Reflections from the European SAFe Summit Coaching Station

The Agile Rising team attended the SAFe European Summit last week. Like everything these days, it was a virtual event, but it was great to have people from around the globe gather to share ideas, lessons learned, and new techniques that are being tested in some of the world’s largest organizations. I left the Summit feeling inspired, not only by the new things I learned, but by the feeling that in this incredibly diverse world, we all face many of the same challenges and strive to achieve similar business goals. While there are many things that make us each unique and different, there are so many more things that we share as part of the common human condition, no matter where we are or what our backgrounds are.

The Agile community has always been about collaborating and uncovering new ways of solving problems. In this spirit, Agile Rising’s senior consultants always participate in the SAFe Expert Coaching Station at the Summit. It is our way of giving back and supporting the community. The SAFe Expert Coaching Station is an open space session that any conference attendee can come to, in order to talk to SPCTs (SAFe Program Consultant Trainer) or SPCT Candidates, who represents the highest level of mastery and thought leadership in the practice and principles of SAFe and have years of in-depth experience tackling the most challenging implementations. 120 people took advantage of this expertise by coming to the station at the European Summit for a 30-minute coaching session.

Agile Rising’s SPCTs each met with several attendees to talk about the challenges they were facing and give them advice about how to address them. While all of the people asking for advice were from different countries and different industries, there were two themes that jumped out to us that were common to all of them.

First, their organizations had skipped important steps in the implementation roadmap, and the results were that the system wasn’t working and the desired business outcomes were not being achieved. None of the organizations had conducted value stream mapping or reorganized their teams around the flow of value, so the underlying organizational bottleneck and silos still existed. None had provided training to everyone in the organization and had instead only provided training and coaching to some members of the team. Several had managers providing direction to the teams instead of, or in addition to, Product Owners.

What we kept hearing were that these organizations had not really changed the way they were working, the way they were collaborating, or the mindset among the leaders. They had adopted Agile and SAFe in name only.

The solution was clear: go back and follow the implementation roadmap and really embrace agility. Unfortunately, the path to actually doing that was less clear due to organizational blockers, but we provided advice on how to engage leaders and inspect and adapt techniques to drive continuous improvement toward that goal. But this is a much slower path than getting the roll out on the right track from the beginning.

Second, these change agents were all alone in the organization. They had no internal support structure within their teams. There was either no other group adopting Agile in the company or there was a larger Agile transformation happening, but they had no regular contact with the LACE or a Community of Practice. And none had an experienced Agile coach helping them.

Agile transformations are a collaborative, team activity. It is crucial that enterprises implementing SAFe are both sharing lessons learned across different business units and have an experienced SPCT or SPCT Candidate available not just to help guide the transformation, but also to share the latest developments for the broader community, outside the enterprise. In our coaching sessions, we provided advice on how to connect with the LACE or the leaders of the broader transformation, as well as how to find other change agents in the company and create a cross-organizational community with them.

While we hope that our coaching sessions with these individuals helped give them new approaches to take back to their organizations, we know that there are many more companies out their facing these same challenges.

If it feels like your Agile transformation isn’t working or that you have no one to ask questions to, we want you to know that there is a whole community out there that is going through similar things, discovering new ways to make it work, and is here to help you succeed. Every organization deserves a coach to help them reach their full potential and every organization should develop an internal support structure to drive change in the organization and to help the change agents who are there in every business unit. If you need help on this journey, reach out to us to have a conversation with one of our coaches any time.

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