SAFE versus Theory of Constraints

Last week, Skip Angel, one of the Agile Coaches I work with, attended a training course on SAFE. He gave a cracking one hour summary of the course to the coaching team at the client. Our conclusion was that we have a process that looks very similar to SAFE which gave us confidence that we are on the “right track”. The SAFE material is lovely, it is wonderful marketing material to sell scaled agile.

Our other conclusion was that we much prefer our approach based on Theory of Constraints to implementing SAFE. These are my (not my Client’s) opinion on Safe versus Theory of Constraints.

  1. We started out with Theory of Constraints and ended up with a process similar to SAFE. In some places we are behind but in others we are ahead.
  2. We have a deep organisational understanding why we have adopted each practice. This has taken months to achieve but we believe it will ensure more support and stability for the approach. Adopting SAFE would require a leap of faith.
  3. Theory of Constraints has given us a clear roadmap of the significant issues that we face in the next year or two. We are now creating some real options to prepare.
  4. Theory of Constraints helps us identify issues whereas SAFE tells us what to do. This means that Theory of Constraints adapts better to the context.
  5. Rather than bland statements like the need for servant leaders, Theory of Constraints is helping us identify specific practices that management need to adapt to make our system successful.
  6. Theory of Constraints is allowing us to evolve our process in a way that management have the necessary information to perform proper risk management of the process.
  7. SAFE is a development centric framework. Using Theory of Constraints means that we have already partially incorporated Marketing, Finance are fully engaged and co-evolving practices to ensure fiscal controls are in place. We are currently planning the engagement with Human Resources.

Skip highlighted the most impressive part of SAFE is that the creator acknowledges gaps in the process and looks to the community to fill those gaps. It will be interesting to see whether that happens. I had a poke around SAFE to see how it addressed some of the trickier problems we have had to resolve. So far, it has nothing to say about them. The big gaps are around the “Portfolio” aspects of SAFE… or in other words the scaling bits.

It will be interesting to see how SAFE fills the gaps. Will it adopt a solid practitioner led approach like the XP and the ATDD communities, or will it annoint high priests who lack practical experience like some other marketing lead communities.

My advice to anyone thinking of scaling agile. Use SAFE as a map for the foothills but use Theory of Constraints as your compass. The maps soon runs out…  As a result, build your leadership skills in Theory of Constraints and keep SAFE in your pocket for when you get lost and need inspiration. Rather than give your executives a map to give them confidence, help them learn new skills to see the problems they need to solve. Your executives will surprise you by solving problems in ways you never considered. After all, they have different options to you… so help them see them.

About theitriskmanager

Currently an “engineering performance coach” because “transformation” and “Agile” are now toxic. In the past, “Transformation lead”, “Agile Coach”, “Programme Manager”, “Project Manager”, “Business Analyst”, and “Developer”. Did some stuff with the Agile Community. Put the “Given” into “Given-When-Then”. Discovered “Real Options” View all posts by theitriskmanager

5 responses to “SAFE versus Theory of Constraints

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