Fig.: SAFe foundation *Source data: 07

Hi, welcome to this lesson where we will look at the foundation of SAFe.

What content is covered in this lesson?

We’ll talk about in the next few minutes:

  • the basic values of the framework for all scalings,
  • the quality built into the tools and events,
  • transparency as an important basis for success,
  • the implementation of the method in the project,
  • the necessary attitude of team members and management,
  • we are looking at the SAFe House-of-Lean,
  • get to know the principles of SAFe,
  • go intensively into the guiding culture in the company that is necessary for this,
  • and in particular on leadership responsibility,
  • develop Lean Agile Leadership with its generative leadership style,
  • define minimum requirements that an agile leader must have,
  • approach the target state from the starting position in the company,
  • recognize the inevitability of reorganization to achieve this goal,
  • and ultimately also which dangers have to be mastered in the transformation from a planning organization to an Agile organization.

But now to the content of this lesson:

What does the SAFe foundation include?

Before we get into SAFe scalings, let’s look at the foundation of SAFe.

In the dark gray area at the bottom of the diagram, you will find the foundation on which SAFe is based. These include

  • the core values,
  • definition of the necessary personal mindset for this agile framework,
  • the principles on which SAFe is based,
  • the most important tasks and characteristics of managers,
  • a proposed way to implement the framework into an existing organization
  • and the description of the tasks of a SAFe coach as well as the possibility to acquire the necessary knowledge.
Fig.: SAFe implementation flow *Sources: 07

Because we won’t go into the implementation of SAFe in more detail, here’s an overview of how SAFe envisions a model implementation. But that should be it for this course.

Fig.: the 4 basic values of SAFe *Source data: 07

Now from the beginning in the foundation:

The 4 core values of SAFe can be covered by these 4 keywords:

What is Alignment?

First, alignment, which involves constant alignment of requirements and tasks between team members and the customer so that there is always agreement on evolving intermediate statuses and tasks to be completed. This coordination takes place via a common, always up-to-date information base and regular alignment meetings.

Fig.: Quality management in SAFe *Sources: 07
What is built-in quality?

The second buzzword is built-in quality, which means that a quality check on a finished solution is simply too late. Quality testing must be firmly built into the software and systems creation process and then extend to the following areas:

  • the workflow itself must already be designed in such a way that errors are avoided
  • the solution, system and product architecture must be designed in such a way that errors are subsequently avoided
  • code quality must be ensured with appropriate measures
  • the interaction of individual components in the overall system must be ensured with suitable measures
  • the release quality delivered to the customer must also be ensured with suitable measures.

If the quality of these 5 areas is well assured and continuously developed, then the prerequisite is met that the finished solution is also of good quality and meets customer expectations.

Attached to this lesson you will find a PDF in A3 format with the overview graphic shown here. Feel free to print this out and hang it on the wall in your project room as a reminder for the team.

What is transparency?

The third keyword: transparency, which means that everyone involved in the project (including the customer) has insight into all project areas at all times. In the field of software development, something always goes wrong, there are always unpredictable surprises here. Everyone makes mistakes: the customer as well as everyone else involved. No one can deny that. Openness to communicate problems, unplanned challenges and errors immediately and fully is the basis for resolution. Without openness, there is no solution or a late solution with negative consequences. The prerequisite for transparency is trust between the project participants – which also includes trust to continue the project if things get a little tough and difficult. On the other hand, this also includes the core of agility, always being open and honest about the work results of an iteration:

  • If the result of an iteration is good, then everything is ok.
  • If the work result is not good, what solution can then be used to achieve the goal or is the result even mandatory for the project success? The lean concept also plays a role in this question.
  • If there is no solution and the work result would be mandatory (it is then a knock-out criterion), then it must be openly and honestly admitted in the team that the continuation of the project is no longer reasonable, at least at the current time with the current goal. This honest decision serves to conserve budget and resources and is absolutely in the mutual interest. Agility definitely does not see failure in such a decision, but rather the professional handling of resources. From this situation, a modified continuation of the project with a modified goal or adapted organization can also be derived.
What does implementation mean?

