Agile Hive: The Complete Guide to SAFe in Jira

This article was written by Jan Kuntscher, the Product Manager at Seibert Media.

As long as projects have existed, teams have looked for the tools and methodologies that help them accomplish the goals of those projects. For a long time, completing the goals was enough. But as markets have grown and competition has gotten stronger, organizations are now looking for the best tools and methodologies for delivering the most value to the customer in the shortest amount of time.

How do we determine which tools and methodologies are best? It depends on the organization, and each organization must evaluate the tools and frameworks.

If you’ve found your way to this post, maybe you and your organization are using Jira, and you’re not sure whether your methodologies are working. Perhaps you are practicing SAFe® (we’ll simply write it as SAFe in this article), but you are still looking for the right tool(s) to fit the framework. If you are considering Jira or SAFe for either of these scenarios, read on to evaluate how their synergy could benefit you.

You will also learn all about Agile Hive for Jira, an app that can help you overcome the limitations in Jira when it comes to implementing SAFe.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this blog post:

What is SAFe

The team at Scaled Agile designed SAFe to enhance the scope of agile processes beyond the actual development teams. The Scaled Agile Framework provides a structure that is not limited to the team level but also integrates those of the programs, larger solutions, and portfolios, right up to practices integrated into the fabric of the entire organization.

The framework outlines various techniques, roles, meetings, and artifacts – partly borrowed from the lean approach – that serve the overall goal of delivering products via so-called Agile Release Trains (ARTs). These ARTs „drive“ through entire value streams and offer integration and coordination possibilities at each stop.

SAFe 5 for Lean Enterprises Source: Scaled Agile Framework

Anyone looking at SAFe processes for the first time might feel overwhelmed by the abundance of terms and components. In practice, all these elements should fit together and function in an interlocking way to ensure an optimal flow. For a better understanding, it can help to look at the framework through its individual components.

SAFe can be implemented in four different configurations, depending on individual requirements, size of the organization, scope, and the number of products. These configurations are Essential SAFe (the heart and core of SAFe), Portfolio SAFe, Large Solution SAFe, and Full SAFe. SAFe comprises four levels with different tasks and functions – from the team level up to the portfolio level.

Why SAFe

Why do organizations use SAFe? Ultimately, for the same reasons they introduced Scrum at the team level: to increase productivity, improve product quality, shorten market-oriented release intervals, strengthen customer focus, and enhance employee satisfaction. The only difference being this is done on a much larger scale.

At this level of complexity, adapting an existing, proven framework often seems more effective and efficient than developing a completely new system – so why reinvent the wheel?

Several frameworks and models, such as LeSS, Spotify, and Nexus, dedicate themselves to scaling agile product development. We can even say that SAFe, in this context, is the undisputed industry leader in terms of adopters. Studies and surveys conducted by Scaled Agile Inc. among its customers and partners speak for themselves.

Organizations that have implemented SAFe report the following:

Source: Scaled Agile Framework

Agile Hive: Using the Right Technology to Overcome Limitations in Jira

Limitations of Jira

Jira is the leading agile software development tool. SAFe is the leading framework for scaling agile. So why not just combine one with the other? Well, while Jira is an awesome tool, it comes with a few limitations when scaling becomes necessary.

In the following sections, we provide a few examples.

Artifact Hierarchy and nomenclature

Working with Jira on the team level is great, no doubt. That‘s what Atlassian built it for and why we love it. Large organizations using SAFe rely on a strong hierarchical context in order to foster alignment throughout the enterprise from strategy to execution. But Jira’s structure of stories, epics, and Jira projects is simply not enough.

While there are a number of Jira apps solving this issue – Agile Hive does so while at the same time maximizing SAFe compliance. The trick: All of these structural SAFe- artifacts on each level – from portfolios, large solutions, ARTs, and teams – come as entire Jira projects, making it highly flexible if you would like to choose unique names or workflows for those projects. All of this with no impact on Jira projects outside the SAFe context!

PI cadence

SAFe scales the rhythm of iterations (sprints) at a team level as Program Increments (PIs) for the ART. While Jira lets you conveniently plan sprints for your teams – there is no equivalent for cadence in your „team of teams“.

