SAFe Invitations – Part 1/3 – Pull-based Change

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As I wrote before, there’s a lot to like about SAFe™(The Scaled Agile Framework™). One of those things is the way some pro-level facilitation techniques are weaved into ceremonies such as the PI Planning and Inspect and Adapt workshops. SAFe™also leverages one of my favorite change management patterns which is starting with leaders.

Two areas for potential improvement (On top of my earlier ideas) based on my experience with enterprise-level agile transformations are:

  • How to go about convincing people in the organization to start using SAFe.
  • How to go about deciding about the details for what aspects of SAFe to use and how.

For both of these aspects there is a pretty strong default approach in the market today – The Mandate/Push approach:

  • This is the “Easy” way where a central group decides for people both when they will “Board” the SAFe train as well as exactly how their train should look like.
  • “Easy” because it might seem to be faster, require less of those “softer” discussions with people, and come up with a better solution because you as the SAFe Program Consultant (internal or external in this case) took the longer class and know best what to do.

I don’t think SAFe™advocates this approach explicitly but it is simply the common way most agile transformations (or change initiatives in general for that matter) happen. See http://www.infoq.com/news/2014/10/kickstart-agile-kanban and http://www.infoq.com/interviews/lkfr14-yeret-kanban-agile for some more details about my issues with this common approach and my suggestions for alternatives.

I’m just one voice in a growing community of concerned agilists that have seen too many of those mandated agile transformations fail to deliver real agility over the long run. Daniel Sloan wrote recently: “Any organizational transformation must be fueled by a collective sense of urgency for change”. Or go to one of the fathers of agile, Martin Fowler, who wrote in 2006 in an article called The Agile Imposition “…Imposing an agile process from the outside strips the team of the self-determination which is at the heart of agile thinking.”. Or Mike Cottemeyer on the topic of Can you mandate an agile transformation:
If you view agile as a set of practices, or as a way of performing your day-to-day activities, or as a set of ceremonies and artifacts and roles that people are required to perform… I’d suggest that, while probably not impossible to mandate, at best you’ll get malicious compliance if you try. (Note: If you’ll read Mike’s post you’ll see he actually believes the overall transformation CAN and SHOULD be mandated but that the PRACTICES should not. I agree. Wait for parts 2 and 3…)

I use a different approach in most of my enterprise scaled agile engagements. In this first part of a 3-part blog series I will focus on the “When” decision where I prefer Pull over Push. Or Invitation over Mandate. What does it mean exactly?

  • Based on some trigger like successful pilots, conviction, mandate from a client, Organizational leadership together with probably a central change agents group decide upon Scaled Agile as a strategic transformation direction. We can say they are Mandating the Direction or providing a “Commander’s Intent” to use Maneuvering Warfare terms.
  • They DON’T specify who should transform when and they don’t specify nitty gritty details of the how. They mandate the direction AND invite people to choose that direction and find their way there.
  • Some of the leaders in charge of what can become Agile Release Trains  then accept the invitation and pull the change (rather than be pushed or forced to run through a mandated change at a mandated time that fits the “Gantt” for the overall transformation)
  • Note this doesn’t mean the central agent is passive. It means she is pro-actively marketing/selling the change but not forcing it.
  • The timing for the “buy/pull” should be the group’s timing not the change agent’s timing.
  • Marketing/Selling can involve things the SAFe implementation best practices already recommend like running SPC/Leading SAFe classes internally or providing the opportunity for possible candidates to join a public class sponsored by the change champion’s budget.
  • It can mean publishing internal case studies/success stories from early adopters. (I provide some more ideas and details in my several talks on the subject. Go here for a pull-based-change-management index).

Coming up next in part 2 – Using the Management workshop and a twist on SAFe’s great “vote of confidence” technique to continue the invitation theme inside the group starting their SAFe journey. Part 3 closes the series with a discussion of Open Space Agility and how it can connected to SAFe

Author: Yuval Yeret

Kanban/Agile Consultant at Agilesparks

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