Here are three things that stand out to me:
The Framework Has Matured
I believe that SAFe can now be called a “mature” framework. Evidence of this is that the changes in the model from version 3.0 to 4.0 have been by extension, rather than by invention.
What I mean is that, although there are some new things in 4.0, those things are based on patterns that already existed in the framework. For example, the Value Stream level looks and behaves a lot like the Program level, and you could think of Capabilities as super-sized Features.
The lack of the need to introduce anything fundamentally new has also provided an opportunity to do some cleanup and refinement. Earlier versions of the Big Picture looked as if it would collapse under the weight of all those icons. The Big Picture is better aligned and less cluttered now, and I really like that it more clearly emphasizes that a Portfolio serves the Enterprise.
The most obvious change in SAFe 4.0 is the addition of the optional Value Stream level for large, complex solutions delivery, where a SAFe Program isn’t comprehensive enough. Kudos by the way, to the Scaled Agile crew for abandoning their original plan to have two different Big Pictures — one with three levels and one with four levels. The single, collapsible picture is easy to use, and my guess is that this approach forced lots of discussion that might otherwise have not taken place.
The reason that this makes it on my list of things to like is not so much the direct applicability to large systems (although that’s important). It’s because SAFe 4.0 authoritatively demonstrates that the framework can be adapted to meet the needs of different situations.
Granted, there is a lot of documented structure around this “official” adaptation, as it’s a published change to the very framework itself. But this example should give heart to an organization that sees the need to make legitimate local adaptations to its SAFe implementation, but has been reluctant to do so for fear of being guilty of no longer “doing SAFe”.
The Framework Calls for Horizontal Cohesion
SAFe has always emphasized organizing around value streams over organizing around function or projects. But there’s no escaping the hierarchical orientation of SAFe’s organizational model.
On top of that, we humans can take any organizational structure and build silos within it, even when unintentional. Large, distributed organizations tend toward isolation of groups, regardless of what they’re grouped around, unless something is purposely done to counter that.
I’m glad that SAFe 4.0 highlights the need for Communities of Practice, and calls them out right in the Big Picture. Without communities of practice, it’s too easy to isolate ourselves within value streams as we organize around them.
In a Nutshell
I believe that SAFe will continue to evolve as the boundaries of business and technology keep pushing outward and overlapping each other, and as practice demonstrates what is and isn’t working. For now though, I see SAFe 4.0 as a robust edition of what was already a very good framework.
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