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What's new in SAFe® 4.5?

In the recent past, organisations adopting Agile at scale embarked on this transformation cautiously. They hired a few Agile gurus and set about transforming teams, then teams of teams. Slowly growing and crafting an Agile operating model tailored to their needs. But this time has passed. Organisations are recognising they need to accelerate their transformations – prompting them to look into what an Agile framework can provide.

A financial services technology business I’m currently working with has adopted the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) for all their development activity. Within the space of a month, all teams began working collaboratively in an Agile way. But that isn’t the end of their story. By adapting to what’s gone well and what hasn’t, these teams are applying their own improvements to the framework. And this is precisely what Scaled Agile Inc. has done. Their Version 4.5 of SAFe® is based on insight from customers actively using their framework. So what’s new? 

  • There are four configurations

‘Essential’, ‘large’, ‘portfolio’ and ‘full’. These configurations grow from a minimum viable framework and are suited to teams of teams taking their first steps in scaled agility, through to a very rich framework suited to product development across an entire enterprise. Each configuration has a tailored spanning palette and recommend the shared roles most valuable for the likely size and complexity of each configuration. 

  • The ‘value stream layer’ is now the ‘large solution layer’

There’s now a solution train engineer to facilitate a solution train – which will ultimately implement a solution. In my experience, value streams were misinterpreted by many. In this new version, the use of the word ‘solution’ to describe this layer aligns with common business language and will prevent any unnecessary confusion.

While the areas I’ve outlined above are useful, those that will bring most value relate to embedding a continuous delivery pipeline and improving the Portfolio Kanban. These are set out below.

  • DevOps is embedded through the continuous delivery pipeline

The importance of Agile engineering practices, DevOps, is now emphasised. Some may argue this has been part of the framework all along, but I don’t think it’s been interpreted in this way. Organisations have formed and launched Agile teams, but have neglected to invest in changes that allow these teams to deliver high quality quickly. What was specifically lacking was automation of testing, production-style environments, continuous integration and deployment – all now part of the continuous delivery pipeline. And according to the 2017 State of DevOps report, organisations embracing these engineering practices see a 400-fold reduction in the time taken to implement change.  

  • Experimentation is embraced with the revised Portfolio Kanban

A more subtle change is hidden within the portfolio layer where there’s a powerful shift in language towards that favoured by the lean start-up movement. Epic value statements are replaced by epic hypothesis statements – focused on delivering minimal viable products (experiments), with changes to the Portfolio Kanban to maximise early business benefit. 

What’s next?

If you’ve already adopted SAFe®, check out SAFe® 4.5 and identify the improvements you’ll embrace. Or maybe you’ve been put off of adopting SAFe® in the past? Take a few minutes and look at the configurations to see how they can bring agility at scale to your organisation. It could turn out to be the best time investment you make this week.

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Contact the author

  • Adrian Potter

    Adrian Potter

    PA IT assurance and delivery expert

    Adrian is an agile mixologist. He blends agile approaches to enable pragmatic agile organisational change

    Insights by Adrian Potter

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