Losing the Trees through the Forest

I have written a number of articles for this blog about our adoption of the SAFe framework for scaling Agile. However, it became obvious in late 2014 that we had a fundamental problem. No matter how well we did release planning, epic prioritization, or release trains, it wasn’t getting us where we need to go. I had lost the trees while looking at the forest. I wasn’t looking at the fundamental agile practices that our individual agile teams were using. If those practices weren’t sound, if we had agile anti-patterns, if we weren’t consistent with our team based delivery, we could never truly get the scale that we were looking for from adopting the SAFe framework.

Once you realize that you are missing the trees, you can’t un-see it. It’s obvious that you have to go back and look at the individual trees (teams) and make sure they are healthy. Many of the teams were stuck between a SCRUM-like set of practices and a set of Kanban-like practices. Unfortunately, we didn’t have strong standards across our teams, we didn’t have common terminology, and we had developed a number of anti-patterns because we weren’t fully practicing either of the major Agile mechanics for teams. We are rolling out a full set of SCRUM-based team practices and re-teaching the SCRUM mechanics and ceremonies to each team.

The goals of our rollout are pretty simple:

  • Consistent (Predictable) Delivery of Customer Value
  • Team Engagement, Ownership, and Decision Making
  • Common Definitions, Language and Baseline practices

Like any transformational rollout, we are working to guide the organization through the rollout carefully, providing training, and making sure that we allow the teams to reestablish a successful SCRUM set of practices. We have told the teams “We are giving you new rules to a new game, don’t apply these rules to your old game.” Once we are able to more successfully estimate and establish individual team backlogs and velocities, our SAFe practices will become more helpful and reliable.

Sometimes in a scaled agile environment, you can worry so much about the scaling principals that you can forget about the care and feeding that each team needs to be successful. You can’t scale agile if you don’t have strong agile practices. I know that I lost the trees while looking at the forest, and I hope that this reminder allows you to change your focus and make sure you check on the trees in your forest, too

We still are working with aspects of SAFe, so be sure to check out this blog (under Software Development, tag SAFe) as we continue to share our journey. If you are an engineer who is looking to work in a dynamic, empowering engineering organization that cares about making itself great, check out our open positions. Read more about the SAFe framework here.

Mike Adler

VP, Engineering

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