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Keys to Overcoming Resistance in SAFe Transformations

Overcoming Resistance in SAFe Transformations

Enterprise agility is crucial for companies to thrive in today’s fast-changing business environment. Yet the transition to new ways of working is filled with disruptive growing pains. As organizations scale agile with frameworks like the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), they inevitably face skepticism, confusion, or outright resistance that threatens to derail progress.

Leaders spearheading SAFe transformations must proactively address sources of resistance with thoughtful change management. When employees understand the “why” behind changes and have the knowledge to adopt new processes, they transform from naysayers to advocates. This guide explores proven keys to winning over resisters amid a SAFe rollout.

Communicate Early and Often

The first critical step in managing resistance is getting out ahead of uncertainty by early and frequent communication about the upcoming SAFe implementation. Leadership needs to pave the way for change by clearly explaining:

  • Business Drivers: Articulate specific internal issues impacting productivity, time-to-market, alignment, etc. that adopting SAFe aims to correct. Help employees connect how problems they experience daily will be tackled.
  • Transition Roadmap: Share an overview timeline of when training, pilots, and rollout phases will occur. Highlight how roles may evolve over the next year as SAFe matures.
  • Rituals and Events: Describe essential SAFe ceremonies for synchronization like PI Planning, Iteration Planning, Backlog Refinement, System Demo, and Retrospectives. Explain how these recurring touchpoints aim to improve collaboration.
  • Mindset Shifts: Spotlight coming changes in team authority, leadership style, and individual responsibilities as traditional hierarchies flatten.
  • Support Strategy: Define available coaching resources, training courses, transition incentives, and other enablement tools to smooth adoption.

Schedule regular email newsletters, town halls, FAQ meetings, or office hours to detail the above points. Record sessions for those unable to attend live. Welcome constructive feedback and concerns during these forums.

Leaders must repeat these messages through multiple platforms to cut through rumor mill noise. Employees should see constant reinforcement explaining SAFe’s purpose and how specifically it will transform their workplace. This conditions teams for the magnitude of change ahead while equipping them to embrace it.

Solicit input from frontline staff when drafting communication plans. They will surface preferred mediums, key concerns, and misunderstandings likely to emerge across unique roles. Design your media mix, message cadence, reach and frequency around these insights for maximum absorption.

Ongoing transparent communication combined with genuine responsiveness to worries and objections builds trust in leadership’s vision. This primes the organization for any turbulence during implementation ahead

Involve Teams in the Transition Plan

While leadership sets the overarching vision and rollout strategy for SAFe adoption, it is crucial to involve teams across the organization in shaping the transition plan itself. This serves several key purposes:

  • Surfacing Insights: Frontline employees closest to the work can spotlight pitfalls, dependencies, and milestones leaders need to address that they likely would overlook.
  • Building Buy-In: Giving teams influence over the processes they will adhere to day-to-day drives more willingness to fully embrace changes down the line.
  • Inventorying Needs: Teams understand required training, tools, and other enablers for their function to work seamlessly within SAFe ceremonies and artifacts.

Gathering input starts by appointing transition workgroups with representatives from key delivery units. Provide them an overview presentation explaining SAFe and have them brainstorm how proposed changes would impact their groups. Request their help shaping the pilot approach, training curriculum, rollout sequence and more.

Also create focus groups of managers, customer-facing roles, and software engineers for more intimate, role-specific discussions. Show examples of new responsibilities, rituals they will participate in, and typical day scenarios under SAFe. Discuss concerns, skepticism, and support needs openly.

Synthesize findings from across workgroups and focus groups into a “Collaborative Transition Blueprint”. Publish this guide and review it in town halls, allowing employees to see their feedback incorporated into program design.

Keep dialogue open even after initial planning by regular “pulse checks” with teams. Assess sentiment, continuing gaps or fears needing mitigation, and ideas to drive adoption as rollouts begin. This empowers staff and makes clear leadership is attentive to smoothing their SAFe journey.

Invest in Comprehensive SAFe Training

For employees at all levels to truly embrace new ways of working under SAFe, intensive education is non-negotiable. Training should move beyond high level SAFe overviews to equipping teams with the tactical knowledge they will actively apply in their specific roles.

