5 Takeaways from SAFe Summit 2021 for Better Business Agility

The digital age requires real business agility to deliver real business value.

Agile transformation is an evolving process. As organizations shift to software development in the digital world, they adopt lean and agile practices to continually deliver innovative solutions and capitalize on market opportunities quicker than competitors.

The 2021 Global SAFe Summit showcased SAFe as the operating system for business agility. During the five-day event, speakers discussed the building blocks required to deliver business agility and the blockers—some institutional, some technical—that stop them from being laid.

In this blog, we review the summit’s key insights.

1. Traditional approaches won’t help you compete in the digital age

Dean Leffingwell, Co-Founder and Chief Methodologist at Scaled Agile, tied pervasive cloud solutions, unprecedented growth in big data, and increased investments in R&D to the death of the traditional approaches to leveraging business opportunities. However, accepting that traditional waterfall approaches aren’t fit for purpose in the digital age is only half the battle. Organizations must embrace an approach to SAFe that delivers real business agility and, practically speaking, a minimum viable product in two to six months. Many organizations deploy a purpose-built solution to adopt and scale Agile across the enterprise.

2. Business Agility Value Stream can help you capitalize on market opportunities

When an organization responds quickly to an emergent business opportunity, it demonstrates business agility. Leffingwell introduced Business Agility Value Stream (BAVS), a set of steps from recognizing an opportunity to delivering and measuring value within SAFe. These eight steps support the journey from an emerging to a leveraged business opportunity:

Insert BAVS - 5 Takeaways from SAFe Summit 2021 for Better Business Agility - Apptio

  1. Sense opportunity. Savvy, lean-thinking leaders understand market dynamics based on market research, analyze quantitative and qualitative data, consume direct and indirect customer feedback, and observe customers in their environment.
  2. Fund MVP. Fast. Organizations must quickly define an epic hypothesis and fund the minimal viable product (MVP). Funding for an actual product used by actual customers generates more insight than any amount of in-the-lab theory.
  3. Organize around value. Group teams and Agile Release Trains (ART) by the value they bring and the business agility they support.
  4. Connect to customer. Customer-focused, Agile product delivery supports all aspects of a customer’s persona—her profile, motivations, responsibilities, and values. Without customer focus, teams deliver software but not necessarily value.
  5. Deliver MVP. An MVP, delivered quickly, takes the theoretical and makes it real. Teams are already “on the job,” so they can quickly deliver the MVP. The MVP luggage needs to get on the already scheduled (agile release) train.
  6. Pivot or persevere. With an MVP and customer validation, organizations have enough data points to persevere and continue development, pivot to a new hypothesis, or stop.
  7. Deliver value continuously. Continuous pipeline delivery provides a constant flow of new functionality that can be released whenever the market demands.
  8. Learn and adapt. Organizational competency, product development flow, and business outcomes are measurable. Teams of all stripes have strengths and weaknesses; tracking success highlights areas for improvement and drives better business outcomes.

3. Lean Portfolio Management is an investment

Brian Tucker, Ivar Jacobson International Principal Consultant and SAFe Fellow, highlighted how lean portfolio management (LPM) is not a collection of discrete principles. LPM helps executives connect strategy to execution in a lean fashion. It should be considered as an investment and treated like a business. A key factor to LPM is buy-in to help avoid roadblocks as new decisions and/or trade-offs are made downstream. Part of LPM is participatory budgeting, which gets stakeholders to discuss the process, decisions, trade-offs, and commitments before receiving the final budget.

Participatory budgeting is a feature in Apptio Targetprocess, a solution built specifically to help mid-size and large enterprises implement the Scaled Agile Framework across the entire organization and adopt Lean-Agile principles at scale. Targetprocess allows you to easily set up your system for the SAFe configuration you follow, from Essential SAFe to Portfolio and Full SAFe.

