Why I Endorse Both SAFe® & the Kanban Method

May 27, 2013 — Posted by Al Shalloway

This was originally titled "How I Can Endorse SAFe & the Kanban Method" due to consternation my endorsing SAFe seems to be causing some in the Kanban community.  But then I realized that most folks in the Agile community don't have this concern, so I thought it's current title to be more appropriate.  In a nutshell, I endorse both, because they both have value.

I was recently asked how I can support both the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) while being a supporter of evolutionary methods (Lean and Kanban Method).

Here is a paraphrasing of the email:

You sound in so far as I read below as someone who promotes the evolutionary approach. However it is a bit confusing to me where you actually stand.

For example: You seem to endorse SAFe as it stands today, SAFe's prescription (no options) of a disruptive method at the team level does not indicate doing something about that understanding (trusting it exists). As an example Operation teams, Enterprise Data Movement teams balk at this. This prescription as you may already know - does not take into account team's capacity for change and undermines their probable understanding of their scope of Continuous improvement. 

To me it's not of prime importance what size an evolutionary step (adaptation) should be but how you improve.

The Kanban method calls for Continuous improvement collaboratively - Not a coach or consultant or method or framework or model or Agile office rolling out adaptations to teams that are going through transformation (small or large).

First, SAFe is not as prescriptive as many hold it to be.  It is a starting point and can be tailored considerably. SAFe is explicitly based on Lean and uses Kanban at the portfolio level and Scrum at the team level.  Scrum's use is merely because there are lots of Scrum teams out there - Kanban at the team level could just as easily be used.  Dean had me present an intro to Kanban at the SPC training I did.

But, in my opinion, apparently counter to both Scrum and Kanban Method thought leaders, there is no right way to transition.  Some companies can use a jump, others need evolutionary.  Scrum has demonstrated it can be quite useful in jumping, but if that’s the only thing you have it can also be quite dangerous. In all cases, one must look where you are, create visibility, create explicit policies, then make your move and evaluate (PDCA).

I endorse SAFe because it creates a vision about the big picture that many in the software industry are looking for.  One that Scrum thought leadership has not provided - continuing to endorse Scrum-of-Scrums.  I have/had been involved in LSSC, LSS, LKU primarily to create this vision.  SAFe at least creates that.  Whether it is the right method to use depends upon the organization.

Net Objectives supports SAFe because in some situations, it is the right way to do it.  We also have the Lean-Agile-Framework which is evolutionary (our own IP, consistent with SAFe, but more flexible).  The point is you need to do what works for you.  If SAFe only introduced the key points that were needed for enterprise agility that would be useful.  But it provides a way of doing it that can be a starting point for common understanding.  It provides methods that have worked at scale.  The irony is, that for all the fuss people have complained about SAFe being heavy or just plain old wrong, there is a lot of evidence that it works.  I'd like to see folks point out more case studies for companies with IT organizations greater than 1000 people where Scrum or Kanban has worked.

What I think i like most about SAFe, however, is that it is changing.  No one in the SAFe organization says anything is out of scope in the discussions as has happened in the Scrum and Kanban Method communities.  If it can help, it is worth discussing.  If it can't, then it is worth discussing why the person talking is misled.

I try not to hold to a mindset, but continuously look for solid ideas that can help our clients.  So far, I've seen SAFe provide value.

Al Shalloway
CEO, Net Objectives

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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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