SAFe Invitations – Part 2/3 – Management Workshop and Vote-of-confidence-driven open space in QuickStart

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In part 1 of this series about inviting Invitations into the implementation approach for the Scaled Agile Framework I described the issue I have with Mandates and started to describe the Invitational style focusing on inviting groups to go SAFe but not forcing them to.

Local leaders Mandating the Direction once they’re convinced of it

  • Once a leader decides that it is the right timing to consider SAFe for his group I typically recommend she run a “management workshop” where she basically invites leadership team to learn more about SAFe together (using the “Leading SAFe” as the content).
  • They then decide if/how to actually go about implementing it rather than mandating SAFe based on his decision. This is her involving her leadership team in the decision whether to mandate the direction or in other words create a Commander’s Intent around SAFe for the group. They discuss implementation details but but leave lots of them open. They’re avoiding mandating the practices to their people. 
  • In other cases where a leader wants to start using agile or scale it and is not sure about the approach I would still recommend she go through a “management workshop” but in this case that workshop would look at the various alternatives/options and help the leadership team choose the best fit for their context whether it is one framework or a mix of practices from a couple of frameworks or case studies.

Inviting people to decide on Practices

The next level of Invitation over Mandate would involve the actual people in the Agile Release Train (ART):

  • The ART QuickStart is a great way to get a group of teams rolling. I love the combination of training everybody at the same time while also running the initial release planning and getting a real feel for how SAFe will look like rather than sticking to theory or sterile exercises/games.
  • I love it so much that I use a similar approach even in a non-SAFe context. One thing I do that is not explicitly mentioned in the ART QuickStart agenda is involve some invitation there as well.
  • I try to leave some of the decisions around HOW to the ART participants. Aspects like board structure, Definition of Done policies, Ready policies, engineering practices, agile testing strategies and some other aspects are great candidates for having scatter/gather discussions as part of the ART QuickStart or even for letting teams make local decisions as long as they’re aligned to some wider vision about the use of SAFe in the group/organization (that should of course leave some degrees of freedom for this to work… not be a detailed McDonalds style instruction manual…).
  • Another thing I find very useful is inspired by SAFe’s own “vote of confidence” for the release plan. I like to run a “vote of confidence” for the implementation plan.
  • Then I use this question of “What is worrying us about starting to use SAFe as we just discussed so far” (I use it the same way regardless of whether it is SAFe or any other agile implementation approach the group chose) to provide the theme question for a mini-open space where people raise their concerns as possible session agendas and then people swarm to the issues which interest/bother them the most and try to decide what to do about it.
  • I haven’t tried it yet but asking people to ROAM (Resolve/Own/Accept/Mitigate) each risk/issue like we do in PI Planning seems like a great experiment I should try soon…
  • And since we talk about PI Planning maybe the same Open Space approach to discussing risks and what to do about them should be used as part of PI Planning not just the QuickStart?

In summary

To sum up this post – In essence the leaders of the group are mandating the DIRECTION towards SAFe but inviting people to be involved in deciding the exact PRACTICES rather than mandating them. These leaders are leading their group effectively. Showing the DIRECTION is expected from leaders (They can and should consult with their team/people first of course on many issues). Forcing/Mandating PRACTICES is micro-management. It doesn’t fare too well in real life, especially if you take the long term view…

Next part 3/3 of this series – How to go the extra mile with Invitation-based SAFe using Open Space Agility