Is SAFe evil?

Recently I have gotten a fair amount of questions about SAFe. A lot of the questions goes in different directions in terms of operational handling, but mainly there’s two overall questions that arise – let’s take them one at the time:

Is SAFe evil?

SAFe is not evil. It’s a tool – just as any other tool that we use in our daily lives. SAFe is “just” another scaling framework that wants to be agile and in this sense, the tool is not much different from e.g. Nexus, Big Agile and LESS… Compared to things we know from our normal life, you can compare it to your toolbox at home where you might find items like hammer, screwdriver, ruler etc. Personally, I love the hammer. Hammers are awesome and can fix quite many problems – but definitely not all problems. It’s simply the wrong tool to  e.g. change a lightbulb.

When we fancy a particular tool we should be very much aware that we don’t try to use it for everything. As illustrated above, the different tools we handle have different capabilities and as users, we should be the ones who decide what works best in each situation. The hammer itself is not to blame for you using it wrong or for using it for the wrong purposes.

Instead of scaling your agile organisation and process, it makes a lot more sense to descale your organisation. This leads directly to the second question that usually comes up when talking about scaling agile:

Is SAFe agile?

I’m sure that there’s many opinions and many ideas about agility and scaling. But to be very subjective here, then I find the mere discussion about “scaling agile” NOT agile at all. To me it means that the person talking about “scaling agile” doesn’t really have a good understanding of what “agile” is in the first place. When this person has this good perception of agility and the agile mindset, I find it most often, that the question about how to scale agile and if SAFe (or any other scaling framework) is agile, becomes redundant and even obsolete.

SAFe consists of a whole lot of different rules, roles, guidelines and practices (it’s a framework!) and with all of these boundaries the agile mindset cannot exist. In agility we strive to experiment and think out of the box in order to deliver value (not velocity as is often misunderstood) – and this is VERY hard (if not impossible though I don’t like this this word as it limits us) in a strict framework.

As agile professionals we should be a lot better at being self-organised and autonomous in our way of thinking and executing. We should surround ourselves with lean agile leaders who can ensure that we have the empowerment and the resources to become- and stay agile. This leads to another topic (I will cover this in another article later) where “alignment” and “autonomy” have to meet. Good alignment from management and the trust in the teams and the (team-) culture should eventually lead to professional decisions and high value outcome.

So, to sum up.
SAFe is neither evil nor is it agile. It’s a tool that gives a lot of benefit to enterprises in many ways. It gives a complete implementation guideline from A-Z and it helps enterprises with their implementations since all is given in advance. It’s assumes that you, on a team level, already are excellent in using Scrum and it scales up (using different words and teams) from there. Many companies find their own way of implementing, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide for yourself, if SAFe really is agile (or evil?).