The First Ever Virtual SAFe Summit: Key Takeaways | Targetprocess - Enterprise Agility Solution

This month we’ve joined one of the most important events for all SAFe enthusiasts – the European SAFe Summit. Due to the Corona crisis for the first time it was held fully remotely and became one of the most massive virtual simulive events. This conference format has been a unique experience for many of us – participants, organizers and sponsors.

Targetprocess couldn’t miss the chance to converse with the like-minded SAFe people. We “were there”, carefully followed theater sessions and offered our own virtual agenda. We’ve put together all the ideas that ran through the conference as a common thread and made a distillation of them in this post. Now we are happy to share it with you.

Crisis Is a Key Driver for Business Agility

It came as no surprise that many of the talks didn’t shy away from expanding on the COVID-19 aftermath: how the virus will change the landscape, how the Agile mindset embraces new challenges of the COVID crisis, and how Agile organizations implemented changes for after the end of the lockdown.

CEO of Scaled Agile Inc., Chris James, in his welcome keynote stressed: “Risk becomes a growth opportunity”. Indeed, only six months ago none of us could have foreseen the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had (and will continue to have) on business globally, as well as on our social patterns in general. And while many of the competitive circumstances that push companies to become more agile might be ignored or put off for some time, the Corona situation left many organizations with no choice but to embrace business agility. Companies had to promptly respond to completely unexpected conditions and quickly adapt to a new reality at all levels.

The Summit itself is great evidence of how a company remains agile during a crisis. Over a very short period of time the organizers had to reframe everything, switch to a different format and deliver value to their customers.

The Summit was also a challenge for Targetprocess. We had a limited amount of time to invent creative ways to attract users to our virtual space and add value to the existing summit program. No physical booth, no coffee breaks, no face-to-face chats in a real setting.

Eventually, we came up with the idea of adding to a sponsor’s standard agenda with demos and giveaways. Targetprocess invited its clients, partners, and well-known experts in the SAFe community to provide their expert opinions and socialize on the important topics. Below you can discover some of the recorded sessions we held in the Targetprocess Virtual Space:

After-party at the Targetprocess Virtual Booth on the 1st day of the summit.

Agile Games Presentation by Jens-Peter from Labus Digital at the European SAFe Summit 2020, Targetprocess Virtual Booth.

The Increased Role of Leadership – Leaders are Beacons to Navigate the Uncertainty

Many of the talks touched upon or were centered around the role of leaders in the Agile environment, especially in large Agile organizations following SAFe. On the one hand, in the culture of autonomous Lean-Agile knowledge workers, the role of leaders can seemingly be diminished. On the other hand, they have become a guide through difficult times for their colleagues, and the quote above illustrates this point very well. A leader's role is to help others navigate the ambiguity to support Agile culture and continue delivering value to clients. Their goal is to provide a positive realistic view of the future and be transparent about an ultimate purpose.

Agile leaders are champions and visionaries who identify value for their customers and who make sure a strategy is well communicated and executed. They set clear inspiring goals and identify measurable outcome metrics.

You can use an OKR-based system for that (supported in Targetprocess). Here is the recording of Jurriaan van der Laan’s talk at the Targetprocess Virtual Booth at the SAFe Summit.

Dean Leffingwell, the creator of SAFe, notes in his keynote “Navigating a Crisis with Business Agility in SAFe 5.0” that C-Suite is key to achieving Business Agility. Harvard Business Review, the Economist and other magazines have started to talk about how the C-suite has to take specific responsibility for deploying Agile across the enterprise. It’s no longer a team for things, but the team for the entire business.

Many Agile teams have started as a customer-centric entrepreneurial network. The network is fast and dynamic, and aims to meet the needs of the customer. But as they grow, extra levels of complexity are added, such as compliance, legal issues, infrastructure and many other things that make up operational value streams. All of them may not deliver value directly, but they are needed to support growth and contribute to achieving more overall value. SAFe 5.0 offers a dual operating system where a customer-centric network of knowledge workers ensures the speed of innovation, while hierarchy introduces efficiency and stability, and allows scalability.

A Continuous Learning Culture Is the Only Way to Make it Through a Crisis

“The problems we are addressing are not gonna be solved by version 5, version 6, or version 7, they are gonna be solved by us learning together,” rounds up Dean Leffingwell in his talk. We will never be the same and continuous learning is the only way to make it through a crisis. Dean focuses on a continuous learning culture and names it one of the most important SAFe 5.0 competences.

Another interesting presentation that raised the continuous learning topic was delivered by Gez Smith, “Humans Are NOT Resources: a Guide to Managing a Modern Lean-Agile Workforce”.

Each Agile business has to strive to create the learning organization within itself. And that’s what leaders in such organizations have to aim for. They shouldn’t try to manage a self-directed Lean-Agile workforce, despite “feeling accountable for the team, feeling accountable for the team of teams”.

