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Practice Makes…

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Finding true success with your SAFe implementation

We all believe that practice makes perfect.  However, if you practice the wrong things the only thing you are perfecting is the wrong approach.

A big part of my personal life revolves around motorcycles, specifically road racing and coaching.  When I am working with new racers or track riders wanting to improve their skills the first thing I do is to ask them to complete this sentence “Practice makes…”  Almost everyone says “Perfect!”, but usually the opposite is true.  When racers go out on track and continue to repeat bad habits, such as not moving their eyes down a track or using poor body position, they simply cement in the wrong technique, which makes it more difficult to correct later.  I always teach the riders to focus on learning the basics and then build on these good techniques until they become “permanent”. I want to thank Nick Ienatsch from the Yamaha Champions Riding School for helping me to see the importance of learning the right skills before starting to practice.  Working with Nick and the crew at YCRS and ChampSchool taught me so much about the importance of getting the basics right.

Switching sports metaphors, a favorite phrase from football coaches (Marv Levy may have been the first to use this) is to ‘learn how to do it right, and then practice it until you never get it wrong.  That’s how we bake in the right techniques, and where Practice Makes Permanent is our ally.

When implementing SAFe® it’s common to bring in old habits from your organization’s history.  It’s hard to break free of these past practices, but it’s even more difficult to change these once brought into the transformation effort.  There are many common anti-patterns that are practiced and made permanent, such as:

  • Multiple backlogs (whether real or virtual), make it difficult for the teams or ART to focus on the most important thing to work on and damages lean flow due to the context switching.
  • Leadership believes that their job is to direct work, which is in direct opposition to SAFe Principles 8 (Unlock Intrinsic Motivation) and 9 (Decentralize Decision Making).
  • Not using the IP Iteration for its vital purpose of not only being a capacity buffer but supporting ongoing innovation, improvement, and synchronized planning.
  • Using PI Planning as a ‘readout’ of assigned plans, rather than allowing the teams to discover the best plan to meet business needs.

A common issue that we see is when organizations treat SAFe as a buffet where you can pick and choose what you implement and what you don’t.  While SAFe is highly configurable and is not at all prescriptive, there are key elements that must be implemented for real success.  These 10 Critical Success Factors are the basic components that you learn, and then practice until you never get it wrong.

The 10 critical success factors of Essential SAFe – ©Scaled Agile, Inc.

This does not mean that you have to be perfect to start.  Learning to implement SAFe correctly is just like learning to ride both fast and safely.  You learn the proper techniques and continue to inspect and adapt until you get it right, then start to actually practice until it becomes instinctive.  That’s when the speed comes.  With SAFe, learn the 10 Critical Success Factors of SAFe and then practice them until they become instinctive.  You will make mistakes along the way, and getting these factors right takes time and effort.  But if you continue to focus on these basics they become part of the culture and the norm for your organization.

That’s when the true value of a SAFe implementation is experienced.

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