TL; DR: The Net Promoter Score® of SAFe®
I ran a poll on the question “Would You Recommend SAFe® as a Scaling Framework?” from May 3rd, 2017 to May 17th, 2017 to identify the Net Promoter Score® SAFe®.
In total, 212 participants replied during that period. Based on the Net Promoter Score® concept, 142 of those votes identified detractors, 31 promoters, and 39 passives. The resulting Net Promoter Score® of SAFe® as a scaling framework is – 52.
(Disclosure: I participated in the poll, and I belong to the group of the detractors.)
Note: Trademark notices are listed at the end of the blog post.
🗞 Shall I notify you about articles like this one? Awesome! You can sign up here for the ‘Food for Agile Thought’ newsletter and join 30,000-plus other subscribers.
Join more than 120 peers from May 27-29, 2021, for the Virtual Agile Camp Berlin 2021, a live virtual Barcamp using open space technology principles and practices.
The Results of the Net Promoter Score® of SAFe® Survey in Detail
The poll—active from May 3rd, 2017 to May 17th, 2017—comprised of one question: “Would You Recommend SAFe® as a Scaling Framework?”, stating that “SAFe® seems to become an increasingly controversial topic within the agile community. This poll is intended to gather insight on the current state of the discussion.”
Segment 1 was labeled with “SAFe® is not ‘agile’; it’s selling a buzzword”, and segment 10 was labeled with “SAFe® is not perfect, but it is a starting point.”
The survey results are as follows:
|Total number of votes:||212|
|Number of distractors:||142|
|Number of promoters:||31|
|NPS® of SAFe®:||–52|
Before the perfectionists among you now cry foul, I admit that I took the liberty to remove the “0” segment from the questionnaire. It has no influence on the outcome of either the poll or the calculation of the Net Promoter Score® as it is aggregated in the detractor segment anyway.
Cannot see the form?
Please click here
13 Quotes from Detractors, Passives, and Promoters of the Net Promoter Score® of SAFe®–Survey
The first part of the survey was an anonymous poll. However, the second part of the poll enabled participants to provide an explanation of their vote. The following opinions of detractors, passives, as well as promoters, is a selection of 54 replies received in total.
Quotes from Promoters of the Net Promoter Score® of SAFe®–Survey
I do think that for a traditionally managed company with leaders coming from traditional schools of management SAFe® will make a lot of sense and will be very easy to get sponsorship for implementing it.
I’m not a big fan of SAFe® for small companies. Definitely is not a good option, but what most consultants try to do in small companies is more or less what SAFe® did for the context of large organizations. It tried to apply relevant pieces, that solves specific problems, from various agile methods and practices. How can this be different from most consultants do?
I admit that I’ve learned a lot by studying SAFe® and I can say that I acquired a better understanding of many subjects that if you just focus on Scrum you’ll not get it. For instance, the idea of having alignment and synchronization from portfolio to team level towards a common direction is vital in large organizations. The flexibility to work with more traditional methods are also fundamental for many companies that work in highly regulated sectors.
In conclusion, I don’t criticize SAFe® in the same way that most people do, because I do think that most critics sometimes don’t take an organizational context into account. It’s very hard to believe in people that advocates against SAFe® by just telling that the framework that they’ve created is a better choice. Just because they invented or when they don’t have the experience of applying it on a large organization. The same applies to any lean / agile framework, method, and practice. There’s a lot of people that express their opinions based just on judgment and not on experience.
SAFe® provides the bridge to many organizations that operated in waterfall or other methodologies and need to cross to a more agile environment. The underlying principles of Agile need to be established by the proponents, champions or others trying to transform those organizations. The same way that doing agile or being agile is a thing, nobody says that by adopting SAFe® you will become agile. It is still a journey, just with an enterprise flavor to it.
SAFe® is Agile Dev + Lean Prod Dev + Systems thinking. Agile, as we’ve known it, is not enough.
Quotes from Passives of the Net Promoter Score® of SAFe®–Survey
(4) Astrid Karsten:
To me; Agile (amongst other things) implicates that you’ll choose the working method that fits best to your organisation at a certain point in time and with certain goals in mind. SAFe® may have some “waterfallish” structures here and there. However, emphasising all management layers to work with storyboards/scrum boards/kanban boards to me is a huge step forward in Scaling the Agile mindset. Using the ART’s as a metaphor to align several scrum teams may work as well. It may also not. But planning a “PI” on regular basis is a good starting point for a “Scrum of Scrums”. Yes, SAFe® is also wanting to “sell” their method. But let us be honest. So does Scrum.org or Lean or any other Agile Framework around. Take the course, take some other ones as well (such as Lean or what so ever), make up your own opinion, but most of all, see if it will or will not fit your company and what will be of best use. Since Spotify or Google methods won’t work for any organisation as well, you might just give it a try…
(5) Sarab Singh:
Over many years, SAFe® has figured out a lot of good practices in multiple areas and if the framework/toolset is being used, it should be used keeping that in mind. Especially for large traditional organizations with thousands of people, SAFe® can be a good starting point as the organization matures in Agility and can be used as a guide to prevent complete chaos. The danger lies in just blindly following the SAFe® hierarchy and practices and get comfortable with status quo. The focus should be to deeply understand the Agile values and principles, why they work and constantly focusing on improvement and removing waste in the system.
Quotes from Detractors of the Net Promoter Score® of SAFe®–Survey
(6) Amy Lane:
I think that it sounds like an answer for large, matrixed organizations – but in my personal experience, it absolutely did not work as intended. I think a more boutique approach to agile would have benefitted the organization I worked with.
