We often don’t think through carefully enough what new behavior, skills, and attitudes will be needed when major changes are initiated. As a result, we don’t recognize the kind and amount of training that will be required to help people learn those new behaviors, skills, and attitudes.
—John Kotter

Train everyone. Launch trains.
—The SAFe approach

This article is part of the SAFe® Implementation Roadmap series which outlines and discusses the primary ‘critical moves’ that are common to successful SAFe transformations. To view the Roadmap and find links to the entire set of supporting articles, click here.

Train Teams and Launch the ART

In the previous articles in the SAFe Implementation Roadmap series, we described the first seven ‘critical moves:’

By now, key ART stakeholders are trained and on board, and launch plans are in place. The LACE and various SAFe Program Consultants (SPCs) are ready and prepared to help. In this article, we’ll discuss how to Train the Teams and Launch the ART, so that the real business benefits of the change can start to occur.


business-resutls-thumbKotter’s quote reminds us that changing people’s behaviors, attitudes, and skills—and in the end, the culture of an enterprise—is no small feat. Simply put, if we want people to do things differently, leaders must “shape the path” [1]. That requires training to show people the way, and follow-up coaching to help them master these new skills, techniques and attitudes.

Train the Agile Teams

We are now ready to turn our attention to the new and tentatively identified Agile teams who will constitute most of the train members (see Prepare for ART Launch). These are the people who actually build the systems needed by the business, so it’s important that they fully grasp what’s about to take place. They must have an understanding of their role in the ART, and gain the Lean and Agile skills needed to be effective in their changing role. It’s likely that some or all have never participated in an Agile or SAFe environment, so the next significant task is to train all the teams in the SAFe way of working.

Scaled Agile’s two-day SAFe for Teams (S4T) course is designed for this purpose. This team-building and training course features an introduction to Agile development, including an overview of the Agile Manifesto and its values and principles. It also includes:

In addition, teams prepare their Team Backlog, which identifies the work needed for the upcoming PI planning event.

When approaching this training, keep in mind that it’s likely many of the team members will have some degree of experience with Agile development and might feel that they are already equipped to work in SAFe. There could potentially be some resistance to what they might consider ‘more basic’ Agile training. However, this team training is critically important for SAFe success, as it provides coaching that goes far beyond core Scrum practices. In particular, there are a number of elements of Agile at scale that are unique to SAFe. These include:

The Benefits of “Big Room Training”

In some rollouts, training is performed team by team over time. That can sometimes be effective, however we strongly recommend a more accelerated approach, which includes training all the team members at the same time. This practice has raised some eyebrows in the industry. Many picture 100+ people in a room being trained simultaneously, compare it to the more intimate setting of a small team with a single instructor, and can’t imagine that it delivers equivalent benefits. In reality, it delivers far more. The tangible benefits include:

  1. Accelerated learning. This training happens in two days, rather than over a period of months. That speeds up the timing and assimilation by all the members of the train, which accelerates the launch.
  2. A common scaled agile paradigm. All team members receive the same training, at the same time, from the same instructor. This eliminates the variability of different training sessions over time, by different instructors, using different courseware.
  3. Cost efficiency. One of the challenges with Agile implementation at scale has been the availability and expense of training. Talented, proven instructors are hard to find, not consistently available, and their value and cost are commensurately high. The Big Room approach is typically three to five times more cost effective than individual team training.

There is no substitute for the collective learning experience of big room training. Face-to-face interaction is one of critical ingredients of Agile at scale. The results produced by this convergence of people in one room is always greater than what can be accomplished when working separately from each other. There can be an alchemical aspect to it; something you almost have to experience to believe. To give you a feel for what’s possible, we share some observations from Australia’s SAFe pioneer, Mark Richards:

How on earth do you get a high-impact training experience with 100 people in the room? I was initially unconvinced, so I worked with my clients to schedule 4 or 5 SAFe team-level courses over the period leading up to the first PI planning. I’d request that they send entire teams to the same course so they could sit and learn together, and they would promise to do their best. Then the pain would start. Firstly, the teams would often be in flux up until the last moment. Then they would be too busy on current commitments to all come together so they would dribble through 2 or 3 at a time. And distributed team members would go to different courses.

