Are you considering Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) 4.0 for your organization? You’re not alone. More than a thousand people participated in VersionOne’s recent AgileLIVE webinar series on SAFe 4.0 featuring Dean Leffingwell, the co-founder and chief methodologist at Scaled Agile, Inc. Dean shared a detailed overview of what’s new in SAFe 4.0. Here are the top 10 questions from the webinar. If you would like to listen to the recordings, click on the view now link.

1. Can you highlight the addition and changes in 4-level with 3-level SAFe 4.0?

The optional 4th level, inserted between the Portfolio level and the Program level, is an explicit representation of a Value Stream. The 4th level is designed for situations where there are multiple Agile Release Trains (ARTs) working together to deliver customer value in a single Value Stream. At the Value Stream level, Features from the release trains aggregate into Capabilities, and those are delivered to the customer as a Solution. You can read more about the Value Stream level here.

2. Can you define a System Team?

The existence of the System Team is recognition that as the work of several agile teams is aggregated into Features and Capabilities, maintaining the infrastructure for Program- and Value Stream-level integration and testing is a full-time job. A more detailed explanation can be found here.

3. Can you explain the difference/relationship between a Value Stream and an ART?

A Value Stream is a long-lived series of steps that provide a continuous flow of value to the customer. An Agile Release Train (ART) is a long-lived team of teams that is organized around a Value Stream. A Value Stream can have many ARTs within it.

4. What is the key to crossing back in forth or connecting the various levels in SAFe?

The primary mechanism for this is the enterprise Kanban system. As epics move through the Portfolio Kanban, for example, there will be a state that triggers flow to the next lower level (the Program in 3-level SAFe or the Value Stream in 4-level SAFe). This article explains this in greater detail, and diagrams how Kanbans may connect to each other.

5. What is the difference between a Capability and an Epic or Theme?

Strategic Themes are high-level business objectives that align a Portfolio with the enterprise’s goals.  Epics, Capabilities, and Features exist within the context of those themes. This discussion of the SAFe 4.0 requirements model is helpful for understanding the relationships.

6. Why would you decentralize decision making? Doesn’t this disempower the product owner or cause confusion about who is the final decision maker?

When everything has to go through an “approval process”, flow can grind to a halt – especially in large systems. Decentralization of decision making simply means that a SAFe organization enables as much local decision making as possible. There are roles defined at each level to provide guidance. You can click on the role icons here to get a better idea.

7. Are there any reasons that Scrumban would not work with SAFe?

SAFe really is a Scrumban system of sorts. Prior to SAFe 4.0, Scrum teams worked at the Team level, within the larger iterative Program Increment (PI) cadence. Now, with 4.0, both Scrum and Kanban teams have been “legitimized” at the Team level, and can coexist within the same program. And while there is still a PI cadence, there are Kanbans now at the Portfolio, Value Stream, and Program levels. Here’s more info on team-level Kanban in SAFe.

8. We have some applications that use Scrum delivery practices and some that are milestone driven (waterfall). Can SAFe 4.0 support both epic and user story management planning, backlog prioritization for Scrum teams, as well as requirements management for our waterfall teams (until they transition to agile)?

Higher-level artifacts, such as roadmaps and milestones can help to maintain alignment between agile teams and those that operate within the same value stream using a non-agile approach. It’s important to keep the non-agile teams involved in the cadence of planning, demos, and adaptation.

9. Some teams may run continuous integrations while others not. How can we balance this if we have a fixed Program Increment timeline?

At the Team level, this is where the “XP” part of “Scrum/XP” comes into play. At the Program and Value Stream levels, DevOps and the System Team are emphasized, because fast delivery with quality is impossible on a large scale without the necessary infrastructure and technical practices. You have to start where you are, though, and implement steps to bring the teams that are lagging along.

10. Is SAFe making it more complex and less agile (e.g., more rigid, additional control)?

That’s always the challenge, isn’t it? The reality is that a 1,000-member organization will never be as nimble as a 7-person Scrum team. In SAFe, a foundation of Lean-Agile leadership and a bias toward decentralized decision making will help to mitigate the tendency toward bureaucracy.

Scaled Agile Framework and SAFe are registered trademarks of Scaled Agile, Inc.

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