The Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe), is a set of organizational and workflow patterns, which includes Inspect and Adapt, designed to guide organizations in scaling Lean and Agile development practices. SAFe is one of a growing number of frameworks, along with Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS), Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD), and Nexus, that aim to address the challenges companies encounter when scaling beyond a single team.

The framework, which promotes alignment, collaboration, and delivery across large numbers of Agile teams, is made freely available by Scaled Agile, Inc.

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Inspect and Adapt

A key aspect of SAFe is Inspect and Adapt (I&A), which Scaled Agile refers to as a significant event held at the end of each program increment (PI). A Program Increment or “PI” is a timebox that’s typically eight to 12 weeks long, during which an Agile Release Train (ART) delivers incremental value in the form of working, tested software and systems. The I&A held at the end of each PI is when the development team demonstrates and evaluates both the current state of the product in development and the process used to get it there.

Thoroughly inspecting and improving both product and process typically translates into a better upcoming PI. It’s a central component of the concept of continuous improvement, and the best opportunity for the entire ART to work together to identify and solve systemic problems.

All stakeholders participate with the Agile teams in the Inspect and Adapt event, and the result is a set of improvement items that the teams add to the backlog for the next PI Planning event. PI Planning is a cadence-based, face-to-face event that serves as the heartbeat of the ART, aligning all teams to a shared mission and vision, and improving every PI.

Prepare and perform Program Increment Planning
Prepare and perform Program Increment Planning

According to the creators of SAFe, participants in the program-level Inspect and Adapt should ideally consist of:

  • Agile teams release train engineer (RTE)
  • System and solution architect / engineering product management
  • Business owners

An Inspect and Adapt event consists of three distinct phases.

Phase 1: The PI system demo

In this phase, product management acts as the facilitator of the demonstration that covers the fully integrated system. The main goal is to illustrate the current state of the system and how it has advanced.

Unlike the sprint demos that take place biweekly, this demo shows all the features developed over the course of the PI to a much larger audience consisting of business owners, sponsors, stakeholders, and portfolio representatives, as well as customer representatives. All of these groups collaborate with each Agile team to evaluate the business value that’s been delivered.

SAFe recommends that each development team quickly demonstrate their portion of features, with the entire process taking less than sixty minutes. While each team deserves their time in the spotlight, the result can often feel disconnected. The key here is to keep the audience engaged. So, keep it brief, don’t get lost in the weeds, and don’t be afraid to take a creative approach to your presentation that will help the audience stay focused and attentive.

Phase 2: Quantitative measurement

In this phase of Inspect and Adapt, metrics are used to measure the performance of the ART products and process from both a quantitative and a qualitative perspective. The RTE and Solution Train Engineer are typically responsible for gathering and analyzing the metrics which the teams have previously agreed to (and should be aligned to business objectives) and presenting the data in another sixty-minute segment.

If you’re not sure which metrics you should be collecting and analyzing, the Scaled Agile Framework Metrics page offers a comprehensive list of the various enterprise, portfolio, program, solution, and team metrics that could be used.

But no matter what you measure, remember that numbers alone won’t tell the whole story. The metrics are simply the key to uncovering the narrative.

For example, the team and leaders may consider the fact that they achieved 67 percent predictability the end result. But that doesn’t tell the story of why or how the teams fell short of expectations. Instead, saying that you made 67 percent of predictability because we were under-resourced in two specific areas sets the stage for problem-solving in the next phase.

Phase 3: Retrospective and problem solving

In the retrospective phase of Inspect and Adapt, the teams identify all of the problems or process issues they feel should be addressed. Then they narrow the field to a few key issues at either the team or program level.

Program-level issues tend to draw cross-functional participants that are directly impacted by them and therefore are more motivated to solve them. This provides a much wider perspective of the problem, as well as a larger pool of creative solutions.

Next, a problem-solving workshop begins with a root-cause analysis to help separate the actual cause from the symptoms. Here, several different tools can be used:

Once the largest cause from the list is identified and restated as a problem, an unfettered brainstorming process yields a number of potential solutions. The top three of these are loaded into the following PI session and acted on accordingly. And thus, the cycle of Relentless Improvement is brought to life.

Relentless Improvement

The twelfth principle of the Agile Manifesto sums up how important the philosophy of continuous improvement is to the SAFe Lean-Agile approach:

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

SAFe emphasizes the importance of this philosophy by including “relentless improvement” as one of the four pillars of the SAFe House of Lean. While opportunities to improve can and should occur continuously, applying some structure, cadence, and synchronization helps to ensure time is set aside to consider what can be done better during the Program Level Inspect and Adapt.

Inspect and Adapt provides an opportunity to learn, notes Raja Bavani, chief architect of Mindtree. “We are no longer part of a traditional waterfall world where we wait until the end of every project to reflect and learn something,” he says. “We are in an iterative and incremental world with an abundance of opportunity to learn, apply what we learn, improve, and ensure that we’re putting the lessons learned into practice in order to deliver meaningful solutions to our customers. This is an opportunity we had never chosen to leverage systematically in the past.”

Inspect and Adapt is a core component of the SAFe House of Lean, and in particular, Pillar 4: Relentless Improvement. I&A drives continuous improvement through team retrospectives and stakeholder feedback. Teams learn from these sources and apply the knowledge gained from them so that everyone wins with a better product. To understand Inspect and Adapt better, let’s look at the SAFe House of Lean as a whole.

