SAFe 3.0 versus SAFe 4.0

When SAFe 4.0 was release was my first question: which one is better, 3.0 or 4.0. In my opinion the 3-level model of SAFe 4.0 is definitely an improvement compared to SAFe 3.0.

  • The triangle RTE – System Architect – Product Manager is a much clearer representation of main roles at program level
  • The program backlog is managed by a Kanban. In Jira, we have struggled with using a Scrum board or a Kanban board, but finally the Kanban board seems to work best on program level.
  • Scrum and Kanban op team level. The team backlog is managed by Scrum or Kanban. Scrum teams can have timeboxes (sprints) of 2 or 3 weeks weeks. But some teams have a more continuous process that does not fit in fixed timeboxes, so working with Kanban is more convenient.
  • Incorporation of SAFe values and principles in the poster. Many critics of SAFe claim that SAFe is a single prescribed process, while SAFe proponents claim it is an open framework leaving room for fitting in your own processes and practices. With the SAFe values and principles more prominently depicted, it is emphasized that you have to think yourself about how to implement SAFe, within the framework.
  • Customer. In 3.0, the customer was implicit while in 4.0 it is made more explicit. Still there is much room for interpretation about what the customer actually is.

Things I don’t like about SAFe 4.0 (and to some extent SAFe 3.0):

  • Enterprise Architect. A better name would be “Business Architect”. For an IT organization, it is okay to have an enterprise architect because the products and systems being developed are for the business processes of the enterprise itself. But for a production company, the business is selling products and systems to the customer markets.
  • Product Management. A better name would be “Product Manager”. Product management is a function within the enterprise responsible for managing the products in production, marketing, sales, logistics, procurement, etc. A product manager is role that understands the features of the products or systems, and as such is a partner to the RTE and System Architect.
  • Enablers. Enablers are just a different kind of epic, feature or story. They are written, prioritized and follow the same rules as their respective Epics, Features and Stories. So why not call them Epics, Features and Stories?
  • Quality and problem solving. SAFe defines that you need to build in quality as you go, but practically you cannot – ever – build a perfect system without problems. So somehow, while working on a new iteration you need to cope with problems that emerge in past releases. I am missing that in SAFe 3.0 and still missing it in 4.0.

Now the question arises: if you have built your agile organization around SAFe 3.0, do you need a (major) transformation to adopt SAFe 4.0? No! If you implemented SAFe according to the spirit (and not according to the letter), you have made your own interpretation of each and every element of SAFe that fits your organization. This interpretation is still valid with 4.0 and you don’t need to change anything (to adopt SAFe 4.0).

Of course, with SAFe 4.0 you may have new insights that may lead to a desire to change. In fact, you should change something to improve. If there is nothing left to improve, please let me.

About Frank Schophuizen (fschop)

Hi, my name is Frank Schophuizen and I am working as a consultant in CM, Agile and ALM for TOPIC Embedded Systems. I have over 30 years experience in software development in the technology industry, with the last 15 years mainly in process improvement, deployment and integration of methods and tools in the area of Agile (SAFe, Scrum), CM and ALM. I am strongly interested in the complexities of collaboration and integration in multi-project and multi-site organizations. I have worked with various technology companies such as Philips, ASML, NXP and Vanderlande, and with various tool vendors such as Atlassian (e.g. Jira, Confluence),IBM Rational (e.g. ClearCase, Synergy, Jazz products) as well as open source tools (e.g. SVN, Git, Jenkins, Trac, Eclipse). I am living in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, with my wife. We have 3 adult children. My main hobbies are classical music and photography.
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