(7) Greg Urquhart:
It’s simply a giant command and control structure. Its main selling points to organisations are that they don’t really need to change at all, there are enough roles for everyone to keep their job and they get to pretend they’re developing software like grown ups. As a quick sanity test, how many of Facebook, Netflix, Google, LinkedIn, Amazon, Alibaba, Spotify, Skyscanner et al have solved their scaling challenges with SAFe® or anything like it? Precisely none.
(8) Adrian Kerry:
My fundamental problem with SAFe® is that is bastardises Agile so much that it’s unrecognisable. It’s not Agile in the slightest – there’s no transformation in order to adopt it and it doesn’t really make any significant impact.
Sure, it’s more iterative but there’s no real focus on delivering value. You can ship a lot more software but you run the very real risk of not much value. It’s Waterfall with Iteration. It feels like it has been dreamt up by middle management to make their jobs secure (and again… not require change).
(9) Richard Johnson:
Pouring old wine into new bottles does not get you new wine. Trying to apply today’s hot tool (agile) to your process still leaves you-fundamentally-with your original process. You’ll move the pain points to somewhere else. You’ll spend a lot of time and money. You’ll see at best a marginal improvement.
If you really want a disruptive improvement, then you first need to view *everything*—your process, your goals, your reward system, your customers, your product, etc.—in a whole new way. It’s only when you have fresh thoughts that fresh structures and processes follow. That’s where the real meat of process improvement lies.
SAFe® is a good way to feel good about being able to stay conservative, retain your personal power and prestige, once again run the ball for five yards, and miss the wide-open tight end on the goal line because you were following the same old playbook.
(10) Drew Stark:
SAFe® is an effective tool for aligning traditional project management with other command-&-control, design-it-first processes, and frameworks, but it is heavily rooted in waterfall while using agile verbiage. While it gives a nod to permitting agile (yes, lower-case ‘a’) and/or lean at the development level, it does not support Agile Principles or the Agile Manifesto. The Agile mindset does not pervade to all (or even most of) the levels, processes, activities, and groups it defines. To be—or support—Agile scaling, a framework needs to scale the base artifacts, ceremonies, and rules through each level, process, and group it incorporates and it needs to provide vision from the higher level while empowering decision-making at the lowest feasible level. The lack of transparency engendered by the levels, practices, and groups in SAFe® provide cover behind which many personal agendas can hide.
While some may see it as a way to transition from waterfall to agile, it arrests the processes of change by ignoring (and preventing) seamless conversations from the top to the bottom of the organization and silos the groups and persons into highly predefined roles creating a perceived need for larger teams thus requiring more numerous communications links which increases the probability of misunderstanding, confusion, and negative conflict which wastes resources.
There is too much disparity between the principles of Agile and the methodologies prescribed in SAFe® to recommend it as an Agile scaling, implementation, or transition tool.
(11) Bartosz Rakowski:
It’s a natural market response to create a product for those organisations which would like to follow the trends, but do not want to pay the price of related mindset change (price that is required otherwise).
(12) Pete Franklin:
SAFe® has some good ideas. It’s biggest weakness is that it is much too easy to implement it without any meaningful agility at all. It preserves familiar hierarchies and job titles, making it very tempting for organisation to say they have become agile without actually changing anything. RUP suffered in the same way, with ‘RUP in name only’ being by far the most popular implementation pattern.
(13) Xavier Devaux:
First of all, I’d like to say that the first question is difficult to answer:
- Is SAFe® just a selling buzzword? No, you can get real benefit with this framework, so I can’t put 1.
- Would I recommend SAFe® to become agile? Certainly not. You need to change first and then only you MAY user SAFe®. SAFe® is NOT a framework to change an organization. So I can’t put 10.
Having saying that here is my opinion on this method based on the fact that:
- For 8 out of dozen of project I did, we did not used nor need it.
- For 2 projects , we could have used it, but did not succeed (organization not ready).
Waterfall projects fit systemic project while Agile projects fit small and independent features that you assemble and disassemble around your backbone. SAFe® positioning is therefore tricky.
SAFe® can not be seen as an agile way to make a systemic project—that would be a BIG BIG mistake—and if you have small and independent features, the scaling method is obvious: You add new agile team, as much as you need. Using SAFe® in that case involves more useless people that can just slow down each agile team
So when would I actually need or recommend SAFe?
When you have one large business vision that you can develop little by little with various components in small and independent pieces. In such case, you can have people defining, managing and adjusting the business vision the upper layers of SAFe®—while you have agile teams realizing the small and independent pieces—to the bottom layer of SAFe®.
All this to come back to a cornerstone of agile: small and independent feature. Therefore, there are so many pitfalls with SAFe®, but this is another “story”… 😉
Conclusion: Is Net Promoter Score® of SAFe® – 52?
What is your opinion on SAFe® as a scaling framework? Is SAFe® the better choice than to only continue exercising the old command and control approach? Or is SAFe® merely old wine in a new bottle?
Please share with us in the comments.
Please note that both SAFe®, as well as the Net Promoter Score®, are registered trademarks of their respective holders, see below.
“SAFe® is registered marks of Scaled Agile, Inc.” For further information click here.
Net Promoter Score®
“Net Promoter, Net Promoter System, Net Promoter Score, NPS and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.” For further information click here.
📅 Scrum Training Classes, Workshops, and Events
You can secure your seat for Scrum training classes, workshops, and meetups directly by following the corresponding link in the table below:
You can book your seat for the training directly by following the corresponding links to the ticket shop. If the procurement process of your organization requires a different purchasing process, please contact Berlin Product People GmbH directly.