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  • Writer's pictureLolly Atherton

The Agile Principles

Just like the Agile manifesto; SAFe has its own set of principle based on Lean-Agile elements at its core, enabling it to be used in a variety of contexts and market situations. Each principle has stood the test of time and helped many businesses survive in uncertain situations.

Understanding each principle behind SAFe can help your organization derive advanced solutions in a variety of challenging contexts. These are:

Take an economic view

The concept of lean evolves around achieving the shortest sustainable lead time with the best possible product, which in turn requires looking at the situation from an economic perspective. If each team member is able to see through a financial lens instead of relying on others to consider the economics for them, they would have a greater understanding of how each of their actions can case a financial benefit or detriment to their company. This could lead to an increase in co-operation if the entire team is determined on working at a cost-effective rate.

All decisions at every level of the organization should ideally be made from an economic view. There are two key procedures required to get a key understanding of the economic mindset:

Deliver early and often

Most companies decide to adopt Lean-Agile systems because their original systems no longer meet their needs, or because they would like to adapt for the future. The Agile method of product delivery gives more room for versatility and customer support than the traditional waterfall system.

Frequent, regular release iterations have been proven to give a positive economic impact:

This graph shows how Agile development cycles add value to the product much sooner than the waterfall system, due to the earlier customer access and the opportunity to gleam from customer feedback so the next product version is improved. On the other hand, the traditional method only gains value at the very end of the release cycle once the product is released to customers. The continuous iterations also allow for a regular intake of customer feedback, adding more value in the future.

Agile development can also allow for an earlier-than-expected product release date if enough value can be added to the product in a certain window of time. An earlier release, even a Minimum Viable Product can be sold to an early buyer for added value.

Apply a Comprehensive Economic Framework

An economic framework is essential to running SAFe as it lays out the policies that influence the decision-making process. Agile Release Trains are responsible for a multitude of decisions on a daily basis that have the potential to im+pact the company on a huge scale. Without the correct economic knowledge and training, these decisions could lead to a loss of profit, or worse. Each economic framework should consider the following four points:

  • Operating within Lean budgets and guardrails – using a set of safety measures in case things don’t go according to plan, along with backup strategies.

  • Understanding economic trade-offs – Each person taking part in the production process must be aware of the relationships between development expense, product cost, lead time, risk, and value and how the balance between each element must be maintained within budget.

  • Leveraging suppliers – Using external labour is an efficient way to increase the personnel count, which is especially helpful during a temporary or high-demand job. Each supplier can also provide a unique skillset for different situations.

  • Sequencing jobs for the maximum benefit – Weighted Shortest Job First is a way of altering the structure of jobs so the quickest and most gainful jobs are completed earlier in the process.

Apply systems thinking

Team members must be aware of Agile development, Lean product development and DevOps before each one can be used to solve a challenge in the workplace or marketplace. The many elements that make up each system should be fully understood and internalise so team members can work within the systems.

Solution is a system

The limits, interconnecting parts and the way it should be managed are essential for team members who want to fully apply systems thinking to their own organization. After all, a system can only move as fast as its slowest integration point, so understanding that can allow room for improvement.

The enterprise building the system is also a system

The employees that make up an organization, the management that help run it and the internal processes are also their own kind of system. The components that make up the organization must be clarified so improvements can be made when and wherever they are required. Other key rooms to focus on are office environments, where positive leadership influence positive motivation in the workplace, trust between team members and partners and working between divisions to achieve common goals.

Understand and optimize full value stream

Value streams are a key component of SAFe, where multiple value streams aim to deliver their own market solutions. Each one consists of an inciting event or idea that kicks off the lead time before reaching a profit. Understanding how value streams work, i.e., how to turn an idea from concept to cash, can provide more efficient ways of thinking.

Only management can change the system

In a Lean-Agile business, leaders are responsible for planning ahead and making important decisions while promoting Agile ways of thinking around the workplace. They also nurture a continuous learning culture where team members are able to improve on a regular basis.

Assume variability; preserve options

Decisions made early on in the development process can come back and impact the business in the future, and not only in a positive sense. Getting off on the wrong food is likely to mar the project’s progress in the long run, so considering a Set-Based Design approach can allow for some leniency.

SBD allows multiple choices at the beginning, enabling a back-up plan should the first not work out as intended. Each choice is evaluated on an economic and technical level to determine what the next step should be, which ultimately results in a more robust and sustainable business approach.

Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles

Traditional waterfall-based systems require investment costs at the beginning and only allow for a return of said investments when a solution is provided, which is usually when the product’s development cycle has come to an end. This doesn’t allow for customer feedback, meaning solutions may not be provided in the way they were originally conceived.

Integration points create knowledge from uncertainty

Using a variety of starting requirements through SBD is an example of iterative development. Each cycle results in a new & improved version of the product that builds upon the success of the last while fixing problems it faced. The advancement in knowledge stems from the continually improved product and feedback collected from customers to improve the next version.

Integration points occur by intent

“Plan-Do-Check-Adjust” is a process where the development system progresses one cycle at a time. More integration points mean more knowledge is gained at a faster rate. Cycles occur at increasingly high system levels until more feedback is learned and the entirety of the product reaches a usable state.

Base milestones on objective evaluation of working systems

Project development is an expensive process, so business leaders, developers and customers must work together to ensure the end product benefits all parties. In a traditional system, plans adhere to a strictly planned schedule that rarely works as originally envisioned, which may result in a less-than-satisfactory product by the end of the process, in turn leading to delays for more improvement time.

