Scaling Agile with SAFe & Agile Hive, an interview with Dr. Thorsten Janning from KEGON

Scaling Agile beyond the single-team level has taken on a higher priority in more and more organizations. The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) provides a proven process to drive and structure this scaling.

We interviewed Dr. Thorsten Janning, who is one of the most renowned and distinguished SAFe experts.  He is one of the co-founders of KEGON AG, with whom we develop our product, Agile Hive.  Agile Hive helps organizations to create the software-side prerequisites to successfully scale Agile according to the Scaled Agile Framework.

Take a look at his short self-introduction (German audio with English subtitles):


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Here are some of the highlights from the interview:

SAFe: What should we know?

When organizations consider scaling Agile, the question of how to carry that out always comes up. SAFe provides a process framework, but what are the best practices for implementation? Where should the company start and invest first?

Thorsten gave us an unpopular consultant's answer to that question that it depends. He said that companies are as diverse as the people that work there, and of course, you can initially profit the most from freeing up the most significant bottlenecks first.

He continues to say:

The PI planning is the most important event. This is what an organization works towards when it begins an Agile transformation. It's a testament to how serious the organization is

Then, of course, many more questions follow: Will they take two days for a thorough planning event with all team members? Will they organize a good catering service and social events in the evenings? Will the management board come along and show their interest and support? Are people from management present, and does the management show interest and support?

Teams that really invest here set an example for the rest of the organization.

He illustrates this with his experience as a consultant:

I almost had to cancel a PI planning event because I had the feeling that they weren't putting enough into the preparation. Having teams spread across the whole world made everything more difficult. I was able to convince those involved to invest in good-quality remote technology, to fly in participants, and organize a get together in the evening. The event was a great success and gave the entire transformation a new breath of fresh air.

Thorsten went on to say that the organization has benefited enormously from the investment in equipment and from experience gained during the Corona crisis.

Customer empowerment is effective

The current situation with Corona and its consequences means that many companies have to keep their budgets tight and be cautious with investments. How can an organization make progress under such conditions?

Thorsten says that the basic approach at KEGON is to empower customers' internal staff:

"We don't want to make our customers dependent on us as consultants; instead, we believe that all of the necessary knowledge and potential already exists in the company."

There are probably providers out there who would like to send as many consultants as possible and preferably, five days a week.

There are definitely service providers out there who would like to send as many consultants as possible, preferably five days a week, to handle a customer project.  Another approach is to give just that "spark" and make it clear that coaching is a targeted but temporary measure.  This will allow customers to remain flexible, especially during settings like the Corona crisis, which has taken teams into remote work.

Thorsten also believes it makes sense in times of crisis to train motivated employees to become SAFe Program Consultants, allowing them to make a substantial impact within their company. KEGON offers training as remote workshops.

Book recommendations for SAFe

We know that not everyone that's interested wants to dive deeper into advanced training.  Many prefer to learn on their own, so we wanted to ask Thorsten if he had any book recommendations for us.  To which he answered yes and no.  He said that, unfortunately, books about SAFe are rare and rarely useful. But there are excellent books about SAFe principles and values. I can recommend the book "Tribal Unity: Getting from Teams to Tribes by Creating a One Team Culture" by Em Campbell-Pretty. The book describes the concept of tribal unity as a way of optimally, effectively, and efficiently working together with large groups of people as a large, united team.

Thorsten also recommends "The Startup Way" by Eric Ries, in which the author shares compelling use cases for the application of lean startup tools in a well-known company setting. Eric Ries offers evidence that we can indeed apply many of the mechanisms that have come out of the online business world to the transformation of traditional organizations if we internalize their principles and fundamental values.

Agile Hive as a software solution for SAFe

These principles and values are essential for a SAFe implementation, but good software is also needed to map such a process throughout the company. What experiences has KEGON had so far with the Agile Hive solution, which is based on the Atlassian tools Jira and Confluence?

For Thorsten, the Kanban board is one of the most vital tools on all levels of SAFe.  From training to portfolio management, you could say it's the cornerstone of our communication and ideas in teams.

He also finds the other functions helpful:

"The reports are also great, which for the most part, were made based on our project experience. In our opinion, Agile Hive is a market pioneer. It offers lots of functions geared exclusively toward the SAFe context. This way, lots of people in different locations and time zones, using different devices, have access to the same information. This characteristic is particularly valuable now in times of remote work and virtual teams."

On that note, we want to thank Thorsten for his insights.  Want to know more?  Read our full interview with Dr. Thorsten Janning.

Learn more about Agile Hive & SAFe with Atlassian Tools

Would you like to know about Agile Hive and the software-based implementation of SAFe? We would be happy to discuss your requirements for enterprise-wide Agile product development and product management.  We can show you the functions of the solution in a personal session - just get in touch with us.  Read more about our Agile Hive implementation projects in our Infothek.

Other posts you might be interested in:

Jan Einfach: Agile and Atlassian explained | A short introduction to "Agile Hive – SAFe with Atlassian Tools."
SAFe with Atlassian tools: Agile Hive is a Scaled Agile Platform Partner
Remote PI planning with Agile Hive

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