Agile Moment: Transitioning resources to “Lean-Agile” teams in SAFe / Scrum

Just in from the laboratory...


One of the many challenges faced by coaches in a Lean-Agile transformation is convincing resource owners/managers to relinquish the “control” part of command & control (see Capt. David Marquet on “Greatness”) to people & teams for the purposes of –self-organization & self-management. Or as I prefer to describe it, getting out of the way of people’s innate creativity and ability to innovate. Capt. Marquet offers pillars of competence and clarity as the recipe, of which I wholeheartedly agree.

As in the value systems of Scrum and the SAFe® – respect for people and culture, openness, and transparency are part of the fresh culture we are driving. Without these basic human elements of successful relationships and communication, trust doesn’t exist. The dual combo “T’s” of trust and truth are the kingpins in any long-lived organizational change / transformation.

We as coaches are in part responsible for building and sharing a vision of this transformed organization. Piece by piece, opportunity by opportunity, person by person.

Tools like the SAFe® help us do that but don’t provide all the answers you will need. This is the lifeblood of the coach in a transformation. Coaches must be able to adapt any scenario in the business and share the vision of how behavior can be changed to support the ideals of the Agile Manifesto and value systems we are proposing with the transformation. In its simplest form, identifying toxic culture, understanding why it is toxic, gaining shared commitment on changing/removing that toxicity, and replacing it with different culture based on a new value system. It is a long-term process.


You have to seek out new ways of communicating. The coach. The practitioners are still learning and they need you to offer many different views and ways to reach deeper understanding. Patience.

I discovered a resource a few months ago that I have fallen in love with. It is a book by Jimmy Janlén called “96 Visualization Examples” and it is filled with pure coaching gold.


One example from the book that I decided to use as a teaching tool this week generally and in a Leading SAFe® course is the “Time Invested” visualization. I needed a new way to show managers and resource owners how they were not “losing” anything by moving on from theory x leadership and embracing change by releasing resources out of the silo.

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) sets up a great way for teams to forecast future iterations in the program increment planning event (PIP) as teams plan out their balcony view stories (and features) over the PI. Essentially, we teach teams to account for *all* efforts the team will expend during the PI. This is where teams must have good judgement and be aware of their surroundings. For example, how much of an iteration does the team typically spend doing operations & maintenance work? That O&M effort should be accounted for in the forecast with stories. Stories as unique known O&M effort and/or stories as buckets or reservations for that effort in the future. The same goes for “fire fighting”, “expedite” and other types of effort that the team will spend on non-feature development activities. All known effort. We are not talking about commitment here, just forecasting the spend.

This is the where Jimmy’s visualization is valuable. The technique is actually designed for teams but is very useful for explaining to resource managers how their work will still get done. And in a form in which they understand — time.

A Sidebar

By the way, what does a “story point” represent? Time? Yes. AND everything else that affects the team’s ability to produce that value. Knowledge. Uncertainty. Dependencies. Complexity. Cookie distractions on foodie day. Risk. All of it. Every interface with the effort must be under consideration. I’ve come to understand that only considering time, or just four of those components is a fallacy. Let the team inspect & adapt on the fly the meaning of the story point within the boundaries of their organization and culture. But coach an all-inclusive consideration as described to move towards normalization.

Back to the coaching technique

The adaptation I created has deliberate errors designed to create thoughtful consideration of the problem.

When coaching resource managers, show them how newly formed teams (self-organized) have a domain purpose and just because the resource is moved out of the control of the silo doesn’t mean the person does a different job. It only means a.) the false sense of direct control is gone b.) the person or persons are now planning and executing together as a team, not a silo, without the influence of people who don’t know the work.

Conversely, if you have persons on the team claiming fractional allocation for their “day job” then clearly there is a link back to a control mechanism. That must be cut and it must be coached. “Agile” Teams have a domain purpose, or they should, and the use of a pull system is negated with a traditional control mechanism still in place.

In this example, Jenn is still being controlled by her resource manager. The manager has clearly forced a control reservation on the team member. This is NOT Agile or Scrum. Break that chain and set the team free.


Adapted from Jimmy Janlén and 96 Visualization Examples -
Adapted from Jimmy Janlén and 96 Visualization Examples –

I also put some options on the board.

Option A. – for teams using the visualization one could overlay story point estimates as a tool to perform calibration.

Option B. – The historical summary will show a pattern of the actual spend and can be used by the team to determine if their planning is right (doing the right things) and/or accurate.

Option C. – Again, simply observing the distribution of “buckets” of effort is useful for calibration and objectively measuring flow from a Lean perspective.

Can you spot the other error? Please leave comments below about the article or find me on LinkedIn.

Notes & References.

  1. Jimmy Janlén
  2. The color pallette is used in two ways. One for the team time invested and the other for the effort mapping to the historical summary. YMMV.
  3. (SAFe®)

Published by Marshall Guillory -

Information Technology professional, transformation leader, agile evangelist & coach, change agent, scrum master, servant leader and more...

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