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SAFe and Continuous Delivery: A Deep Dive into the Streamlined Flow of Value

safe continuos delivery
The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is a robust approach to scaling Agile principles across vast enterprises. At its core, it emphasizes continuous delivery practices, striving for a consistent flow of value from the initial concept to the final cash-in. In this article, we’ll delve deeper into how SAFe fosters Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Deployment (CD) and facilitates quicker, more dependable software releases using real-world examples.

  1. Agile Release Trains (ARTs): The Core Vehicle for Value Delivery

Imagine a massive train, comprising numerous carriages, each representing an Agile team. This is the ART in the SAFe ecosystem.

SAFe continuous delivery with ARTs

Real-World Example: Consider a global fintech company aiming to introduce a new suite of digital banking features. Rather than deploying them randomly, they might use an ART to plan, commit, and simultaneously execute the introduction of each feature. These features may include online account setup, virtual debit cards, and digital payment options.

On a fixed Planning Interval cadence, usually 8-12 weeks, these features are released. This is analogous to the train arriving at the station at a set time, ensuring passengers (or stakeholders) know when to expect it.

Regularly at the end of every iteration, System Demos are incorporated. Think of these as scheduled train checks ensuring that everything is functioning and ready for a smooth journey.

  1. Continuous Integration (CI): Merging and Validating Constantly

SAFe’s philosophy revolves around building and validating frequently. In the world of software, this implies that different bits of code are continuously merged and checked to ensure they function well together.
continuous integration

SAFe describes four activities associated with continuous integration:

Develop: describes the practices necessary to implement stories and commit the code and components to version control.

Build: describes the techniques needed to create deployable binaries and merge development branches into the trunk.

Test end-to-end: describes the practices necessary to validate the solution.

Stage: describes the steps required to host and validate solutions in a staging environment before production.

Real-World Example: Let’s use Netflix, a company known for its rigorous CI practices. As developers make changes to their codebase, those alterations are constantly tested and integrated with the main code. This ensures that the changes made are always compatible with the existing system and that any errors are promptly identified and fixed.

  1. Continuous Deployment (CD): Seamless Transitions from Development to Users

Deployments must be verified for functional integrity and robustness before being released to end users.

Where CI focuses on merging, testing, and deploying to the staging environment, CD is about getting those changes into the hands of users, in live environments, however not visible to the users.

Several practices like Dark Launches, Feature Toggles, Deployment automation, Selective Deployment, Self-service deployment, version control, Blue/green deployment, etc. can be used during this stage.
continuous deployment

Real-World Example: Google often releases features for its suite of products through CD. When they launch a new feature for Google Docs or Sheets, it’s usually deployed in the background, sometimes with the aid of feature toggles. This way, even if millions of users have access to the new feature, Google can control its visibility, turning it on for a subset of users and gauging their reactions.

  1. Release on Demand: Make it visible to users

Release on Demand is an aspect of the Continuous Delivery Pipeline that releases new functionality immediately or incrementally based on business and customer needs.

The decision of what and when to release is a critical economic driver that requires careful consideration. For many, continuous delivery is the desired end state, allowing the release of new functionality immediately after its deployment. But more often, the release is a decoupled, on-demand activity occurring for specific users, timed for when they need it or when it makes the most economic sense for customers and the business.
release on demand

Real-World Example: Many Continuous Delivery organizations like Google, NetFlix, Amazon, etc. make sure that they detach deployment from release. The release is always made on demand.

  1. Environment Management: Consistency is Key

Ensuring that software behaves uniformly across different environments (development, testing, production) is essential.

Real-World Example: At Amazon, the need for rapid and frequent releases led to the adoption of tools ensuring environment consistency. By using Infrastructure as Code (IaC), Amazon can recreate its complex environments quickly, reducing discrepancies between development, staging, and production.

  1. Decentralized Decision-Making: Power to the Teams

Traditional management structures often have a bottleneck of decision-making at the top. SAFe flips this on its head.

Real-World Example: Spotify, with its squads, chapters, and guilds, offers an excellent illustration of decentralized decision-making. Each squad acts autonomously, deciding on its features, design, and deployment method, ensuring quicker responses to changes or new insights.

  1. DevOps and the CALMR Approach: Bridging the Gap

DevOps isn’t just a buzzword in the SAFe ecosystem; it’s a crucial practice. The CALMR approach (Culture, Automation, Lean flow, Measurement, and Recovery) aligns development and operations closely.

Real-World Example: Facebook’s rapid release cycles are grounded in DevOps. They integrate developers and operations teams, automating processes to ensure a seamless flow from development to deployment. This allows them to release two major updates every day for their massive user base without major disruptions.

  1. Feedback Loops: Continuous Improvement in Action

SAFe believes in constant evolution, and for this, rapid feedback is crucial.

Real-World Example: Dropbox often employs A/B testing. By releasing two versions of a feature to different user groups, they can gather feedback on which version performs better. This direct user feedback is then used to refine and enhance the feature.

  1. Built-in Quality: Excellence from the Outset

Quality isn’t something you sprinkle on at the end; it’s baked into every stage of the process in SAFe.

Real-World Example: Toyota’s production system, a precursor to modern Agile and DevOps methodologies, emphasized “building quality in.” By stopping the production line at the hint of any issue, they ensured problems were addressed immediately, ensuring the end product was of the highest quality. Software teams today emulate this by integrating rigorous testing at every step, ensuring that the software remains defect-free.

In Conclusion

The Scaled Agile Framework isn’t just about scaling up Agile; it’s about ensuring a smooth and consistent flow of value. By emphasizing CI/CD practices, synchronizing efforts with Agile Release Trains, and mandating quality from the start, SAFe is a beacon for organizations looking to release products more rapidly and reliably. Whether you’re a global giant like Google or a budding start-up, the principles SAFe emphasizes can guide you toward a more streamlined, efficient, and productive product delivery process.