SAFe Transformation in Consulting

Per Version One’s Thirteenth Annual State of Agile Report, Scaled Agile Framework is the current dominant leader in Scaling Agile frameworks with 30% overall adoption within the industry.  With over 500,000 trained individuals, SAFe has  definitely made an impression within product and solution delivery.

There are many case studies on Scaled Agile’s website regarding the success stories with implementations, but they are predominantly for enterprises outside of consulting or outsourcing.  Now consulting companies are supposed to “lead the change” themselves, but that first must come internally from that company.

My story is about one such company and their internal transformation. Upon reflection, the transformation followed the Kotter change model and hence I have gained even more faith in the process.  The key human factors involved are persistence and patience with a thick coating of long-term thinking.  May you find this beneficial for your organization, especially if in consulting and struggling to adopt a standard framework that best suits you.

The Kotter Change Model follows these 8 steps (note that the steps do overlap each other, but in general followed this order):

1. Create a sense of urgency

Back in 2016, our consulting services had been successful for smaller implementations, but frequently during scaled delivery, we would run into coordination challenges.  We blended our own framework for scaling at the program level, but simply scaling our current framework in a fractal nature did not reap the benefits expected and often resulted in costly mistakes and investments.  That generated a growing sense of urgency from Leadership to maintain and increase overall profitability.

2. Build a guiding coalition

In a way, we were lucky because our largest client during 2016 requested we train them on implementing SAFe at their business due to a long, trusted partnership.  That paved the way for awareness from our Leadership of the growing demand for SAFe implementation and I joined a small group of SAFe Program Consultants (SPC) as our loose coalition of change.

This was my opportunity and requested becoming an SPC and fortunately, due to combination of positive events and my persistence, was able to take the course directly at Scaled Agile (highly recommended) and become a certified SPC, interacting with the few other SPC’s at that time to grow the framework within our company.

3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives

During the formation of this loose coalition in the second half of 2016, my direct manager and I built out an overall plan of expansion.  Note for those familiar, this was before the creation of the SAFe Implementation Roadmap.  That included a webinar with Drew Jemilo of Scaled Agile covering “SAFe in 8 pictures” along with propelling the initial form of Essential SAFe within our business.  That became our starting point for further transformation initiatives and paved the way for the next step in the Kotter change model.

4. Enlist a volunteer army

 As the equivalent of the Agile Project Management Office, I led the way with internal marketing of the framework and started spreading the word about SAFe with internal webinars, frequent roundtables and office visits, recruiting those willing volunteers.  Much later, we started a SAFe Community of Practice, which ran for about six months before fading away due to lack of involvement.  My discovery was that in general, consultants were too busy so leveraged the certifications in a way to more effectively attract them.

5. Enable action by removing barriers

At the time, there were seven primary locations for this enterprise.  I interacted with the leadership of each business unit and determined which had the greatest appetite for certification training with the least risk of failure.  Fortunately, I had discovered the Scaled Agile training material was top-notch, include many “Training from the Back of the Room” activities, providing greater impact and understanding for the attendees.

6. Generate short-term wins

I began teaching SAFe courses within each business unit in early 2017.  The first internal course was highly successful and quickly expanded to other locations, especially corporate headquarters. This was a major win, but took over two years to cover all locations with a “first wave” of training due to some local leadership not believing in the value of the training as much as others.

7. Sustain acceleration

Once summer of 2017 had hit, key business units began to incorporate SAFe into their sales process and with continued support as “the SAFe guy”, SAFe consulting business grew from only 5% of total company revenue to over 25% in 2019.  That expanded with training over 350 people not only within the company but for our client base as well.  I had become the “agent of change” for all things SAFe.

8. Institute change

True change settled in when top Leadership (C-Suite) took full notice and in the summer of 2019, the CEO and VP of Delivery took Implementing SAFe training and became certified themselves.  The outcome of that training was complete adoption corporate wide by company leadership and the mandate that all consultants would take SAFe training within the company.  Of course, the transformation is never over, but now this has embedded into the full corporate culture and burns brightly with a life of its own.

Conclusion

By the end of this transformation, our journey with the Kotter Change Model had completed one revolution.  They had “learned how to fish” on their own.  This whole process took over three years to complete, not atypical for digital transformations in the industry today and very proud of the overall success achieved.

Published by Agile Mike

“Agile Mike” has over 25 years of experience with software development and product leadership. He is published under the “Built for Success” column in CIO.com magazine and held the position of Vice President in the Agile Leadership Network. Michael has taught multiple SAFe courses for over the past three years to over 400 people and is currently an Enterprise Agile Coach at Lean Agile Enterprises and a certified SAFe SPC5, AWS Cloud Architect, Scrum CSP, and PMP.

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