How safe is SAFe? - East of England - Cambridge - 15 August 2018

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The APM East of England branch welcomed Rob Negus and Emma Willcox from Arm to deliver a presentation that explored the pragmatic implementation of SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) in Arm IT.

Attendees were given a brief background to Arm who have their headquarters in Cambridge and are the world’s leading semiconductor IP company.

The case for change was then described that highlighted why Arm considered adopting a new delivery framework in 2016 which mainly focused on their desire to delight their customers.

There was discussion around the use of agile in many of its different forms and that, in Arm, agile was considered a mind-set rather than a methodology per se.

Rob and Emma repeatedly stressed that their approach, and that of Arm IT, was not to implement a rigid methodology, but rather to adopt a framework that could be tailored to the needs of the business and adapted over time as their learning journey progressed.

In adopting SAFe, Arm IT used traditional fortnightly sprints and introduced Programme Increments that executed quarterly.

Pockets of Arm IT provided feedback that suggested the ‘old way of working’ was safer and this led to the team giving real thought to best to assure and govern their framework to ensure its effectiveness. Their focus was on trying to think differently from more traditional approaches to develop a structure tailored for their needs.

It was suggested that for their SAFe implementation, governance was likely to be focused at the Programme level but that overall, the most effective places to introduce included at the:

  • Portfolio Kanban;
  • Programme Kanban;
  • Team Kanban; and
  • Programme Increment planningFor those on a similar journey looking to identify the most appropriate points to introduce governance, they should look for natural governance points as well looking out for the places in the process where the ‘handshakes’ take place.It was also recommended that governance be built into any new processes or frameworks that are being implemented rather than seeking to bolt them on afterwards as this can become a pain point.In terms of assurance, it was suggested that the following stages of the SAFe framework could be points at which assurance could be built in:
  • Programme Increment objectives
  • Programme events
  • Scrum eventsFor assurance at team level, there tends not to be as much data available as with other more traditional ways of delivering and so a different approach will be needed. This normally requires discussions or visits to the team in question to observe how they’re performing. It was acknowledged that as with many delivery approaches, the measurement of benefits was key, and also difficult and continues to present a challenge. One of the keys to the transformation continuing to be a success has been the right level of investment to enable expertise to be contracted and recruited into the business as well as for training existing staff in new approaches. Additionally, developing a culture in which the whole business (not just Arm IT) are an intrinsic part of the process (including planning, prioritising work, testing etc) has been crucial.   

It was acknowledged that as with many delivery approaches, the measurement of benefits was key, and also difficult and continues to present a challenge. One of the keys to the transformation continuing to be a success has been the right level of investment to enable expertise to be contracted and recruited into the business as well as for training existing staff in new approaches. Additionally, developing a culture in which the whole business (not just Arm IT) are an intrinsic part of the process (including planning, prioritising work, testing etc) has been crucial. 

Posted on 21st Aug 2018
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