Disciplined Agile

DA FLEX Playbook for SAFe®

The DA FLEX Playbook for SAFe is designed for those who have started with SAFe and want to improve and accelerate their gains or get out of the stagnation many fall into. The playbook walks participants through a step-by-step process of improving any SAFe implementation. It builds on the progress you have already made with SAFe while offering additional concepts that are missing in SAFe and that are essential at scale. These concepts are then used in ‘plays’ to improve your implementation.

These plays enable an Essential SAFe implementation to expand to the portfolio without having to resort to following the complicated portfolio level that SAFe describes. These plays offer a simpler and yet more effective approach that covers the entire value stream.

The DA FLEX Playbook for SAFe is designed to be implemented in four phases which can be done sequentially or overlapped for faster adoption.

  1. Improve in place.
  2. Restructure teams within the program and shorten the time of the increment being planned.
  3. Align teams to business stakeholders and implement agile budgeting.
  4. Use lean management and guided continuous improvement.


The Interrelatedness of the Phases

Each phase sets up the next. However, an organization does not need to finish one phase before going on to the next. Usually the next phase can be started before the current phase is completed.


Phase 1: Improve in place

Use new DA FLEX concepts and a few plays to improve SAFe’s core practices.

  1. Understanding Our Inherent Problem. We typically manage in a hierarchical structure but our work flows across the organization. All Agile at scale approaches must deal with this challenge. It sets the stage for how the business organization and development/service organization must have different structures.
  2. View SAFe from a value stream perspective. In this topic, we present SAFe from the perspective of the value stream. It enables one  to see the delays, handoffs, handbacks and poor process present. This perspective enables better decisions on how to improve the workflow. This includes attending to the inherent problem of hierarchy vs value stream. Note: The term ‘value stream’ here used Lean’s definition which has a value stream refer to the workflow. SAFe’s “long lived value streams” refers to stable teams working on related value streams. To avoid confusion I refer to value streams with stable teams working on them as “value streams with long lived teams.”
  3. The Minimum Business Increments (MBI). MBIs are the smallest increment of business/customer value that can be created and delivered to customers for which they can realize value. MBIs are a critical artifact in that can be used to define releases. They can be used to simplify portfolio and product development.
  4. Use MBIs in product management. MBIs contain all the information required to build a new capability that requires multiple teams or ARTs. It can act as a coordinating artifact.
  5. How to map your value stream and why it’s so important to do so. Value streams mapping can be used to identify most of the challenges you face.  See Value stream mapping  and Why Looking at Delays in the Value Stream Is So Important.
  6. Adopt true ATDD / BDD.  If you haven’t adopted ATDD or BDD yet, now is the time. If you have, make sure you have learned how product owners, developers and testers do it together. SAFe’s training does not require the involvement of product owners, which diminishes its value.
  7. Improve the program increment planning event using MBIs and focusing on dependencies.  Also, look for improving the allocation of people to the workflows. See Running Effective Planning Events.
  8. Have shared services work as a professional service provider. Many times the best way for shared services to support teams is to loan people to them for the duration of a value stream.
  9. Improve cross-functionality of teams. After a planning event, the combination of dependency identification, MBIs and what makes for better teams enables improving the cross-functionality of existing teams even if focused solution teams are not workable yet. See Focused Solutions Team below.


Phase 2: Restructure Teams within the Program and Shorten Program Increments Over Time

  1. Decoupling teams. The goal is not coordinating teams but the decoupling of teams.
  2. The focused solution team. A focused solution team is a group of people organized in sub-teams that have the capability of creating an MBI for a product and are dedicated to working just on the MBI.
  3. Use focused solution teams to go beyond the initial gains of SAFe. Focused solution teams help to reduce dependencies between teams, to use shorter planning cycles, and to align people to products. This is especially powerful when also using ATDD/BDD. 
  4. Provide shared services and enterprise architecture as professional service providers. This helps development teams be as cross-functional as possible.
  5. Shorten program increments over time. As teams become more decoupled from each other, it is possible to have smaller, shorter planning events that involve fewer teams. 


Phase 3: Align Teams to Business Stakeholders and Implement Agile Budgeting

  • Use strategies, initiatives and MBIs to implement the higher levels of SAFe in a simpler, more effective manner. Many organizations begin with Essential SAFe and then stay there because the higher levels of SAFe are too complicated to adopt. But the concepts and actions at these higher levels are critical for most organizations, even smaller ones. DA FLEX addresses this complexity through the use of Minimum Business Increments (MBIs).
  • Create a network of semi-autonomous, cross-functional team or groups of teams using focused solution teams.
  • Decompose the ARTs into a network of focused solution teams that align to business stakeholders. This approach helps to implement Kotter’s dual operating system as SAFe suggests. It also allows for agile budgeting.


Phase 4: Use lean management and guided continuous improvement

Disciplined Agile and DA FLEX provide guidance via Lean, Flow, Theory of Constraints and other principles that enable adopters of SAFe to refine their implementation. SAFe’s canned solutions regarding train and the formation of who works on value streams is useful as a start but provides less guidance than available to continue improvement.

  1. Implement the Disciplined Agile promises. These 7 promises are to be made by all roles in the organization and lay out how people are to work together
  2. The role of management from a Lean perspective. It’s not enough to tell managers they need to support their people, they need to know how to do this in an Agile environment
  3. Guided Continuous Improvement. A quick introduction on how the Disciplined Agile Toolkit can guide organizations further in their journey


If You Haven’t Started a SAFe Adoption But Are Considering It

You can jump straight to a Disciplined Agile approach without SAFe, or use SAFe as a backbone while adding many of the described here right from the beginning. Most important, however, is to recognize that one size does not fit all. Also, while SAFe typically starts with the teams and then adds levels to them, it’s usually better to start with full value streams. You can often start with DA FLEX’s simpler portfolio and product management approach as well. Also, make sure you start with Acceptance Test-Driven Development with product owners, developers and testers collaborating.