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Product and Topic Expert
Product and Topic Expert
Over the past few months I had opportunity to work with several customers that have adopted Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) in their IT organization. The SAFe® framework is designed to scale agile processes for larger teams and organizations. It is one of the ways for organizations put more structure in managing portfolio or programs, projects and deployments. The framework itself is relatively complex and caters well especially to large programs and organizations. Coincidentally the organizations I visited with have highly engineering and manufacturing oriented company culture where I think SAFe® fits very well.

In all these visits the discussion I had with the program teams was about how to use SAP Activate in environments that follow SAFe®. I want to share few key points I have discussed with the customer program teams to help them take advantage of SAP specific deployment approach SAP Activate delivers while staying true to the SAFe® principles. One fair question to ask is "Why would we use SAP Activate when we have SAFe® and are adopting it across the organization?". The main advantage of SAP Activate is that it is not just a methodology, but a comprehensive approach for teams deploying SAP solutions. SAP Activate brings not only the implementation guidance in the methodology, but also enables project teams to apply ready-to-run processes and deployment tools for rapid implementation. It is also true that SAP Activate has been built as project level methodology that can be relatively easily integrated into the program & portfolio framework in use by the customer. Regardless of which program & portfolio framework customers uses, SAP Activate can be used with all of them. It doesn’t matter if you  are following Managing Successful Programmes®(MSP®), Standard for Program Management and Standard for Portfolio Management from Project Management Institute®or SAFe®for Lean Enterprises from Scaled Agile, Inc. In this post I will focus on scaled agile framework from Scaled Agile, Inc.

Image above: SAP Activate Methodology Flow

Scaled Agile Framework® in its latest version 4.6 is shown in several configurations that are designed to support adoption scaled to the specific need of the organization. In this blog I will refer to the full version of SAFe®, though most of the alignment points will be on the Large Solution, Program and Team levels of the framework. The image of the full framework is shown below, and you can always browse fully interactive version of the framework on Scaled Agile website.

Before we get into the alignment points and mechanics, let me say few words about the agile framework used in SAP Activate. Many of you know that SAP Activate relies on the SCRUM agile framework for execution of the agile activities, from backlog management, sprint cadence, team structure and ceremonies during the course of the project. While the SCRUM framework caters well to teams following agile processes and small to mid-size projects, it has limits in providing guidance for large programs and organizations. That's where SAFe® and other agile scaling frameworks can help providing the necessary structure, governance and transparency.

Now let's talk about common principles that are critical to understand:

  1. Deliver Value Incrementally- this is at the core of agile thinking - building the minimal viable product and delivering value incrementally throughout the program. While SAFe® talks about program increments and solution train, SAP Activate uses terms of releases that represent the incremental deliveries to production. In both cases the goal is to shorten time to value and deliver value incrementally.

  2. Time Boxing and Focusing Team in each iteration- in SAFe® the project team plans each increment by selecting capabilities and enablers from appropriate backlog and then the team works throughout the program increment timeline in iterations to deliver the selected backlog items. Similarly, SAP Activate uses the fit-to-standard workshops to create initial backlog for the scope of the release and then iterates in time boxed sprints on selected backlog items that are completed.

  3. Close involvement of business users- SAP Activate emphasizes the close involvement of business users throughout the project by bringing the users into fit-to-standard workshops and then again in each sprint for playbacks and acceptance of completion of backlog items. SAFe® uses the PDCA (Plan - Do - Check - Adjust) cycle common to agile projects and the team plays back the results of the iteration in the Iteration Review event.

  4. Use of common language- in both SAFe® and SAP Activate you will encounter terms like backlog, sprint/iteration, continuous delivery, built-in quality, product owner, scrum master, team, product owner, business owners and many others. Whether these are roles, deliverables or artifact produced during the program the vocabulary used in both is to large degree consistent.

Now let's take a look at how you can best utilize SAP Activate in organization using Scaled Agile Framework®. I'll briefly discuss the relevant levels of the Scaled Agile Framework® that in this case is the leading entity as its coverage is broader including the Lean Portfolio Management which is not in scope of SAP Activate.

Image above: FULL Scaled Agile Framework®, for more details refer to https://www.scaledagileframework.com

Team Level

On the team level, you will find the most commonality in the deliverables, procedures, processes and artifacts. The team structure in both SAP Activate and SAFe®includes SCRUM Master, Product Owner and Team Members. SAP Activate nicely extends the guidance for how to structure the project team with the relevant experts for SAP solutions, like architects, application consultants, data migration specialists, etc. The second point of alignment is the actual execution of the sprints/iterations - in both we have planning activities, execution activities, inspection activities with sprint review, and adjust activities with retrospective. Both SAP Activate and SAFe®use backlog for management of the scope of work that gets selected for each iteration or release (or program increment). There are other commonalities in both approaches as they both build on common agile practices of working as a cross functional team to deliver value.

Program Level

The notion of continuous delivery via the release train from SAFe® is represented in SAP Activate with the ability to split larger project into multiple incremental releases. While this concept is embedded in the methodology, many implementations, especially on-premise projects, fail to take advantage of it. This is either due to missing this concept entirely or due to the complex integration challenges where it is not easy to carve-out the MVP and deliver incrementally. We see incremental delivery approach used more often with cloud solutions where capabilities like content lifecycle management, regression testing capabilities and pre-delivered test scripts built into SAP S/4HANA Cloud help realize this easier. Second key element that ties to the continuous delivery is the execution of the program in increments - SAP Activate refers to them as releases while SAFe® uses term of Program Increment. Conceptually these are very similar concepts as both aim to delivery working, tested software that is ready to deploy.

So, how does one use the SAP Activate approach in SAFe® framework on program level. In a nutshell, the program will be executing the fit-to-standard workshops for the scope of the program increment in the beginning of the program increment (during planning and early stages of the increment) and then deliver on the backlog items that have been identified, whether they are configuration, data migration, extensibility or integration requirements. The backlog is living repository and some backlog items that are identified in the program increment workshops may flow into the next program increment - for example complex development work.

Large Solution Level

SAP Activate workstreams of Solution Adoption, that includes the value management framework, change management activities and project team on-boarding as well as business users training will fit to this level. As the value management framework provides "Economic Framework" (SAFe® term) for the program to deliver value. Additionally, the topics of the overall program scope, standards, policies and governance will be largely represented on this level. The overall program management, including the key milestones, high level schedule, overall objectives of the program from PM worksteam of SAP Activate will find their place on this level. Overall solution architecture work represented in SAP Activate in the Technical Solution Management workstream will also be in this space.

The goal of this post was to outline the key alignment points that you can use to bring SAP Activate into organizations deploying SAP software while using Scaled Agile Framework®. The text is providing high level overview of the alignment points and is meant to start a conversation with teams that are using SAP Activate in conjunction with Scaled Agile Framework® to deliver SAP solutions in agile way. I'm looking forward to your feedback. Feel free to post directly here or on the SAP Activate JAM space (join here).



Trademarks and Terms used in the article

  • Scaled Agile Framework® and SAFe® are registered trademarks of Scaled Agile, Inc.

  • Manage Successful Programmmes (MSP®) is a (registered) Trade Mark of AXELOS Limited. All rights reserved.

  • Project Management Institute (PMI) is the world’s leading association relating to project management and owner of the Standards for Portfolio, Program and Project Management.

  • SCRUM - Scrum is a framework for developing and sustaining complex products. More details available in the Scrum Guide.