It is not enough that management commit themselves to quality and productivity, they must know what it is they must do. Such a responsibility cannot be delegated.

—W. Edwards Deming

Implementing 1-2-3 Abstract

Implementing the changes necessary to become a Lean-Agile technology enterprise is a substantial change for most organizations. Embracing a Lean-Agile mindset, understanding and applying the Lean-Agile Principles, and effectively implementing the SAFe practices all come before the business benefits. And, of course, the culture must evolve, too.

While SAFe is a freely revealed body of knowledge, available to all, it does not implement itself, nor does it prescribe the organizational change management process that is typically required for successful implementation. We leave that to the enterprise, because only they know their specific context, and they—typically assisted by their partners—must own the transformation.

But many enterprises have gone down this path already (see Case Studies), and the lessons learned are now becoming more widely accessible. Based on the learnings from hundreds of SAFe implementations, Scaled Agile, Inc. has developed a basic “Implementing SAFe 1-2-3” pattern for successful SAFe adoption. It provides a simple road map that helps get everyone aligned to a common implementation strategy.

This article provides an overview of this successful pattern for SAFe implementation, along with pointers to the growing community of service providers who are ready and willing to help your enterprise make this critical transformation.

(Note:  A more expansive version of this roadmap is under development and is available here.)


Figure 1 provides a high-level summary of the “Implementing SAFe 1-2-3” approach. Each of the numbered items in this strategy is described in the paragraphs below.

Figure 1. Implementing SAFe 1-2-3

1. Train Implementers and Lean-Agile Change Agents

Given the scope, challenge, and impact of rollouts, successful adoption of SAFe requires most enterprises to use a combination of internal and external change agents, leaders, mentors, and coaches. These people need to be skilled in teaching and delivering SAFe. To achieve this, Scaled Agile, Inc. provides an Implementing SAFe 4.0 with SPC Certification program. After taking this class, attendees will be able to:

  • Lead an enterprise Agile transformation with SAFe
  • Implement SAFe
  • Launch Agile Release Trains and proctor and continuously improve the trains via Inspect and Adapt workshops

Those who take and pass the optional SPC Certification exam (included) will be licensed to:

  • Train managers and executives in Leading SAFe and act as a SAFe Agilist (SA) certifying agent
  • Train practitioners in SAFe 4.0 for Teams and act as a SAFe Practitioner (SP) certifying agent

The Implementing SAFe 4.0 with SAFe Program Consultant (SPC4) Certification course is delivered by certified SPC Trainers (SPCT) in open enrollment or on-site settings worldwide.

Service providers who specialize in SAFe can be found at Scaled Agile, Inc., and at Scaled Agile Partners. There are many independent SPCs as well; these can be found at the Scaled Agile SPC membership site.

2. Train all Executives, Managers, and Leaders

It is critical that executives, managers, and leaders understand what is required to lead a Lean-Agile transformation, including how and why SAFe works. To help achieve this, Scaled Agile, Inc., provides a two-day course, Leading SAFe 4.0, Leading the Lean-Agile Enterprise with the Scaled Agile Framework. After attending, participants will be able to:

  • Adopt a Lean-Agile mindset
  • Apply Lean and Agile principles; base daily decisions on this long-term philosophy; understand, exhibit, and teach these principles
  • Understand the practices, roles, activities, and artifacts of the Scaled Agile Framework
  • Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers
  • Learn the practices and tools of relentless improvement and teach employees problem-solving and corrective-action skills
  • Become hands-on in the new process adoption, eliminate impediments, and facilitate organizational change management
  • Take responsibility for Lean-Agile implementation success

The audience for this class is executives, managers, solution development stakeholders, and change agents responsible for leading a Lean-Agile change initiative, whereby they gain the knowledge necessary to lead and support the SAFe adoption.

A certification exam is optional for this course. Those who pass the optional exam will be certified as SAFe Agilist (SA), and will receive one year’s membership to that community and its benefits.

