7 Pitfalls of SAFe/Scrum Implementation: Explained

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7 Pitfalls of SAFe/Scrum Implementation: Explained

Arul Raju

Published February 16, 2022

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Business agility is an important currency in today’s world. Rapid changes in the workplace and work culture can prompt changes in the foundational aspects of any organization. Business models can become outdated and hierarchical organizational charts or communication styles can become redundant. Technology infrastructure can grow. What helps an organization be resilient in the face of all these changes is business agility. Simply put, it is the ability of an organization to respond and adapt to change with speed and relative ease. 

In the current business environment, product managers and product owners, among others, will find immense value in implementing an agile practice. These help businesses deliver innovative solutions. They don’t just deliver them but do so with efficiency and faster than the competition. If your organization is agile, it is receptive to changes. This also means you can capitalize on opportunities and have better control over uncertainties, allowing for flexible fund allocation, alignment with greater objectives, and faster decision-making.

To that effect, you will come across the SAFe or Scrum implementation. The Scaled Agile Framework is one of the most popular frameworks used for scaling agile, Lean, and DevOps practices. Let’s explore in detail what these methodologies entail and how you can prevent pitfalls in SAFe and Scrum implementation. 

What are SAFe and Scrum methodologies? 

The Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) is a system or framework that helps implement agile practices on an enterprise level. Think of it as a best practices guide on scaling agile, Lean, or DevOps practices. The best part about the SAFe framework is that it can be customized to your highly-specific organizational needs. It’s also a tried and tested framework, making it highly sustainable.

As far as your scaling needs are concerned, SAFe answers many questions, such as about collaboration patterns in your organization, doubts about the responsiveness across various teams, wanting to embed customer satisfaction into your tenets, and building operational excellence. SAFe can be your playbook, a proven and trusted one, for transformation. 

Now, what is Scrum? Scrum is a comprehensive framework that guides the effective implementation of agile processes. Under the scrum framework, large tasks are chopped down into multiple, short iterations of the task. These smaller tasks are called sprints. The daily meetings that help align everything together are called scrums. 

In scrum meetings, you can get together all the working parts of a project to ensure everything is working by the pre-decided timelines. You'll find three key roles within the Scrum framework: Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Scrum Team members. 

If you are wondering about the difference between the scrum and SAFe frameworks, it’s simple. Scrum is the framework based on the agile values and principles that guides business agility plans. But when you are thinking of doing the same at scale, i.e., at the enterprise level, SAFe methodology makes the process seamless. So, agile is the mindset, scrum is the framework to achieve that mindset, and SAFe is the way to scale it up.

SAFe Implementation Roadmap

We just explained the concepts of SAFe and Scrum implementation and the purpose that they serve. But implementing SAFe frameworks is not a day’s task. There are rules, events, roles, and so much more to learn and understand before you can fully implement it in your team or organization. The work starts when organizations begin to embrace lean-agile development principles and mindset. Once you embrace this mindset, it has to be followed by action.  

Now, let's talk about the SAFe and Scrum Implementation Roadmap. The roadmap refers to the sequence of actions, activities, and milestones, which are:

a) aligned with the overall strategy and tactics, and

b) used as touchpoints to ensure adherence to the implementation plan.

With an effective roadmap in place, everyone knows the near-term and long-term goals, what deliverables need to be prioritized, and the guiding principles that should lead the whole team in the direction of these goals. A SAFe implementation plan usually has three deliverables: a near-term product implementation roadmap, a longer-term ideal process roadmap, and a portfolio implementation roadmap.

The Scrum Implementation Roadmap has been developed after much experience. In its current version, it’s a 12-step plan that provides clear guidance on the methodology as well as the action items corresponding to the methodology. These will help in the smooth deployment of SAFe.

The next consideration is about personnel: Who will lead the SAFe transformation in an organization or a team? We suggest an expert is chosen for this role. For example, if a Product Owner or Manager is certified in SAFe practices, they can use lean principles and the SAFe methodology in their organization. 