On the other hand, SAFe ensures that certain aspects of the development process are achieved before moving onto the next step, e.g testing, design, or requirements, making sure that the product is not only functional but working better than the previous iteration at each step. Doing this at regular, rhythmic intervals teaches the need for discipline in sticking to a routine and increases value at a steady rate.

Visualize and limit Work in Process (WIP) reduce batch sizes and manage queue lengths.

Lean systems operate using a state of constant flow, taking an idea from concept to cash in the shortest sustainable lead time. This requires teams to plan for the unknown and readjust their strategies to the needs of the market, which can be done in several ways.

Giving teams a huge amount of work within a short time can result in confusion and a decrease in work efficiency. Juggling several tasks at once distracts from the most attentive matter at hand and can case a pile-up of WIPs and a loss of motivation.

Reducing batch size can also increase productivity as smaller batches can make their way around the system at a faster and more predictable rate, meaning more value can be delivered at a quicker pace.

Apply cadence; synchronize with cross-domain planning

Agile systems are best suited to situations where security is granted with enough room for experimentation without the fear of failure. To do this, the current state of the market and development process must be assessed.

Cadence, or the routinisation of tasks to increase efficiency, enables multiple teams to progress with their tasks and reach the next iteration sooner. Supporting other teams’ processes also allows for an increase in co-operation and integrating each other’s methods for advanced solutions.

Program Increment (PI) planning also enables multiple facets of the system to be assessed simultaneously through a continuously updating plan, allowing for a greater room for error and more space to improve.

PI planning can also be used to set records for the development process so far, reassures stakeholders with a plan and give the team a goal to work toward, i.e., the next PI. Working together also allows for better social integration, improving the working environment so team members are more ready and willing to work together.

Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers

Management consultor and educator Peter Drucker once described knowledge workers as “people who know more about the work they perform than their bosses.” With this in mind, it is difficult to imagine managers with more or even the same amount as knowledge on technical work compared to the workers. Rather than trying to understand technical concepts, management should aim to awaken the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers.

By leveraging systems thinking, knowledge workers can see the project through a wider scope and work more closely with co-workers in other departments, getting feedback on their solutions more often.

Understanding how employees are compensated is another key aspect in motivating workers. Short-term bonuses and per-performance pay are known to be ineffective drivers and the other side of the spectrum, i.e., threats and intimidation, are even more harmful. True Lean-Agile leaders recognise the difference between paying their employees enough to work happily and egging them on to work for their next paycheck.

Leaders should not be afraid to show their curiosity and lack of knowledge in certain fields in front of their employees. In fact, building a healthy rapport and influencing each other in discussions is a great way to motivate workers and create a positive, educative working environment.

Daniel Pink wrote about three main factors that assist in increasing engagement within the workplace.

  • Autonomy – aspiring to take control of one’s path in life. Knowledge workers often find that they can work more efficiently at their own pace.

  • Mastery – the desire to learn and gain knew skills through work.

  • Purpose – Seeing how one’s individual work benefits the organization as a whole can make a worker glad to be a part of it and happy to continue contributing to it.

Internalising these concepts can help Lean-Agile leaders develop an environment where knowledge workers are satisfied and able to work at their best.

Decentralize decision-making

Bureaucracy can get in the way of an efficient working system. The higher up in the hierarchy a decision must be made before being passed down, the longer the delay before it reaches the rest of the enterprise. Therefore, allowing decisions to be made on a more local level can improve workflow and provide faster responses and a stronger sense of independence.

Important strategic decisions should still be made at higher levels as they affect the business as a whole and are outside the average employee’s realm of influence. These decisions are made infrequently and usually last for a while before changing again, as well as providing economic benefits on a large scale.

Minor decisions are better left to smaller teams with more knowledge on the day-to-day operations of the organization. These decisions contrast with aforementioned strategic decisions as they happen more frequently, require a shorter time window and local knowledge to occur smoothly.

Organize around value

Picking up on and meeting the needs of customers is an important tactical advantage in the digital age as it aims to deliver value in the shortest sustainable lead time. Organizing around value can help an Agile business deliver even quicker and meet needs even after they unavoidably change.

Enterprises cantered around value flow rather than a traditional silo system use SAFe to create an additional network where businesses can aim for innovation and developing new ideas, plus operating and managing current solutions.

The networked operating system of SAFe is built around value delivery and requires portfolios to be also structured around value flow to create value streams. SAFe portfolios are bundles of interconnected value streams that flow into a single source of value delivery, helping the entire organisation deliver value to customers in a short lead time. It also helps with learning at a faster rate, decreasing time to market, more efficient budgets, finding and removing non-value-adding activities as well as improved quality and productivity.

ARTs, or Agile Release Trains, can be converted into Solution Trains in huge-scale systems. These allow greater value to be delivered to the customer than regular ARTs by working across different faculties such as development and supply.

Teams and structures are important to a business’ operations, but the ability to adapt and restructure to meet emerging needs or new strategies is essential. One solution may not be as efficient as it once was over a long period of time, so knowing when and how to evolve in order to maximise value should take priority.

If you’d like to learn more about how to sue the Agile Manifesto to understand Agile practices, contact Arvind at The Agile Works at

(Sourced from SAFe Distilled: Achieving Business Agility With the Scaled Agile Framework by Knaster & Leffingwell)

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