SAFe Agile Framework Training for Business Agility

Posted by Marbenz Antonio on July 18, 2023

From authority to partnership: Agile leadership in banking

Business Agility

The SAFE Agile Framework Training for Business Agility refers to an organization’s ability to thrive in the digital age by swiftly adapting to market shifts and emerging opportunities through innovative, digitally-enabled business solutions.

In the digital era, everything moves rapidly, including customer preferences, competitive challenges, technological advancements, business expectations, revenue prospects, and workforce requirements. To meet customer expectations at the pace of market changes, businesses must validate innovations with customers and be willing to pivot decisively when needed.

Advancements in technology, such as AI, Big Data, Cloud, and DevOps, offer new avenues for creating value. These technologies empower enterprises to diversify their product lines, modernize existing offerings, reach wider markets, make data-driven decisions, and optimize solution development processes. The key to success in the digital age is the ability to embrace change and leverage technology to stay competitive and deliver exceptional customer experiences.

Competing in the Age of Software

In her book “Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital,” Carlota Perez delves into the evolution of business, society, and financial cycles by examining five significant technological revolutions spanning the last three centuries. The analysis begins with the Industrial Revolution and continues with the ‘Age of Steam and Railways,’ ‘The Age of Steel and Heavy Engineering,’ and finally, the current ‘Age of Software and Digital,’ as depicted in Figure 1.

Perez’s research reveals that these technological revolutions have been catalysts for profound social changes, disruptive shifts in markets, and the emergence of new economic paradigms. These transformative events are world-changing disruptions that typically occur only once in a generation.

Figure 1. Technological revolutions change society
Figure 1. Technological revolutions change society

Undoubtedly, they found themselves currently immersed in one of those defining eras—the deployment period of the age of software and digital. At this time, every business operates as a software business. To put it plainly, thriving in the deployment period necessitates possessing substantial software and system development capabilities that empower genuine business agility.

Why Organizations Struggle to Achieve SAFE Agile Framework Training for Business Agility

“The organizations we created in the 20th century were designed much more for reliability and efficiency than for agility and speed.” — John P. Kotter

While most leaders acknowledge the threat of digital disruption, many struggle to make the necessary transition to thrive in the next economy. The question is, why? Part of the reason lies in the fact that the traditional hierarchy, which has served us well until now, is not well-suited for a world where rapid change is the new norm.

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Organizations Start as a Fast Adaptive Network

John Kotter, an organizational researcher, and author, illustrates in his book “Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World,” that successful enterprises don’t start off as large and cumbersome. Instead, they often begin as agile, fast-moving networks of motivated individuals focused on responding to customer needs and new business opportunities. In these organizations, roles and reporting relationships are flexible, and people collaborate naturally to identify customer needs, explore solutions, and deliver value in creative ways. Essentially, it’s an adaptive “entrepreneurial network” of individuals working together to capitalize on opportunities (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. New enterprises are focused on business opportunities
Figure 2. New enterprises are networks focused on business opportunities

Hierarchy Grows and Grows to Scale

As the enterprise experiences success, it naturally seeks expansion and growth. This growth necessitates a clearer definition of individual responsibilities to ensure essential tasks are accomplished. Consequently, specialists are brought in to provide expertise, and new functional areas are established. To ensure legal adherence and compliance, policies and procedures are implemented, leading to repeatable and cost-efficient operations. The business starts to adopt a functional organizational structure to facilitate scaling, which results in the formation of silos. Meanwhile, in parallel, the entrepreneurial network continues its pursuit of new opportunities to deliver value (see Figure 3).

As the organization seeks larger economies of scale, the hierarchy expands, reaching a point where it starts conflicting with the entrepreneurial network.