Of course, you could use „fix versions“ to set the PI cadence but your teams managing their releases with this onboard feature will not be amused. Agile Hive lets you plan your ART‘s PIs easily without interfering with any other valuable Jira functionality.

What about content?

Jira handles issues and processes like no other. But agile product development and business agility at scale need a whole lot of content collaboration, documentation, and references as well.

Hold on, has anyone mentioned „Confluence“? Agile Hive uses a strong interaction between Jira and Confluence, automating work when possible and providing valuable references such as templates and checklists, in order to make SAFe happen without having to jump between websites, more tools, and reference guides.

What is Agile Hive?

Agile Hive, created by Seibert Media, steps in to deploy SAFe using the Atlassian tool stack that more and more companies are turning to. Agile Hive helps you integrate the Scaled Agile Framework as an agile scaling concept, roll it out across the entire enterprise and make the best use of it in the long term.

As an app for Jira, it provides the required hierarchy levels, artifacts, boards, and workflows, as well as facilitating processes and aggregating relevant evaluations. A close, automated interaction with Confluence as well as comprehensive content templates for SAFe compliant collaboration complete the product.

Agile Hive is also able to use the correct SAFe nomenclature at each SAFe level to promote acceptance – without impacting Jira projects outside the SAFe context. Thus, it creates the software prerequisites for the stringent, successful scaling of your agile working methods according to SAFe.

Implementing SAFe in Jira with Agile Hive

SAFe configurations

With Project Hierarchies, the user can set specially configured Jira projects (displayed as colored nodes) in hierarchical relationships (displayed as gray connection lines). These relationships ensure that issues within these projects can be linked hierarchically, and only as of the respective relationships between the projects allow.

Project Hierarchies in Agile Hive

Examples:

The user can only link a task in the team project „DC“ hierarchically to a feature or enabler of the corresponding Release Train, in Jira project „ART2“. Here we have a separate project for our Release Train, that sits higher than the normal Jira projects like “DC”.

Accordingly, the user can link a feature of this „ART2“ hierarchically with any story or task in the team project „DC“, which is below but also to a capability of „SOLUTION1“ in the large solution level, which is above.

In principle, the user can only link each Jira issue hierarchically with the corresponding „parent“ item. Any „father“ can have any number of „child“-issues linked to it – as long as they are from the corresponding artifact.

Of course, this does not take away any other linking possibilities of Jira. In the “Project Hierarchies” configuration menu you can define layers and add projects to those layers to create a multi-level project hierarchy.

Create projects

Once you have decided which SAFe configuration works best for your product development, you or any person with permissions to create projects need to create one project for each of the relevant artifacts described in your SAFe configuration.

Agile Hive provides Project Templates for each SAFe level. The app automatically creates boards within each project (artifact) and no configuration is needed. Thanks to Agile Hive’s flexibility, you can just add layers whenever your company needs to scale further.

Create project in Agile Hive

Reports

What are Team Reports? Team Reports represent relevant team metrics. This is done in the form of tiles in a single overview, according to SAFe‘s specifications. Each team has an automatically generated view, maintained with real-time data, for each of their respective team projects.

You can select the Program Increment (PI) to see it in a drop-down menu. While Agile Hive shows the current PI by default, you can also view historical data from past PIs or any planned items in future increments. No configuration is required to view reports other than the setup of your project hierarchies.

Agile Hive gives you a report for each team as well as each SAFe configuration layer. Agile Hive provides reports for:

  • Agile Teams
  • ART
  • Large Solution
  • Portfolio

Agile Hive Team Report

PI Planning

There is no SAFe without a PI Planning. The PI Planning event is one of the most important parts when working with the Scaled Agile Framework. Everybody working on an Agile Release Train meets in person for a two-day event to plan the entire cadence ahead.

They also align on mission and vision, development and business goals, and to identify dependencies across the teams and ARTs. The event follows the PI cadence, e.g. in a 10-week rhythm. The Release Train Engineer (RTE), acts as sort of a scrum master for the entire train, facilitating the event.

Preparation

While preparing a PI Planning, there are a lot of things to remember and organize. To keep track of all the tasks needed, Agile Hive offers you templates and checklists in your Confluence instance.