The Leading SAFe 4.o course is delivered by certified SPC consultant/trainers in open enrollment or on-site settings worldwide. Service providers include Scaled Agile, Inc.; Scaled Agile Partners; and independent SPCs, who can be found at the Scaled Agile SPC member site.

3. Train Teams and Launch Agile Release Trains

The primary value delivery mechanism in the enterprise is the Agile Release Train, but starting these trains is not a trivial task. One proven starting mechanism is an Agile Release Train QuickStart. Suitable after some significant up-front preparation, the QuickStart is a one-week training and immersion program that:

  • Organizes 50 – 100 team members into Agile Teams, training them simultaneously in the principles of Lean, Agile, and SAFe
  • Trains the teams together with the two-day Lean-Agile team training course SAFe 4.0 for Teams.
  • Aligns the teams on the train to a common mission and spends two days in face-to-face support of planning the next Program Increment
  • Introduces prospective Product Owners and Scrum Masters to the skills and activities unique to their roles in the new Agile Enterprise
  • Builds context and a cadence-based, rolling-wave planning and delivery model that continuously incorporates business objective setting and program commitments, effective and reliable program execution, and adaptive feedback

SPCs can provide these services and download and use the SAFe Program Increment Toolkit (member login required) to prepare for a successful launch. It contains the tools to prepare the organization, programs, teams, and individuals for success and continuous improvement. You may also want to consider licensing the SAFe 4.0 ART Launch Courseware Bundle. This bundle provides both the courseware and tools needed to quickly and effectively launch Agile Release Trains.

Supporting Consulting Activities

Once the enterprise has a critical mass of in-house Lean-Agile Leaders, and a few Agile Release Trains rolling, a variety of consulting activities may be applicable and beneficial. These could include coaching the train, training specialist roles, and continuous improvement.

Coaching the Train

By sharing their knowledge and experience, coaches can help teams and individuals improve their newfound skills by:

  • Providing program consulting and team coaching to build the organization’s Lean-Agile capabilities
  • Facilitating Agile Release Train readiness, including program backlog refinement and more
  • Facilitating Inspect and Adapt workshops
  • Facilitating Value Stream Mapping and Portfolio planning workshops
  • Implementing relevant metrics and governance
  • Mentoring executives, managers, and other program stakeholders in SAFe adoption
  • Shadowing and mentoring Release Train Engineers

Many of the these activities are supported by various Scaled Agile workshop kits, which are available to SPCs in good standing.

Training Specialist Roles

It is important to train specialists—including prospective Product Owners and Scrum Masters—in the principles and practices unique to their roles. Training courses for this purpose include:

  • SAFe 4.0 Scrum Master Orientation – Half- to 1-day orientation to the role of a SAFe Scrum Master
  • SAFe 4.0 Product Manager / Product Owner with PMPO certification – This 2-day certification course is for Product Managers, Business Owners, and Product Owners who will learn how to manage and prioritize backlogs, participate in SAFe events, define and support epics, capabilities, features, and user stories, and manage stakeholders at the various levels of the enterprise.
  • SAFe 4.0 Advanced Scrum Master with ASM Certification – This 2-day advanced, certification course prepares current Scrum Masters for their leadership role in facilitating Agile team, program, and enterprise success. It enhances the Scrum paradigm with an introduction to scalable engineering and DevOps practices; the application of Kanban to facilitate flow; supporting interactions with architects, product management, and other critical stakeholders; and tips and techniques for building high-performing Agile teams.

Note: The courseware offerings are always advancing, so be sure and check for the latest updates.

Continuous Improvement

Once the transformation is under way, there are a variety of opportunities for sustaining and enhancing improvements in speed and quality that can be best facilitated by the extensive community of skilled professionals. These activities can include Agile Release Train health checks; Portfolio, Value Stream, Agile Release Train, and Team agility self-assessments; and facilitated Inspect and Adapt sessions. For help, we again refer you to your in-house SPCs, Scaled Agile Partners, and other independent SPCs.

Last update: 18 July,  2016