Learning SAFe

For an array of reasons, I’ve decided to become familiar with SAFe (the Scalable Agile Framework) and it’s proving an interesting education. The underlying model is not bad, and in fact it has one or two practices I wish I had known about earlier. My favorite? If you have multiple teams working on stuff, collect sprints into “increments” – buckets of 5 sprints – and have high level planning around that. Fun extra caveat – you only plan on 4 working sprints. The 5th sprint is nominally for creativity and exploration, and I love that idea, but the fact that it could also be used for hardening or deployment is a nice bit of flexibility.

Cynically, yes, it’s just a different wrapper around quarterly planning, but I admit I like the idea of models rolling up which is sort of the point of things like SAFe and Scrum@Scale.

Downside? I could not tell you why, but the diagrams I’ve run into as I learn SAFe are consistently horrible. I don’t think it’s necessary intrinsic to the framework, but the keystone image you see when you first go to find out about SAFe looks like this:

And I think that sort of establishes a tone of erring on the side of comprehensiveness over clarity. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it was definitely at odds with my expectation of something in the lean & agile space. That might just be on me, though.

Three Bullet Points

3bullI had reason to go through a LOT of archived video from old company meetings. Several years worth.  It was kind of fun, if only to see how things used to be (especially haircuts) and how things had changed, but it was also a real grind.  When we recorded these meetings, the thinking was that it would be a permanent record of what had been discussed – something we could look back on and learn something from.

In practice, I’m pretty sure I was the first person to see some of these videos ever.  Not because the material was not valuable, but because no one is going to go back and watch hours of videos for possible insight when there’s actual work to be done.

Obviously, this is an argument for good record-keeping around meetings.  Have an agenda, capture the key points and decisions, make sure that’s available.  That sort of document is much more skimmable, so it might at least see some use.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.  Sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad, we often will have meetings that don’t have any documentation, and the prospect of going back and creating documentation seems daunting and wasteful.   I sympathize with this.  I really and truly do.  But there’s another option:

Just capture three bullet points.

Not even long ones.  One post it note or index card should give you enough space.  It’s not hard, it takes no particular time, and it’s easy to archive or communicate.

Now, I get why there may be some resistance to this – your meetings are complicated! They’re nuanced! Any attempt to summarize them in this fashion will lose all the critical information that you spent all that time putting into the slide deck!  I completely understand.


If the content of your meetings really matters that much, then you probably are having no problem keeping them documented.  No one would willingly surrender such treasures.

But if they’re not being documented, then an incomplete document is better than nothing.  It can capture key decisions, or just be a pointer to other information which is documented but maybe hard to skim (like video recordings).

If you’re still uncomfortable with this idea, do me a favor and think of a meeting you had last week.  Any meeting.  What can you remember about it?  There’s a non-zero chance the answer is “nothing”, so try to pick one that you recall.  What do you remember about it?

Unless you cheated and checked your notes, I will bet that your recollection lines up pretty well with a few bullet points.  You remember why the meeting happened, what was decided, and anything urgent that came. up.  Anything more detailed than that maybe lives in your task list or your personal notes, and those things are being dealt with appropriately.

And that’s as it should be.  The goal of the meeting is to unpack things in the moment, but then allow everyone to proceed. If something is important, it will generate its own work.  The meeting itself needs only a few bullets to pin itself up in your brain.

Still skeptical?  Give it a try for a week. It’s not a lot of work, and can be done in a notebook, a text file or anything else.  At the end of the week, take 30 seconds to look over the bullets and see if you think anything is missing.  Maybe it will be an unnecessary exercise.  But if you are used to getting to the end of the week and wondering how you lost so much of your time to meetings, it just might help you get a better sense of your own reality.

And if you use that information to start demanding better meetings? Well, that’s just a bonus.