Make no mistake, adopting SAFe is a massive change for any organisation.

The tips here are based on the experiences of a large organisation adopting SAFe over one and a half years.

Easy “Sell” to Executives

The very first thing is to get senior executive agreement .This is quite simple! They will buy the story of “faster better quicker more fun”. The reality is that they won’t really get what it truly means. Those that are really capable of judging the true impact are the middle management, and to be more precise the middle management across the whole enterprise, not just software development.

Generate Desire Across the entire Middle Management

After the senior executives have “agreed”, the real work begins with the proactive engagement of the middle management. Skipping this step will lead to greater levels of resistance. They need to be trained and then allowed to have their opinions and suggestions heard because they will know the impediments in the organisation. Only they will be able to judge what needs to be done next, urgently. Plus the supporting departments (HR, Finance, internal IT etc) will be able to understand and support the change. For example, HR will be needed to design rewards for collaboration and deal with leavers and new starters.

Nilofer Merchant describes the need for the middle of the organisation to be engaged with new strategy brilliantly in her book “The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy“.

Once the entire Middle Management are on board and engaged, we can actually start to transform teams.

Communities of Practice / Knowledge Bases

Immediately setup Communities of Practice (CoP) and knowledge bases with a “goto” person assigned. These are simply places for people to “hang their hat”. For example, if someone has a question about Story splitting, then that can be given to someone looking after the CoP for Product Owners. They do not have to react but they gather the concerns for assessment and resolution at a later date. As such, the content will come as experience is gained on how Agile “is done here”. This of course also includes architecture, continuous integration, tooling etc.

Release Planning

A key concept of SAFe is Release Planning. This is when 70-100 people work together for two days to work on their plan for the next three months. If this fails, the teams will have no plan for the next three months.

Yet, before any team can start Release Planning they need to have practiced Scrum. If they are not already practising they will need at least two months and intensive coaching because they need to make mistakes before going into Release Planning. They will also then appreciate the longer planning horizon from two weeks to three months.

Bi-Directional Communication

During the transformation, it is extraordinarily important to keep everybody informed. Yes it is necessary to hold company wide presentations, have lunch-brown bag sessions, send emails and edit Wiki pages etc, yet this is not enough. Whilst it is vital to have constant dialogue with the teams, you cannot expect them to come to you – you need to regularly and proactively go to them. This is not just scrum teams but also account management, HR, finance etc. Repeat the same message to all the teams. And ask them for feedback. Only then are you truly engaging them. In addition, get enterprise-wide stakeholders together and run retrospectives with them to get their agreement on the transformation’s highest priorities, across the enterprise. This is about maximising alignment through the entire enterprise.

Gather Evidence of True Ownership

As experiences are gained we can now go back to the CoPs and knowledge bases and start adding content. For example what is it really like to be a PO within this particular organisation and its context? The POs should therefore define their own persona with their own values, preferred way of working together with undesirable behaviours. When this happens they’re taking ownership!

Jeremy Renwick spoke about this at the Agile Business Conference in London, in October 2014.

Download his white paper here.


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