Scaled Agile Framework: our feedback for a large company - ALTEN Group

Scaled Agile Framework: our feedback for a large company

More than 30 certified ALTEN SAFe ® program consultants (SPCs) are supporting the Scaled Agile transformation of the customer service of a top-tier global aviation company. This project encompasses more than 25 departments, and over 4,000 staff. What are the success factors and our feedback?

To strengthen its leadership position in the aeronautics sector, our client set itself an ambitious goal: Zero AOG (Aircraft On the Ground because of faults) for its airline customers. To stay one step ahead of its rival, the group hopes to introduce this service in 2025.

But having a disruption strategy is one thing. Synchronising and aligning a large organisation with several tens of thousands of employees to roll this strategy out is quite another. Given the inertia related to the company’s size, the management often struggle to implement its strategies by their set deadlines.

“Things aren’t progressing as fast as we’d hoped.” We’ve all heard a company leader say that at least once.

If it is difficult to get a company to change course, it’s because of the many obstacles on various levels. Such obstacles include a disconnect between projects and strategic priorities, the influence of existing setups, the many different intermediaries, imbalances between allocated resources… But you can rise above this negative inertia by making your organisation agile again.


Why choose SAFe ® (Scaled Agile Framework)?

The Zero AOG target entails a radical transformation of the company’s organisation and procedures: aircraft leaving the production line with zero faults, maintenance systems that detect damage before it happens, and logistics systems that deliver all the spare parts on time. These strategic commitments, combined with a short deadline, require a new working method.

Our client chose SAFe ® (Scaled Agile Framework), which is designed to solve these precise issues experienced by large companies. It enables them to become more dynamic organisations. Companies will then be able to produce and deliver «value» regularly for their defined strategy , despite market ups and downs and technological changes.

The site provides detailed information on the Scaled Agile method. In a nutshell, the Scrum method describes how a team works best together, while SAFe ® goes beyond the development step . It sets an agility framework for all levels of the hierarchy:

  • At management level, how to express your strategies, manage your implementation roadmap, and budget for it (Portfolio level).
  • At business unit level, how to manage the development of a complete solution (solution train), made up of different products (Large solution level).
  • At product level (managed like an Agile Release Train), how to manage its development, its integration/testing and its deployment (Program & Team level).

A striking example: in a traditional organisation, the budget is reviewed annually. In SAFe®, a project’s budget allocation is no longer taken directly into account; only its production of value is assessed very regularly. Every 10 weeks, resources can be moved and adjusted within a train without having to re-approve its budget.

SAFe® is a framework compatible with the strategic commissioning of annual or bi-annual budget forecasts. However, budgets are no longer assessed project by project, but by value stream at train or solution level.


Transformation Scaled Agile : how did we proceed?

The Scaled Agile transformation project began in 2018 on our client’s premises, in the Customer Service function (more than 25 departments and 4,000 employees). It covers a range of service types, such as:

  • Operations management (e.g. maintenance, modification, logistics, etc.).
  • IT solutions for sales and in-service support.
  • Life cycle management support (PDM, configuration management, etc.).

ALTEN started by holding a series of training and implementation workshops for our client’s management. They were run by certified SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer  (SPCTs, the highest level of Scaled Agile certification) from our American Cprime subsidiary.

Specialized in Agility, C Prime is a certified Gold Partner SPCT in Scaled agile transformation. These workshops helped the management grasp the method, discuss the implementation roadmap, identify the ARTs (Agile Release Trains) and define the EPIC

Cprime (ALTEN group) develops a transformation tools kit : best practices, templates, workshops… designed to promote consistency and accelerate the adoption of the Agile and SAFe method .After these successful initial workshops, ALTEN tailored its support to the needs of the client’s various departments, depending on the maturity and timetable of their transformation. We offer:

  • Weekly coaching for top management.
  • Introductory training in SAFe®.
  • Workshops in Value Stream Mapping (VSM) and role mapping.

