SAFe is a method that involves transforming an organisation. You don’t just throw yourself into SAFe and see what happens… Support is mandatory, and the method comes with its own implementation roadmap, which must be followed to ensure that agility is effectively implemented at scale. Here is a simplified presentation.

1 – The Tipping point

This is probably the most difficult and important step for an organisation wishing to use SAFe. It is not enough to decide to use SAFe and take advantage of its promises of efficiency. Moving to agile at scale is an often significant change in working culture. The tipping point is the moment when the need to switch to SAFe is stronger than the obstacles to change. You have to find the right moment to take the plunge, and not rush into it.

The need to change can be driven by increased competitiveness and an urgent need to improve products and services and development efficiency. Change can also be anticipated and become part of the strategy.

2 – Train Lean-Agile change agents

This is the first stage in the implementation of SAFe. Logically, a long phase of skills development then begins. Support from external consultants who are SAFe experts starts now. Internal skills are also called upon and trained to manage the change towards agile practices.

The idea is to create a team, a coalition of change agents who will be trained for SAFe. These are the key agents who will transmit the agile and SAFe culture to the rest of the organisation.

The SAFe method even recommends the creation of a tightly-knit team, called the Lean Agile Center of Excellence (LACE)… people who are fully trained in SAFe, ambassadors and influencers, ready to respond to any request. They are active and proactive members of the SAFe team.

3 – Train managers and leaders

Once the Change team has been trained and made aware of Lean-Agile principles, decision-makers and managers can be brought on board. They are key relays for the transmission of new working methods. They are therefore supported by change agents (both internal and external). These people are in turn trained in SAFe and in the part that concerns them most: the Portfolio level.

4 – Organize around value

This is undoubtedly the most important stage. If this transformation is carried out correctly, the successful implementation of SAFe can no longer escape the attention of the organisation undergoing the transformation.

The priority here is to identify the value-creation flows, i.e. any chain of activities that starts with a trigger (customer request, opportunity, etc.) and leads to the creation of a service, a product, something that brings something to the customer or the organisation. These organisational flows may require solutions and tools, which are themselves maintained and derived from their own value flows.

This stage then consists of becoming aware of your own value streams, which are dependent on each other, and associating the people who contribute to each stream, as well as those who provide an overall vision. Ultimately, this mapping of value streams enables the development trains (Agile Release Trains and Solution Trains) to be organised accordingly. Hence the high impact nature of this stage.

5 – Create the implementation plan

After theory comes practice. This is where the implementation of new working methods takes shape. At this stage, the change agents and management have been trained, and are aware of the value flows. The winds of change are clearly beginning to blow. Teams are ready or aware of the need to change the way work is organised.

The value streams and their ART are clearly identified, and even described in black and white. The aim is to tackle the first one, the one that makes the most sense. Its implementation is planned, along with everything needed for it to function properly. A roadmap is drawn up for the implementation of subsequent projects.

This is a pivotal phase that links the theoretical preparations with the practical, progressive implementation of the method.

6 – Preparing for the ART Launch

The roadmap for the launch of the Agile Release Trains is ready, and now we need to prepare for the launch of the first Agile Release Train. This phase is the starting point for involving all the stakeholders. It contains all the necessary training for the various roles: Scrum Masters, Product Owners, Team Coaches, System Architects, etc. Plus, everyone is made aware of SAFe.

The team for the first train is set up, the ART is clearly defined right down to the backlogs, planned and timed. This is therefore a phase of stakeholder involvement and precise definition of the first development train.

7 – Train teams and launch ART

The various roles are trained, the teams made aware of SAFe, and the first train is ready to leave. It was at this point that we recommended that the agile teams be given practical training in their use of SAFe.

Immediately afterwards, the first PI Planning is organised. This enables the new work concepts to be put straight into practice. Of course, the teams are very much supported and accompanied by the Change team, which is always present at every stage of the implementation. It’s a smooth launch, with a single train synchronising several teams.

8 – Coach ART execution

The first train is closely monitored by the Change team coaches. Their support is comprehensive:

  • Help with iteration planning
  • Backlog optimisation
  • Helping to synchronise the teams
  • Supporting/animating System Demos ceremonies (after each sprint)
  • Leading retrospectives for continuous improvement
  • etc.

9 – Launching more ARTs

The teams and all the stakeholders have been trained, the first train has been well supported, and the rest can continue according to the ART roadmap defined beforehand. Solution Trains, the synchronisation of several ARTs, can be launched in turn.

In fact, at this stage, SAFe can begin to spread throughout the organisation by once again executing this roadmap from step 4: identify value streams and build development trains, plan, train, launch.

10 – Enhance the Portfolio

SAFe is up and running in terms of team synchronisation. The benefits are now measurable, the new methods are working and this is important for the future. To achieve its full potential, SAFe now needs to optimise the operation of its Portfolio layer. The impact on the orchestration of development trains must be better felt.

Stakeholders at Portfolio level are therefore trained in Lean Portfolio Management. Lean Portfolio Management aims to align Lean-Agile principles with the way organisations plan, finance and execute their initiatives. The aim is to eliminate the gap that may exist between the agile way in which teams operate and existing governance and management processes. Without this alignment, management can be an obstacle to the successful implementation of the SAFe method.

The organisation’s decision-makers and management are involved and made aware of this from the outset, but at the very end of the implementation of the methodology they will be asked to make more in-depth changes to the way they implement global initiatives. The change in management practices only accelerates when the development trains are familiar with the method, ready to take on board the management, who then have no choice but to align themselves.

11 – Accelerate

SAFe’s mission is to transform the entire organisation, and all its value streams. This phase aims to finalise this transformation.

All the value streams need to be identified and transformed into ARTs, with the help of management who are now fully on board. More than that, management now wants to be able to measure things better and launch its improvement directives.

This phase involves optimising the operation of SAFe, implementing continuous improvement and proactive management at the Portfolio level. More specialised training can be provided, and the Change team is always on hand during this acceleration phase, and will continue to play a key role thereafter.

Article author :
Thomas Poinsot

Thomas Poinsot