Yes, SAFe 4.0 includes kanban. But does it include the beauty of Kanban?

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One of the things I like in SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework™) 4.0 is the fact that is includes kanban visualization and flow management so explicitly as part of its recommended practices/building blocks at all levels ranging from the Portfolio (which was part of earlier SAFe versions) through the Value Stream and Program all the way to the Team levels.

Together with the explicit and up-front discussion of Lean-Flow principles and Reinertsen’s work that is indeed great news for kanban fans.

A recent comment from one of Yaki Koren my colleague at AgileSparks that “He’s reminded of the beauty of Kanban” (Reading Mike Burrow’s “Kanban from the Inside” while spending most of his days knee-deep in SAFe/Scrum engagements) sparked a realization that has been bubbling up for me though. SAFe 4.0 might include kanban but it doesn’t necessarily include Kanban.

What do I even mean by that? Capital-K Kanban refers to the change method not just the visualization/flow management technique. That method that “Starts with what you have”, “Respects the current way of doing things” and uses flow visualization/management, WIP limitation, and making your current policies explicit together with evolutionary experimentation and feedback loops to help you improve your fitness for your purpose.

Regardless of whether you want to follow the Kanban Method as a change management approach in your context, I think it is important to REMEMBER what it is about, and discern what sort of kanban/Kanban you’re using and what’s the purpose when you use it as part of SAFe (or Scrum or Agile Marketing or whatever). Too many people out there including some Agile Coaches and probably most SAFe Program Consultants probably can’t tell the difference.

If we don’t do anything about it, I’m afraid over time the Kanban definition that is part of SAFe 4.0 will join the Kanban as defined by Scrum practitioners (both miss more or less the same points) to be the canonical definition of Kanban that Lean/Agile practitioners are aware of and the Kanban Method will become a secret/lost technique. You know what, there’s a good chance that’s already the state of affairs.

And it’s a shame. Because even as part of a SAFe implementation it might be very useful to leverage the Kanban Method and use the Kanbans you have at every level as an engine for that “Inspect & Adapt” you’re seeking.

Even with SAFe Start with what you do now; Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change & Respect the current process, roles, responsibilities & titles can all make sense. SAFe takes a slightly different approach about it but it actually respects the “project manager” role for example and fits them into the “Release Train Engineer” role. It can live with component teams even though it prefers Feature teams. Many extreme agilists call it “safe” and closer to waterfall with its approach to periodical planning. That can be seen as a form of “start with what you do now” or “Respect the current process and needs of your surrounding stakeholders/clients”.

And because SAFe starts safe, we need SAFe practitioners to “Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change” from their starting point. We want them to ascend beyond the “Essential SAFe” in an effective focused way. We want them to use flow-focused experiments to evolve towards a better fit-for-purpose. We want them to understand and harness the power of WIP limits to drive not just collaboration but also uncovering your impediments/bottlenecks and dealing with them systematically.

We want SAFe practitioners/consultants to consider how Kanban can help them deal with SAFe theater – with those organizations that follow just the “easy” parts of SAFe, for which PI Planning is just a meeting of managers/stakeholders, where planning is push-based rather than pull-based (Where “No we cannot fit it into this PI”), where dependencies abound because they stayed with the “easy” siloed component teams or even component trains that actually make life really tough when you try to create flow.

Let’s see how this message resonates. If it does, I have some ideas what to do next about it…

 

 

Author: Yuval Yeret

Kanban/Agile Consultant at Agilesparks

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