Participatory Budgeting List View in Targetprocess - 5 Takeaways from SAFe Summit 2021 for Better Business Agility - Apptio
Participatory Budgeting List View in Targetprocess

4. Value Stream Management maximizes the flow of business values

Marc Rix, SAFe Fellow and Principal Consultant at Scaled Agile, discussed how value stream management (VSM) enables the maximum flow of business value through the end-to-end solution delivery cycle. According to Gartner, by 2023, 70% of organizations will use VSM to improve flow in the DevOps pipeline. VSM incorporates lean principles to ensure the allocation of resources to key values that matter to customers.

Agile Rising CEO Chris Ruch identified the characteristics of a value stream leader. Organizations must continuously improve and grow their portfolios, products, services, value streams, and people; the right people for the right team changes over time. Mature value stream management defines role-based career paths and opportunities for advancement while still maintaining a customer-centric focus and promoting innovation.

Dr. Mik Kersten, Founder and CEO of Tasktop, drew an analogy between the vital signs of measuring personal health and Flow Metrics to measure business agility. Flow Metrics measure the rate of business value delivery for software products through the customer lens, whether internal or external. They include:

  • Flow Velocity: Gauges whether value delivery is accelerating. Flow Velocity is the number of Flow Items completed over a particular period.
  • Flow Time: Measures time to market. Flow Time measures the time elapsed from “work start” to “work complete” on a given Flow Item, including active and wait times.
  • Flow Efficiency: Identifies waste in a value stream. Flow Efficiency is the ratio of active time out of the total Flow Time.
  • Flow Load: Monitors over and under-utilization of value streams, which can lead to reduced productivity. Flow Load measures the number of Flow Items currently in progress (active or waiting) within a particular value stream.
  • Flow Distribution: Illustrates the trade-offs between Flow Items in a reporting period. Flow Distribution measures the distribution of the four Flow Items—Features, Defects, Risks, and Debts—in your value stream’s delivery.

Apptio Targetprocess Value Stream Management solution can be set up to support VSM at any stage of implementation and evolve together with the company, processes, approaches, and toolchains. Thanks to the uniquely flexible Extendable Data Model, Targetprocess powerfully supports custom processes and constant process improvements. At any point in time and at any level of the organization, companies can follow their target process (desired, custom process).


Insert Tactical OKR and Goals in Targetprocess - 5 Takeaways from SAFe Summit 2021 for Better Business Agility - Apptio
Tactical OKR and Goals in Targetprocess

5. Investing in and empowering people is key to business agility

Ruch called out “people debt” as a significant impediment to business agility. People debt refers to the implied costs and risks accumulated by neglecting and underestimating the human aspect of collaborative, challenging, and innovative work. By forgoing investment in people and workforce dynamics, organizations unintentionally destroy morale and degrade culture.

Cultural change management must engage and empower employees in both the ideation and execution of digital innovations. According to Mattias Ulbrich, CEO of Porsche Digital, Porsche succeeded by combining software engineers and their hardware teams to innovate. They applied the concepts of MVP and fail-fast to building cars and automobile applications. They also pushed their vendors and partners to be more agile and walk with them in their SAFe journey.

Organizations across all industries increased agility, adaptability, and innovation because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Leaders whose organizations are embracing SAFe often experience the greatest amount of change. These leaders play a critical role in the ability of the organization to adopt SAFe and achieve business agility. Leading in the digital age requires new skills:

  • Lean-Agile Leadership competency: Drive and sustain organizational change and operational excellence by empowering individuals and teams to reach their highest potential.
  • Continuous Learning Culture competency: A set of values and practices that encourage individuals—and the enterprise as a whole—to continually increase knowledge, competence, performance, and innovation.

Apptio Targetprocess is the only portfolio and work management solution purposefully built for evolving agile enterprises. We empower teams to collaborate and adapt how they plan, track and steer work from the strategic portfolio level to the software delivery teams and other stakeholders with end-to-end visibility.

Insert Track and Trace Work in Targetprocess - 5 Takeaways from SAFe Summit 2021 for Better Business Agility - Apptio
Track and trace work in Targetprocess

Better business agility

Now more than ever, organizations need to change their approach to capitalizing on market opportunities. SAFe helps you navigate these changes so you can obtain better business agility in a digital world.

Article Contents



Additional Resources