And the 4th keyword: implementation, which also includes the delivery of the software solution. Implementation can only be successful if each individual team member adheres to and lives by the jointly agreed rules and values. This requires constant refreshing of content that has not yet become absolute routine. However, this also includes naming and eliminating deviations. The goal of the entire project team must be to provide working solutions in short intervals and to keep enriching and improving them.

Fig.: SAFe foundation *Source data: 07
What attitude is necessary for agility?

The second graphic in the SAFe Foundation describes the attitude of team members but also the higher management, which is necessary for a successful agile organization based on SAFe.

Fig.: SAFe mentality *Source data: 07

If we want to start something new, it is necessary to let go of the old. Letting go also means rethinking the consequences of experiences and simply surrendering to the new with an open mind. Letting go also means foregoing a course of action that I know I will definitely reach my goal – just unfortunately as an island in an organization that I can’t work with. Letting go without reservations. On this point, each individual team member is asked to bring out the best in openness. And believe me: it’s not easy, not even for me. But this is the basis for success! And because not everyone will succeed in this, very special skills of Scrum Masters, Scrum Coaches or Agile Coaches are required here.

Fig.: SAFe House of Lean *Sources: 07
What is the SAFe House of Lean?

In addition to being open to new things, the content of the SAFe House of Lean is another component of the mindset required for SAFe projects. This lean model borrows from common lean management and was also inspired in part by Toyota’s lean management.

The goal is to achieve the highest customer value within the shortest possible time, while delivering the highest possible quality for the customer and society as a whole. A high level of decency, security and user-friendliness are other secondary objectives.

The basis for the success of lean management is that the company management also lives the principles and enforces them through all hierarchies.

Mutual human respect and trust are as much a part of the solution as the 4 SAFe core values, innovation friendliness and willingness to change, as well as the constant drive to improve in all aspects. You may already know this drive for improvement from Six Sigma.

You can see that there is a lot of interlocking here that we have already learned about elsewhere and will also learn about here in the course. This interlocking is what makes the SAFe approach so well-rounded and why it fits beautifully into existing business practices based on accepted methodologies.

Attached to this lesson you will find a PDF in A3 format with the SAFe House of Lean. Feel free to print this out and hang it on the wall in your project room for team reflection.

Fig.: SAFe foundation *Source data: 07
What are the principles of SAFe?

Similar to Scrum, SAFe has also given itself principles according to which project team members should act, which are:

Fig.: SAFe principles *Sources: 07
  1. Consider each operational step from an economic perspective as well. Find a way to realize as quickly as possible and avoid unnecessary activities. Always weigh risks, delay, implementation, operational and development costs. Make sure that the solution stays within the budget allocated for it.
  2. Always look at the overall system instead of the individual requirement. Develop a solution so that it fits into the overall system, no functionality is lost in the overall system, and thus improves the overall system. For this, it is necessary to understand the overall system.
  3. Always develop a solution as variable as possible and with as many options as possible, in order to only have to extend and not redevelop down the road.
  4. Build your software solutions in short, rapidly recurring loops so that the intermediate solutions can serve as the basis for each next improvement. I also like to include experimental content that may improve the efficiency of the project and the customer, rather than just implementing customer-driven requirements.
  5. Financial managers, developers and customers have different assessments for the profitability of a software solution. Profitability is therefore reviewed at jointly defined milestones.
  6. Make requirements in process visible and reduce the number as much as possible. Also reduce the scope of a requirement as much as possible by breaking the requirement down into many sub-requirements, separating actionable content from non-actionable content. Put content that cannot be implemented up for discussion. The goal is to fluidly process each request from acceptance to sign-off, maximizing throughput and reducing lead time. This then also ensures that the work accepted is paid for promptly.
  7. Work in sync and synchronize your work cycle with others to avoid unnecessary wait times in collaboration. This applies to the scheduling of fixed ceremonies as well as to the determination of the processing sequence of individual tasks. As with lean management, the goal is always to avoid zero time and to make the best possible use of the available working time and resources.
  8. The supervisors of an agile team with lean management must realize that motivation and the mood in the team are primarily achieved not only through compensation and performance, but through freedoms, self-responsibility and the opportunity for self-organization – which of course must always be in line with the project goals.
  9. Avoid decisions that can only be made by one or a few people. There are very few strategic decisions that justify centralized decision-making. This is the only way to achieve fast value creation, because waiting times for a decision block the work throughput. In addition, distributed decision-making automatically taps more knowledge from multiple people, enabling more innovative solutions.
  10. Most companies organize themselves on the basis of fixed principles that have solidified over time. Principles can be, for example, a focus on core competencies, adherence to the vision of the founder or CEO, or a technological fix. However, in the digital age, speed is the driving competitive advantage to satisfy customer needs faster than others. This requires the organization to align itself with the value of customer value, to place it at the center and to provide the resources around it. If the sales market demands a change, then the company must be able to align and reorganize itself as quickly as possible.
Fig.: Leading-by-Example *Source data: 07
What leadership style is needed in agile?