However, agile transformation doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen immediately. Changes like this often test organizational resilience. Therefore, you will see that if an organization tries to implement the system on its own, it could create more challenges. On the other hand, bringing in an expert—an organization with transformation experience—can help navigate the waters for organizations trying to adopt these methodologies.

Let’s look at the potential pitfalls and challenges in the adoption of these methodologies and how a SAFe practitioner can help you navigate or pivot. 

Challenges and Pitfalls in adopting SAFe and Scrum methodologies

When you try to do everything yourself, you will end up taking on more than you can manage. When managers try to implement SAFe on their own, they are likely to come across the following challenges. 

  • Lack of Process Clarity

Scrum methodologies can be new to many team members. You say “daily stand-up” and it may not be immediately obvious to all team members what you mean. Thus, initial training on the principles of agile and on the SAFe framework is imperative for the success of the methodology. Without this training, team members may end up differing on matters. 

Let’s consider an example: If you have a difficult project at hand with a deadline, how would you ensure that a team spread across different departments and roles deliver on time? Now, suppose you have the scrum methodology to guide you. This gives clarity on the role that every member has to play. Complex tasks are broken down into manageable ones. Quick releases or shipped product features provide a sense of accomplishment. You have frequent milestones to ensure collective ownership and accountability of everyone involved in the process. 

However, if people don’t understand their roles or the process of doing tasks or reporting back, they will not be able to deliver the manageable tasks, This is a challenge that can be easily rectified by bringing in a transformation expert who can conduct training sessions or workshops for everyone on the team. This will help bring everyone on the same page, with respect to the processes involved. 

  • Resistance to change

It is human nature to resist any change. Some resist it actively, pointing out the demerits of the new system, and some may resist covertly by not abiding by the new structure. None of the scenarios is good for agile transformation. When you are introducing a new system that changes the standard operating procedures, it is important to introduce the changes bit-by-bit and not all of a sudden. The implementation of agile in your processes could hint towards a larger cultural change in the organization. 

Someone with transformation expertise will know how to handle various scenarios, including one of active, rebellious resistance. They will be able to pre-empt many resistance arguments and also keep dissent to a graceful minimum in the transition period. For example, they may identify who the informal leaders of the team are, train them to advocate for the agile methodology, and count on their support to sway the winds in support of the transformation. 

  • Tough Adaptation to Scrum Roles

SAFe and scrum methodologies aim to create well-oiled machinery within the team, each member functions like cogs in a wheel. Everyone has a specific role to play, and faultless synchronization boosts productivity. However, these roles can be different from the formal roles we play in an organizational matrix. 

For many employees, it can be challenging to adapt to their scrum roles, where, let’s say, the scrum master calls the meetings rather than the project manager. Knowing that Scrum master may or may not be the same person as the project manager, this is a very likely ground for both confusion and conflict. This adaptation, along with other processes, should also be made smooth and hiccup-free for the personnel involved. 

  • Hasty transformation 

If the scrum transformation takes place hastily, it can lead to a flawed agile implementation. This could show up in several different ways. Some teams may have adopted SAFe, while others continue following old methodologies. If there’s no clarity on roles, team members can mistake the scrum master for the project manager. Or worse, team members enthusiastically adopt agile but fail to implement the true agile principles in practice. 

  • Neglect of business outcomes

When organizations try to implement SAFe systems themselves, the software engineering leaders typically look at scaling as the end goal. Their focus is on the output. But why is this a bad thing? Because for the implementation of SAFe, you need to first create a business case for the methodology. And what does it provide you which the current way of working does not? How will this methodology make sense in terms of the business outcome KPIs? In simple words, creating a case for—and explaining—the business value proposition is key for directing resources towards scrum implementation. And that can be done skillfully by an organization like ATC, which can explain the value-add.

