The SAFe House of Lean illustrated Lean thinking. The roof represents the goal of delivering value. The pillars embody respect for people and culture, flow, innovation, and relentless improvement to support the goal. Lean-Agile Leaders provide the foundation on which everything else stands.
The Agile Manifesto provides a value system and set of principles essential to successful Agile development. SAFe is built on the Agile values, principles, and methods as embodied by cross-functional Agile teams. Every leader must fully support and reinforce the intent and application of the manifesto.
Supporting SAFe Lean-Agile Principles
As described in Lean-Agile Principles, SAFe is based on nine immutable, underlying Lean-Agile principles. These tenets and economic concepts inspire and inform the roles and practices of SAFe, influencing leadership behaviors and decision-making.
The principles are:
#1 – Take an economic view
#2 – Apply systems thinking
#3 – Assume variability; preserve options
#4 – Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles
#5 – Base milestones on an objective evaluation of working systems
#6 – Visualize and limit WIP, reduce batch sizes, and manage queue length
#7 – Apply cadence; synchronize with cross-domain planning
#8 – Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers
#9 – Decentralize decision-making
Each is necessary to experience the personal, business, and economic benefits of applying SAFe. Moreover, these principles work together as a system; each informs the others, and the whole is far greater than the sum of these individual principles.
All of these principles are directly relevant to leaders. Principles #1 and #2 set the economic and system thinking context for the solution and organizational development. Principles#8 and #9 are particularly relevant to leading others. Management has both the responsibility and authority to establish the culture of the organization and to create an environment that empowers and motivates knowledge workers. These last two are relevant to leadership, as described below.
#8 – Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers. As the article notes, we have the good fortune of working with some of the smartest people in the workforce—motivated and talented knowledge workers who build the world’s most important systems. It is hard to overstate the importance of the leader’s role in supporting these employees and to help them avoid the many demotivating factors that have found their way into our traditional management habits. The Agile HR article describes six significant themes that can set the context for effective management of this next generation of knowledge workers.
#9 – Decentralize decision-making. Similarly, Principle #9 provides the guidance leaders need to delegate effective decision-making, and thereby accelerate the flow of value. In turn, this reinforces Principle #8, as empowered decision-making is a prerequisite to motivate knowledge workers.
Leading the SAFe Transformation
As we just described, being a Lean-thinking manager-teacher provides leaders with the thought processes and practical tools they’ll need to start building the Lean enterprise. The goal of achieving the shortest sustainable lead time is always clear: Flow, or the lack of it, becomes apparent. Queues are discovered and analyzed. WIP is visible and managed. Waste and delays are eliminated at every turn.
But as you embark on a journey of significant organizational change—perhaps more significant than most of us have experienced in our careers—even those tools are not enough. For this part of the journey, leaders need to apply the tools of organizational change management and change leadership. Kotter  described eight steps in implementing successful change:
- Establish a sense of urgency
- Create the guiding coalition
- Develop the vision and strategy for change
- Communicate the change vision
- Empower employees for broad-based action
- Generate short-term wins
- Consolidate gains and produce more change
- Anchor new approaches in the culture
Clearly, these steps require the active participation of leaders committed to the change. But even this is not enough: as Heath and Heath note in their book on change , leaders “need to script the critical moves” that are needed to accomplish the change.
The Implementation Roadmap
Based on these insights from the field of organizational change management, the SAFe Implementation Roadmap article series guides leaders on this particular journey, which is summarized in the Implementation Roadmap article and Figure 3 below.