Figure 3. Growing hierarchy running in parallel with an entrepreneurial network
Figure 3. Growing hierarchy running in parallel with an entrepreneurial network

The Hierarchy and Adaptive Network Collide

Over time, as the hierarchy gains authority from current revenue and profitability, it clashes with the faster-moving and more adaptive network. As a result, the network often gets overwhelmed and crushed in the process. Unfortunately, one of the casualties in this clash is the focus on the customer (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Entrepreneurial network collides with a growing hierarchy
Figure 4. Entrepreneurial network collides with a growing hierarchy

However, without the presence of the entrepreneurial network, the organization lacks the agility needed to respond swiftly to shifts in customer needs or the emergence of disruptive technologies or competitors.

This situation can lead to an urgent crisis, putting the company’s survival at risk. While the well-established organizational hierarchies of the past fifty years have proven to be valuable in supporting the recruitment, retention, and growth of employees worldwide, they may not be sufficient to address the current challenges.

John Kotter suggests that the solution is not to discard the existing structures and start anew, but rather to reintroduce a more agile, network-like structure that works in conjunction with the hierarchy. This concept is referred to as a “dual operating system,” as illustrated in Figure 5 and explained in the following section. By implementing this dual operating system, companies can effectively address rapid-fire strategic challenges while still retaining the stability provided by the traditional hierarchical approach.

The Solution: SAFe Agile Framework Training Offers a Dual Operating System

In this dual operating system, the current hierarchy, personnel, and management largely remain intact. However, a second virtual operating system is established, organized around Development Value Streams to embody the entrepreneurial network.

Within each Development Value Stream, one or more Agile Release Trains (ARTs) unite under a common business and technology mission. These ARTs plan, commit, develop, and deploy collaboratively.

While the management reporting structure may remain unchanged, the teams within an ART become self-organizing and self-managing, eliminating the need for daily task direction. This new virtual organization breaks down the traditional functional silos that hinder flow and innovation.

By organizing the second operating system based on value streams instead of functions, SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) provides a way for organizations to prioritize customers, products, innovation, and growth while coexisting with their existing hierarchical structure.

Furthermore, this dual-operating system is flexible and built on time-tested Lean-Agile SAFe practices. It allows for rapid reorganization without fully disrupting the existing hierarchy, as depicted in Figure 5. This adaptability is crucial to meet the demands of business agility.

Figure 5. SAFe as the second operating system
Figure 5. SAFe as the second operating system

Business Agility Value Stream

The definition of SAFe Agile Framework Training for Business Agility revolves around the capacity to thrive and succeed in the digital era, swiftly adapting to market shifts and seizing emerging opportunities with innovative, technology-driven business solutions. Through the implementation of SAFe, organizations naturally cultivate Lean, Agile, and DevOps capabilities, allowing for incremental delivery at scale across the entire ‘Business Agile Value Stream’ (BAVS) – from identifying an emerging opportunity to delivering the appropriate solution (as shown in Figure 6). Conventional approaches like phase-gate and waterfall delivery are insufficiently rapid to meet the demands of this dynamic landscape.

Figure 6. The Business agility value stream

Figure 6. The Business agility value stream

Achieving this entails aligning and optimizing all functions, processes, activities, teams, and events from start to finish, with a primary focus on maximizing speed and quality.

  • Sense Opportunity – To sense an opportunity, entails conducting market research, gathering customer feedback, and directly observing customers in the marketplace. What’s even more critical is for senior executives to have a deep understanding of the customer and the market. Embracing a “go see” (Gemba) mentality offers a valuable source of ideas and possibilities.
  • Fund MVP – Quickly capitalizing on an identified opportunity necessitates an adaptable, lean approach to funding the necessary people and resources for creating the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – an initial solution adequate to test the business hypothesis and deliver the first increment of value.
  • Organize Around Value – The swift development of the MVP depends on cross-functional Agile Teams and Agile Release Trains that align and reconfigure themselves based on customer value.
  • Connect to a Customer – Agile Release Trains (ARTs) utilize Customer Centricity and Design Thinking to grasp the customer’s challenges and develop innovative solutions that align with their objectives.
  • Deliver MVP – Agile Release Trains (ARTs) swiftly deliver a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) through fast, synchronized iterations and Program Increment (PI) cycles. This establishes an evidence-based groundwork for making subsequent product management, development, and funding choices.
  • Pivot or Persevere – Based on the insights gained from the MVP, the organization will either discontinue the initiative, shift focus to a new opportunity, or proceed with further investment in the solution based on factual evidence and economic considerations. If the decision is to continue, the Continuous Delivery Pipeline minimizes the cost of delays and enables continuous delivery of value.
  • Learn and Adapt – The process’s integral aspect is the ability to measure, learn, and adapt, providing regular opportunities to adjust the direction accordingly.