Some best practices include:

  • Multi-Modal Training: Classroom workshops, eLearning courses, crash courses, lunch-and-learns and more each play a role. Accommodate varied schedules and learning styles.
  • Role-Specific Curriculum: Tailor content for executives, managers, teams in each value stream, and shared services. Explain changed responsibilities, new processes, behaviors expected, and more.
  • Hands-On Scenarios: Incorporate simulated activities like drafting roadmaps, PI Planning, executing iterations, demos, and retrospectives. This allows employees to experience SAFe rituals first-hand.
  • Enablement Content Accessibility: Publish quick reference guides, process diagrams, templates and more on internal wikis. Have practitioners explain fundamentals through short videos.
  • Manage SAFe Coaching: Schedule additional hands-on sessions for leaders guiding teams through new rituals. Include change management education for executives sponsoring the transformation.
  • New Hire Onboarding: Integrate SAFe training for all leaders and IC hires to immerse them immediately in the culture and practices.

Make consumption of education mandatory rather than optional across the board. For supplemental resources, consider badging or rewarding teams consuming the most enablement content.

Certify key ART team members as SAFe practitioners or coaches. This builds in-house experts to support training delivery or assist struggling groups.

Start Small with Limited Pilot Programs

The key to building confidence in SAFe is demonstrating its viability on a small scale before triggering company-wide upheaval rolling it out. Target a few teams across critical functions to pilot new rituals and ways of working.

Explore volunteer “Early Adopter” teams eager to test SAFe before asking reluctant groups to participate. Ideal pilots exhibit:

  • Cross-Functional Makeup: Include members spanning business analysis, engineering, QA, operations, UX design etc. Mirror real squad compositions.
  • Business Criticality: Select teams working on tools/applications central to customer experience for greatest impact.
  • Change Savviness: Teams embracing past Agile initiatives assimilate SAFe concepts faster. They become quality reference cases.

Equip pilots with comprehensive communication plans, training, support staff, and all resources they require so SAFe has the best probability of success. Frequently showcase pilot wins, best practices, and FAQs to the wider organization.

As pilots demonstrate new levels of productivity, quality, and business satisfaction, they begin gradually expanding the SAFe implementations beyond the initial teams. Be sure to highlight delighted customers from early adopter groups to inspire peers still adapting.

Pay close attention to trickier adoption scenarios pilots reveal among distinct roles, legacy tools, or complex team structures. Refine your change approach to ease expansion to further groups. Starting small enables targeted tweaks at lower risk based on real experience instead of guesswork.

Demonstrate Quick Wins

Once SAFe pilots begin gaining traction, having early successes in the spotlight is critical to building broader support. Leaders must amplify evidence the new framework shows tangible improvements even this early in adoption.

Quantify metrics that showcase delivery acceleration, productivity gains, improved prioritization, and more during piloting. Pull striking customer testimonials as their satisfaction clearly links back to SAFe ways of working.

Consider a “SAFe Early Wins Dashboard” prominently displaying vital pilot metrics like:

  • Reduced Time-to-Market: Showcase features released faster by 20%+
  • Improved Quality: Demonstrate bug reductions of 30%+
  • Increased Throughput: Display story point delivery spikes of 40%+
  • Higher Customer Scores: Verify net promoter gains of 15+ points
  • Employee Engagement Lifts: Highlight motivation rating climbs of 30%+

Tie these tangible indicators directly to new events, rhythms, and behaviors adopted by pilot teams. This connects the data trends to SAFe benefits.

But don’t rely on dashboards alone. Put pilot team members front and center through newsletters, town halls and conferences. Their firsthand experience offers authentic reassurance SAFe can work despite discomfort adjusting initially.

Let them share tips that eased their learning curves, moments when concepts clicked, and simple reasons they are “SAFe believers” now. These anecdotes make it relatable and real instead of abstract metrics alone.

Quick wins distributed far and wide quell the most stubborn skeptics. Capitalize on these early proof points to inspire fence-sitters towards full engagement as SAFe scales further.

Support Struggling Team Members

While pilot teams validate SAFe capabilities, the expansion across an entire organization will still meet pockets of resistance. Some individuals acclimate slower to new rituals, mindsets and tools. Targeted support must back struggling groups or members to avoid derailing transformation momentum.

Have SAFe coaches assigned to ambassadors to helper guide adoption. Coaches should:

  • Proactively communicate with teams daily as changes rollout to surface obstacles immediately. Ask about uncertainties, emotions, or capability gaps needing attention.
  • Sit in on critical rituals like PI planning or retrospectives to observe areas of confusion firsthand needing coaching.
  • Connect struggling members with high performers who have already mastered new rituals to share advice. Little tips from peers often unlock big mindset shifts.
  • Arrange additional training sessions to strengthen unfamiliar SAFe concepts like capturing dependencies for features across teams. Boost confidence with hands-on practice.
  • Advise managers on techniques to motivate participation from resistant direct reports without being overly directive. Discuss ways to spotlight their work as proofs of concept.

