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May 22, 2019

Scaling agile pragmatically with SAFe® and Atlassian tools

NB
Nick Bialaszewski 4 minute read

Pressure continues to mount on today’s enterprises to offer customers the best products and experiences imaginable – and at the same time increase revenue, reduce costs, and continually adapt to market conditions that are shifting faster than ever.

So how can businesses balance these competing demands, and evolve to find opportunity in this climate of constant tech-driven disruption?

Adopting an agile business mindset is crucial according to Gartner’s distinguished VP analyst, Donald Feinberg. At its recent Data and Analytics Summit he stated “the continued survival of any business will depend upon an agile, data-centric architecture that responds to the constant rate of change.”

SAFe planning agile

Agile in the real world

What this means on the ground is delivering early and quickly. Applying a practice that’s a mainstay of agile software development – namely bringing a minimum viable product (MVP) to market (ideally) within three months – makes it possible to constantly realign to market demands. Once released, iterative delivery and continuous improvement informed by real-world feedback add value to the MVP as it matures and finds a foothold in the market.

To survive and thrive, it’s clear that large businesses need to become more agile. Teams that release MVPs rapidly, helped by agile practices such as scrum and kanban, are at a proven advantage when it comes to innovation and reducing time to market.

Yet, according to the first-ever business agility survey conducted by The Business Agility Institute in 2018, most organisations are still rating their business agility as low. With respondents reporting that they are “struggling with transforming entrenched culture and processes [...] developing new funding models and transforming HR, finance, and other supporting functions.”

So how can larger organisations composed of many smaller teams manage to implement agile at scale?

Change the game: play it SAFe®

The Scaled Agile Framework for Enterprise® (SAFe®) can be a game-changer for organisations that have tens, dozens, or even hundreds of teams practising agile. It can even be used to aid the transition of teams that are moving from waterfall to agile development processes. SAFe® is the leading approach to scale agile methods and practices across large businesses, and is in use by 70% of the Fortune 100 to help their teams realise more of their potential.

SAFe® delivers a structure that provides all levels of an organisation from company leadership to management roles, and on down to delivery teams themselves the planning boundaries and dependency visibility that best support the work they do. Implemented successfully, it can tie strategic vision and value creation to portfolios of work and even individual delivery tasks, aligning teams around a shared purpose, and decreasing time to market.

SAFe® as defined by its creator

Dean Leffingwell, creator of the Scaled Agile Framework for Enterprise®, describes it as “a knowledge base of proven, integrated principles, practices, and competencies for Lean, Agile and DevOps,” adding that “mastery of its five core competencies enables enterprises to successfully respond to volatile market conditions, changing customer needs, and emerging technologies.”

Pragmatic SAFe® implementation with Atlassian

In our experience helping customers practice agile at scale, we’ve found the Atlassian Stack to be the right toolkit for implementing SAFe® effectively. Competing out-of-the-box SAFe® solutions typically fail to recognise that no two SAFe® implementations are the same. In fact, most implementations are radically different from one another, and it’s often best practice to pick and choose not only which parts of the SAFe® methodology to implement, but also how to implement them.

The strength of Jira, Confluence, and other Atlassian tools is their configurability, allowing them to support a huge range of requirements, organisational maturity, and desired outcomes.

Yet even with a great toolset, implementing SAFe® is by no means a plug-and-play endeavour. A world of possibilities and pitfalls exist when configuring and extending the software to deliver an ideal environment for SAFe®. As Atlassian’s leading global partner, we’ve decided to step forward and bridge this gap.

The Adaptavist approach to SAFe® addresses the shortcomings in existing methodologies, which we’ve experienced first-hand when implementing SAFe®  for our clients. It delivers training, configuration, and extension of the Atlassian Jira and Confluence platforms to provide a flexible and pragmatic solution for running SAFe® environments.

No SAFe® implementation is ever the same as another, but all Adaptavist implementations aim to deliver:

  • Guidance based on pragmatism, not dogma
  • A flexible, purpose-built, best practice toolset
  • A solution that evolves with your organisation's needs

Every agile team plays its part

One can think of SAFe® as a symphony orchestra, and an agile delivery team as a string quartet. Yes, a talented, well-practiced quartet can perform brilliantly on its own. But to play the most complex and powerful pieces of music with the same brilliance, a way is needed to add other instruments like brass, percussion and woodwind – and to align them in harmonious purpose and execution.

Just as orchestral composers and conductors bring together different instruments and sounds to create beautiful music, SAFe® unifies the power of agile teams in concert with leadership and management to help all achieve greatness together.