If you’ve looked at the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) before and determined it wasn’t adequate for your large-scale development, look again.

The fourth version of the Scaled Agile Framework just hit the streets and includes major enhancements that support large-scale software and systems. For highlights, check out our blog, “10 Things You Need to Know About SAFe 4.0."

Over the past four years, we’ve watched SAFe grow from a nascent framework with its usual skeptics (see this post from a converted one) to a recognized standard. This past year in particular, we’ve seen a surge of interest in SAFe from organizations determined to gain business benefits that team-level agile adoption alone couldn’t provide. Don’t get me wrong, good agile teams—those that don’t fall into common traps—are absolutely necessary; they’re just not sufficient in enterprises that are trying to survive amidst fierce competition.

SAFe 4.0 takes a quantum leap to address the complex challenges of developing software, systems and even systems of systems. In our experiences working with large-scale customers, previous SAFe releases really helped kick off scaling agile initiatives. But once you got past your first two value streams—adequately referred to as kidneys in SAFe—you were on your own to extend the framework. In our Portfolio Agility write-ups last year, we documented the need to go beyond the kidneys by taking a demand-and-supply view of large systems.

Thankfully, 4.0 got rid of the kidney limitation. It added extra brain, including more value at the Portfolio level as well as a brand new and optional Value Stream level for large-scale development.

At the Portfolio level, the addition of explicit practices for managing CapEx and OpEx matches the growing need to include financial concerns in agile transformations. As software enables business strategies, software expenses become a material concern to accounting. But because the Generally Accepted Accounting Practices are still worded for waterfall development, over-expensing agile software happens often. Finance professionals partnering with agile development leaders need new mental models to adapt their accounting practices for agile development—something we provide through our Agile Accounting and Capitalization consulting service.

We validated the new Value Stream level concepts in our large customer engagements. Decoupling business value streams from development value streams is essential to match demand and supply without clubbing the two too prematurely. While working closely with Elekta (see our customer spotlight video and this SAFe case study), we saw this decoupling foster incredible conversations between business and IT.

The strong focus on Kanban systems, including added support for Kanban teams, aligns with what we see as the achilles heel in the software industry—taking on too much work and working on batches that are way too large, ultimately bringing the project highway to a traffic standstill. Kanban boards help you visualize your WiP (the highway) so you can stop starting and start finishing new work. Thank you, Eric Willeke, CA Transformation Consultant extraordinaire for your contribution to the SAFe framework on this topic.

Our fleet of SAFe Program Consultants is anxious to help you use the new 4.0 concepts and share how we’ve seen them work in real-world, large-enterprise settings. These new concepts require an even bigger thinking cap than before, and one of our best SAFe assets is the wide range of experience among our coaches. By selecting CA as your SAFe partner, you don’t just get guidance from one coach; you get the collective expertise of more than 50 SAFe Program Consultants who have actually implemented these concepts in large-scale, distributed environments. How cool is that when you can learn from others’ experiences to boost your success rates?

We’ve bottled up our years of experience in scaling agile into a unique and repeatable approach called Ready > Sync > Go. It combines training, product implementation and Big Room Planning expert facilitation to help you get results from your Program Increment (PI) planning in less than three months.

Platform Support for SAFe 4.0

Now let’s look at how CA Agile Central (formerly Rally) features support the new 4.0 concepts.

Portfolio Level

One of the most impactful changes in 4.0 is a Portfolio-level refocus on investments and how financial resources are allocated against different strategic goals—further improving the ability to centralize strategy and business value, while decentralizing detailed planning and execution. Now, organizations can effectively form and structure Agile Release Trains (ARTs) at the Value Stream level, while aligning strategy and large efforts across the enterprise. Removing ARTs at the Portfolio level (they’re now at the Value Stream and Program levels) matches the need to clearly articulate business value at the Portfolio level before determining how best to deliver it.

  • Portfolio Kanban: The Portfolio Kanban (Portfolio > Portfolio Kanban) includes swimlanes to distinguish Business Epics and Epic Enablers on the new Value Stream Kanban board.