Adopting sprints makes it easier for you to roll out new features and iteratively make them better through user feedback. The value of this iterative process is best explained by a SAFe transformation expert. 

  • Choosing the right metrics and pre-empting skepticism

Did you know that doctors are not allowed to operate on their family members in an operation theater? They are considered too close to the patient to give their best professional medical judgment. The same applies to product managers and owners. They are too close to the product they are building which is why their judgment might be influenced by other events related to the product. Agility often requires you to take measures that invite skepticism from team members. But you need to constantly revise your vision to align it with the business value without appearing flaky. 

Once again, this is a job best done by experts who can provide proactive guidance for seamless knowledge transfer, breakdown of complex processes into manageable microservices, automation, and other things. 

  • Leadership Commitment

A successful SAFe transformation relies heavily on managerial support and advocacy. The leadership from the IT and business sides of the organization should be on board with the SAFe transformation. Even when people in those positions change, it’s important to have their support and engagement, or the SAFe transformation could fail. 

As a simple example, if the product manager does not call for daily scrums, what good is implementing the entire scrum system? Having sprints would be ineffective if not followed by proper reports and check-ins by the manager. Thus, leadership’s commitment is indispensable for the sustenance of the SAFe implementation.

Hence, we suggest you opt for a SAFe practitioner for your Scrum Implementation. They will make sure your entire team—composed of dozens and possibly hundreds of people—understands, adopts, and internalizes this new way of working. At ATC, our Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) services provide you with a playbook for your SAFe transformation. ATC partners with you to help accelerate your progress towards the goals, reap the benefits of an agile workplace, and do so with the enthusiastic adoption of the methodology by one and all in your organization. 

With so many pitfalls, are SAFe and Scrum methodologies worth it?

As we can see, the challenges of implementing agile methodologies without an expert overseeing the operation are countless. But the benefits of transformation far outweigh the initial efforts. Here’s why you should consider hiring a transformation expert. 

In a customer-centric world, organizations need to make constant upgrades and updates to the product and ship them out. SAFe can help improve this time-to-market by coordinating the efforts of cross-functional teams. Leveraging the principles of SAFe can help with faster decision turnaround, effective communication, streamlined operations—all of which make customer satisfaction possible. It also boosts quality in processes, products, and people. SAFe ensures adherence to strict quality standards by placing safeguards at every step. Quality does not remain the responsibility of some people in the team; instead, it becomes the responsibility of everyone. 

For people too, quality in their performance is a notable benefit of agile methodologies. Agile teams are 25% more productive and 50% faster to market. When tasks get executed, products get shipped without any hassle and employees are able to give their best. Having clear lines of communication, goals, and timelines also helps them deliver their best work. This results in knowledge workers enjoying more autonomy and accomplishing a lot more, with a boost in both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. 

Role of a SAFe Practitioner

Certified SAFe Consultants bring the best of both worlds: they integrate their technical expertise of SAFe with their business sense and people sense to introduce changes to the company’s systems, tools, and processes. 

If you are planning to undertake a scaled agile transformation journey, an experienced SAFe practitioner will come with a similar experience. They would have already performed a successful transformation at scale. They can also offer an unbiased perspective on the best way to leverage SAFe for enhanced business agility.

SAFe consultants can also bring in cross-sectoral learnings. Unlike employees in the organization, consultants work with different organizations across a variety of sectors. This variety of exposure gives them a unique vantage point to suggest novel ideas that might not otherwise come up from someone with a singular sectoral experience. 

SAFe practitioners can also coach your team on the mindset, helping you rethink the way you work. With a great consultant, the employees will still feel the autonomy to make the final call. It’s a win-win for everyone involved, including your end-users and/or customers. After all, the efforts to boost productivity and efficiency aim to serve the users better. 

At ATC, we can help you with your SAFe transformation needs holistically to help you implement ground-breaking solutions. Let’s connect and discuss how we can make your SAFe transformation a worthwhile experience. 

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