Agile is an umbrella term for several iterative and incremental software development approaches, with each of those variations being its own agile framework. The most popular agile frameworks include Crystal, Scrum, Dynamic Systems Development Method, and Feature-Driven Development. Mendix, in particular, subscribes to the Scrum methodology. While each agile methodology type has its own unique qualities, they all incorporate elements of iterative development and continuous feedback when creating an application. Any Agile development project involves continuous planning, continuous testing, continuous integration, and other forms of continuous development of both the project and the application resulting from the agile framework.
Each Agile framework is considered lightweight. Rules and practices are kept to a minimum, especially when compared to traditional waterfall-style development processes, and are designed to be adaptable to all kinds of circumstances. The focus, instead, falls on empowering developers of all kinds to collaborate and make decisions together as a team quickly and effectively. The grand vision behind the agile development methodology is to create applications in small increments, with each individual increment tested before it is considered complete. This process assures quality is “built” into the product, versus inspecting for quality later.
Team Level using SAFe
The team level works very much like standard scrum although the teams can also work in Kanban. At this layer we have an Agile Team which is cross functional and works together to deliver working systems every two weeks which are called iteration. The content for the iteration is determined by a product owner who is in charge of the team backlog. The iteration starts with a planning meeting where the team decides what user stories they can deliver by the end of the iteration. Each day the team meets to discuss their progress and at the end of the iteration they demo the results to the product owner to make sure they had delivered what she had wanted. Then they get together to retrospect what they can develop for the next iteration before starting the cycle again with a new planning meeting. All of this is guided by a Scrum Master who makes sure the team works smoothly within the process and that it keeps developing.
Value Stream Level Using SAFe
Value Streams represent the series of steps that an organization uses to build Solutions that provide a continuous flow of value to a customer. A SAFe portfolio consists of a set of development value streams, each of which builds and supports one or more solutions. The primary role of a SAFe portfolio is to fund and nurture a set of development value streams. These value streams either deliver end-user value directly or support internal business processes. Organizing around value streams offers substantial benefits to the organization, including faster learning, higher quality, shorter time-to-market, higher productivity, and leaner budgeting mechanisms. In SAFe, organizing around value is accomplished by first understanding value streams and then launching Agile Release Trains or Solution Trains to fulfill them. Realizing value streams via trains is the ‘art’ and science of SAFe. Furthermore, value stream mapping can be used to identify and address delays and non-value-added activities to accomplish the Lean-Agile goal of the shortest sustainable lead time.
Program Level Using Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)
- The program level is very similar; we have a team comprised of multiple teams working to deliver a larger system together. This can range from 50 to 125 people. This team of teams is called an Agile Release Train or ART and it will also time box its effort into Program Increments or PIs which are 5 iterations by default. The content for each PI is determined by a Product Manager in the Program Backlog in the form of Features, and will provide most of the content for the Team Backlogs. The train is governed by an RTE or Release Train Engineer who acts as the train’s scrum master, ensuring it runs smoothly and remains on track. He is the Program Manager of the program level. Each PI starts with a planning meeting in which all members of the teams get together to hear the vision and road map of the train and the features for the upcoming PI. Each team than plans what objectives they can achieve in this PI, while identifying dependencies with other teams on the train as well as risks. The teams commit to these PI Objectives as a group providing visibility to Business Owners and Customers of what they can expect in this PI.
- To make sure the train will meet its objectives, we have both a bi-weekly meeting of the scrum masters and the Release Train Engineer and a system demo at the end of every iteration. This is a demo of the integrated system which ensures that we don’t have one team running ahead but that the whole train is iterating together. Since we want trains to run as fast as they can we need to provide adequate architecture and infrastructure? Each PI serves as the time to lay down the tracks for what we think we will need in order to achieve our goals in the following PI. This is called the Architectural Runway and is facilitated by the train’s System Architect.
Portfolio Level Using SAFe
Portfolio Level the Portfolio Level contains the principles, practices, and roles needed to initiate and govern a set of development Value Streams. This is where strategy and investment funding are defined for value streams and their Solutions. This level also provides agile portfolio operations and Lean governance for the people and resources needed to deliver solutions. The portfolio level aligns enterprise strategy to portfolio execution by organizing the Lean-Agile Enterprise around the flow of value through one or more value streams. Delivering the basic budgeting and necessary governance mechanisms, including Lean Budget Guardrails, it help assures that the Value Streams and its trains are focused on building the right things with the appropriate level of investments to these solutions in order for the portfolio to meet its strategic objectives. In the small-to-midsize enterprise, one SAFe Portfolio can typically govern the entire technical solution set. In larger enterprises—usually those with more than 500 to 1,000 technical practitioners—there can be multiple SAFe portfolios, typically one for each line of business, or as otherwise structured around the business organization and funding model.
This was a quick explanation of what Scaled Agile Framework is and how it works. In order to succeed it is important to train leaders and teams in the new Lean-Agile mindsets and SAFe principles and practices of the new way of working and launch release trains in Project Management.
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