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What is a scaled agile framework?

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Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is a tool that is used to scale and implement an agile framework for larger organizations.

Why was it created?

When an organization needs to expand beyond a single team and still maintain its agile system of working, SAFe comes into play. It was developed by Scale Agile, Inc. and is freely available for use. It helps multiple teams working in an agile setting to collaborate with one another.

SAFe principles

SAFe mainly relies on agile and lean practices and by using the principles from these frameworks, it forms nine of its own principles. Some of these principles are as follows:

1) Take an economic view: This entails that the product delivered to the buyer must be of great quality and should be delivered in the shortest, yet achievable time possible

2) Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles: This allows the organization to attain user feedback promptly and does not leave all the testing and changes to the end of the product delivery

3) Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers: This gives freedom to the employees working in the organization that encourages them to perform to their full capacity

4) Decentralize decision-making: This allows the team working on a specific feature to make their own decisions, making the overall process faster

These are a few of the core principles of SAFe. Now let’s look at the basic levels and framework.

How does SAFe work?

SAFe can be divided into four levels and we will be discussing each level as we go.

Team

This is much like any standard scrum practice; an agile team that works together to deliver a product after every iteration. An iteration is complete after 2 weeks. For each iteration, the Product Owner discusses with the team and decides the user stories that the team must focus on and deliver at the end.

Once the planning is done, each day the team gives an update of their work to the Product Owner. At the end of the iteration, the product is shown in a demo to the Product Owner and reflection is done to see if the product can be improved. This entire teamwork is supervised by a Scrum Master who ensures that the process works smoothly.

Program

This is when multiple teams are working together in a similar fashion as described above, but this time to deliver an overall system. This amalgamation of teams is called an Agile Release Train (ART), which can comprise of about 50 - 125 people. For each ART, a Program Increment is the time of delivery for its product. This Program Increment (PI), is composed of 5 iterations each of 2 weeks.

Within this level, we have a Product Owner who, using the features in the backlog, determines the tasks each team must complete. This is done at the start of the PI. For each ART there is a Release Train Engineer (RTE), who like the Scrum Master monitors the trains progress. These RTEs meet the Scrum Master bi-weekly to ensure that the objectives are being met. The PI ends with a demo of the integrated system to check for any problems and reflection to ensure the next PI is smoother.

Within the 5 iterations of the PI, the last iteration is not one for development, rather it is called the Innovation and Planning iteration. The innovations in this iteration are when the teams plan events like hackathons etc. The planning phase serves as a point in the PI where the team can reflect on improvements in the train and plan the next PI.

Value Stream

This is when multiple ARTS must be coordinated together to create a much larger solution that a single ART cannot create. In this case, we have the same planning, testing and reflecting phases but the people managing the process change;

  • Solution Manager: The person dividing the work amongst the ARTs.
  • Value Stream Manager: Ensures the entire process is smooth and coordinated.
  • Solution Architect: Ensures that the trains follow the path that is laid out and the overall structure remains intact .

Portfolio

In this level, the Portfolio Management simply makes structural and fiscal decisions about the various Value Streams; the budget to be allocated and the innovations that can be introduced to coordinate the streams with one another.

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organization
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