By William Knight
Then when he told you he was going to invite your spouse, extended family, the council representative and your neighbours, you’d probably send him packing in his ute and put a request for a new contractor out on neighbourly. It seems incredible that anyone would actively promote such an approach. Doesn’t it?
The death-rattle of a stage-gated, procedure-heavy dinosaur
But this is what happens during SAFE increment planning days. Not only are the build teams invited but anybody with the slightest interest is asked to put down their tools and spend two days developing an implementation plan. Think of the cost; all those contractors on hourly rates, the things that don’t get done, and all the expensive technicians sitting around a table discussing options. It’s enough to give finance a heart attack.
The agile community certainly reserves some criticism for SAFE. “From a Scrum perspective, SAFE might be dismissed as the death-rattle of an essentially stage-gated and procedure-heavy dinosaur. It can be viewed as a reflex to agility, and not a species of it; a last-gasp relic from a prehistoric waterfall world,” writes Ian Mitchell for DZone.
Any yet, despite my fear the increment planning would yield no workable results, in fact my first planning day showed just how effective such a program wide gathering can be.
But not in the way you might expect.
First, it was clear the plans the build teams created were unlikely to be realistic. Far too many impediments existed at the time, and it only took the first sprint after planning to see that too much had been unknown, and that the teams had not understood the significance of a whole programme increment plan – this was the first after all.
Under intense scrutiny to deliver
Yet it was the way the business stakeholders and executives reacted to the discussed risks that was the great success. Despite some trepidation, teams were mostly open and honest about the blocks to progress. It seemed that the leadership were not used to, and had not been confronted with such clear impacts before. The executive listened, took action and took actions away.
And how could it be otherwise? The leadership attends SAFE planning because of methodology commitments, and must then seriously consider the messages it receives and has no room for prevarication in such a public forum. They are under intense scrutiny to deliver.
Perhaps none of this would be necessary if business stakeholders and executives spent the time to inspect and adapt the work their build teams are actually doing – as you might expect them to do. But we all know the challenges faced getting stakeholders in regular attendance at reviews and reacting to actions coming out of retrospectives.
This then seems to be the power of SAFE; to give senior management a framework and an excuse to get involved. Without the pull of methodology, they are often unable to work directly for the build teams and without the glare of public acknowledgment are let off the hook when inconvenient actions are demanded.
And there’s another reason SAFE is a good idea in legacy-bound, large-scale organisations.
“At scale, we're still in a waterfall world and a poorly implemented one at that. In fact, I'd say that most organizations demonstrate a stage-gated culture, and not the true application of any sort of process at all. That's why they look to SAFE. The barrier to entry is comparatively low,” writes Mitchell.
“The Scaled Agile Framework appeals to large corporations. It has currency in the boardroom…” he adds.
So next time the builder suggests a planning day, you might want to take him seriously. If nothing else, it could tell you from where the hidden costs might come and determine the risk in your ideas.
Likewise for SAFE. The planning day will probably not deliver a perfect vision of the future, but run well, it should reveal all the warts, carbuncles and scabs obscuring the view. Focus on those items. Worry less that the actual plans will be wrong, and focus on revealing all the impediments.
Agilists should never be suspicious of revealing ugliness, it gives us focus for improvements and a transparent reason to wield a big mop and bucket.
Image: Matt Frederick http://flickr.com/photos/34684195@N00