The objective is to create a rapid flow of value through each step of the entire business agility value stream, ensuring the delivery of solutions that capitalize on the business opportunity.

Core Competencies of SAFe Agile Framework Training for Business Agility

Achieving business agility is a degree of expertise across SAFe’s seven core competencies, as illustrated in Figure 7.

Figure 7. The seven core competencies of business agility
Figure 7. The seven core competencies of business agility

Although each competency can provide value individually, they are interdependent. True business agility can only be attained when the organization achieves a reasonable level of mastery in all of them. While it may seem like a challenging endeavor, the path to success is clear.

Here’s a brief description of each core competency, along with a link to a corresponding SAFe Agile Framework Training article that offers more guidance:

  • Lean-Agile Leadership – Lean-Agile leaders are instrumental in initiating and maintaining organizational change and achieving operational excellence. They achieve this by empowering individuals and teams, enabling them to realize their full potential.
  • Team and Technical Agility – High-performing Agile teams and Teams of Agile teams utilize essential skills, Lean-Agile principles, and practices to develop top-notch, high-quality solutions.
  • Agile Product Delivery – An approach centered around the customer, focusing on defining, building, and continuously delivering valuable products and services to meet the needs of customers and users.
  • Enterprise Solution Delivery – Learn how to effectively implement Lean-Agile principles and practices throughout the entire life cycle of complex and extensive software applications, networks, and cyber-physical systems, covering specification, development, deployment, operation, and evolution.
  • Lean Portfolio Management – Achieve alignment between strategy and execution through the application of Lean and systems thinking approaches, encompassing strategy and investment funding, Agile portfolio operations, and governance.
  • Organizational Agility – Discover how Lean-thinking individuals and Agile teams optimize their business processes, evolve strategies with clear and decisive new commitments, and rapidly adapt the organization to seize new opportunities.
  • Continuous Learning Culture – SAFe fosters a set of values and practices that inspire individuals and the entire enterprise to continuously enhance knowledge, competence, performance, and innovation.

By mastering these seven core competencies, organizations can attain the agility required to effectively respond to dynamic market conditions, evolving customer demands, and emerging technologies.

Measuring the SAFe Agile Framework Training for Business Agility Value Stream

The improvement becomes challenging without proper measurement. SAFe incorporates three measurement domains – outcomes, flow, and competency (Figure 8) – to effectively gauge business progress and advancement.

Figure 8. Three SAFe measurement domains support the goal of business agility

Figure 8. Three SAFe measurement domains support the goal of business agility

  • Outcomes are crucial in ensuring that the delivered solution brings benefits to both the customer and the business. Value Stream Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are primarily used to measure these outcome metrics.
  • Flow metrics, on the other hand, focus on assessing the speed at which the value stream creates and delivers value. These metrics include flow distribution, velocity, time, load, efficiency, and predictability, as detailed in the Metrics article.
  • Competency metrics evaluate organizational proficiency on two levels:
    1. The SAFe Business Agility Assessment provides a means for business and portfolio stakeholders to assess their overall progress.
    2. The individual SAFe Core Competency Assessments aid teams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs) in enhancing their technical and business practices to align with the portfolio’s objectives (refer to the Measure and Grow article for more detailed information).

The path to business agility is continuous and endless. Measuring it enables enterprises to gauge their progress on this journey and serves as a reminder to celebrate even the smallest successes along the way.

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