Being the big fish is no longer the key for succeeding in business. Now, it is about being the fast fish – the one that can keep up with the changing tides of customer expectations in a disruptive market and react accordingly.
In this scenario, having the ability to quickly deliver value to customers is essential. So far, Agile Delivery approaches have been empirically proven as the best way to do that in the IT sector, and especially in Software Development endeavours.
And within large organizations, where the use of Agile frameworks spreads across big products or solutions over which lies their operations and revenue, the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is nowadays the most successful and the “de facto” standard for scaling the implementation of Agility.
The result for these organizations is a competitive advantage in value delivery, adaptation, velocity, excellence and quality, as well as a newfound ability to fail fast and learn.
However, businesses will only be successful in achieving these benefits if they’re prepared to manage a complete cultural change which sees a rise in collaborative and cross-functional employees.
Some have fallen short in this by only achieving what it is known as a ‘waterfall sandwich’. That means that IT delivery, which sits in the middle of business processes, has been reshaped to Agility, yet this is “sandwiched” between the other ends of the business, which are operating in the traditional linear waterfall approach.
This ultimately limits the benefits of any Agile framework, which can make it less effective or even completely ineffective, if not counterproductive.
Here, I will provide some insights on Agility and SAFe implementation, and the challenges your business can tackle if you do so.
How to become a fast fish
SAFe involves embracing a key concept: Value Streams. The underlying idea around Value Streams is to create a parallel operating system within an organization, which is focused exclusively in Customers’ satisfaction and Value Delivery.
This calls for close collaboration within teams, which often means asking your employees to embrace a different mindset – so it’s critical that the right working environment is curated. But it also calls for an organizational support and involvement in this new way of working, from top (C level) to bottom (Program and Delivery levels).
Every team should consist of all the skills required to deliver value to a customer through a certain stream (development, testing, business, architecture, HR, finances, etc.). Importantly, not every individual will possess every skill – and equally, their focus may shift depending on the needs of the customer.
SAFe therefore requires a highly collaborative work ethos, with people prepared to play a cross-functional role when necessary. Team leaders will need a clear people strategy from the outset, to ensure people are comfortable and confident embracing this new working style.
As well as offering a wide range of working opportunities, SAFe encourages employees to take greater ownership of their working lives.
So far, I have seen a hugely beneficial asset in empowering teams. At Fujitsu the team decide their own working hours, holidays, and working from home time. This gives them the ability to work completely flexibly and efficiently, while maintaining a work life balance, resulting in motivated, highly productive and fast-paced teams.
However, it is incredibly important that this flexibility is implemented ethically from both sides. On one hand, trusting heavily on people’s intrinsic motivation and professionalism. On the other hand, not using it to expand the length of working days for employees, which could lead to a deterioration in their health and morale, leading to a reduction in productivity. SAFe can result in benefits for both companies and their people, as long as it is pursued fairly.
Another factor that needs to be considered in implementing any agile approach is goal setting. Objectives should be complementary of agile working, with a key focus in delivering value to the customer quickly and achieving business goals. Businesses need to consider creating a strategy that can offer guidance on both the business and technical sides of agile transformation and products delivery.
The 3 problem-solving assets of SAFe
If a business is successful in moulding both its culture and strategy towards SAFe (or any other Agile approach), it will be able to solve three common problems.
Firstly, SAFe can tackle low levels of motivation and lack of team spirit. Value streams are dependent on the team working together and communicating which quickly fosters high levels of team engagement. There is no room for “us vs them” in SAFe. This results in better value delivery for the customer as well as underpins the solutions to other structural challenges.
One such challenge is silos. Unlike traditional functional structures, SAFe is intrinsically about collaboration and alignment across the whole organization, which breaks down the walls of isolation that employees may encounter.
Lastly, this is also supported by SAFe’s holistic approach, which tackles the limitations of the ‘waterfall sandwich’. This requires entire company buy-in and transformation in pursue of a common goal, value delivery and customer satisfaction.
Being a fast fish or speeding ahead
Through SAFe, businesses should be able to run parallel to the fast-changing needs of the market at an agile pace and from an organizational perspective, as well as minimise waste and optimise internal processes.
There are lots of uses for agile within different businesses. Ask yourself, what needs improving? What is currently too slow in operating? What do your employees or customers find frustrating about processes?
The very essence of Agility (and therefore SAFe) is to fail fast and learn fast, before you fail big and too late. So incorporate this ethos into your own thinking. Experiment with agile, stick with what works for you, and when it stops working... change it fast!