Team building patterns for SAFe®

Here are some patterns to think about the next time you are planning an Agile Release Train (ART) launch. The ART launch should be preceded by a successful value stream identification workshop. Even still, old mental models may prevail that are deeply embedded in the culture of the organization.

Mechanical Scrum

Mechanical Scrum is bad for everyone.

You cannot force or assign shared ownership. Management must learn to trust her people and the system. An appropriate quote follows.

Edward Lorenz’s original metaphor for a chaotic system—the world’s weather where the nonlinear nature of forces potentially makes it possible for a butterfly in Beijing to affect the weather a few days later in New York—managers today seem to be living in fear of butterflies.

A potential misstep in launching an ART is allowing management to “assign” team members to teams based off of an overly simplistic view of the value stream or a set of unmanaged assumptions. If the knowledge workers know the work best, then leadership and management should allow the team to be part of the conversation and part of the decision-making process (SAFe Principle #9) for organizing and aligning the ART to the value stream.

This involves a process of self-organization. It is more than just a sequence of steps. If an organizations creation is facilitated mechanically through process steps, then the result will be uncommitted teams and forced misalignment.

True shared ownership requires individuals to come together and align under a common vision and purpose. This requires leadership to facilitate organically, where teams have true ownership and commitment to the long-lived team and her purpose in developing systems/software products in the value stream.

A solution – the self-organization workshop

A self-organization workshop is an answer. It should be planned carefully and requires a thoughtful approach to be inclusive of all the people that are part of the value stream. Leadership and management each have a role to play. The people and resources themselves are also part of the collaborative process. The entire workshop is organized and executed using Scrum, an iterative process.

a path to a self-organized ART

Allow organic team formation

It is incredibly important for leaders and managers to set the stage for organic team formation. This is accomplished in this method by incrementally building teams with feedback. The workshop is 3-6 hours long depending on the size of the value stream.

We don’t want new smaller silos as teams as depicted below.

an “Agile Team” that looks suspiciously like the baby sister of the larger silo

The agenda for organization of a self-organization workshop is as follows:

  • Conduct SAFe implementation roadmap activities through the value stream workshop and “create the implementation plan.” The outputs from these activities will be used as inputs into the self-organization workshop. Particularly the Development Value Stream Canvas, its anatomy, and the operational value stream and resources identified. Any existing metrics for lead time, cycle times and %C&A will also be used.
  • Synthesize organizational strategic themes into those that are most relevant to the development value stream as guardrails
  • Organize outputs from the SAFe Value Stream and ART Identification workshop, existing processes and tools that affect the system and value stream
  • Create a vision for the development value stream that will inspire people to take action to organically align with the proposed development value stream, resources, and people.
  • This workshop fits into the “Define the ART” step in the Prepare for ART Launch. Note that in the earlier stage only a “potential ART” was identified.
  • Working with leadership and management:
    • things to say AND things NOT to say
    • the workshop agenda in preparation for leaving the room
    • presentation of vision, strategy, and guard railsPrepare leadership and management on
  • Work with leadership and management to create a focused vision, strategy, and guard rails presentation in physical format (kanbans, easel boards, not powerpoints)
  • Plan the workshop at least a month ahead to allow people to review transformation plans, value stream workshop outputs, vision statements, strategy, and other LACE inputs
  • Close attention must be paid to ensure all of the value stream resources and people are included in the workshop
  • The workshop format is iterative. It is planned using Scrum with predetermined goals. Teams will be given an overall iteration agenda consisting of 30 to 45-minute iterations. A portion of which is used for planning, sprinting, reviewing, and retrospective. Leadership and management are asked by the facilitator to leave the room during sprinting (an immutable requirement).
    • The first iteration goal, Understanding the vision, strategy, proposed ART(s)/value streams and documenting the initial team of teams patterns –
      • Short planning, then sprint…
      • do we understand the value stream and do the proposed ART(s) make sense?
      • do we believe the proposed ART(s) will reduce or increase dependencies?
      • are all of the available and/or necessary people and resources here self-organizing and made visible on kanbans?
      • People document feedback for management
      • Initial proposed teams title and purpose
      • Review, management returns
      • Retro
    • The second iteration goal, Team formation, an initial alignment
      • Short planning, then sprint…
      • People find purpose and teammates to build that purpose
      • Facilitator encourages individuals that are passionate about areas in the value stream to organize teams.
      • Proposed teams create a Team Canvas (template provided by coaches)
      • People create dependency kanban
      • Review, management returns
      • Retro
    • The third iteration goal, Team Refinement, and dependency reduction – The Leaning
      • Short planning, then sprint…
      • Teams refine and continue self-organization with a goal of refining out (where appropriate – Lean) dependencies and muda within teams and the ART(s) and processes and tools
      • Teams/people continue creating items for dependency kanban
        • Teams begin mapping team to team and team to system(s) (or other resources like suppliers) dependencies
      • Teams update Team Canvas
      • Teams recommend updates to ART(s) Canvas
      • Review, management returns
      • Retro
    • The fourth iteration goal, Testing and Validation
      • Short planning, then sprint…management participates
      • Teams play out a simulated product development snippet to test how value will flow through the ART(s)
      • Particular attention is paid to shared services and systems teams; if either of these teams is a bottleneck either or both should be considered for consolidation into the ART(s), or if all of either spend all or most of their capacity on supporting the ART(s), either or both should be considered for consolidation into the ART(s)
      • Did the ART consider PM, BO, and Architecture roles?
      • Did the ART consider distributed teams?
      • Teams update Team Canvas
      • Teams recommend updates to ART(s) Canvas
      • Review
      • Retro
    • The fifth iteration goal, Finalize and Open Space
      • Short planning…management participates
      • At this time the teams collaborate with management on the goals for the sprint/iteration
      • Sprint, management participates as part of the team
      • Teams update Team Canvas
      • Teams recommend updates to ART(s) Canvas
      • Review
      • Retro
      • Repeat this iteration until the ART(s) are ready to perform a confidence and commitment vote on moving forward with the proposed ART(s), teams, and plan.


Womack, James P.. Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation (p. 87). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

OrgMindset body of knowledge

Scaled Agile Framework for Lean Enterprises (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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