Inspect and Adapt: A Core Component of the SAFe House of Lean

The bottom of the SAFe House of Lean is the foundation upon which the house rests; it represents Lean-Agile Leadership. On top of the foundation are four pillars, which include respect for people and culture, flow, innovation, and relentless improvement. These pillars support the roof, which signifies the ultimate goal of the House of Lean: Value.

Moving to the top, the goal of Lean is to deliver the maximum customer value in the shortest sustainable lead time while providing the highest possible quality to customers and society. High morale, safety, and customer delight are additional goals and benefits.

The four pillars of the SAFe House of Lean are used to support the delivery of that value:

Pillar #1: Respect for people and culture

This pillar reflects aspects of the first value of the Agile Manifesto, “Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools,” as well as the manifesto’s fifth core principle: “Support, trust, and motivate the people involved.”

People are the lifeblood of your organization. They are the creative element; they do the work of translating ideas into products, they solve problems and, ultimately, they generate revenue. In return, they must have their needs met; they must feel trusted, valued, and respected.

To evolve into a Lean-Agile organization, management must transform the culture by empowering employees with the autonomy to make their own decisions, develop their own practices, and execute improvements they feel are necessary – all while being held accountable for their actions. Respect for people and culture should extend to everyone across the business ecosystem: Suppliers, partners, customers, and the broader community.

Pillar #2: Flow

The second pillar of the SAFe House of Lean reflects aspects of the fourth value of the Agile Manifesto, “Responding to Change Over Following a Plan,” as well as the manifesto’s first three core principles dealing with early and continuous delivery and accommodating change without delays.

Capturing fast, continuous feedback and making quick adjustments and informed decisions based on that feedback enable a continuous flow of incremental value delivery. Quality here is never an add-on but is built-in to ensure that every incremental delivery meets standards. This is a mandatory prerequisite of Lean.

To master flow in the Lean-Agile organization, you must:

  • Understand the full value stream
  • Limit Work in Process (WIP)
  • Reduce batch sizes and manage queue lengths
  • Reduce delays
  • Eliminate wasteful activities that fail to add sufficient value
In-app, out-of-the-box reporting helps teams understand bottlenecks to improve their processes
In-app, out-of-the-box reporting helps teams understand bottlenecks to improve their processes

As you begin to master continuous flow, you’ll experience faster value delivery, more effective practices that ensure built-in quality, and continuous improvement.

Pillar #3: Innovation

The pillar of innovation in the SAFe House of Lean reflects virtually every aspect of the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto. Innovation is a main ingredient, and neither individuals, teams nor entire organizations can be improved or deliver continuous value without it. It’s the common factor present in everything.

SAFe was designed to challenge comfort zones and the status quo.

It’s based on the idea that there must be something better out there – better ways of doing, better ways of producing. But to find them, norms must be challenged, and new frontiers must be explored.

Innovation is required to maintain and improve product and process. To nurture and support it, Lean Agile Leaders must:

  • Get out from behind the desk and “walk the factory floors.” There’s no substitute for spending time where value is produced and products are used.
  • Encourage untamed creativity until it becomes a natural part of the development process.
  • Leave firefighting to firefighters. If you focus too much on urgent demands to “put out fires,” you may end up dousing more than just the fires.
  • Apply feedback metrics to validate new concepts and fuel innovation at every stage.
  • Leverage customers to confirm innovations.

Pillar #5: Relentless improvement

This final pillar in the SAFe House of Lean reflects aspects of the fourth value of the Agile Manifesto, “Responding to Change Over Following a Plan,” as well as the manifesto’s twelfth core principle: “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”

This pillar is aimed at the relentless improvement of both the product and the processes. Fueled by a threat of competition and a sense of opportunity, organizations use reviews, retrospectives and continuous reflection to learn and adapt. This is where Inspect and Adapt sits for a SAFe organization.

Leaders and teams nurture this through:

  • Organization-wide optimization of the development process
  • Careful contemplation of data followed by quick and decisive action
  • Applying Lean tools and techniques to determine root causes
  • Reflection at regular intervals to identify and address process deficiencies

Leadership: The Foundation of the SAFe House of Lean

The foundation of the SAFe House of Lean is critically important: Leadership. An organization’s leaders are ultimately responsible for the adoption, success, and ongoing improvement of Lean-Agile development.

Only leaders have the power to fundamentally change the organization and the way work is performed. Only leaders can create an environment that encourages innovative thinking and the relentless drive for improvement.

The best Agile leaders change their thinking and with it, the antiquated approaches to business common in the last paradigm. They embrace Agile thinking, methods, and practices and incorporate them into every activity and every decision.

This is where Inspect and Adapt plays a significant role. Adopting practices like I&A allows businesses to inspect both product and process and then to adapt either one or both in ways that improve the organization. Effective Agile leaders understand the benefits of I&A and ensure they’re executed with recommended regularity.

Becoming a Lean-Agile enterprise is not easy, and it’s not something that happens overnight. But an organization doesn’t have to achieve the goal before seeing results. With every step toward Lean-Agile, benefits will be realized that strengthen the organization at every level, like increases in engagement, improvements in quality, faster releases, and a host of other positive outcomes. Those benefits will inspire the business to push forward.