Last week I saw the release of the new version of the Scaled Agile Framework: SAFe 4.5. Having worked with the framework since version 3, I was pleased to see the continued improvement over the years. I’m not going into detail about the changes in this post, there are numerous sources online doing this already (the official SAFe channel is your best bet, and I’ve recorded some of my own videos as well). Instead, I want to take this opportunity to share some of my more general thoughts on the evolution of SAFe, and my feelings on 4.5.

SAFe is a controversial topic in Agile circles. Dean Leffingwell’s origins in RUP, combined with a “Big Picture” – that is very marketable, but very open to misinterpretation – results in many accusations of “Agile in name only” at best, and RUP/Waterfall with different words at worst. With version 4 in particular this came to a head, as the Framework increasingly moved away from Scrum terminology, introduced new practices and introduced a very large coordination level (the badly-named Value Stream level). While any skilled consultant or coach would recommend against its use, save the direst circumstances, it did solidify the framework’s reputation as top heavy and top-down.

With 4.5 we see SAFe take a much-needed step in the other direction. The “Big Picture” is, for lack of a better word, emptier. More configurations have been added and explained, to emphasize that the full rollout should not be an ambition. The team level is more aligned with Scrum practices and terminology again. But the most important change I feel is that the Product Owner has been made much more powerful. This has everything to do with the integration of Lean Startup practices on the backlog. Anything that doesn’t live on team level is now required to be an experiment, an assumption of value to be tested and worked on. This should help greatly in the malpractice of backdooring the old project mindset through Epics & Features. The other big change is oddly one that really isn’t that much of a change. The requirement of solid CI/CD is now explicit. While every Agile consultant or coach could’ve (and probably has) told their customer it’s a necessity, the lack of mention in the SAFe “Big Picture” often resulted in Enterprises attempting a SAFe implementation without the necessary infrastructure. The Definition of Done as releasable product would then duly be sacrificed on the altar of pragmatism. Hopefully, with this new change we can move past this.

So, SAFe 4.5, is it perfect? No. Perhaps not even great. But as a start to a more Agile way of working and being, SAFe offers a good solution. And it’s much improved with this latest version.

SAFe 4.5 in your organization?
Our Agile Academy has updated their SAFe trainings as well, so of course these are also fully SAFe 4.5 proof. They will update you of all changes and improvements. Want to learn more? Please visit www.agileacademy.nl/safe.

SAFe 4.5 at Prowareness on Demand
Our SAFe expert Wilbert Seele recorded some video’s to explain the changes in the Scaled Agile Framework. In short introduction he does a deep dive in all changes. Next to that, DevOn‘s technical Agile coach Pieter Versteijnen added his view on the technical side of SAFe for Lean Enterprises. Watch all SAFe video’s at Prowareness on Demand.

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