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SAFe: a collection of comments from leading experts – Part 2

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Some of those who helped shape SAFe and other major SAFe experts, some of those whose techniques have been integrated into SAFe, some of those that worked with many organisations that adopted SAFe, and some of the leading experts in Leadership, Management, Tech & Agile including 10 co-authors of the Manifesto of Agile Software Development, all advise against adopting SAFe.

This collection with their comments is periodically updated as new info becomes available. Feels free to copy and distribute this post as you please.


<< Go back to Part 1
(4 more Manifesto co-authors, 8 more leading experts)


Mary Poppendieck, December 2019

Mary Poppendieck started her career as a process control programmer, moved on to manage the IT department of a manufacturing plant, and then ended up in product development, where she was both a product champion and department manager.

She is the co-author, with his husband Tom Poppendieck, of the award-winning book Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit. A seminal book for the Agile community that translates the lean manufacturing principles and practices to the software development domain. She is the author of several other successful books and she is a world renewed speaker.

About SAFe she comments here, referring to the previous slide (Questions about Agile / SAFe, from the U.S. Air Force CSO Nicolas M. Chaillan):

<< I am often asked what I think about scaled agile frameworks. This slide does a good job of summing up my viewpoint, except for the last point. We need more research on how successful large companies coordinate the work of small autonomous teams to achieve larger goals. >>

The point she disagrees with is this:
– Looking to coordinate your Product Owners’ work? Multiple models exist such as Scrum of Scrums etc. This shouldn’t impact the developers.

Jon Kern, July 2019

Jon Kern is an aerospace engineer-turned programmer, software architect, and team leader/coach with a focus on methodology and business value. He is also a co-author of the Agile Manifesto.

Jon asked for the same comments and says here that he wants to witness a company doing SAFe before commenting.

Mike Beedle, January 2017

Mile Beedle was an American theoretical physicist turned software engineer. and he was the author of the first book and earliest papers about Scrum. He was also a co-author and a signatory of the Agile Manifesto.

He wrote that “S_Fe is not Agile”, and he added, “There are many other better choices”. He articulated how SAFe in particular and the Agile Train Releases concept, violate all the values in the Agile Manifesto. A copy of his original post is included in this post.

Alistair Cockburn, 2016

Alistair Cockburn is a methodologist, the creator of Crystal Clear and the Crystal family, and more recently he launched the Heart of Agile movement. He is also a co-author and one of the 17 original signatories of the Agile Manifesto.

During a meetup in London in June 2016 (video from minute 35) he suggested that the money and time spent on installing SAFe could produce much better results when spent instead on improving collaboration and delivery that in turn would move the company attitude and behaviour some distance. He added at that point that he stopped defending SAFe because he thinks there is a better spend of the money.

Jeff Sutherland, 2015

Jeff Sutherland, with Ken Schwaber and others, is one of the creators of the Scrum, and a co-author of The Scrum Guide.
He is also a co-author and one of the 17 original signatories of the Agile Manifesto.

In this article that discusses scaling and Scrum, Jeff Sutherland writes:

<< Scaling: More scaling frameworks come-online everyday. Most I find overly prescriptive and limited in their efficacy. While frameworks like SAFe might be a starting place for companies who do not understand Agile, they are inconsistent with the Scrum guide and codify disfunction that can cripple teams for years. >>

See also: Remove References To Scrum From SAFe!

Martin Fowler, 2014

Martin Fowler is Chief Scientist in ThoughtWorks, so you can imagine that the view of ThoughtWorks on SAFe, also documented here, is congruent with his view. He is also a co-author and one of the 17 original signatories of the Agile Manifesto.

Colourfully, during a panel at the GOTO conference, he jokes saying “SAFe stands for the Shitty Agile For Enterprises, as my friend calls it.”

Dave Snowden, 2014

David John Snowden, a researcher in the field of knowledge management, creator of the Cynefin framework applied in software development and management science, says that SAFe employs ordered world approaches to solve complex problems, and because of that it’s a-priori wrong, wrong in principle.

As a result, SAFe is a backwards not a forwards move. Even more, he says that SAFe “is a massive retrograde step”

Read Dave’s article about SAFe: Is it SAFe?

Commenting to this article Dave adds:

“People keep railing against it because it is a backwards not a forwards move. The fact that it’s a pyramid selling scheme for accreditation and training is a commercial success does not validate it, any more than people voting for Donald Trump validates narrow-minded bigotry. The Agile community needs to face up to the need to improve delivery rather than make money from accreditation in large rollouts that are not (and will not) be sustained. Just like Sick Stigma and others, the big roll out is an excuse to do nothing real and just carry on as before.”

Ken Schwaber, 2013

Ken Schwaber, is a software developer and product manager. He worked with Jeff Sutherland to formulate the initial versions of the Scrum. He is also a co-author and one of the 17 original signatories of the Agile Manifesto.

In a blog post, he equates SAFe with RUP that is an old heavyweight methodology that is worlds apart from Agile.

See also: Remove References To Scrum From SAFe!

Barry W. Boehm, 2012

Barry W. Boehm was a prominent American software engineer and author of the COCOMO costing model and the Spiral Model software process.

In a publication that predates SAFe, Barry W. Boehm comments on plan-driven methods as those trying to be all-inclusive and requiring extensive efforts to be tailored down. All these are characteristics commonly associated with SAFe. And then he contrasts and compares plan-driven methods with Agile:

Unfortunately, most plan-driven methods suffer from a ‘tailoring-down’ syndrome …  These plan-driven methods are developed by experts, who want to provide users with guidance for most or all foreseeable situations. The experts therefore make them very comprehensive, but ‘tailorable-down’ for less critical or less complex situations.” 

… plan-driven methods have had a tradition of developing all-inclusive methods that can be tailored down to fit a particular situation. …  nonexperts tend to play it safe and use the whole thing, often at considerable unnecessary expense. Agilists offer a better approach of starting with relatively minimal sets of practices and only adding extras where they can be clearly justified by cost-benefit. … As we have seen with RUP, efforts are under way to develop similar approaches for building up plan-driven methods.

He further compares plan-driven and Agile methods across five critical factors namely Size, Criticality, Dynamism, Personnel and Culture noting the asymmetry in plan-driven and Agile methods that tend to succeed on the opposite scale ends of those factors. And he comments on how combining and balancing the two methods is an extremely difficult task.

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Case studies of unsuccessful adoptions of Agile at scale

Video: The problems of scaled agile frameworks and SAFe

How large successful companies achieved agility at scale

Agile at scale generative principles


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