SAFe Systems Thinking?

My previous post considered my first impressions of the Scaled Agile Framework.

I described how my experience with the training & implementation of SAFe felt far from the systems thinking approach it holds as it’s 2nd principle; “Apply Systems Thinking”

Why is that?

In this post, I explore what could be going on…

Rule of Three

To start my exploration, I reached into my toolbox & pulled out Satir & Weinberg’s Rule of Three. The idea behind the rule is that you should always have 3 choices:

…to have one choice is no choice; to have two choices is a dilemma; and to have three choices offers new possibilities.” –The Satir Model, Virginia Satir et al

Here are 3 examples of its use:

  1.  Before deciding on a course of action, come up with three alternatives.
  2. If you haven’t thought about 3 ways a solution could fail, you haven’t thought hard enough
  3. If you haven’t thought of 3 reasons why your problem is occurring, you haven’t thought enough

It’s the last example I went for:

What 3 reasons could there be for me not seeing SAFe as applying systems thinking when it’s principle #2 states exactly that?

Here are the >3 reasons I came up with:

  1. The training didn’t emphasise the systems thinking approach
  2. The SAFe implementations I was part of didn’t apply the systems thinking approach
  3. My knowledge of systems thinking is inadequate
  4. 2 days of training is inadequate to educate attendees on the subject of systems thinking, let alone all the other topics bundled into the 2 days
  5. Key stakeholders in the implementations I was involved with didn’t appreciate/understand the systems thing approach
  6. The cultural implications of implementing SAFe were inadequately considered in both training & the implementations I have been involved in

Next Steps to resolve

I need to understand my thought processes.

It’s easier to start influencing & upgrading myself, so I’m going to start learning more about systems thinking in general.

My general approach is to “circle the whirlpool” – I go around the outside of the topic gathering high-level themes & ideas. When I think I have sufficient tools at my disposal, I go deep into the vortex to see what discoveries I can make.

(After several failed attempts at starting “An Introduction to General Systems Thinking” (Weinberg), I’m going to try some hopefully lighter introductions to the topic)

As well as YouTube, I’ll make a start on these:

Thinking In Systems: A Primer” (Meadows)

Quality Software Management: Systems Thinking” (Weinberg)

Apply Systems Thinking Research to SAFe

Once I have a better understanding of systems thinking, I’ll go over the SAFe workbook, training material & my notes to see how systems thinking is actually applied.


My current thinking is that it is the cultural aspect of the rate at which people are willing to change that is the overriding blocker to systems thinking.

Merely talking about it briefly in a 2 day workshop is not going to overcome that challenge.

The persons responsible for leading SAFe implementations will need extra tools in their box to not only deeply understand systems thinking themselves, but also tools to help them communicate those ideas to those teams adopting the Scaled Agile Framework.

Watch this space.


More on the Rule of Three from others

Solving Problems With the Rule of Three