A lot of enterprises have engaged in the implementation and use of various agile methods. The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) seems to be on the rise as a framework of choice for taking agile software development thinking to the larger context of overall business transformation at different levels. The very prescriptive approach SAFe® promotes makes it more appealing to many practitioners, plus the leadership of Dean Leffingwell, the founder of SAFe®, has been providing the vision and aggressiveness needed from such a framework, so he is continuously working with his team in developing and promoting SAFe®’s value. As a result, SAFe® has taken a large market share of the architecture framework market.
One of SAFe®’s guiding principles is to not overly complicate the framework. As a result, though, if we want to get answers regarding the implementation of SAFe® at different levels of an organization, we become all too aware of gaps in the knowledge base. Given the usually unlimited demand for change and the concurrent, limited capacity for its complete realization, we sense the urgent need for additional information to guide decision making and activities. Fortunately, the enterprise architecture (EA) discipline can help address some of SAFe®’s gaps, going beyond the more limited view about EA among the agile community EA is only useful for complicated things or as support in the development of the technology strategy and roadmap to enable portfolio management.
For example, one of domains of enterprise architecture is business architecture, which helps align business strategy with technology. Although SAFe® is using the concept of EA in defining strategic themes that then feed into the portfolio management practice, it refrains from using EA’s potential to model and document the overall context in a more comprehensive manner. Therefore, the opportunity is lost to highlight issues related to the operating or business models, the enterprise motivation for rational transformation, or how to establish a cohesive and aspiring vision focused on valued outcomes. Most of SAFe®’s references to architecture remain within the application or software architecture domains, while we need to better understand systems (an enterprise is system of systems) when articulating new business value streams or large solutions supported by key business capabilities. While SAFe® refers also to domain modeling or MBSE (model-based systems engineering), it is always in the context of technology or solutions.
This can perhaps explain why it’s so difficult to scale SAFe® to the enterprise or portfolio level and why only a small percentage of enterprises using SAFe have successfully scaled its use to the strategic level, thereby becoming truly agile enterprises. Using agile doesn’t mean that you are truly an agile enterprise.
Enterprise Architecture can help us to cascade from highly aggregated or abstract concepts used often by the executive and strategy teams to lower levels of enterprise systems by creating various views of its existing or future target architecture. We need to link motivational elements of transformation (who & why & what) through various portfolios and backlogs (what & how & when) to communicate our vision, get the right focus, and channel limited funds in an optimum way. Transforming our developmental value streams by engaging both product and solution management is an excellent approach, but it still needs systems thinking provided by EA to tackle the challenges of complex architectures or application portfolio modernization. Modeling business value streams together with capabilities modeling will help us to anchor epics (business or technology ones) to capabilities*, as well as to improvements of the operating or business models. In conclusion, there are many as yet untapped ways to build greater synergy between the Scaled Agile Framework and Enterprise Architecture.
(*Note: IN EA, capabilities are composable elements of architecture that help define skills, processes and resources required for the business to enable value streams for customers).
Authored by Alex Wyka, EA Principals Senior Consultant and Trainer