With Great Power comes Great Responsibility

Chris Matts
Chris Matts

Latest posts by Chris Matts (see all)

Without foundations, the wall will fall

Calling yourself a leader comes with benefits and also responsibilities. By stepping up as a leader in the SAFe community, you need to understand your responsibilities to the wider Agile community.

If you fail to live up to these responsibilities, expect to be visited by the Chaos Bonobo; the man in a mask known only as… “The Trouble Maker”.

SAFe stands for Scaled Agile Framework for the Enterprise. But what does Agile stand for? What does it mean?

If you read the Agile Manifesto carefully, you will discover that Agile is a call to arms.

“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.”

It is a call to create an experiential learning community.

It was a reaction to the prevailing approach to designing software process and methodology at that time. It is a reaction to individuals with pointy hats in University Labs, or IBM Labs, or Microsoft Hive minds that think they know better. It is a reaction against processes and tools invented by people who DO NOT USE THEM. It is a bold statement that instead elevates the tools and processes of people DOING IT! This is why so many of the tools popular with Agile Practitioners started as open source projects. They were tools that people needed to do their job, tools they had to create themselves because IBM, Microsoft and the Labs did not understand the needs of people writing real software.

As leaders in the SAFe community, it is our responsibility to ensure that tools and practices have followed the following process, or some similar variant:

  • A practitioner struggling with a problem develops a tool or process as a solution.
  • The practitioner shares their experience through an experience report (normally in the pub).
  • The leaders in the community discuss the new approach to ensure obvious potential problems are identified. (This is normally by referring to previous experience reports of failure.)
  • The leaders in the community then USE THE TOOL OR PROCESS, and report back their successes AND FAILURES as experience reports.
  • Once the contexts where the tool or process can be safely used, or cannot be safely be used are known, it is communicated to the wider community.

The first role of leaders in the community is to be first followers, to try new ideas and support the continued SAFe extension of the Agile tool set. This means that a leader in the community needs to have the necessary experience such that they can implement the new approach in a “safe to fail” manner.

The second more subtle responsibility of leaders is to call bullshit on ANYONE who is promoting a tool or process that they have not used. They should challenge anyone presenting a solution without the context in which they have tried it. Anyone with a tool or process they think would be useful (normally borrowed from another industry such as Beyond Budgeting) should present it to the leadership community as a candidate tool. They should also point out that what most people think is “an approach” is often just an experience report and should be treated as such.

The third role of leadership is to be honest about the state of any solution. Do we have an experience report or is this an approach that has been tested by many practitioners in safe to fail experiments.

If the leadership community does not accept these responsibilities, they should remove Agile from the name of SAFe. To prevent the need to reprint lots of marketing material, the could replace it with Academic.

The Call to Arms is followed by Through this work we have come to value.

The four statements that most people consider to be the Agile Manifesto are actually a status report. They are the principles that seventeen white, male, middle aged software professionals considered to be most important at one point in time. They primarily focus on the development of software at the team level. Mapping these values to the enterprise often causes problems.

Any tool or process that doesn’t align to the principles in the status report should be discussed extensively with practitioners in the Agile community before it is called Agile. If we fail to honour the principles of the Agile Manifesto, we have no right to challenge Accenture or IBM Rational or McKinsey when they promote their own command and control nonsense as Agile.

The Agile Manifesto is the foundation of the Agile Community and as a result one of the foundations of SAFe. If we fail to tend to those foundations, we know what will happen…