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Agile at Scale and in Practice: SAFe® and the Flow Metrics
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Agile at Scale and in Practice: SAFe® and the Flow Metrics

These are the four values carved by the original Agile alliance which aimed to enhance software development and change the paradigm for the world of technology. 17 software luminaries came to a consensus in 2001 in Salt Lake City, Utah and the rest is history. What is important here is the value we should place – the manifesto for Agile Software Development says “That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.” Causing a cultural shift in the software industry, Agile practices taught the industry how to respond to changing dynamics in a world constantly transforming through rapid advancements in technology.

“Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan”
 

What is Agile Methodology?

Agile methodology entails being proactive and responsive to change and being able to efficiently handle uncertain and unstable environments. The notable keyword for agile is adaptiveness, representing a way of dealing with uncertainty and always being ready to “get with the times”. Agile software development is a set of practices and frameworks which entail solving issues through collaboration and self-organization. It involves creating cross-functional teams and focusing on delivering business value effectively.

Agile at Scale

Agile is usually adopted by and appropriate for smaller organizations. Scaling agile practices becomes necessary when organizations aim to tackle complex projects or initiatives involving multiple teams and stakeholders. Traditional approaches to project management are inept for large enterprises or complicated projects, hence the need to adopt agile that helps organizations achieve agility, responsiveness, and value delivery across the entire enterprise. Agile at scale emphasizes principles such as iterative and incremental development, continuous feedback, cross-functional collaboration, adaptive planning, and customer-centricity. It promotes the adoption of agile values and mindset throughout the organization, breaking down silos, fostering communication, and empowering teams to make autonomous decisions. One of the popular frameworks for scaling agile is SAFe: The Scaled Agile Framework.

Introduction to SAFe

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The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is like a guiding constellation in the vast enterprise galaxy, offering a collection of organization and workflow patterns. Just as constellations help explorers navigate the night sky, SAFe aims to guide enterprises on their journey of scaling lean and agile practices. It stands alongside other frameworks, such as Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD), as a shining star in a rapidly expanding universe, specifically designed to address the challenges that arise when venturing beyond the boundaries of a single team. SAFe is like a celestial map, showing the way through the complexities and intricacies of enterprise-scale endeavors.

By taking advantage of the wisdom of Agile methods, SAFe aims to bring a structured approach for large organizations to respond to ever changing customer dynamics and a simplified experience for software development. It runs on three different levels: portfolio, program, and team. SAFe requires multiple teams to come together and scale agile practices to deliver the best customer experience and also aid the development of the organization.

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How Does SAFe benefit organizations?

  1. Better Quality: With the rapid changes in the industry and increasing complexities of projects, staying relevant can be difficult for software development teams. SAFe has proven to be a good framework that helps the team stay relevant and improve the quality of their products and services. Continuous integration, which is, also, a part of SAFe, has resulted in a visible enhancement of quality and a reduction of defects.
  2. Improved Productivity: In the pursuit of success, boosting productivity emerges as a vital objective. Higher productivity lies in achieving more output without needing an increase in input. Using SAFe organizations have been able to optimize their resources, streamline operations, and drive exceptional results by offering a clear product plan with better collaboration and cooperation. This eases the execution of projects, reducing delays and unnecessary workloads.
  3. Faster time to market: The above-mentioned points have another favorable result: the ability to produce high-quality products quickly because the methods are optimized, and redundant tasks are eliminated with proper coordination.
  4. Alignment with goals: With the help of SAFe, all levels and teams are on the same page, and join forces to work towards the overall goals of the organization. Both stakeholders (executive management and agile teams) are involved in solution development, aiming to produce the best results.
  5. Enhanced Customer Engagement: As is the case with Agile, the Scaled Agile framework also focuses on customer satisfaction. Customers are involved in the process by providing feedback at regular intervals, which helps the team understand what is missing, work on it and hence create something which is in line with the customer’s expectations.

If you’ve already adopted SAFe or are planning to, and wish to quantify the impact of the framework, using metrics is a crucial step. Also, if you are unable to adequately measure the metrics using existing methods, take a break, reassess, and try to understand how to accelerate adoption. It is important to pause and identify business-level metrics that can optimize the current investments in tools, processes, and methodologies before making any further decisions. This is where Flow metrics come in. Using Value Stream Management, flow metrics evaluate how value is flowing across the software delivery pipelines from ideation to operation.

All about the Flow

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The Flow framework and Flow metrics are like the power-ups in a video game that enhance SAFe’s three measurement domains: Outcomes, Flow, and Competency. It’s like joining forces with the like-minded entities, creating an unstoppable alliance. By utilizing these tools, you can level up your development process and achieve greater agility. Flow Metrics provide the necessary support to make your software delivery efforts a resounding success. They are measurements of efficiency at the value stream level.

The Flow Framework is meant to measure the rate at which you deliver business value through products from the perspective of the customers, enabling you to understand whether you are going in the right direction. The metrics are meant to bring IT and business leaders on the same page, eliminating vague metrics and focusing on business value delivery.

Here’s the list of Flow metrics and what they mean:

  • Flow Distribution: This refers to the allocation and management of work across different value streams or teams within an organization. It involves distributing work items, such as user stories or features, in a way that optimizes the flow of value through the system.
  • Flow Velocity: This metric measures the systematic and continuous delivery of value to customers or end-users. It encompasses the entire process of transforming ideas, requirements, or user stories into working and releasable software or products.

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  • Flow Time: This one refers to the Lead time, i.e., the duration it takes for a work item to move through the entire value stream, from request to initiation to completion. It measures the total time it takes for an idea, requirement, or user story to be transformed into a delivered and potentially shippable product or feature.

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  • Flow Load: Flow Load keeps track of how effectively value streams are being used. It helps determine if an organization is being productive or not. It looks at the number of items being worked on, both those that are actively being worked on and those that are waiting. This evaluation is done at a specific point in time to see if the organization is achieving the desired results or not.
  • Flow Efficiency: This refers to the extent to which work flows smoothly through a system without delays, interruptions, or wasteful activities. It measures the ratio of value-adding time to the total time spent on a task or process. High flow efficiency indicates effective resource utilization and minimal idle time, resulting in faster and efficient value delivery.
  • Flow Predictability: This refers to the ability to forecast and estimate the time it takes for work items to move through a system or value stream. It involves the capability to predict when a particular task or project will be completed based on historical data, team performance, and past delivery patterns. Flow predictability helps in planning, resource allocation, and setting realistic expectations for stakeholders.

SAFe is a flow-based system. It leverages value stream intelligence to gain visibility into how value is flowing through the software development steps. This provides immense opportunities to keep track of your progress, identify bottlenecks, and address them. If SAFe is your North Star, then Flow Metrics are your compass that guide you towards reaching your goals through SAFe practices. It guides you and tells you critical information that enables a smooth flow of business value by telling you how to get better and make informed decisions. Using Flow metrics to evaluate the success of your SAFe practices is the way to create an organization that is agile, flexible, and scalable.

If you need help in scaling Agile, just drop us an email at [email protected] and we can have a pow-wow to discuss your options.

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