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  • Raghu Challapilla

SAFe: Why I got uncertified, and will continue to work with SAFe organizations


Frank, the product owner of this mid-sized company was in at 7 am, scrolling through a list of 400 items in his backlog, preparing for the 9 am sprint planning. His company just started adopting Agile.

I said, “Good morning!” with a smile, and knowing that his team felt pressured into overcommitting, I gently reminded him of the team’s velocity.

He blew up!

Each sprint he goes through about 400 items to prioritize them - he was not “allowed” to close a single item. Worst, he didn’t feel empowered to determine if something will not be pulled into the next sprint.

Frustration, pain, and fear were his friends. We are very quick at labeling this behavior as “resistance.” I had to get his managers in the story mapping and release planning meetings to help them understand the WIP limits. I knew I will spend some political capital in having them attend these sessions.

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I usually spend this capital up front by creating a guiding coalition of senior leaders who support the Agile transformation and having them agree on certain ways of working, including attending key events where they can make trade-offs (until they learn to empower their product owners in doing the same.) This gives me some leeway, but when it comes to having them attend such meetings, the force is still against me.

Creating a guiding coalition of leaders who support the transformation is imperative to its success. Let’s be honest... SAFe does a wonderful job at this!

It also does a good job of streamlining the organizational priorities… ask a product owner with 400 items of the same priority. And....

Vertical stories but Horizontal silos

In an effort to install lean thinking at every layer, it endures those horizontal layers, dividing the company in horizontal silos. I have seen companies that invented new roles in the hierarchy to manage various layers.

The safe maze

Jerry, an equally frustrated senior product leader of a large organization pulled me to a conference hall and drew a maze. At one end he drew a stick figure with reading glasses like the one he is wearing. At the other end he writes…… “developers.”

Here we have a senior leader standing dazed and confused not knowing what to do. Will developers, usually much lower in the hierarchy of such large “scaled” organizations feel empowered to drive improvements to something this complicated?

They are also “subjects,” ours is also “objects”

Most Agilists who boycott organizations adopting SAFe are doing so because they see people in such organizations as “objects” to agility and a lost cause.

What if we look at them as "subjects" of a not-so-successful experience.

What if we raise beyond our subjective experience of ‘rage’ against SAFe, and start seeing it as object of our emotions. If we see our anger and frustration, instead of being driven by it, then we take control of ourselves and …

Start a step ahead of where they are

In the professional coaching industry (like that endorsed by ICF,) we say, “Start where the client is….” Lyssa Adkins once told me, "Start a step ahead of where the client is." What if we don’t let our opinions be divisive and exclusive. What if we include everyone in our journey towards a better world.

Images courtesy of: pixabay/geralt and pixabay/Taken

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