  • Lean Budgeting: Evolving from project funding to value-stream funding is hard, especially when your company is not fully agile. CA PPM customers who are managing agile and waterfall projects can start practicing Lean budgeting via the CA PPM integration with CA Agile Central. In CA PPM, create an Organizational Breakdown Structure to model ARTs as value stream resource pools. Once Epics are approved for implementation, the integration automatically creates Epics in CA Agile Central for ARTs to focus on the approved Epics.

Value Stream Level—It’s New and Optional

Thanks to our work with large customers who extended the 3.0 framework to track solution value between Epics and Features, CA Agile Central already supports value stream elements.

  • Capabilities to track high-level solution behaviors: These collections of Features below an Epic are tracked in the portfolio hierarchy between the Epic level and the Feature level. CA Agile Central uniquely scales by maintaining the data integrity between Epics, Capabilities and Features, so you don’t have to ensure data is tracked adequately.

  • Value Stream Kanban to track flow of Capabilities: The Portfolio Kanban set for the Capability portfolio item provides specific Kanban states, exit policies and WiP limits that are specific to the Value Stream.

Program Level

Program execution is the heart—and the legs—of a SAFe implementation. If you can’t deliver on your strategy, it doesn’t matter how good your strategy is. And if you can’t execute, you can’t innovate either. Building a predictable delivery engine is at the crux of scaling agile, so portfolio decisions are based on empirical evidence of delivery. CA Agile Central has strong platform support for PI ceremonies. Releases track the PI timeboxes to plan on cadence, while Milestones track the deployment cadence to deploy anytime.

CA Agile Central provides unique capabilities to support all three phases of PI planning

Before PI Planning: Minimize waste at the PI event.

  • Capacity Planning: Respect predictability capacity margins. Ensuring product managers focus on elaborating only the features that will fit in a PI is a typical challenge. Our capacity planning functionality acts as a reality check before the PI Planning event, and we’ve extended it to support planning one feature across multiple teams, which helps deliver value to customers, faster.

During PI Planning: Optimize the return on investment for the PI event

  • Team Planning: Align stories to their feature context. The Team Planning page, currently in limited beta and available soon in open beta, empowers teams to plan stories that support the PI Features. This is where scaling agile differs from Scrum and where team-level agile tools that only support Scrum fall short in connecting team stories to larger portfolio business goals.

After PI Planning: Track the PI plan during execution.

  • Release Tracking displays team plans in the context of program features and surfaces dependencies and risks. Use Release Tracking to assisst with the PI confidence vote and during your steering meetings, to show real-time progress and to spark discussions around priorities, risks and dependencies.

Team Level

It’s great to see Team Kanban finally recognized as a first-class citizen in the framework. We’ve seen teams dealing with interruptions welcome the Kanban way to track their work, and teams enjoying Scrum find benefits in supplementing Scrum views with Kanban views to shorten lead time and improve value flow.

  • Team Kanban with classes of services: The Kanban Board app supports the new Team Kanban concept and has swimlanes designed to increase visibility into what matters most to the team.

  • Communities of Practice (CoP) with inter-team communication: Collaborating across distributed sites and time zones is a way of life in enterprise settings. The Flowdock capability is built for 24x7 communication so teams can get fast answers from their CoP.

CA Agile Central also supports the following concepts that transcend all SAFe levels:

  • Requirement Model Traceability Support (Epic>Capability>Feature>Story). The Portfolio Hierarchy provides trustworthy rollup reporting by reliably maintaining traceability between the new Capability artifact, its parent Epic and its children Features—without any concerns about data integrity (as each requirement type is its own portfolio item type).

  • Enablers to track exploration, infrastructure and architecture work. Track Enablers as Stories or Portfolio Items with a boolean custom field to differentiate the Epic/Capability/Feature/Story from enablers. Then, visualize the Enablers work and the non-Enablers (Epic/Capability, Feature/Story) with a Kanban to maintain a good balance of architectural runway vs. customer value delivery.

Scaling agile is no small feat, but you can ease the challenge by selecting a partner that provides you with unmatched expertise from actual SAFe implementations and a scalable platform that supports all the SAFe core values—program execution, alignment, transparency and built-in quality. To learn more about our support for SAFe 4.0, visit our SAFe toolkit page and register here for our “Get Ready for SAFe 4.0” webinar, co-presented by Dean Leffingwell, on February 9 at 12 p.m. MST. 


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