SAFe does not equal Safety

So I am working with a client that has decided to implement SAFe across its teams. They want to make their management of multiple applications easier. I have no doubt that from their perspective it is well intentioned. They do not understand it fully and the non inquisitive ‘coaches’ they have hired have no problem imposing it. And this is why I hate SAFe (sorry rant for a bit).

It really has nothing to do with having good ideas. SAFe has lots of them (I wish they gave credit to all those they pulled from – most of their, if not ALL their thoughts are not original.) They have plenty of good ideas baked into the framework. What kills SAFe from a safety standpoint is how much it is a practice mandatory approach. They talk about principles (I’ll get to one that I think is misused momentarily), but in the end, when people they certified execute this stuff, it is all about practices and implementing as stated.

So I have a big qualm in how transparency is described. That principle is used in how management can look into a team. No problems there. So what about the reverse? Can a team know why a decision was made by a product owner/manager or other stakeholder? This is usually not very clear and favors not letting a team know; it is presumed the external authority is more wise than the team.

I know, you’re thinking what is the big deal… Well I am working with an organization that tried SAFe a few years back and dumped it as it lowered its ability to release on demand. It has some minimal ‘gates’ it has imposed; it’s a government organization so it needs some for compliances external to the organization. Yet here comes SAFe and here is how it will do things. The consultants have no inquisitive mind about what is in place currently. When they decide to implement something, they also don’t ask what teams are currently doing. They plough ahead with what is mandated by SAFe.

Given I was asked to coach coaches (that were recognized as being too much by the book), I find it interesting how unresponsive they are to different perspectives on how SAFe ideas can be implemented. We’re going fully virtual, they planned to set up WebEx breakout rooms by team for PI planning. I pointed out that if teams could independently plan in their own room, then we have no need to ‘scale’, perhaps the breakout rooms should be set up as teams identify dependencies. This was brushed aside. Same for how POs should interact with teams. I expect coaches to recognize the need for adaption and to listen to feedback.

Unfortunately, most SAFe consultants (BTW, technically I am one – so disclaimer) seem to not consider the context of the organization, the work systems in place, the actual organizational context that is calling for scaling, and/or the various needs of teams. Why not? SAFe subserves this to the needs of its system of operation.

If you want to implement SAFe successfully, first consider organizational context. Skip their ‘patterns’ and implement the minimal elements you think you need and add or reduce elements on what you discover.

Second, think about the teams you are asking to change their work patterns. Some will go willingly; some won’t. This feedback is a gift, not a pattern of stubbornness to overcome. Perhaps what you perceive as an ROI isn’t as good as what they are offering. Skip the sales message, learn why they think their ROI is what is needed and how can fit into it.

Third, quit treating teams as people you can’t entrust with organizational decisions. This happens predominantly with two things at play: 1) there are incentives to not play nice and 2) the overall organizational goals are not clear and prioritized.

And that brings me to the last point… If at any time you feel you need to do a sales message, ask yourself why. SAFe seems reliant on ‘selling’ its importance. It’s part of the training for god’s sake… If the need is not self-evident, one should think of why an approach is being pushed. I’m not for not using it, but more for understanding true needs and letting it guide us.

See the Scaling Manifesto for more understanding…

Without these considerations, SAFe will not bring safety, something it proclaims,

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