However, this foundation and SAFe as a whole would be worth nothing if it were not lived and enforced within the company. From the very top to the very bottom across the board. SAFe, like agile, is not just a collection of processes and tools, but primarily a mindset thing. At this point, it is no longer enough for the manager to acquire the necessary knowledge. This is where personal willingness to change is required. Just like social competence. Both are difficult to learn. Either one has developed these qualities in the past, or one has not. And then there is a great danger that a manager will become a discontinued model because of this deficit. If the head of an organization does not “live” and thus “exemplify” this attitude himself, then all subordinate structures dependent on it cannot function because they lack the basis for action and work. As soon as one intermediate stage fails to function, the entire agile organization underneath is crippled. Every manager must be aware of this. To minimize this risk, the agile organization is built with flat team structures.

Fig.: Leadership responsibility *Source data: 07

SAFe takes the priority of leadership responsibility on project and business success, places “Lean-Agile Leadership” at the center of the foundation, and therefore emphasizes this foundation component.

Agility requires a leadership quality that openly embraces constant organizational change and adaptation to market demands, while always motivating employees and teams to perform at their best and share responsibility.

Fig.: Leading Change *Source data: 07
What are the responsibilities of a leader in agile?

The manager is expected to exemplify all that he or she wants to achieve with employees and teams. This mainly concerns the previously mentioned core values, attitude and principles from the SAFe foundation. And in the company, leading by example works from the top down. Only the leader has the authority, the necessary resources, and the decision-making power to enforce. The manager thus “leads” the employees and teams entrusted to him. At the same time, the manager is constantly required to reflect on whether he or she “lives” the values agreed upon in SAFe and thus exemplifies them. A cycle, therefore, which, in addition to proposed training opportunities, should contribute to the constant improvement of leadership quality.

Beyond leading by example, the leader also has the task of communicating the contents of SAFe to his teams and employees and constantly motivating them to comply. All in all, not an easy task – that’s for sure. But that’s just what agility demands of a leader. This is an unfamiliar challenge for many managers, who usually only delegate and do not set an example. But agility in a company also stands and falls with it.

The slogan “becoming an agile company” is so easily spoken. Implementation is difficult in many ways. But as already mentioned, many companies have no alternative when the competition masters this craft – or at least masters it better. And the advantage of companies that have grown agile from the start cannot be overstated. The advantage seems to me to be almost unassailable, because a well-functioning agile organization is always evolving. It is like a feat or miracle to close this gap.

How is Lean-Agile Leadership described in SAFe?

Lean-Agile Leadership is now the second of seven core competencies from Lean Management that SAFe has included in its rulebook, where it is described as follows:


  • organize and reorganize around the values to be created,
  • they identify and eliminate excessive workload and blocking work,
  • they constantly pay attention to avoid unnecessary work and delays,
  • they eliminate demotivating rules and processes and replace them with motivating rules and value-added processes,
  • they inspire and motivate their environment,
  • they create a climate of relentless drive for improvement,

and they give their team the freedom to improve themselves.