The ALTEN Group has invested heavily in training its consultants to support our client’s transformation plan. Out of 170 engineers assigned to our client, in France and Germany , more than 30 ALTEN consultants have been trained and certified SAFe® Program Consultants (SPC).

They have supported our client with several ARTs (Agile Release Trains), such as features development (e.g. publication of technical data) on the big data platform . The latter is a key tool in aircraft predictive maintenance , used by airlines. In this type of project where several thousand people share common goals, SAFe enables companies to identify dependencies clearly, and to manage them.

What’s more, agility also influences engineering projects , such as the idea to setup toilets in cockpits. Using the agile method made it possible to accelerate the feasibility studies and prototyping. In any case, an increasing number of design projects are now being interfaced with digital projects. This means it is becoming more likely that engineering teams will have to work in Agile mode.

To know more about the use of the agile method in engineering projects, take a look our article:
4 Agile Best Practices for Mechanical and Electrical engineering project

Scaled Agile framework : what are the success factors and difficulties?

In a large group, digital projects are very costly. Some can add very little value for the business or design offices.
With SAFe® and the breaking-down of silos, the client can easily visualise the added value of projects and therefore optimise ROI.
Furthermore, this enhanced overall visibility allows the client to cut back on many obsolete legacy projects that cost the company a fortune.

To make this transformation a success, it is vital to:

  1. Have a good understanding of the method. It therefore helps to be trained by an expert in SAFe® methods.
  2. Interact with the client at the right times. A preparation period is needed before transformation.
  3. Enjoy the strong backing of top management.

To ensure that scaled agile methods are implemented successfully, our client has deployed a standards assurance team. It checks that the methodologies are applied uniformly across the different departments.

Moreover, scaled agile transformation brings about major organisational changes. These are difficulties that need to be grasped in advance by the management and HR teams.

In the SAFe® organisation chart, the roles of cross-functional middle-management disappear, as do those of IT-side project managers (while business ownership-side project managers still have roles to play). Although ALTEN does not contribute to our client’s HR policy, we have noted changes in competency frameworks to take account of these changes. As one level in the hierarchy disappears, these people have to be incorporated into new roles in the SAFe ® organisational structure, or internal mobility needs to be offered proactively.

In a SAFe® organisational structure, management also changes. In a conventional structure, every manager has his or her budget and set targets. In this structure, financial management is handled centrally within Portfolio level value streams.


ALTEN, the leading partner for SAFe® transformation

The ALTEN Group, along with its specialised subsidiaries, uses an end-to-end approach to help its clients implement SAFe ®.

ALTEN performs 3 different roles, depending on the maturity and needs of its clients’ projects:

  1. «Coach and change management » role ALTEN Group consultants are experts in SAFe® implementation, trainer, SAFe ® program consultant (SPC), change facilitator or Lean Agile leader, and as such their work has several dimensions: coaching, supporting culture change, training teams, leading implementation workshops (stream mapping, identification of ARTs (Agile Release Trains), definition of EPIC, etc.), and support for product key people responsible for leading ARTs.
  2. «Business & product » role For the project management of a program, a number of ALTEN profiles (such as business owner, product manager, and release train engineer) share the vision of the product/solution, and describe and prioritise the features, user stories and Epics expected by the business. They may also lead and coordinate ARTs by managing «PI planning» and «I&A Inspect & Adapt» events. ALTEN excels in this field, as an intermediary between businesses and information systems. The Group has, on the one hand, deep-rooted knowledge of our clients’ challenges and environments (e.g. industry, banking, services, etc.), and on the other, the full ange of digital skills (e.g. DevOps, networks, cybersecurity, etc.).
  3. «AGILE Team» role With a team of more than 35,000 engineers around the world (as of 2019), clients can also count on ALTEN when it comes to production. As developer, architect or system engineer, they contribute to the incremental development of a product or solution. They may also be involved in continuous improvement and innovation workshops. A Scrum Master works hand-in-hand with the product owner to understand business owners’ Program Backlog needs and expectations. He or she ensures that the team has the level of autonomy necessary to perform its role successfully.