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Understanding the Scaled Agile Framework: SAFe Core Values in Engineering Organizations

September 9th, 2022
Agile Data-Driven
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The traditional Agile methodology has many benefits for software engineering companies but lacks crucial elements in its application in large enterprises. The framework does not cover all challenges such organizations face, like aligning cross-functional teams that work in cycles for each of the project’s components. This leads to a fragmented output. Based on the principle that encourages teams to respond to change rather than following a plan, the traditional Agile methodology makes it difficult for engineering managers to predict costs, resources, and time required for project completion in an enterprise setup. While small-scale companies might effectively work within the Agile framework, enterprises need more structure.

For these companies, the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) was created, a methodology that helps big organizations adopt an Agile mindset and make the most of it while enabling managers to track and measure progress in a well-structured nature. Waydev provides data-driven analytics and reports that help tech leaders have complete visibility over their teams’ activities, project deliverables, costs, and planning while fostering an ecosystem where professionals have autonomy and understand the consequences of their decisions.

The SAFe core values focus on strategic alignment, quality built into processes, team transparency, and structured iterative execution. By sticking to these four core values, SAFe helps coordinate considerable Agile product efforts to achieve better business outcomes.

This article will walk you through the Scaled Agile Framework, its benefits, the SAFe core values, and the nine principles that help you implement the methodology in your engineering organization. 

What Is Safe, How Does it Help Enterprise-level Organizations, and Which Are the Potential Roadblocks?

While the benefits are many, enterprises often have difficulty implementing the scaled Agile practices at an organizational level. Regardless if the company aims to upgrade its traditional Agile framework or implement its scaled version for enterprise, there are several roadblocks they need to overcome.

Some enterprises struggle to shift mindsets and get decision-making team members to buy into a new framework. In others, value stream management, upper management and the C-suite might feel they invested so much in the existing technologies that replacing them doesn’t make sense until they become obsolete. 

Other reasons may also include the overall organizational culture, which doesn’t foster a continuous learning mindset or failure to learn from anything but experience. 

The Safe Core Values are the methodology that implements Agile practices at an enterprise scale. It provides a set of organizational and workflow patterns that focus on structural guidance, roles and responsibilities of tech lead, work planning strategies, and essential KPIs to uphold.

What the safe core values bring to the table is a combination of lean and agile principles suitable for large companies, where teams work in large groups and require an additional layer of communication and management. By implementing the SAFe framework and measuring crucial data with Waydev, enterprises can significantly benefit from aligned teams and greater visibility across the organization. 

Customize your Waydev reports and access only data you care about.

The Top Benefits of Implementing Safe

Improved Alignment and Coordination

SAFe provides a common structured framework and language for Agile teams to follow across the organization, facilitating better collaboration and coordination. Different teams can easily understand each other’s roles, processes, and interdependencies by leveraging the same SAFe terminology and practices. Business stakeholders have more visibility into the end-to-end development process with SAFe, aligning technology efforts with business outcomes. With alignment across multiple Agile teams, large products and initiatives can be delivered faster than traditional development, avoiding mismatched priorities.

Faster timeBetter Team Member Engagement-to-market

Implementing SAFe helps organizations deliver value to the market quickly by assisting teams to focus on consumers, enabling quicker decision-making, streamlining operations, and making communications more efficient. Workloads are split into batches of reduced sizes to ensure that work is quickly moved through the program. 

Quality improvements

According to the Scaled Agile Framework, quality is everyone’s responsibility. This is why the SAFe core value of built-in quality is integrated into the process, from the first to the last step of the development cycle. Such an approach helps teams optimize costs and efforts and ensure they deliver what customer expects. 

Higher productivity

Safe Core Values are associated with higher productivity. The framework supports teams in optimizing their work, reducing unnecessary tasks, identifying and solving the bottlenecks that may cause delays, and contributing to a culture of continuous improvement. 

Better team member engagement

The Scaled Agile Framework empowers team members and maps out the route to delivering successful projects. This approach reduces burnout and generates a sense of autonomy and mastery. It also provides purpose for employees, contributing to their workplace happiness. 

Companies implementing the SAFe framework benefit from high-achieving, satisfied, and engaged team members. 

What are the SAFE Core Values?

SAFE Core Values

1. Built-in Quality

“Inspection does not improve the quality, nor guarantee quality. Inspection is too late. The quality, good or bad, is already in the product. Quality cannot be inspected into a product or service; it must be built into it.” William Edwards Deming, American engineer, statistician, professor, author, lecturer, and management consultant.

The Safe Core Values of built-in quality are centred around the following premise: teams’ agility improves when they focus on technical excellence and sound design. According to the framework, agility will never compromise quality, as the two depend on one another. 

To respond with agility to the business environment’s ever-changing needs and constantly deliver new features, enterprises have to treat quality as a prerequisite instead of an element that may be added later, at the end of the process. 

