During times of economic uncertainty, enterprises are increasingly utilizing SAFe® Agile metrics to achieve efficiency in delivering value to their customers at the lowest cost while gaining a significant advantage over competitors.

For an enterprise to improve speed and agility, reduce bottlenecks, and remove waste, leaders and business stakeholders need a reliable way to measure progress and identify areas for improvement. This makes the choice of what and how to measure critically important to improving business performance.

Hur man använder flödesmått i SAFe®-kadensen

Learn how Flow Metrics can measure and communicate the impact of your SAFe implementation

Se e-boken • Hur man använder flödesmått i SAFe®-kadensen
The PI Cadence in SAFe
The PI Cadence in SAFe

In this article, we compare the traditional Agile metrics against Flow Metrics and determine which ones provide the required insights for measuring outcomes for a business.

What Is the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)?

Traditionally, most enterprises used waterfall project management. While this approach worked well for many projects that were considered predictive, it didn’t work so well for ones that were adaptive. In response, Agile sprung up 20 years ago and became increasingly widespread in primarily software-based projects.

In traditional Agile teams, the focus is on a small group of team members (I.e., a scrum). This approach would be fine if all projects were small and didn’t need to scale beyond that team. But once the team becomes bigger or cross-functional, it is necessary to consider a scaled Agile framework such as SAFe.

SAFe is based on 10 underlying Lean-Agile principles:

  1. Take an economic view

    Building a strategy for incremental value delivery requires taking a look at the broader economic framework for each value stream. This includes risk trade-offs and manufacturing, operational, and development costs.

  2. Apply systems thinking

    Challenges in the workplace and the marketplace can be addressed by understanding the systems within which workers and users operate.

  3. Assume variability; preserve options

    Traditional development practices tend to focus on a single design-and-requirements approach at the beginning of the development process. To reduce risk, maintaining multiple requirements and design options for a longer period in the development cycle is recommended.

  4. Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles

    Respond to customer feedback faster and mitigate risk by developing solutions incrementally in a series of short iterations.

  5. Base milestones on an objective evaluation of working systems

    In Lean-Agile development, integration points serve as impartial benchmarks for evaluating the solution at various stages of the development life cycle.

  6. Make value flow without interruptions

    This requires understanding what flow is, what the various properties of a flow system are, and how these properties can accelerate or impede the flow of value. Value Stream Management (VSM) is a leadership and technical discipline that enables the maximum flow of business value through the end-to-end software delivery life cycle.

  7. Apply cadence and synchronize with cross-domain planning

    When coupled with periodic cross-domain planning, development cadence and synchronization provide the mechanisms needed to operate effectively in the presence of inherent development uncertainty.

  8. Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers

    Producing better outcomes for workers, customers, and the enterprise requires providing autonomy and purpose, minimizing constraints, and creating an environment of mutual influence.

  9. Decentralisera beslutsfattandet

    In many cases, decentralized decision-making reduces delays, improves product development flow, enables faster feedback, and creates more innovative solutions designed by those closest to the project.

  10. Organize around value

    Most enterprises are organized based on functional expertise. But in the digital age, business agility requires organizing around value to deliver more quickly.

Which Organizations Benefit from Using SAFe?

Agile can be extended beyond the development team’s scope by using SAFe agile metrics that enable leaders to continuously measure and improve business performance. It is ideal for large-scale projects with complicated issues.

Because of the large scale of operations, coordinating teams is a huge task; SAFe methods organize the workflow so that multiple teams can work together with fewer impediments. Smaller organizations may see less benefit from using SAFe due to limitations in flexibility, development, and innovation.

In larger organizations, stakeholders – including the customer and business leaders – can be engaged at several points along the delivery process. There is an active collaboration from end-to-end between developers and stakeholders because of the emphasis placed on communication and feedback.

Industries that have used SAFe successfully include finance, healthcare, automotive, telecommunications, and government agencies. In general, any organization seeking to implement a more streamlined and efficient approach to software development can benefit from SAFe.

What Are SAFe Metrics?

SAFe orients a business towards achieving business agility. That is, being able to respond quickly to market changes and take advantage of new opportunities through the development of fast, value-driven business solutions. SAFe focuses on measuring three key areas to support better decision-making and help identify opportunities for improvement.

