires a significant mind-shift.  The ramifications of error are significant.  SAFe lays out good guidance – long term vision and a method of managing architectural initiatives.  Unfortunately, few have solved the Agile architectural issues involved at scale.  Net Objectives has taken its deep experience in emergent design, refactoring, acceptance test-driven development, test-driven development, and design patterns in an Agile environment to provide a broad selection of technical courses that provide the foundation required for Agile architecture at scale.

Substituting and Extending SAFe® Practices

As good as SAFe® is, it can’t be leading everywhere.  As a leader in Scrum and Kanban we’ve created an integrated approach to Agile at scale based on Lean principles.

Consistency at the team level. Leanban is the only Agile team level approach that incorporates the power of team created by Scrum with the power of flow and ability to tailor to an organization’s structure that Kanban allows.  This integrated approach enables all teams across the organization have a consistent approach while allowing each one to tailor their methods to their own context.

Managing Small Teams In SAFe®SAFe is designed for programs of no less than 50.  Virtually all large organizations have groups of one to 5 teams that don’t need the mid-term planning of the program increment but are better served with iteration planning as smaller scale Scrum.  Unfortunately, while standard Scrum planning works at this smaller scale, the standard way to scale Scrum (Scrum-of-Scrums) doesn’t work as well.  Net Objectives has pioneered the use of shared backlogs and innovative multiple team methods that provide the necessary practices smaller groups need.

Supporting Your Transition to SAFe®:The Net Objectives Coaching Academy

Becoming an SPC is a great place to start to learn the basics of SAFe®.  However, it is not enough to learn how to become a coach.  This is a much more involved process.  Net Objectives’ Coaching Academy provides both the core of coaching and how to interact with teams and management as well as an understanding of Net Objectives’ extensions to SAFe.

Al Shalloway


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About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With 45 years of experience, Al is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, Scrum and agile design. He helps companies transition to Lean and Agile methods enterprise-wide as well teaches courses in these areas.


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Al Shalloway
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