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November 17, 2021

SAFe® values explained

SAFe®
BigPicture Team

What values does the Scaled Agile Framework stand for? For those who are only beginning to scale up agilely, a critical question is: “Do my values match SAFe® core principles?” With maximum simplicity, let’s explain SAFe® values to help everybody determine: is SAFe® the right framework for my organization?

First, the essence from scaledagiledframework.com:

SAFe® core values are

Alignment. Like cars, misaligned companies are hard to steer, even if it’s clear where everyone thinks they’re headed. Alignment is needed to keep pace with fast change, disruptive competitive forces, and geographically distributed teams.

Built-in quality. Inspection is too late. The quality, good or bad, is already in the product. Without it, the organization will likely operate with large batches of unverified, unvalidated work.

Transparency. No one can fix a secret. Without openness, facts are obscure, and decision-making is based on speculative assumptions and instead of data.

Program execution. SAFe® places an intense focus on delivering value continuously. Bodies unknown to other frameworks, such as Agile Release Trains, and Inspect and Adapt workshops – reflect the fourth of the SAFe core values.

What do the four SAFe® values mean in practice?

The four values of SAFe® sound so vague, that pretty much everybody could acknowledge and agree with them. What do these four values mean in practice? More specifically, what characteristics and signs in your organization you should look at to determine whether your values match SAFe® values?

Alignment – the first of SAFe® core values – might not be an issue at a startup. SAFe® is for large organizations. Pretty formal and prescriptive, the Scaled Agile Framework might be too heavy for small and medium organizations. For enterprises and national corporations, however, the benefits of SAFe do offset the overhead.

Remote, distributed, dispersed teams – is this how your organization is structured? If so, then this is a pro-SAFe® indicator, as alignment tends to be an issue with a distributed organization.

Is your industry changing turbulently? Are entry barriers low? These are other signs your organization might get on well with SAFe®’s first core value. The strict strategy-to-teams alignment might be a life-or-death factor in a competitive industry, in the long term.

Do engineering, research, and development contribute substantially to your product portfolio? If yes, then built-in quality, the second of SAFe® values, also known as ‘the quality of design’, likely conditions your survival. If you design solutions, rather than use solutions developed by others (more on that in How to form a value stream?), you are unlikely to make up for deficiencies in design with quality inspections, or a massive customer support team.

Are you in an unregulated or highly regulated industry?

If the former is true, then the third of SAFe®’s core values – transparency – has room to kick in. Regulated organizations, on the other hand, while at first glance not excluded from SAFe®, might have difficult times swiftly changing direction as a result of open communication.

Product vs. project management. SAFe® favors product management over project management – this stems from the fourth – Program execution – core value, and specifically from the continuous delivery. While a good old project has start and end dates, a product has metrics that are expected to gradually improve as a result of lean product development over a number of consecutive program increments. Is product management your way of doing business?

How do you do risk management? SAFe® advocates ‘preserving options and assuming variability’ as a way of dealing with unpredictability, rather than the traditional risk matrix.

Conclusion

SAFe® core values are something to think of when you are getting started with your agile transformation, and seeking the right Agile at Scale framework. There is no point in going further if you are not sharing the four core SAFe® values.

How did you do the quick test? Do the practices of your organization fit into SAFe®? If so, dive deeper into the ‘how’, e.g. forming ARTs or value streams. If not – check a less formal, more simplistic approach, such as LeSS. Regardless of the scaling agile methodology selected, our BigPicture software is at your service.

And if you want to learn more about SAFe®, download our guide: Implementing SAFe® with BigPicture.