Fig.: Characters *Sources: 07
What is a generative leadership style?

When it comes to implementation, the manager has different means and approaches. You may already be able to assign supervisors to one of these 3 categories yourself from your work experience. How many of your superiors do you attribute to the generative category (the right column)? This is because the characteristics listed below are the only prerequisites that fit agility.

  • Rather than just announcing and not participating, or only getting involved secondarily, agility requires a high level of collaboration with employees. And for this, the manager must also know practically what to do and how to do it correctly. There is no room for the pure manager in this teamwork.
  • Instead of blaming his employees for mistakes or neglecting them, a leader in agile guides his employee to the goal by example.
  • Instead of giving the employee little or no responsibility, the manager shares his or her responsibilities with the employee, thereby giving them the latitude and enjoyment of work necessary to achieve superior results.
  • Instead of refusing his willingness to collaborate for reasons of hierarchy demarcation or merely tolerating the need to collaborate, the leader in agile encourages his employees to actively involve him in collaboration. The leader in agile is one among equals, only with specific role and role-given goal (against which he is also measured!). The project goal, however, is the same for everyone, a goal to be achieved together.
  • Quite interesting is the consideration of mistakes: instead of looking for a scapegoat for mistakes or a just judgment for a mistake, for the leader in agile a mistake is the basis for improvement. The only important thing is that in the aftermath of an error, the appropriate steps are implemented to avoid the error, thus safeguarding the subsequent procedure.
  • Instead of stalling innovations on principle due to their own ignorance, or rejecting innovations due to incalculable risks, leaders in agile are happy to take the risk for innovations – not only because particularly high value creation can be realized in the event of success, but also because the failure can be eliminated or rectified in the following iteration.

It all sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? And therefore, these are the goals to be achieved and not knock-out criteria for a leader. But if he/she doesn’t fulfill any or only a few of them, then things start to get hairy – for the success of the project and the cooperation within the team.

What skills must an agile leader have?

But what should a leader definitely bring to the table? And yes, non-performance would be a real knock-out for agility in these cases:

  • He/she should be authentic in any case. He/she should not pretend to its employees, but be honest, stand by itself and its views, deal fairly with its employees, colleagues and superiors. He/she should work transparently, not hide anything.
  • He/she needs a certain level of emotional intelligence and empathy to recognize and respond appropriately to the feelings of others and himself/herself. He/she must be able to regulate his/her own emotions appropriately, motivate himself/herself and others, and possess social skills. This applies especially to situations where pressure and failure influence events.
  • He/she needs the willingness to want to learn lifelong, permanently, voluntarily and of one’s own accord. And he/she also encourages others to participate in this hunt for knowledge and experience.
  • The leader in agile aims to decentralize decisions – their own as well as those of employees. The success of the project should become independent of individuals. To this end, it is necessary for the leader to pass on his or her own competencies in such a way that employees can also make decisions themselves after consultation and competencies are multiplied in the team in such a way that, after consultation, several employees are always in a position to make a decision.

These 4 points are really not too much to ask. They are completely independent of expertise. Anyone can fulfill them if only they want to.

We have now talked a lot about what a leader should and must bring to the application of SAFe. But we haven’t yet talked about how he/she gets his/her people and teams to develop and maintain the mindset necessary for SAFe.

What are the goals of an Agile Transformation?

We’ve talked a lot about readiness for change. We also know the status quo – if we haven’t necessarily just started in the company – but even then we know our own starting position. The question then becomes: where do we want to go? What are our intermediate goals? Where do I want to take myself and my team? And there are a number of possible starting positions:

  • I would like to lead the company with SAFe from a waterfall methodology towards agility – it definitely has its advantages to be able to start on a greenfield site, because in doing so, mistakes in the implementation have not yet burned any soil.
  • Or: I would like to develop the company with its agile approaches into a functioning agile organization
  • Or: I would like to scale up an agile organization that is already working quite well in some areas to the entire company.
  • Or: I find a wild construction site and want to develop a well-structured agile organization from it

Or, or, or – there are many possible scenarios.