Built-in quality means that teams must integrate quality practices into every sprint and throughout the development process to consider their tasks complete. This way, they don’t work with big batches of unvalidated work that might be at risk of requiring a large volume of rework that negatively impacts velocity. 

How do you achieve built-in quality?

The SAFe core value of building quality into fast-evolving processes enables enterprises to ensure that frequent changes and execution introduce no errors and can be fast and reliable. Engineering managers can achieve build-in quality by tracking the right metrics and KPIs.

The Change Failure Rate, a metric that measures the percentage of change made to the code that resulted in blockages or issues, is one of these metrics. Analyzed in context with the other DORA metrics, the CFR gives engineering managers a clear view of the quality of the code before being deployed into production.

2. Transparency

Especially when it comes to complex projects, like building solutions, transparency is the critical element that makes organizations robust and resilient. Complete visibility of facts represents a solid base for decision-making and a vital pillar of scalability. 

To be open, people need trust. Business and operational team members should rely on one another to ethically share information about their work and processes, announcing at an early stage when errors or bottlenecks occur. Moreover, they also need the confidence to commit to deadlines and responsibilities and deliver upon them.

Once you build a work environment centered around trust and transparency increases your chances of having satisfied, productive teams. 

How do you achieve transparency?

Waydev’s Executive Reports offer complete transparency over teams’ progress and performance, focusing on key metrics and their evolution over time. This way, tech leaders may see and showcase to business executives how team dynamics change from one sprint to another or from one project to another and how focus and volume change over time. 

Our solution enables you to deliver business value in shorter timeframes while optimizing costs and talent to assist you with your value stream management.

Waydev resource planning report
Our Project Costs and Resource Planning reports help engineering leaders bridge the gap between IT and business teams, offering access to valuable metrics and enabling managers to assess and optimize value streams. 

3. Program execution

The Core Value of SAFe program execution is a crucial one that comes from the Agile Manifesto, stating that working software is more valuable than comprehensive documentation.

This Scaled Agile Framework core value focuses on working systems and outcomes. It also involves a culture centered around automated testing at every stage and continuous delivery.

The other  SAFe core values will improve program execution from one increment to the other. 

How to achieve SAFe program execution?

Program execution is facilitated by the following: 

4. Alignment 

Cross-functional teams working in silos or a remote setting are more difficult to align in an enterprise setting. 

These SAFe Core Values are a crucial ingredient that creates awareness on each level of the organization, ensuring team members understand the business’s state, objectives, strategy, and steps necessary to reach them.

Alignment is based on a collaborative approach between stakeholders and production teams and synchronization between people and activities. An essential criterion for alignment is the introduction of flat hierarchies where teams are encouraged to work towards the same goals. Flat hierarchies and clear communication empower teams in their decision-making processes. 

How to achieve alignment?

A good sense of leadership is required to achieve alignment in all frameworks, and SAFe is no exception. Managers are advised to present tasks clearly to decision-makers and set suitable premises for the execution team from the start. Once these people are connected, specific roles and responsibilities will be attributed to them.  

Implementing the Scaled Agile Framework in Your Software Development Organization

1. Take an economic view

In his book Principles of Product Development Flow, author Donald Reinertsen states: “While you may ignore economics, it won’t ignore you.” 

Transparency enables working teams to have a clear economic view of how their tasks and roles impact the overall project, ensuring they evaluate each situation correctly. Achieving the shortest sustainable lead time while delivering high quality and value requires professionals to know what each delay means in terms of additional costs and financial losses. 

All those involved, from leadership, managers, and executives, need to assess how each decision they make impacts the business and the stakeholders’ finances. Even escalating potential questions may disrupt operations and cause delays, so it is vital to ensure that those responsible for a task have all the information needed to evaluate the situation correctly and, thus, contribute to a successful job sequence. 

epics report

Waydev’s Project Costs report offers a real-time view of your team’s progress, key initiatives, and deliverables costs. This way, you have all the information needed to showcase how each measure impacts the project’s overall economics and take the steps necessary to ship on schedule in the agreed budget. 

2. Apply systems thinking

Successfully implementing the Scaled Agile Framework involves a holistic approach, where tech leaders and their teams apply system thinking to the following key areas: 

The solution itself 

The solution refers to the product or service delivered to users and generates value streams. Since more complex solutions include various elements that depend on one another, team members need to benefit from a higher-level perspective of how components work together to drive the expected results. 

When it comes to applying system thinking to the solution, it is crucial to take into account dependencies and interactions. A slow integration point will snowball effect on the whole system, negatively impacting its performance. 

The enterprise building the system 

The enterprise building system comprises the organization’s people, management, and processes. When these are not treated as a system, they are siloed, which means that each element works independently, focusing on its own KPIs. Such an approach limits the speed and quality of delivery. 

Tech leaders are advised to ensure that everything works together in sync, fostering an ecosystem based on collaboration, trusting stakeholders, and treating them like partners. 

