Simplicity — the art of maximizing the amount of work not done — is essential.
—Agile Manifesto




Essential SAFe

The Essential SAFe configuration is the most basic configuration of SAFe. It provides a starting point for implementing SAFe and describes the most critical elements needed to realize the majority of the framework’s benefits. It consists of the Team and Program levels, and Foundation, as illustrated in Figure 1.

SAFe has proven to scale in all situations, from complex software and systems development to bond trading and medical devices to memory chips and fighter aircraft. But, with such a robust framework, the question becomes: how closely does an organization need to follow various SAFe practices to get the desired result?

Also, we’ve observed that not every implementation realizes the full business benefits that others achieve. When diagnosing SAFe implementation problems, we’ve discovered that these enterprises have skipped some of the essential practices. It’s easy to see how that can happen. After all, it’s a big framework, how would an enterprise know what’s most important?

To that end, Essential SAFe is a subset that describes the minimal elements necessary for success. If you are incorporating these 10 essential elements for each Agile Release Train (ART) in your portfolio, you’re well on your way to realizing the full benefits of SAFe.

These 10 essential elements also help an organization achieve three Lean Enterprise competencies: Lean-Agile Leadership, Team and Technical Agility, and DevOps and Release on Demand. Moreover, Essential SAFe provides the foundation for achieving the Business Solutions and Lean Systems Engineering and Lean Portfolio Management competencies.

The Ten Essential Elements

#1 – Lean-Agile Principles

SAFe practices are grounded in fundamental Lean-Agile principles. That’s why you can be confident that they apply well in your case. And if the practices don’t directly apply, the underlying principles can guide you to make sure that they are moving on a continuous path to the ‘shortest sustainable lead time, with best quality and value to people and society.’

#2 – Real Agile Teams and Trains

Real Agile Teams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs) are fully cross-functional. They have everything, and everyone, necessary to produce a working, tested increment of the solution. They are self-organizing and self-managing, which enables value to flow more quickly, with a minimum of overhead. Product Management, System Arch/Eng, and Release Train Engineer provide content and technical authority, and an effective development process. Product Owners and Scrum Masters help the Dev teams meet their PI Objectives. The Agile teams should engage the customer throughout the development process.

#3 – Cadence and Synchronization

Cadence provides a rhythmic pattern, the dependable heartbeat for the development process. It makes routine those things that can be routine. Synchronization allows multiple perspectives to be understood and resolved at the same time. For example, synchronization is used to pull the various assets of a system together to assess solution-level viability.

#4 – PI Planning

No event is more powerful in SAFe than PI Increment (PI) planning. It’s the cornerstone of the PI, which provides the rhythm for the ART. When 100 or so people work together toward a common mission, Vision, and purpose, it’s amazing how much alignment and energy it creates. Gaining that alignment in just two days can save months of delays.

#5 – DevOps and Releasability

DevOps provides the Culture, Automation, Lean-flow, Measurement, and Recovery capabilities to enable an enterprise to bridge the gap between development and operations. Releasability focuses on the enterprise’s ability to deliver value to its Customers more often and according to the demands of the market. Together they allow an organization to achieve better economic results by having more frequent releases and faster validation of hypotheses.

#6 – System Demo

The primary measure of the ART’s progress is the objective evidence provided by a working solution in the System Demo. Every two weeks, the full system— the integrated work of all teams on the train for that iteration—is demoed to the train’s stakeholders. Stakeholders provide the feedback the train needs to stay on course and take corrective action.

#7 – Inspect and Adapt

Inspect and Adapt is a significant event held every PI. A regular time to reflect, collect data and solve problems, the inspect and adapt assembles teams and stakeholders to assess the solution, and define and take action on the improvements needed to increase the velocity, quality, and reliability of the next PI.

#8 – IP Iteration

The Innovation and Planning Iteration occurs every PI and serves multiple purposes. It acts as an estimating buffer for meeting PI objectives, and provides dedicated time for innovation, continuing education, and PI planning and Inspect and Adapt events. It’s like extra fuel in the tank: Without it, the train may start straining under the ‘tyranny of the urgent’ iteration.

#9 – Architectural Runway

Architectural Runway consists of the existing code, components and technical infrastructure necessary to support the implementation of high priority, near-term features, without excessive delay and redesign. Without enough investment in the architectural runway, the train will slow down, needing to redesign for each new Feature.

#10 – Lean-Agile Leadership

For SAFe to be effective, the enterprise’s leaders and managers must take responsibility for Lean-Agile adoption and success. Executives and managers must become Lean-Agile leaders who are trained—and then become trainers in—these leaner ways of thinking and operating. Without leadership taking responsibility for the implementation, the transformation will likely fail to achieve the full benefits.

Essential SAFe Assets

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There are two essential assets as part of this guidance article:

  1. Essential SAFe 4.6 presentation and self-assessment worksheet
  2. A downloadable version of the Essential SAFe 4.6 picture in PPT format
Download Essential SAFe 4.6 Overview and Assessment Download Essential SAFe 4.6 PPT

You can also download the Essential SAFe Big Picture here.

Last Update: 3 October 2018