SAFE ≠ AGILE (Part 2)

July 30, 2015

by Tom Mellor, CST    (Part 2 of 2)

If you haven’t read part 1 it would be helpful to go back and read it. You can find it here 

As a reminder, the close of Part 1 – I didn’t wish to foment organizational change.  My purpose was selfish: improve the odds that we would deliver a better product faster.  I had plenty of skeptics, but none of those people were on my teams using Scrum. So, soon the whole IT department was abuzz with this newfangled approach.  Before you knew it, we had a couple dozen coaches in place and an “agile enablement” unit up and running.  And, Agile was getting sucked into the Hairball……


Not EqualBefore I left, over a thousand people at my company went through my Scrum workshops.  I became a Certified Scrum Trainer under the guidance and tutorage of Ken Schwaber.  One assistant vice-president who “sponsored” agile enablement gleefully informed me that I had saved him thousands of dollars of external training costs by doing it inside, and that I should be “proud of saving us so much money.”  The notion of being agile was secondary to establishing a “consistent, repeatable process.” 


Naturally, this was counter to everything Agile, and over the last several years of my employment at the company, my optimism steadily waned.   In the end, I was disillusioned with management’s intention of turning being agile into doing agile.  A huge new initiative came along that management was convinced needed to be accomplished with absolute control and planning in place.  Before I retired, I told an assistant vice president: “If you think you will be able to eat this elephant in one planned bite, you will fail miserably.”  He responded, “Thanks for your input, and I wish you well in your retirement.”  What happened?  Failure to the tune of more than $2 billion in cost.  Sigh!

Now, two years after I retired, I return occasionally to the hallowed halls of that IT department.  People are quick to tell me about the latest escapades and nonsense.  Recently, one person told me he has now figured out his job: to discern between the rational and reasonable and the irrational and insane (I think he meant ideas and concepts, not people, but I am not certain.)  He is working on 40 projects and proudly brags that he can attend 3 meetings simultaneously, with the firm belief that his active participation is needed about 10% of the time (6 minutes in an hour long meeting), so he can manage this easily. What is the only appropriate response other than “Wow!”? 

The first question out of this person’s mouth when he saw me was. “Do you know what this SAFe nonsense is?”  “You mean ‘unSAFe’ don’t you?”  I said with a chuckle. I told him how I felt about SAFe, what I have been told, and what I have observed: SAFe is not equal to agile and, in fact, it is oppositional to agile.  It is an anti-pattern to agile.  It layers on more of the same old process crap that others and I tried to fight for almost 10 years.  Well, that isn’t really fair, it enables the layering of more process crap.  More importantly, it enables dysfunctional management and perpetuates the age-old management problems that we tried to tackle over those years.  In short, SAFe actually enables organizations not to be agile, and it does this seductively.

Finally, and most importantly, SAFe has created consultancy and marketing opportunities that have enabled even more financial pillaging from so-called “agile transformers.”  They will spew their magic potion all over and then leave with their money. The organization will wonder why things are still the same, why they aren’t doing agile worth a damn, and what to do next.  Of course, they could always turn to Total Quality Management or Six Sigma.  Those discarded magic potions can always be pulled out of the cupboard and reused.

Oh, and that agile crap???  Well, we tried that and it was just nonsense.  Back to doing the same old shit and expecting different results.  And, by the way, we are not insane!!

Tom & Family

Tom & Family

Tom Mellor has been actively involved in business and IT for over 36 years. A seasoned professional, he has worked in both large and small companies serving in a multitude of capacities and functions. With a rich history in Agile, Tom is passionate about the adoption and use of agile-based product development approaches and in 2004 introduced Agile and Scrum framework into a Fortune 50 company.  Tom has been a Certified Scrum Trainer since 2008 and served on the Scrum Alliance Board of Directors from March 2008 through October 2010 including a term as chair from September 2009 until October 2010. Purpose driven work for Tom means helping organizations, their leaders, and their teams do modern Agile-based product development processes effectively and he helps them do this through consultation, training and coaching. 



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