The Future is SAFe

10.7.2018 klo 10.36

We had a great time at the first European SAFe Summit at Frankfurt—meeting old and new customers, talking with our friends, and listening to great presentations and case studies. In addition to coaching participants, giving lightning talks, and running a busy booth with cool T-shirts, we also managed to land an interview with the Chief Methodologist of SAFe, Dean Leffingwell. We asked him about the history of SAFe and how he sees the future.


Did you know from the start that Scaled Agile and SAFe would be runaway successes?

When we started, we didn’t anticipate this level of success. This is my fifth startup and I have never experienced such rapid growth.

One reason is that this business model is very different. It comes from my recent experiences with a number of startups, which taught us how to build communities first, and then monetize later. So, we started out by building a SAFe community around the value that we provide for free.

We did not know how would we commercialize it — it could have been consulting, training, software, courseware, content subscriptions, advertising, whatever. What we did know was that what we had was very unique and that it had a lot of potential value.

How would you describe the way Scaled Agile is doing business?

So, the “freemium” (provide a lot of value to a large market for free) approach to business really works: We share our knowledge on the website for free. Our vision was to help companies build software and systems that are becoming more and more complex and require increasingly large numbers of people to build. We make our money by selling courseware licenses.

This is a problem that no university or any tooling or consulting vendor is likely to solve. For the business model to be successful, we recognized that we had to inspire confidence even as we broke new ground and challenged many conventions. Our goal is to build a great and enduring company. So far, so good.

Strategically, we see ourselves as systems integrators of the many (and growing) software and solution development knowledge pools that are out there. As big as SAFe might be perceived to be, it consists primarily of only about 100 or so articles and each one is limited to about 1,500 words at most. So it really isn’t that big compared to the problem at hand.

What we have accomplished is to distill these large and diverse bodies of knowledge into a single, understandable, and accessible form. That’s the basis of our success.

What has been the biggest surprise along your SAFe journey?

We never envisioned the massive amount of face-to-face trainings our partners would be delivering. Of course, nobody ever mastered anything after only a two-day training session. Naturally, students need coaching and support to avoid slipping back into the old ways of working. This is where partners like Nitor step into the picture and help the client make the transition.

Nitor is a really good customer for Scaled Agile and has been there from the beginning. Nitor has experienced sustained business growth by solving important customer problems using SAFe. We’ve been good partners for years.

I believe there will always be a need for people helping and teaching other people on how to build increasingly complex systems. That cannot be automated. It requires new thinking, new methods, and training. Since software development is a team sport, face-to-face team-based training will always be with us. So will our partners.

What’s next for Agile development? What are the future trends?

Waterfall had its decade. Its time has come and gone. We’re now witnessing nearly two decades of success applying Agile, and now Lean, methods.

But creating code will always be important. We depend on the skills and craft of talented knowledge workers to create such code. But they don’t necessarily know how to build large systems when they leave school, so training will always be important.

I see Agile, Lean, and now DevOps and Lean start-up thinking driving the new way of working. And now state and local governments are entering the fray as they too are accountable for building better systems, faster. The taxpayers’ money is a precious resource. So business agility is a long term movement.

But in our context, as Agile Release Trains (ARTs) get better at creating and delivering stuff, we need to create some guidance on how to innovate better at the portfolio level. That’s just one of the areas we are working on now.

Thanks for the interview, Dean!



Maarit Laanti is the Head Coach of Nitor. She has done her dissertation on large scale agile transformation. Maarit is one of the contributors of SAFe methodology and is the first certified SAFe program consultant trainer in Finland.