SAFe reminds me of a board game. The big map of the whole system with characters, locations and paths between them. There’s roles for people to play and rules governing how the game proceeds. Sprints and PIs are the turns that mark progress of play. You set it up, learn to play, and then it has potentially endless re-playability! (Did you know there is actually a game/sim of SAFe to help you learn it?)

A great tradition in the board game world is the expansion pack. You get an add-on to the core game which has complementary and consistent content…

A man sitting in a rocket working on his laptop
A man sitting in a rocket working on his laptop
Illustration by Faina Shpiler

I have found myself with an unintentional motto recently. I like how it appeared with little hand wringing or deliberate analysis. If I had set out to create a motto on purpose it would have been an agonizing process to wordsmith something that represented me, my personal brand, had meaning, drove action, struck an inspirational note, spoke to years of experience etc etc. In other words I would probably never make it to the end!

Yet I find myself saying this phrase and it has a good ring: “Trying something new.”

We are running a design workshop for the 20th…

An illustration of Gordon Baty (our UX Director) dressed as a Jedi. Art by Steve Hall.
An illustration of Gordon Baty (our UX Director) dressed as a Jedi. Art by Steve Hall.
Jedi Gordon Baty Illustration by Steve Hall

When I was asked to write a May 4th article, there had to be a corny Star Wars connection! So… what if you think about designers as the Jedi’s of the product world, balancing light and dark, following a long standing code, and working as the problem solvers of the galaxy (aka company). I think it fits!

It’s not an easy path, and greatness only comes from learning and striving to better one’s design — ahem — Jedi craft. Designers find themselves subject to the environment and work culture around them, or should I say the Force that pervades everything.

Scores hands raised in the air and a speaker with a microphone in the distance, on stage, hands raised and addressing the room
Scores hands raised in the air and a speaker with a microphone in the distance, on stage, hands raised and addressing the room
Photo by Jaime Lopes on Unsplash

SAFe is well known for it’s quarterly big room planning exercise, where agile teams, stakeholders and other hangers-on get together to forecast and plan the next few sprints of work. It’s quite an event, and unless you happen to have some very large facilities already you’ll end up in a hotel ballroom or other large hall. You’ll find yourself asking, will we really do this every quarter from now on? How do we make this less painful? Will we actually get good at this? Do we have to run it this way?

What big room planning gets you is a…

Photo by Ahmad Dirini on Unsplash

Our transformation to SAFe started with one theme: Build scrum teams. You’ve got to start somewhere and SAFe is pretty clear about what is “essential”: WSJF, scrum teams, PI planning and a few key roles like RTE, scrum master and PM. The latest version of SAFe seems to intentionally leave it more open as to what functions go in the scrum teams, but for us (SAFe then was version 4 point something) it was all about engineers, product managers and scrum masters. Anybody not on that list was “outside” the system, for better or worse.

Our first PI planning in…

I’ve been meaning to write about my experience from the last couple of years, as a design leader in the middle of an Agile transformation. In this case my company adopted SAFe. Any large scale transformation of that nature is challenging, but for UX and Product Design it meant additional struggles.

I’m a big believer in sharing stories, the trials, false starts, experiments and occasional successes so that we can learn from each other. Outside of the annual conference (actually a very good resource for SAFe noobs), I’ve found very few accounts of SAFe implementations.

There’s a thousand articles about…

Gordon Baty

Design leader, systems thinker, culture cultivator. I’ve built design teams at companies like Marriott, Visa, Gannett and Delta Dental Insurance.

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