Why do people say SAFe is a top-down command and control approach


SAFe Agile is extremely prescriptive, works only with command and control from the top management – Is this a Myth?  – Let’s explore to know the answer

is SAfe safe

Before I share my thoughts, let me add a disclaimer

  • I have a strong faith in SAFe
  • I am very much inclined to SAFe values, principles, and practices

“If you are on agile, scaling agile becomes relatively easy”

Let’s say your company is running on broken agile processes or is on a waterfall methodology, you can still be successful with SAFe but the chances are reduced significantly.   The SAFe suggests significant benefits in 3-5 years while you will hear from people that the magical outcome in productivity, quality, employee morale, etc would come in 3-6 months.  Let’s explore slightly deeper:-

I think you would agree that most of the transformations begin with top-down command and control for the simple reason that change is not easy and it needs a real push if it’s not small.  This would shift unorganized functions to be more organized, pushes people hard for delivery, teams start running on cadence and synchronization if it’s SAFe resulting in higher productivity, quality and so is the outcome.  The KPIs, Metrics, and rigid processes make people do more. There is a forced innovation in the beginning as well. But remember that this would not go long run. The management started believing that we have showcased better outcomes hence let’s not stop. They go with 100 percent utilization which is a disaster (SAFe says so, and I completely agree).  The fall begins within 1 or 2 years and it becomes very tough to manage it.  The command and control is fine at the start but it should be strictly looked into in six months to a year. The management needs to focus on generative culture, autonomy, and decentralized decision making.

We need to have a relentless improvement in not just the outcome but employee well-being, morale, and learning. We should ensure that we stick to SAFe values and principles.  One of the main reasons I have seen for SAFe failure is organizations do not invest much after little success or Org is not ready to move to SAFe but they want to be part of the rat race.

People talk about only success stories while there is a good number of failure stories as well which probably is not taught anywhere. I met many people who ask the interviewer whether the company they are giving an interview is on SAFe or planning to adopt in near future. If the answer is yes to any of these two questions, they don’t want to join the company. There is a myth and perception created while that doesn’t seem to be true. The management truly has to involved at ground level in order to break the myth and move their towards the real benefits of SAFe.

We should all remember that identification of value streams and ARTs, Identification of EPICs are core challenges while implementing SAFe while organization alignment still remains the priority.