From Scrum to Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) – A ScrumMaster’s Perspective

The following is a fictional narrative from a Scrum Master who is on a journey to make the transition from “classic” Scrum to Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®).

This is the story of a Software Engineer named Sam, who has been working as a Scrum Master for the past 5 years, and is faced with the need to evolve as his organization seeks to adopt the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®). This anecdote hopes to shed light on a few potential issues and obstacles that you might encounter if you embark on a similar journey.

Below is an excerpt from Sam’s notebook…

“I have been doing this “Scrum thing” for a while now – it’s almost too simple. Plan the work, do the work, review the work, make sure the customer is happy. The team understands how to do everything and I don’t even have to remind them to finish the Daily Scrum in 15 minutes or less. I remember when we first came together as a team. It was pretty rough at first, especially when nobody knew how to write a user story or do estimates using story points. I am amazed how far we have come, how much we have grown as a team and as an organization. We have achieved a lot in a fairly short period of time.

For the past several months, we have demonstrated to our management that Scrum works for us, and that we can deliver tangible results to the company. Our leaders have asked me to investigate Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) to see how things might need to be modified in our current teams. After being a part of the same team of dedicated people for so long, I can’t help feeling a bit anxious about what this new framework will mean to us.

After spending a few minutes looking at the SAFe website, I was honestly lost. There is so much information that I did not know where to begin! Is this really something we need right now? I’m not so sure.

I decided to call one of my former co-workers who is a SAFe guru to get his thoughts. My colleague, DJ, is a great friend who is always ready to share his insights on anything related to Agile. I bet he can help me figure out where to go.

So I had a quick call with DJ last night and found out that I should be looking at the following:

  1. Think about how your team will be affected by team size. DJ told me that SAFe suggests teams that are sized from 5 to 9, which is larger than Scrum (3 to 9). This means that some of our smaller teams will need to be changed to form larger teams. This seems like a minor change, but I do know a couple of “high-maintenance” developers who might make a big deal out of this. Either way, we need to prepare for this.
  2. Form a Community of Practice (CoP). DJ suggested that I look into forming a Community of Practice to help align the teams and formulate common standards and practices across teams. This seems like an important thing to do since most of our teams do their own thing right now, and are very different in how they do specific things such as Story Point estimation.
  3. Encourage your Scrum Masters to learn Kanban. According to DJ, SAFe allows Agile Teams to use either Scrum or Kanban. This means that we could end up with a mixture of teams using different models. I’m not sure if we will do this right away, but we should start planning ahead and make sure our Scrum Masters know the fundamentals of Kanban in case we decide to go that route for some teams.
  4. Look for people who may way to take on a new challenge. DJ suggested that I pay special attention to team members who may want to try a new role, perhaps learn to serve as a Scrum Master on a new team. Most of my team has been together for over two years, and some of them may be ready to make a change. I should look into this.
  5. Prepare to change terminology from “Sprint” to “Iteration”. SAFe uses a different set of terminology that is very similar to Scrum, but just different enough that we should pay attention. Our company seems to be very sensitive to buzzwords and terminology, so we should figure out how to make this transition as smooth as possible for both IT and business folks.
  6. Think about how to optimize communication across teams. According to DJ, SAFe has a meeting called the “Scrum of Scrums” which is a meeting with all Scrum Masters from each team, designed to discuss intra-team issues. This seems like a great way to get everyone on the same page. Some of the Scrum Masters don’t seem to like staff meetings so I should try to help them understand how this meeting will work.
  7. Investigate timeboxes of team events. DJ suggested that I look into the differences in durations of timeboxes that SAFe recommends. Apparently, some of the events have smaller timeboxes; we are used to spending up to 90 minutes for the Retrospective, but SAFe only allows 60 minutes. It’s probably not a big deal but I should plan ahead.

I spoke to DJ again this morning. He told me that as a ScrumMaster, if I can gain a solid understanding of the areas he recommended, I should be in good shape for now. He also suggested that I take a training course to help me understand the bigger picture; I guess I will look into that next.

All this new stuff feels a bit overwhelming, but I’m looking forward to doing something new and exciting for once!”

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Eugene Lai
Eugene Lai