Listen for signals from coaches on tool enhancements, incentive tweaks, or added change management touchpoints to smooth adoption. Their insights spotlight friction points leadership otherwise miss.

While universal SAFe support coverage is unrealistic, having empathetic experts guiding teams who show initiative – but simply need help navigating hurdles – pays dividends. Their small wins inspire localized followership, creating a supporter base that steadily expands.

Motivate ART Members 

Beyond goodwill and understanding the long-term vision, additional motivation often helps reinforce new behaviors during a disruptive SAFe overhaul. Piloting creative participation through different ideas  inspires fence-sitters to fully engage. 

Motivating team members involves more than just offering monetary benefits. Here are different ways to encourage and engage team members:

  • Recognition and Praise: Regularly acknowledge and appreciate team members for their contributions and achievements.
  • Career Development Opportunities: Offer opportunities for professional growth such as training, workshops, and seminars.
  • Flexible Working Conditions: Provide options for flexible work hours or remote working to help maintain work-life balance.
  • Empowering Employees: Give team members autonomy in their work and the chance to take on new responsibilities or lead projects.
  • Building a Positive Work Environment: Create a workplace culture that is supportive, inclusive, and values open communication.
  • Team Building Activities: Organize team-building exercises and social events to foster collaboration and strengthen relationships among team members.
  • Listening to Employee Feedback: Actively seek and respond to feedback from team members, showing that their opinions are valued and considered.
  • Health and Wellness Programs: Implement programs or benefits that focus on the physical and mental well-being of employees.
  • Opportunities for Creative Expression: Encourage team members to bring their own ideas and creativity to their work.
  • Public Acknowledgement: Highlight team members’ achievements in public forums, like company meetings or newsletters.
  • Hackathons: Stage focused ideation rallies to crowdsource tool enhancements, process simplifications, training supplements, and more to fill adoption gaps teams identify. Reward participants.

As metrics climb signaling successful assimilation of SAFe tenets, transition incentives from adoption gimmicks to outcome targets – committing resources properly, meeting objective milestones etc. This evolves culture fully to new ways of operating.

Stay Patient But Persistent

Ultimately, an enterprise-scale evolution to new ways of working takes time. Leaders cannot expect universal SAFe adoption overnight. There will inevitably be late adopters, resistance pockets, and occasional backsliding as tools, mindsets, and rituals embed across thousands.

This requires patience to allow the culture shift to take root without overreacting to temporary setbacks that threaten momentum. Have realistic timelines that anticipate months or years before SAFe clicks for the entire organization.

But leaders must also persistently reinforce SAFe principles and vision during turbulence. They cannot passively expect decentralized change. Expect to actively intervene resolving adoption barriers flagged for struggling areas.

Additional sustaining actions for leaders to maintain momentum include:

  • Consistent Messaging: Continue referencing SAFe concepts in company meetings, celebrating incremental adoption wins and illustrating the long-term roadmap.
  • Ongoing Pulse Checks: Regularly survey teams on adoption enablers still needing reinforcement like training refreshers, updated tooling etc. based on pain points.
  • Audits: Frequently evaluate standout teams for bright spots to replicate as well as lagging units to recommend tailored support plans.
  • Cross-Training: Develop internal certified SAFe coaches across business units and tap high performers to mentor peers still acclimating to new rituals.
  • Resource Investment: Keep funding central transformation teams guiding programs as priorities shift post-launch. Declining enablement risks hard-fought culture change reversal.

With relentless reinforcement of the vision and selectively addressing pockets not yet fully converted, SAFe practices ultimately transform from awkward rituals to natural habits at scale. But leaders must stand firm through the messy middle

Final Words

Leading enterprise Agile change is not for the faint of heart. SAFe transformations unlock immense latent potential through new ways of working, yet the journey travels through disruptive wilderness first.

Teams comfortable with long-time norms struggle to see outsized outcomes initially and fear imprisoned thinking caps possibility. But with care, patience and support channeled through this change journey, an organization emerges more unified and more innovative than ever conceived.

When SAFe first reveals its power in small doses – those promising early wins – it builds faith in continued progress. Then leaders need only nurture that spark of belief, fanning courage from early adopters to spread as wildfire across an entire culture.

The flames become unstoppable…not because they destroy past barriers, but because they light the way forward – where empowered teams dash towards a better tomorrow by taking the first steps, together now. Onwards!