Targetprocess Image

Credit: Gez Smith, Global Head of Agile at HSBC - "Humans are Not Resources: A Guide to Managing a Modern Workforce"

The role of leaders is to build a culture of continuous learning and growth. Experts are not a priority in this case. Instead, leaders should look for people who realize what they don’t know and are eager to further their understanding. It’s equally important to understand that learning and delivery shouldn’t be juxtaposed. The former is an intrinsic part of the latter. Learning goes hand in hand with the improvement process. As Gez Smith rightly points out, “Learning IS Delivery”.

The learning culture is also deeply rooted in the innovation culture. Dr. Tendayi Viki delivered a great closing keynote, “Not All Pirates Are The Same - How Intrapreneurs Can Drive Transformation” on the first day of the summit. He expanded on how to drive an Agile transformation and innovate in large organizations.

Tendayi outlines that innovation is not a one-off project. Instead, it’s a repeatable system and process. In order to make “piracy” (an innovation) an institutional phenomenon (part of the “navy”), it cannot happen for the sake of innovation itself. It has to create value and become iterative – therefore, have a strategic fit, create a good opportunity and provide the evidence of progress throughout the implementation process.

Customer-centricity Extensively Discussed. – How About People-centricity?

A customer-centric approach is something that has already been well-embraced in the SAFe environment. This summer, during the European SAFe Summit, many of the speakers continued to talk about customer-centricity and lots raised another centric approach – people-centricity.

Gez Smith notes that non-utilized talent is also a form of waste. In an agile culture a manager is someone who identifies people’s strengths and creates an environment where Lean-Agile knowledge people work best. If it’s a flow-state worker, then it’s better to give them 24-48h periods for flow-state working to focus and deliver, and let others perform in a contact-shifting mode if they feel comfortable with it.

If it’s a different cultural context, then cultural differences should not be negated and any transformation shouldn’t start with an idea of creating a uniform environment.

The goal is to understand when teams perform better and accept their peculiarities, align with them on the outcomes and help them collaborate in the most comfortable way to deliver results. Keith de Mendonca dedicates his presentation “When Two Cultures Collide: The Influence of Country Cultures on Agile Team Behaviours” to the topic of culture differences in Agile companies.

Inbar Oren, in his talk “Fully Distributed PI Planning - How to Collaborate and Align in a Remote Environment”, also mentions that people and interactions should prevail over tools in a remote or distributed setting.

During the panel discussion at the Targetprocess virtual space about the reasonable level of transparency, the participants agreed that trust factor and enablement of teams was what transparency was meant for. Mark des Biens, Enterprise Solutions Engineer at Targetprocess, concluded that transparency was a value and not a thing to come down on your teams.

The same concept of people-centric approach ran through presentations on organizational learning and transformations, where a manager is a facilitator who brings people together and creates an environment for them to learn and deliver.

Remote or Office Is no Longer an “Either/Or” Option

And finally, the catalyst of this year’s Summit format – the Corona crisis – that has pushed all of us to go remote. It has literally forced us to reconfigure our processes and change our attitude to this mode of work. Only about six months ago “remote” was a perk, during the COVID-19 outbreak it was a new norm, and as different countries have gradually started lifting or easing the lockdown, WFH is becoming  a “fully legitimate” and equal alternative to traditional office work.

Remote work has brought some obvious advantages, such as more space and respect for inner family rhythms and the possibility to be closer to your loved ones, a chance to see your clients and colleagues in a more natural informal context and without professional masks.

Distributed PI Planning – one of the most complex procedures in SAFe with a lot of interdependencies – has proved to be effective, remote PI Planning proved to be viable, and Business Agility is imperative to adapt to the new reality. As Targetprocess CEO Andrey Mihailenko said, “Efficiency-wise, fully remote PI Planning was cool”.

See how to run PI Planning remotely with Targetprocess in the demo by Mark des Biens, our Enterprise Solutions Engineer 

Moreover, to respond to the new conditions, many Agile organizations ramped up their communication means in less than one month. Therefore, remote work has strengthened collaboration among different cultures within the team.

For many, WFH has become liberating and productivity has increased. Yet, little can be done to resolve the fact that people still want to be among people. That’s why, most probably, it’s going to become a hybrid or bi-modal way of working after the lockdown.  Optionality and configurability will reign supreme. If remote lasts, a new form of social fabric will re-instill.

Closing Thoughts

The recent crisis demonstrated to all of us how important Business Agility is for an organization to continue thriving, especially in the face of unexpected changes to the market. Scaled Agile Inc. continues delivering value 20 days after the Covid crisis started. Most of us have reconfigured our processes and continue working remotely. Finally, the European SAFe Summit 2020, for the first time completely virtual, is further proof of how to remain agile and responsive to the market. Focus on speed over perfection, on your customers instead of yourself, and continue delivering value.

Other useful resources from the Summit:

What are your impressions of this year's summit? Share in the comments!

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