But I eventually got convinced enough to try it. After the first big room training, I was blown away and spent some time sorting through how on earth it could be so powerful.”

Here are some of Mark’s insights:

  • The teams will be fully formed. The whole team can sit at the same table. Not only do they get to learn together and share insights, it’s actually a very powerful team formation event. Teams choose their names on Day one, and we watch team identity grow before our eyes.
  • Teams engages in collective learning. This provides a chance for the team to resolve their different interpretations in discussions and exercises. They’re not reliant on ‘one mind—the Scrum Master’ to ensure they get value from the Agile approach. Instead, they have many minds that each captures different nuances.
  • The features for the PI will be ready. The team training exercises involving the identification, splitting, estimation, and evolution of stories are done on the real features the teams will be dealing with in PI planning.
  • Teams form their own identities. They also begin to form the shared identity of the train. As the discussions and debriefs progress, they start to learn about each other’s worlds.

As different as it is, the ‘all-in Big-Room training’ approach remains one of our strongest recommendations, and is one of SAFe’s most cost-effective and valuable implementation strategies.

Launch the ART

There are many ways to successfully start an ART, and there’s no specific timeline for the readiness activities we described in the last article. However, experience has shown that the easiest and fastest way to launch an ART is through the “ART Quickstart” approach, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1. The one-week, all-in ART Quickstart approach
Figure 1. The one-week, all-in ART Quickstart approach

In this approach, the Agile teams are trained and the first PI Planning session is scheduled in a single week. While this may seem daunting, experience has shown that this is the easiest and most pragmatic way to help 100+ people transition to the new way of working. There are three elements to this approach:

  • Day 1-2: The Agile team Big Room training takes place, as described above.
  • Day 3-4: Team training is followed immediately by PI planning. This way, the teams are still present and in-context, and their first PI planning experience builds on the prior day’s training.
  • Day 5: This is reserved for role orientation, tool training, discussion of needed Agile technical practices, open space, and any other activities that the teams need to get ready for the first iteration.

The First PI Planning Session

During the Quickstart, PI Planning serves to help build the teams’ backlogs based on current priorities. It also reinforces the training they’ve just received. The very next week, the teams will plan their iteration in the normal fashion and start executing the PI.

Obviously, getting off to a good start with PI Planning is essential to the success of the first PI. It signals and affirms a new way of working for all the teams and stakeholders. An effective session will:

  • Build confidence and enthusiasm
  • Start to build the ART as a team of teams and the social network that it relies on
  • Teach the teams how they can assume responsibility for planning and delivery
  • Create full visibility into the mission and current context of the program
  • Demonstrate the commitment of Lean-Agile Leaders to the SAFe transformation

This first planning session is, therefore, a critical event for SPCs, other leaders, and change agents. To ensure a good outcome, an experienced SPC will typically co-facilitate the session.

Moving Forward

With the teams and stakeholders trained, and the new way of working now in effect, there is no going back. As you prepare to evolve and improve your practice of SAFe, keep this in mind: the fact that people have been initially trained in Agile doesn’t actually make them Agile. Just as Agile value delivery is incremental in nature, so is ‘becoming Agile.’ A mindset of continuous learning and inspect and adapt is now essential to the health and wellbeing of the ART and the business goals of the enterprise.

It’s important to actively support the individuals who make up the ART and provide them with an environment in which learning and growing is encouraged. To leave them to their own devices would be against our responsibility as Lean-Agile leaders and change agents. We need to coach them down this new path so they will be empowered to flourish in this new working environment. That is the subject of the next article in this series Coach ART Execution.

Learn More

[1] Heath, Chip; Heath, Dan. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. The Crown Publishing Group.

Additional Resources

SAFe for Teams
PI Planning Toolkit






Last update: 6 March, 2017