The training itself went well. It was 10,000 times better than the training that I had 25 years ago on the Carnegie Mellon Capability Maturity Model. The instructor knew his stuff and wasn’t afraid to weigh in on the good/bad of how SAFe has been rolled out in our program.
But, I gotta say, the Capability Maturity Model took five vague concepts and enshrined them into a mythical religion. SAFe, on the other hand, took a whole slew of disparate imagery and jammed them all together in some of the most crowded, grindingly-bad metaphoric combinations I can imagine.
Starting with Agile
As it starts with Agile, SAFe is already on shaky metaphoric ground. In Agile practice, one breaks up the work into
User Stories. If a particular story is super-broad and long, then it is called an
Epic. So far, so good, eh? But, stories are fairly static and we’re trying to be Agile. So, we take a group of stories and put them together into the work we’re going to do for the next two weeks and we call it, an Anthology?, an Issue?, a Serial?, no… we call it a
Sprint. Because there is nothing like running with a good book to boost productivity.
And, I should mention that some
User Stories are more complicated than others. So, each
User Story has a number of
Points assigned to it, usually through
Planning Poker. We use a gambling metaphor to come to a team consensus on the number of
Story is worth.
Are you following me? Good.
Okay, so, in Agile, too, we want to break down the barriers between those who design and those who code and those who test. How does our team do this? We
Scrum. Scrum is term from the sport of Rugby. A scrum, in Rugby, is a big crowd of players from both teams, fighting over the ball in a mob, trying
to push it down the field to their team’s advantage. In Agile, we are all on the same team, so I’m not sure why we’re fighting over the ball. And, I’m not sure how this is helping us
User Stories. But, that’s what we do.
Really though, for some reason, we use the word
Scrum to mean a quick daily meeting to update everyone on what we’re working on and raise anything that is blocking us. Cuz, that’s nothing like a Rugby scrum. And, we use the term
Swarm to refer to those times when our whole team is focused on a singular goal to push it through, or when other teams dive in to help our team with a singular goal.
So, in order to finish our
User Stories in a
Scrum every day and occasionally
And, like every good
Sprint, the next
Sprint starts immediately after the last one ends.
The last thing you do in a
Sprint is demo what you accomplished in the
Sprint. You know, like in a foot race, where you finish the race and then show everyone how you just finished the race. And, then, you have a
Readout of what you’ve done. And, you start the next sprint with a
Readout of what you’re going to do the next
Sprint. Because, it wasn’t scientific enough to have just finished your
Stories in your
Sprint, you need an old piece of galvanized steel equipment to spit out a small paper tape with the total on it.
So, how do you take something organized around
Sprints full of
Stories by a
Scrum team who can
Swarm and make it scale to something big?
Well, you start by adding trains. You add multiple,
ARTs (Agile Release Trains). These trains each have multiple
But, now, we need some stuff in between
User Stories. Are we going to stick with writing metaphors? Of course not. We’re going to make
Epics broken up into multiple
Capabilities broken up into multiple
Features and those
Features get broken up into
Oh, we need to know where the
Agile Release Trains are heading, right? So, we will have a
Roadmap and a
Vision which will be the
Guardrails for our train. And, the train, itself, will be following a
Value Stream with
Milestones. So, your train doesn’t run on train tracks. It runs on a stream. It does this so it can
Pivot if needed. But, it is okay, because there are guardrails and a roadmap.
The train provides
Transparency. Your train full of scrums on a stream with a roadmap is transparent.
There is, of course, also a Product Manager or Product Owner who steers the train. We also have Release Train Engineers. They don’t get to steer though. They only get to drive the train straight along the stream.
Are We Flying Yet?
So, in Software Development, there are tons of small decisions that we make each day that, together, form the
Architecture of our application. Most big projects have dedicated
Software Architects who are responsible for keeping the
You may rightly be thinking that this whole bevy of
Scrum Teams piled on our
Agile Release Trains with their heads focused on the
User Stories in their own
Sprints might not be the best thing for the overall
Architecture. But, that’s okay, because running along the
Value Stream there is also an
Architectural Runway. I’m not 100% sure if this is so that our product can fly (or land?) or so that our product can sell its new line of shoes in Milan. But, we’ve got a
The Crooked House
At some point, someone decided that SAFe needed Lean. So, they added it in, too. In fact, they have what is called the
SAFe House of Lean. Now, I am quite glad that my house house does not lean.
The foundation of the SAFe House of Lean is
Leadership. The roof is
Value. The pillars are:
Respect for people and culture,
Relentless Improvement. We’ve now built a house out of abstract concepts. I’m not sure where it sits compared to our
Stream or our
Runway or our
Train or our
Sprint, but it makes for a hell of a