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Pitfalls of Lean Portfolio Management

Strictly following SAFe practices as precisely as possible will not give the desired improvement results. Unfortunately, 'by the book' does not exist in complex systems or implementations. Every organization is different, and we do not take organization specifics like culture or values into account; SAFe will fail to provide benefits. In other words: "context matters."

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Implementing by principle and not by practice will help your organization understand 'your system' and help find the right balance between, for instance: autonomy or authority, self-organization or business policy, and freedom or rules.

Merely implementing parts of SAFe, like Lean Portfolio Management, does not guarantee success either. As SAFe states: "Optimizing a component does not optimize the system." Portfolio Management should be implemented and optimized in combination with Product management, Agile Release Trains, Agile Teams, and more.

Imagine you are in a large drugstore. You see all these excellent medicines for all the diseases that you might suffer. You might as well buy them all, right? No! SAFe explicitly defines several 'configurations.' The more complex your organization, the more complex the SAFe configuration you will need. But beware: you probably do not need the whole arsenal of structures and tools that SAFe offers to stay healthy and function effectively.

During transitions, all too often, existing practices are relabeled to conform to the new desired target framework without actually changing procedures or processes. But, if you keep doing what you did, you will keep getting what you got. A new name isn't going to change anything!

The same applies to relabeling the existing organization; it will not automatically create more flow and speed! Instead, spend time understanding SAFe terminology, why it's there, its function, and the words' relationship to each other. From this understanding, build up the organization with the appropriate governance.

One of Lean and Agile's fundamental principles is continuous improvement, also promoted by SAFe. SAFe even applies it to itself: it is being improved systematically. Initially, your SAFe set-up will focus on value delivery and the ability to improve future delivery. When the time comes to improve, don't be afraid to change the details of SAFe or choose different elements of SAFe that better suit your teams. SAFe is the means, and valuable results are the goal!

Remaining focused in times of change is challenging. It's easy to start working on requests to keep customers or stakeholders satisfied, but what effect will this have on other requests, and with so many tasks, will any project be finished soon? An easy way to counteract this effect and enforce focus is by limiting the number of 'active' Epics. Apply a WIP limit (Work-in-Progress limit) and only start a new Epic when another is finished. Counterintuitively, this will deliver more complete Epics in a shorter amount of time than working on them simultaneously.

Relevante Content
Article: SAFe and (Lean) Portfolio Management
Article: SAFe is not working. Now what?

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