SAFe No Longer – My Final Farewell

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SAFe No Longer – My Final Farewell

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I saw a note on LinkedIn the other day about the implementation roadmap on the Scaled Agile website. I followed it here –

https://www.scaledagileframework.com/implementation-roadmap/

I found a really nice diagram that reminded me of the children’s game Chutes and Ladders. It had a wavy path for folks to follow in order to successfully implement SAFe.  

As I looked at the diagram, I imagined $$$ at specific points where the SAFe folks (Scaled Agile proper, consulting firms, SPC consultants, tooling firms, etc.) could “cash in” on SAFe training, consulting, and tooling.

In other words, I followed the path and heard an ongoing CHA-CHING in the air!

And as I looked at it closer, it finally dawned on me that SAFe was no longer safe. It was no longer supporting the essence of the agile manifesto. That it had clearly crossed the chasm from agile-focused framework to agile-buzzword and revenue generation vehicle. I guess the realization hit me that SAFe, while perhaps ok for others, was no longer safe for me to support. Which made me feel sad.

If you’ve read my writings around SAFe, you know that I’ve struggled with it for a long time. While I became an SPC several years ago, I’ve never seen it as a viable framework for pragmatically helping my clients achieve agility – at scale. It reminded me too much like RUP and other bloated frameworks that were basically created to introduce “management process” to software organizations.

Believe me, I’ve tried to understand, support, and apply it. I’ve also tried to be balanced in my critiques. Here’s my written journey: 

  1. March 13, 2013: Scaled Agile Framework – Is it Safe?

  2. January 23, 2014: Well, I Went and Did It

  3. June 26, 2014: Reactions from my SAFe SPC Certification Class

  4. July 28, 2014: Playing it “Safe”

  5. October, 26 2016: What’s Safe in SAFe?

  6. June 13, 2017: What Is a Release Train Engineer?

  7. August 21, 2018: Confessions of a DeScaler

  8. October 16, 2018: A Different Take on Agile Scaling

But just because it’s popular, doesn’t make it right. Nor does it mean that I have to support it.

The most recent VersionOne State of Agility survey SAFe came in at 29% as cited by survey respondents. Scrum of Scrums received 19% and DaD and LeSS were tied at 5%. Clearly SAFe seems to be the most widely known of the frameworks.

But again, that doesn’t make it right. I believe the Scaled Agile folks have done a marvelous job of marketing and selling SAFe as the solution to agile at scale. I think it started when they introduced the “Big Picture” on their website. The other thing is their relentless focus on creating a network of SPC’s and their subsequent focus on training.

Did you know that Scaled Agile claims to have produced 400,000 SAFe-trained professionals in 110+ countries? Take a breath and wrap your brain around that for just a minute. And ask yourself, does the world need that many SAFe’ers created by running 2-4-day training classes?

In a nutshell, 

  • It’s too big, far from the principles of simplicity at the heart of agility.

  • It’s sold to leaders to control their organizations – a costly silver bullet.

  • It creates far too many roles, layers, flows, etc.

  • It’s too focused on certifications and training – a cash cow.

  • It’s created a community of SPC’s and other consultants who think being agile is about…SAFe. Who look at every agile context and think SAFe is the solution.

  • It’s created lazy organizations who think that the framework does the heavy lifting of transformation for them.

I just can’t be associated any longer with something this big, this focused on pursuing revenue, and this far removed from true agile principles.

I’ve seen a trend in posts that have judged SAFe poorly. The responses usually defend it by saying that the person doesn’t really understand it. Or hasn’t used it successfully. That if they had, they would be converted to being an advocate.

Or they say, that the failures in the SAFe community surround folks who haven’t had enough training (sigh!) or invested in enough SPC qualified consultants (bigger sigh!).

So, to those folks I say – I DO have experience with SAFe and other scaling frameworks. And I’ve given it an honest college try to support it. However, that journey is now over.

I will be doing the following going forward:

  • I will decouple myself from the SPC certification and never return.

  • I will continue to monitor the evolution of SAFe v4.6 and beyond so that I can see it gain even more weight and can defend against it with my clients.

  • I will continue to challenge and/all SAFe consultants to consider what they are doing and why. I will respectfully do this face-to-face.

  • I will not write about it any longer. That simply gives it more credibility.

  • And as this post explains, I will actively and healthily descale SAFe installation whenever and wherever I can. For the greater good of mankind and the agile mindset.

So, good-bye SAFe!

And, if you’ve implemented SAFe in your organization and really aren’t seeing the promised results, give me a call. I and my coaching colleagues can help you with turning your instance of SAFe into something that truly supports agile principles and that is…safe for use. 

Stay agile my friends,

Bob.

And it seems like I’m not the only one who has struggled with it…

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