In our travels working with clients around the world we have run into many companies that have tried SAFe but are now struggling and looking for alternatives. Last week we learned about a large bank that is abandoning SAFe and has chosen the Disciplined Agile (DA) toolkit to replace it across the board. They have already trained over 700 employees on DA and roughly half of them have become certified. Given this and other similar accounts, Scott and I have been thinking that we should write a blog on common SAFe pains and how DA can help. We are not advocating getting rid of SAFe altogether, as it makes sense in some situations. However, it must be said that SAFe is a set of prescribed decisions as a pattern applicable primarily for tackling very large development initiatives. While most large organizations have hundreds of initiatives, very few, if any need to be delivered as program increments in a large batch fashion. Indeed from what we see most of these companies have far more small to medium sized initiatives for which SAFe makes no sense. DA, on the other hand, is an inclusive hybrid of methods and practices that can be used as an overall framework, applicable in all situations, for initiatives of all sizes due to its adaptability. So it makes more sense to use DA as the toolkit, and apply the SAFe pattern if and when appropriate, not the other way around. This was the rationale for this bank’s decision and we have seen similar made elsewhere.
We are asking for your help with our upcoming blog outlining why organizations are backing away from SAFe. We know it is happening, but our knowledge is limited to our own experiences, our DA partners, as well as stories passed on by members of the DA Advisory Council. Despite the marketing propaganda, case studies, and admittedly commanding market share, there is another side to this story. We are asking for your insights regarding your experiences with your SAFe adoptions.
For thought starters, here are some observations about SAFe adoptions that we have made:
- SAFe is expensive to implement
- SAFe mandates that ALL team members be trained, using SAFe materials, by a certified instructor
- Leading release trains is hard. RTEs often come from consulting companies and are quite expensive. Most companies don’t have the skills or experience to execute SAFe as specified resulting in huge consulting costs
- Big room planning is very expensive and difficult from a logistics perspective, especially for distributed teams
- The certification and partner programs are very expensive. This cost is ultimately passed on to you the customer
- For these reasons and others, we are seeing a lot of “SAFebut” out there, or “SAFe in name only” (SINO)
- SAFe is risky to implement
- Effective execution of a SAFe requires all teams in a release train to deliver reliably due to the dependencies between teams. Any team that falls “off the rails” jeopardizes the delivery of the program increment. In our experience finding a set of teams that all deliver reliably is a rare thing.
- Quarterly delivery of program increments is not very agile
- Although the SAFe diagram refers to “release on demand” to support the lean enterprise movement, in reality we have not seen this in practice due to the work in progress and dependencies across teams. (Please let us know if you are seeing this actually happening as we may be missing it)
- SAFe has a tremendous amount of process waste baked in
- By our calculations there is 35%+ process waste built into planning and executing SAFe. Despite its claim, SAFe is not very lean.
- There is increasing backlash from the agile and lean community
- We all know that a criteria for high performance teams is high morale and enthusiasm. Many very skilled and experienced agilists feel that they are stuck in the SAFe “system”, due to a decision made by a C-level exec who liked the SAFe picture. We are seeing people leave organizations for others that use a more lean approach to agile that allows them to truly leverage their agile skills. This is a downward spiral as the best agile talent leaves SAFe shops, and often take their teams with them.
If you have seen situations where you or someone you know are struggling with SAFe, and would be willing to share your experiences, please comment here. If you would like to discuss privately, you can reach out to me at mark [at] scottambler [dot] com.
Thanks in advance for helping us get a better feel for what is really going on. We know that consultants love SAFe (wonder why?). But how do customers really feel?
Mark & Scott