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A Real-World Intro to SAFe – Scaled Agile Framework

Posted by Paul Raybould on 12/08/2020

What is SAFe?

SAFe is a framework which combines various pieces of different agile methodologies and principles such as Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming (XP), Lean and DevOps.


Why use SAFe?

The SAFe model of working is relevant to large organisations with multiple development teams delivering highly complex systems.

Should everyone adopt SAFe?

Adopting SAFe in smaller team structures with few cross-team dependencies would negatively impact the agility of these teams and affect delivery and velocity.

The overheads of planning in particular would probably outweigh the benefits of adopting SAFe.

SAFe Terminology

Before we delve into how to use this framework, let’s demystify some of the new terminologies we use: 
  • ART – Agile Release Train
    (Yes, it’s called a train) - ART is a virtual organisation. This contains anything up to 12 teams and it plans, commits, develops and deploys together. The ART aligns teams to a common business and technology mission to deliver a continuous flow of value. 
  • RTE – Release Train Engineer 
    This is the chief scrum master. Each team has a scrum master to run agile ceremonies and processes, however it is the RTE that co-ordinates across teams within the ART and with other RTE’s to solve dependencies and planning issues.
  • PI – Program Incremen
    This is usually 5 sprints long and is planned at ART level with everyone.
  • PI Planning
    A 2-day event that everyone in the ART attends (you would also have senior stakeholders and members of other ART’s attend). The purpose is for everyone in the ART to plan, elaborate and re-plan a whole PI’s worth of work. The teams commit to delivering the features planned and the business reciprocates by agreeing to not change the scope of the planned PI.
  • IP Sprint
    This is an Innovation and Planning Sprint which occurs as the 5th (last) sprint of each PI.

What does this all mean in practical terms?

Well, most day-to-day processes will be familiar to us all. We Sprint in 2-week cycles and as part of those cycles we have the usual agile ceremonies you would expect:

  • Daily Stand Ups
  • Refinement Sessions
  • Sprint Demo’s
  • Retrospectives

In addition to these, we also have Knowledge Share sessions (where the Development team will deep-dive into a new technology that has been implemented or a SPIKE *research task* that has been performed), Feature Playback (where a Product Owner or Business Analyst runs through an upcoming backlog feature).

This is all pretty standard Agile stuff so far…..so what's different? 

We have 4-Sprint cycles of actual delivery work and our 5th Sprint cycle is dedicated to Innovation and Planning. The IP Sprint is a chance to use new technologies / code languages / tools / components and these don’t have to be rigidly linked to upcoming feature items. Fostering a continuous learning culture is a big part of SAFe, so if an innovation idea isn’t too off the wall you generally just go for it.

The planning element is to prepare for a PI (Program Increment)…ideally if you are in an Innovation and Planning Sprint your next PI should be all planned out and the planning element should be for the subsequent PI.

Check back soon for my next blog on SAFe where I discuss program Increment Planning, Stories and more!
Digital Transformation & Quality Assurance

Topics: Agile,, Software Testing, DevOps and Testing, Digital Transformation

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