Is an Agile Transformation the same as a reorganization?

But all beginnings and goals have one thing in common: they will inevitably lead to reorganization within the company. This must be clear to everyone – from team members to top management. And reorganization means change. Change is inevitably associated with danger in many minds –

  • danger to earned sinecures,
  • threat to status,
  • danger for a routine that has become comfortable,
  • risk to learning ability,
  • danger also for the existential income basis for themselves and the family members dependent on them.

So the danger is real – if I don’t go along with it. And in such a transformation, unfortunately, employees always fall through; managers must also be aware of this.

What are the challenges to be solved in Agile Transformation?

And that hurts a lot, not just because it involves personal relationships, or losing important expertise and valuable experience, but because the people needed for transformation don’t grow on trees and can simply be plucked when they are ripe. With our labor market and demographics, the Agile transformation must be realized from the existing employee base, through further development. At the same time, knowledge and experience must be secured and retained within the company. This makes it one of the most critical success factors for managers to take as many employees as possible along for the ride, to convince them and to allay their fears. This is the first intermediate goal, which is fixed from the beginning and is the same for every company. I will go into more detail on ways and suggestions to achieve this goal in the course of the course series.

What are the tasks of an agile leader?

If cooperation with employees is ensured as far as possible, the manager has the following tasks:

  • It must clearly demonstrate to employees the necessary changes and the goal for all, while also communicating why the change is urgently needed right now. And all of this in a way that inspires and motivates people.
  • It must positively influence employees throughout the change process, motivate them not to let up, even if there will be critical and chaotic situations on the way to the goal. This is almost inevitably the case in a process of change from an initial state to a target state – precisely when one is no longer effective and the other is not yet. This will happen in a wide variety of places – and that’s where agility is needed. This insight must also be clear to everyone in the company from the outset, so that panic does not break out when the situation arises.
  • The agile leader must be assured of a strong and reliable network of relationships including top management. Without the unconditional support of top management, the transformation process is doomed to failure. The transformation to agility is a task for top management, not for subordinate management structures – and certainly not for IT or limited to a subdivision within the company (as unfortunately so often happens). This network is the backbone of the transformation and must regularly inform employees throughout the transformation process about the status and also about current obstacles. Without that backbone, failure is likely, especially when things don’t go smoothly – and they never will. This network must also be prepared for difficult decisions when critics, stoppers and blockers hinder the transformation process.
  • The manager must duly celebrate interim achievements with the employees and thus, in the best agile sense, swear them to the next interim goal. The interim goals should be granular enough to be achieved in the shortest possible time intervals. Interim targets on a monthly basis would be a good guide.
  • It must create an atmosphere of security for employees in which risk-taking becomes possible in the first place. It must be made clear from the outset that any risks taken will not have any negative consequences for employees in the event of failure – neither for their personal image, nor their status in the company, nor their career.
  • And it must ensure that it itself and also all employees receive the best possible training for the change process.

Now let’s summarize what we have covered in this lesson:

  • we have talked about the basic values of the framework for all scalings,
  • how quality assurance is hardwired into SAFe,
  • how important transparency is for project success,
  • and also how SAFe is basically implemented in the project,
  • we have recognized that in order to succeed, there needs to be a certain attitude in the team and in the management,
  • we have discussed the main components of the SAFe House of Lean,
  • and now also know the principles of SAFe, compliance with which is essential for agility to work in companies.
  • We have dealt very intensively with the topics of guiding culture and leadership responsibility,
  • recognizing minimum requirements without which it simply cannot work.
  • Ultimately, we also realized that the transformation from a planning organization to an Agile organization cannot be implemented without reorganization,
  • and that there are indeed dangers that have to be mastered.

Now that we have gone into quite a bit of detail about the foundation of SAFe, we will go into the different scales of the Scaled Agile Framework and start with the smallest scale in the lesson after next.

But before that, we have another little surprise for you: The following lesson contains a short quiz in which you can check for yourself which content from this lesson has stuck with you. I wish you a lot of fun with it, see you again in the lesson after next!

*Source data: 07

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