Interview with Chris James, CEO of Scaled Agile®

Kaley Abernathy

Kaley Abernathy

Interview with Chris James, CEO of Scaled Agile®
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Recently, Chris James visited our office in Barcelona to make a presentation on Scaled Agile® in one of our Driving Growth Talks. While he was there, we did a quick interview with him to get some insight into his role, the SAFe® Framework, and the latest news from Scaled Agile – including SAFe 5.0.

As the Chief Executive Officer of Scaled Agile® and your more than 30 years of experience in IT training, education, and business transformation, what would you highlight from your professional career?

I spent the majority of my career in large technology companies like Oracle and Sun Microsystems. One of my learnings was how difficult it is for large companies to link strategy to execution. The pace of change in technology, business models, government policies, economic climate, etc mean that companies need to be able to pivot quickly to adjust their business systems and product portfolio.

Enterprises need organizational models that support a way of working that is highly responsive to changes in the business context to support business agility.

For those unfamiliar, how would you briefly explain what the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) is?

Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) enables complex organizations to achieve the benefits of Lean-Agile principles and practices that enable business agility.

SAFe is the world’s leading framework for scaling Agile across the enterprise, used by hundreds of the world’s largest organizations. SAFe enables company responsive to change and sustains and drives faster time-to-market, dramatic increases in productivity and quality, and improvement in employee engagement.

What is the difference between SAFe® and other scale frames?

SAFe provides a knowledge base of proven, integrated principles and practices that are regularly updated, expanded and improved unlike other frameworks that are not supported by ongoing research and development.

An important key to success in supporting a Lean-Agile transformation is leadership engagement combined with education and training. SAFe is supported by a role-based curriculum that ensures team members are enabled in the new way of working.

Many companies have been successfully working with Waterfall for years and consider Agile to be somewhat unplanned and chaotic. Why should these companies change their current model and implement Agile?

If these companies can successfully compete in the marketplace with their current approach, then perhaps they should continue with their current practices.

But if we look at the speed with which the requirements for services and products change, there is no denying the urgency of changing the way they work and develop the capabilities of a responsive organization

With SAFe, we give companies that recognize this urgency an opportunity to compete in this fast-paced world and to develop the right products for the right clients at the right time and to continue to be successful in the market.

With regard to people, what possible problems should be considered when introducing an organizational transformation?

Change is always challenging. In order to implement an organizational transformation successfully, it is necessary to prepare the people in the organization and provide leadership and communication at all levels.

It is important to engage the whole organization in the change process, preparing for new roles and work practices. In SAFe we provide role-based training to support developing the new mindset and implementing the new way of working.

In 2019, the Scaled Agile team and SAFe® Contributors announced the update to SAFe® 5.0 for Lean Enterprises. Why was updating SAFe® important and what are its main changes?

SAFe 5 was designed to address the market’s demand to evolve the framework to develop business solutions and enable business agility. The most significant changes are the expansion to provide guidance for the seven core competencies of business agility.

Customer Centricity and Design Thinking have now been directly incorporated into the heart of the continuous delivery pipeline and the release included the publication of two new courses, Lean Portfolio Management and Agile Product Management.

The dual operating system approach sounds quite new, can you explain how SAFe® is embracing this concept and why it is relevant?

The dual operating system approach was introduced by John Kotter some years ago and has been incorporated into SAFe 5.

Kotter’s research shows that startups build an interpersonal network in which every employee shares the vision of the company and leads the company to success through commitment and agility. The more successful the company is, the more it has to establish processes, procedures and hierarchies and thus pushes the network into the background until it completely disappears. The hierarchy is the operating system that provides stability to the company, at the price of lost agility and innovation. To survive in today’s market, however, both operating systems – the Dual Operating System – must be on an equal footing within the company. SAFe is this second operating system and it brings the lost agility back into the company.

What role will Scaled Agile partners like Netmind play in the future of SAFe®?

The Scaled Agile partner network provides the primary source of expertise in SAFe globally. The Scaled Agile partnership with Netmind provides the knowledge and expertise in the local market so that enterprises can be supported directly in their own language as they implement SAFe. Netmind has access to the support, training and SAFe implementation assets of the Scaled Agile to deliver a high level of support and guidance to implement SAFe.

We are nearing the end of the interview; however, we are curious to hear some stories behind SAFe®. Could you tell us about any significant case of success or failure?

In my role as CEO of the company I am lucky to meet SAFe transformation leaders in some of the largest companies in the world. Many of them like to keep their progress and adoption SAFe confidential as they see it as competitive advantage. Others are happy to share their experiences at the SAFe Summits – next up European SAFe Summit is in the Hague in June and then our Global SAFe Summit in September is in Denver.

We record customer stories and case studies on the SAFe website here. There are a growing number customer stories across all industries. Checkout the latest industry coverage on the SAFe® website.

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About the Author

Kaley Abernathy

Kaley Abernathy

Kaley Abernathy, serves as Director of Marketing, Netmind, and is responsible for overall marketing strategy, branding and communication of Netmind’s offerings and development efforts. She oversees all website development, social media relations, event management and media relations. Kaley was B2T Training's (now Netmind) first employee as a Marketing Assistant in college and has loved watching the company become the success story it is today. With over 16 years’ experience working in the marketing, advertising, development and training industries, she brings a diverse background to Netmind. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Tennessee with a Bachelor of Science in Communications and is an avid lover of french bulldogs.

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