The value streams

Understanding and optimizing the development value stream is crucial for system thinking as it helps reduce the time it takes for a solution to go from concept to cash. Tech leaders use value stream mapping to maximize the flow of value and go beyond functional and organizational boundaries. Through this process, they view and analyze all the steps in the value creation journey and identify which takes longer and what delays occur. 

3. Assume uncertainty 

If you’ve been working for even a day in engineering, you know that the only certainty is uncertainty. Especially if you want to innovate, it is advised to start from the premise that you will encounter market and technical variables. 

According to a set-based design, multiple requirements and options are tested for extended periods of the development cycle. Through this process, poorer choices are spotted and eliminated over time. A vital element of set-based design is implementing “learning milestones.” This refers to setting deadlines for decision-making tasks, leaving the teams with time to learn more and weed out the options that are not feasible. 

Set-based design can lead to unplanned work that may increase project costs. Our Executive Reports help you identify and report these costs while reducing unplanned work by 21%.

4. Build incrementally

Traditional phase-gated development works by bringing all the components together at the end. This makes it impossible to get relevant feedback from stakeholders until the product or solution is either finished or up and running. Either way, the risk associated is high from a financial perspective and the user’s trust point of view. 

By building incrementally, teams constantly include integration points in their development process. This enables them to accelerate learning cycles and reduce the variability of development. 

5. Evaluate systems objectively  

Developing tech solutions and large systems requires several resources, from budgets of millions of dollars to expertise, people, and time. This is why ensuring that these solutions will generate ROI is crucial.

The best way to do so is by evaluating a system objectively through actual testing and milestone verifications. Providing working systems and involving stakeholders in feasibility decisions from an early stage are crucial to this assessment. 

In this context, tech leaders are advised to look at progress, product, and process metrics. 

These, combined, offer complete visibility of the project and help stakeholders decide whether they should keep investing.   

6. Deliver in small batches

Lean organizations prioritize reaching flow, maximizing throughput, and accelerating value delivery. Three measures are recommended:

7. Apply cadence

Since they can’t remove uncertainty from the engineering processes, tech leaders apply cadence, a rhythmic pattern of events that transforms into a routine for every repetitive task. Engineers benefit from more certainty and focus on genuinely variable things. 

This is why SAFe Core Values and teams apply cadence and synchronization through sprints and iterations, reducing the tasks’ complexity levels, addressing uncertainty, and encouraging collaboration.

8. Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers

In his work, Peter Drucker pointed out that knowledge workers know more about their areas of expertise than their bosses. 

This gave birth to a new mentality that one can’t manage knowledge workers. The idea of superiors overseeing or getting involved in technical tasks that people with know-how handle is not something with which Lean-Agile leaders are comfortable. 

In the SAFe Core Values mindset, managers are valuable when they coach people and help teams unleash their potential instead of telling them what and how to do it.

9. Decentralize decision-making

Escalating decisions generate delays. Delivering value while reducing lead time to the maximum requires autonomous teams to benefit from decentralized decision-making. 

The Lean mindset empowers team members to make informed decisions on things in their areas of expertise. Leaders should get involved only when strategically important choices are required in this context. 

Waydev’s data-driven approach fosters solid decision-making by providing executives with the necessary metrics and reports to understand the context and repercussions of each choice. 

Waydev Is Your Data-driven Partner in Implementing Safe?

Applying the Scaled Agile Framework with consistency and discipline involves benefiting from visibility into your team’s work and collaboration efforts, as well as carefully following budgets, costs, planning, and value streams. 

Waydev is the new agile data-driven method of directly tracking engineering teams’ output for your git repos without their manual input. Our solution offers you access to instant reports that foster activity assessments and informed decision-making.

Contact us, and let’s discuss how we can become your partner in implementing the SAFe methodology.

  Frequently Asked Questions About SAFe Core Values

Why Are Safe Core Values Important?

4 Safe Core Values align teams to focus on delivering value, being accountable, empowering teams, optimizing workflow, and making objective decisions based on data and evidence. They promote a culture of innovation and continuous improvement, which helps organizations adapt better to change.

How Do the Values Impact Teams?

The values enable teams to become flexible, creative, collaborative, and data-driven. When teams internalize these values, they focus on end-to-end flow rather than just team metrics, quickly make fact-based decisions, and continuously identify improvement areas.

How Can Teams Put These Values Into Practice?

Teams can put these values into practice by self-organizing, visually tracking the flow of work, gathering metrics, retrospecting frequently, and making changes based on evidence to improve outcomes. Promoting psychological safety enables open and honest discussions to nurture innovation.

What Benefits Can Teams Expect from Adopting These Values?

Teams can expect improved productivity, quality, predictability, employee engagement, and the ability to handle change when adopting these values consistently. There is greater ownership and accountability, which drives better business results.

Does Adopting Safe Mean Teams Should Not Plan?

Not at all – Safe teams must plan carefully but promote a flexible, evolvable plan that adapts based on learning and evidence. Safe does not mean undisciplined; teams balance creativity with solid execution.

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