Insights on using SAFe 5.0 to guide your digital transformation

SAFe 5.0 was a big release of SAFe, and responding to the demands of companies undergoing digital transformation, business agility is front and centre of SAFe 5.0. Dean Lefingwell’s conversation with Mik Kersten on the Project to Product podcast provides helpful insights for folks using SAFe or another scaling framework or even their homegrown framework to guide their company’s digital transformation. Here are my takeaways from that conversation on how you can use those insights to guide your digital transformation.

The focus on business agility in SAFe 5.0 : The reason SAFe 5.0 introduced business agility is because technical agility itself can’t deliver the mission of the business. You need business agility and technical agility to deliver the mission of the business. And the key enabling cultural practice for business agility is continuous learning. Other practices that enable business agility are design thinking, story mapping, customer journey mapping and value streams.

My takeaways :

  1. Double down on agile, lean and technical practices, so you can deliver technology based solutions predictably. Build on this technical delivery competency, to deliver great technology enabled customer experiences and business results.
  2. If Taylorism was the defining characteristic of the age of manufacturing, quoting Dean” continuous learning” is the paradigm that underpins the age of software. So, use the three ways of DevOps : flow, feedback and continuous learning, to continually learn about products and ways of working and use those learnings to continually improve them.
  3. Move away from delivering features, to using design thinking in conjunction with customer journey mapping and value streams to design and deliver solutions that solve customer problems across all points of customer interactions.

Value stream thinking : Value stream thinking forces us to think about how the enterprise makes its money or delivers value. By doing that, we realize the larger context within which the development value stream (agile release trains or teams of teams) operates. The development value stream produces the products and systems that enable the operational value stream to deliver value effectively and efficiently.

My takeaway :

  1. To achieve business agility it is time to stop funding one off projects for solution development, instead it is time to fund value streams and measure the business value and business outcomes being delivered through these value streams.

Hierarchy and the network : The key learning is that the organizational hierarchy and the entrepreneurial network can and should coexist. The hierarchy provides the structure to get routine work done, and the value stream based network provides the means to deliver customer-centric innovation.

My take way :

  1. You don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater, i.e., you don’t have to get rid of the organizational hierarchy as part of your digital transformation. In fact to get the best of both worlds, you should embrace the dual operating system, with the hierarchy and network operating in tandem and in harmony, as espoused by John Kotter in his book, XLR8 (Accelerate). For a summary on how to balance the two operating systems, check out this SAFe article.

Tips for doing SAFe well : Here are some tips for doing SAFe well

  1. Avoid painting the place SAFe i.e. avoid the tendency to start calling things SAFe and hope for the best, instead take the time to learn SAFe to do SAFe well.
  2. Focus on principles : To get more out of ceremonies and more out of SAFe focus continually on principles. For example continually focus on principles to get the corrective action loop with the Inspect and Adapt (I & A) event.
  3. Outcome metrics : Make your teams and teams of teams (Agile release trains / Development value streams) predictable, as their predictability drives the rest of the outcome metrics.

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