This is a bit uncomfortable for me to admit, but I have some confessions to make…

  • I’m a SAFe SPC;
  • I’ve attended a 2-day Nexus training;
  • I plan on attending / co-teaching Scrum @ Scale with Don MacIntyre in September;
  • I’ve studied (I mean studied!) and contrasted DAD and LeSS;
  • I’ve actively coached SAFe organizations;
  • I’ve been leveraging simple scaling techniques (Scrum of Scrums, bits of SAFe) for well over a decade.

So, it’s fair to say that “agile scaling” is in my bones, in my DNA, and that I’m fairly experienced. And it’s incredibly easy for me to meet a larger scale client and begin discussing scaling aspects quite early in our coaching relationship.

Another confession

Almost every time I encounter a SAFe installation I end up doing three things:

  1. I usually deactivate aspects of SAFe as the client has implemented them. Effectively, I’m descaling the client and usually, I lean towards (pun intended) Essential SAFe.
  2. I help the client re-engage their teams. Spending more time activating the technical capabilities and organizational trust of their teams.
  3. And the third area of focus is spending more time helping the client’s leadership team better understand how they need to shift their focus, habits, and tactics in an agile context.

Now SAFe doesn’t specifically dictate or create the above gaps or problems. But I’ve found that in nearly 100% of the SAFe instantiations I encounter, they’re struggling with all three.

And I don’t mean struggling a little. I mean they are, under the banner of doing SAFe, really missing the mark with key agile principles and the mindset. And because of this, they’re only getting superficial results from all of the energy (and $$$) they’re pouring into scaling agile.

And not all descaling looks the same

And before you accuse me of being anti-SAFe or some fringe agile purist, I don’t think that’s true.

Because not all of my descaling efforts are focused towards SAFe. For example, I see patterns from the other scaling frameworks that negatively influence product organizations and product owner roles (LeSS for example).

Or I see some instances where the scaling recommendations focus on removing or marginalization of managers. Again, a heavy-handed approach that certainly isn’t meeting the organization where they are. And it diminishes the key role that leadership does play in agile organizations.

I try very hard to be a pragmatic, agile coach. To consider each organization I encounter to be unique. To leave my assumptions, biases, and baggage at the door and meet them where they are.

I also try to view things from a principles perspective. Really focusing on agile and lean mindsets and application of core principles and outcomes. It’s my experience that these are the things that really inspire and create effective agile organization ecosystems.

But as I do this, aspects of the scaled system in place, cry out for adjustment or down-right removal.

What even makes it harder for me is that the previous coaching regimes have usually done a really good job of selling the framework du jour. So, my de-scaling efforts are usually very hard to initiate and continue.

Another way of saying it is that SAFe or other scaling frameworks are like ticks. Once they’ve burrowed into the organizational landscape, it’s incredibly challenging to remove them.

(I am from North Carolina / South, so I hope you appreciate the tick reference ;-)

Wrapping Up

Part of my reason for writing this was to see if there are any other De-Scalers out there in the agile coaching community?

Or if I’m a Don Quixote working all on my own?

I suspect it’s the latter, but I thought it would do no harm to reach out.

I also HIGHLY RECOMMEND this article by Renee Troughton about her journey with SAFe. It seems to be somewhat similar to my own. Perhaps there are two of us on the planet who are actively De-Scaling agile clients for the greater good.

Stay agile my friends,