Agility is principally about mindset, not practices.
― Jim Highsmith, Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products
The Lean-Agile Mindset is the combination of beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, and actions of SAFe leaders and practitioners who embrace the concepts of Lean Thinking and the Agile Manifesto. It’s the personal, intellectual, and leadership foundation for adopting and applying SAFe principles and practices. The Lean-Agile mindset forms the cornerstone of a new way of working and an enhanced company culture that enables Business Agility. It provides leaders and change agents with the tools needed to drive a successful SAFe transformation, helping individuals and enterprises achieve their goals.
Mindset Awareness and Openness to Change
What exactly is a ‘mindset?’ A mindset is a mental lens through which we view the world around us. It is how the human brain simplifies, categorizes, and interprets the vast amount of information it receives daily. We form our mindsets through a lifetime of structured learning (classes, reading) and unstructured lessons (life events, work experience). They reside in the subconscious mind and manifest themselves as deeply held beliefs, attitudes, assumptions, and influences. Consequently, individuals are often unaware of how their mindsets influence how they carry out their responsibilities and interact with others. While many mindsets are positive and serve us well, others may need to change over time .
So how can mindsets be changed? It begins with an awareness of one’s current mindsets and how they were formed. It’s also vital to cultivate the belief that mindsets can be developed and improved (a ‘growth’ mindset, as illustrated in Figure 1).
Changing mindsets is a vital topic in transitioning to SAFe because, too often, leaders and practitioners in organizations go through the motions of mimicking SAFe practices and using SAFe terms without internalizing and embracing the underlying values and principles that truly represent a new way of working. This ‘SAFe in name only’ approach may produce some small successes in the short term. However, in the long term, such a shallow adoption of the Lean-Agile mindset will inevitably fail to produce the real, long-lasting business results leaders hoped for when they decided to ‘go SAFe.’
To fully embrace SAFe requires a growth mindset open to learning the core values and principles of two primary underlying bodies of knowledge: Lean Thinking and Agile. Each has a rich and deep history of published guidance and case studies. Their respective values and principles need to be understood and practiced so that the ideals of both Lean and Agile permeate the organization’s language, practices, and decision-making. Ultimately, it simply becomes ‘our way of working’ and is deeply ingrained in the culture of the enterprise.
The following two sections describe the key elements of Lean Thinking and Agile (summarized in Figure 2) that form the basis of the Lean-Agile mindset.
Initially derived from Lean manufacturing, the principles and practices of Lean thinking as applied to software, product, and systems development are now deep and extensive . For example, Ward , Reinertsen , Poppendieck , Kersten , Leffingwell , and others have described aspects of Lean thinking, placing many of the core principles and practices within a product development context. Applying Lean Thinking to product development, thereby shifting from the traditional batch-and-queue production system to continuous flow with an effective pull by the customer, can lead to dramatic improvements.
Lean thinking can be summarized as shown in Figure 3:
Precisely specify value by specific product
Identify the Value Stream for each product
Make value flow without interruptions
Make value flow without interruptions
The third principle in Lean Thinking is establishing a continuous, uninterrupted flow of work that supports incremental value delivery based on constant feedback and adjustment. Enabled by Built-In Quality practices, relentless improvement, and evidence-based governance, continuous flow enables faster, sustainable value delivery.
Achieving a continuous flow of value requires applying and understanding the eight fundamental properties of flow: visualizing and limiting work-in-process (WIP), addressing bottlenecks, minimizing handoffs and dependencies, getting fast feedback, working in small batches, managing queue lengths, optimizing time ‘in the zone,’ and remediating legacy policies and practices. These flow properties are described in greater detail in the SAFe Principle 6 article and in the Team Flow, ART Flow, Solution Train Flow, and Portfolio Flow articles. The SAFe Core Values and SAFe Principles help teams achieve a continuous flow of value at scale in large, complex enterprises.
The Values of Agile
Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools
Working ‘Software’ over Comprehensive Documentation
Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation
Responding to Change over Following a Plan
Change is a reality in the digital age and essential to achieving agility. The strength of Lean-Agile is in how it embraces change. As the system evolves, so does the understanding of the problem and the solution domain. Business stakeholder knowledge also improves over time, and customer needs evolve as well. Indeed, those changes add value to our system.
Of course, planning is an essential part of Agile. In fact, Agile teams and teams-of-teams plan more often and more continuously than their waterfall counterparts. However, plans must adapt as new learning occurs, new information becomes visible, and the situation changes. Worse, evaluating success by measuring conformance to a plan drives the wrong behaviors (for example, following a plan in the face of evidence that the plan is not working).
Applying Lean Thinking and Agile in SAFe
Collectively, the values and principles of Lean Thinking and Agile form the DNA of everything contained within SAFe. All the roles, practices, events, and artifacts in SAFe are designed to provide practical guidance for adopting the combination of these two bodies of knowledge as the new way of working throughout the enterprise.
Thousands of implementations of SAFe over the last decade have shown that Lean Thinking and Agile principles and practices have unique implications when applied at scale. For example, providing an uninterrupted flow of value within the context of a single Agile team will look different than when this same principle is applied to an entire portfolio. Yet the principle is equally important in both cases. The implications of Lean and Agile at scale have been captured in the SAFe Core Values and SAFe Principles articles.