  1. Resultat

    Measuring outcomes helps your organization determine if the solutions are meeting the needs of your customers and the business. Outcomes may measure externally facing goals such as increases in revenue, customer retention, etc., as well as internal considerations such as employee engagement.

  2. Flow

    Measuring flow within the SAFe system allows an organization to determine how efficient it is at delivering value to the customer. The Flow Framework® created by Planview CTO Dr. Mik Kersten includes five metrics that can be used to measure distinct aspects of flow within SAFe.

  3. Competency

    Competency refers to how proficient an organization is in the activities that enable business agility. Achieving business agility requires a significant degree of expertise across the Seven SAFe Core Competencies.

How to Use Flow Metrics for SAFe Success

Flow Metrics are designed to get teams focused on delivering value throughout the software delivery process. If tracked against business outcomes (value, cost, quality, and employee happiness), visibility into the relationship and interconnectedness of these aspects makes it easier for teams to see how their work creates meaningful impact for the business. The SAFe Flow Metrics are described below.

Flow Load – Is Demand Outweighing Capacity?

Flow Load® refers to the number of work items currently in progress, either active or in a waiting state. Keeping a healthy, limited number of active flow items is critical for work to progress quickly through the system.

Increasing Flow Load is a key indicator of excess work in the value stream. The likely outcome is an increase in Flow Time and a reduction in Flow Velocity as queues start to build up in the system. This makes measuring and reducing Flow Load to acceptable levels critically important for delivery teams to achieve the desired outcomes.


Flow Velocity – How Fast is Business Value Being Delivered?

Also known as the system’s throughput, Flow Velocity® is a measure of how many backlog items (stories, features, capabilities) were completed over a given period.

A higher Flow Velocity implies a higher output and is a good indicator that process improvements are being applied to identify and resolve delays in the system. Velocity that is too high may indicate a drop in quality or escaped defects and should be monitored. Significant drops in velocity highlight problems that may require investigation.


Flow Time – How Fast Is the Value Stream?

Flow Time measures the total time elapsed for all the steps in the software delivery lifecycle and is, therefore, a measure of the efficiency of the entire system. It is often used to measure the total time – from ideation to delivery– but it can also be used to measure cycle time (the time it takes to complete a single step in the value stream) to identify opportunities for improvement.

Flow Time ensures that organizations and teams focus on what is important, i.e., delivering value to the business and customers in the shortest time possible. The shorter the Flow Time, the less time customers spend waiting on new features and the lower the incurred cost of delays.


Flow Efficiency – What Value-Adding Work is Actively Being Worked On?

Flow Efficiency® measures how much Flow Time is spent in value-adding work compared to waiting between steps. It is calculated by dividing the total active time by the Flow Time (the total time from ideation to delivery for a given value stream) and is expressed as a percentage.

Flow Efficiency can be very low in a value stream that has not yet been optimized. This highlights waste in the system, along with bottlenecks and delays that need to be addressed. Conversely, a higher Flow Efficiency indicates a system that can deliver more value quickly.


Flow Distribution – Is There a Healthy and Dynamic Mix of Work?

Successful product value streams need to have a healthy and dynamic balance of flow items in order to maintain Flow Velocity and accelerate the delivery of business value. This is where Flow Distribution® comes in. It measures the amount of each type of work in the system over time.

Too much focus on new business features will leave little capacity for work that addresses technical debt and enables future value. Conversely, too much emphasis on technical debt could leave insufficient capacity for delivering new and current value to customers. By identifying the Flow Distribution, capacity allocations for each type of work can then be determined to help balance these concerns.


Achieving SAFe Business Agility Begins with Flow Metrics

Agile metrics such as story points, code commits, and deployment frequency may be helpful metrics when used for their original purpose. They can provide a certain degree of confidence about the effort being applied by developers in the value stream. But if stretched beyond that, they can mislead an organization into looking in the wrong places to find predictability and innovation velocity.

At the end of the day, customers care about – and pay for – results, not effort. SAFe Flow Metrics provide performance metrics for more effective measurement that leads to faster outcomes. Flow Metrics allow for an end-to-end view of the entire value stream while simultaneously giving sufficient insight to quickly pinpoint where issues may be holding up product delivery. They allow for continuous, real-time optimization to deliver greater value to the organization.