On the overview page, you can fill out all the information participants will need to know before attending the PI Planning – from the registration, the people responsible for the information, location, floor plan, food & beverages, the agenda, and more. Every attendee is able to take a look at the dashboard at any time to stay informed about the event. This offers all employees full transparency as it is one of the four core values of SAFe.

Breakout Boards

Seibert Media designed the Team Breakout view to facilitate a conversation between two or more teams, working out how best to schedule work based on the desire to fulfill the Feature outcomes of the Increment. The Breakout Board includes many features that simplify the breakout sessions in PI Planning for your teams.

Agile Hive Team Breakout Board

Sprint Capacity

One thing you can do in the breakout board is set the Sprint Capacity. This is very useful for PI Planning sessions. It is also useful if your team’s capacity needs to be adjusted from iteration to iteration because of holidays or hiring new staff.

Agile Hive Sprint Capacity

Team & Program Backlog

In the Team Breakout board, users can conveniently drag and drop new features to work on from the Program Backlog. In the same view, Agile Hive uses features represented as lanes to organize the individual pieces of work (stories), so that teams know which feature their story can be applied to.

Teams can also drag and drop issues from their own backlog into each feature lane, where the story will automatically link to the feature one level up in the hierarchy. Additionally, users can set up quick filters to quickly change which issues show in the two backlog views.

Program Boards

The SAFe program board is a view-only board where teams can see the impact of their work once they have completed a feature. The Board is also used by Product Management to view and analyze the PI progress. The board lets team members visualize:

  • What features and dependencies they have planned for the current PI
  • Who (which team) is responsible for completing specific features
  • When the work will be completed.

The Program Board in Agile Hive also provides an overview of external dependencies to teams that are outside of the ART but working towards a planned feature.

Agile Hive Program Board

Portfolio Level Features

Ok, Jira might be the developer’s favorite tool, so Agile Hive can easily help at the team level for managers. But what about the management and strategy level?

Usually, managers and strategists prefer other tools. Maybe they consult the occasional Jira report, but business-wide alignment would be so much easier if everyone shared one tool. Agile Hive strives to give everyone home in Jira, but also in Confluence, which usually wins management´s acceptance easily.

Portfolio Management – Epic documentation and collaboration

When working with a lean portfolio the „SAFe way“, portfolio epics are the most crucial elements involved, as they are the first tangible pieces of a broken down strategy. The organization needs to define these initiatives clearly, prioritize them, and fund them via lean budgeting of their value stream.

In order to do so, SAFe suggests practices and provides thorough aids and templates, all of which find their way into Agile Hive.

Creating a portfolio epic in Jira automatically creates a documentation page in the „Epic Room“, the central hub for all your enterprise’s portfolio management content. Here, your portfolio team can collaborate to fill out the epic hypothesis statement, WSJF prioritization, and lean business case. All based on a thorough, yet adjustable, template. And all interconnected to its Jira-equivalent.

Portfolio Epic creation in Agile Hive

Portfolio Kanban

To visualize and manage the flow of portfolio epics, you can find a Portfolio Kanban in your Agile Hive instance. Just as in the SAFe specifications, all the steps are right there, such as Funnel, Review, Analysis, Portfolio Backlog, Implementation, and Done.

On the Portfolio Kanban, you will find the issues with the exact SAFe nomenclature, yet adjustable to your own naming conventions. Oversee the progress of portfolio epics – from ideation through analysis, implementation, and completion – as easily as on every other Jira board throughout your business. Avoid bottlenecks and optimize flow by setting a WiP-limit.

Portfolio Kanban Board in Agile Hive

Large Solution Level

As the name implies, Large Solution SAFe is for the really big organizations or, as Scaled Agile Inc. states, it „describes additional roles, practices, and guidance to build and evolve the world’s largest applications, networks, and cyber-physical systems.” The good news for tool support at this level: The Large Solution level follows the same hierarchical and structural system as the other layers.

So while there is an individual nomenclature (e.g. capabilities between portfolio epics and program features), the same functionality remains intact. One thing to mention here: Agile Hive supports every SAFe configuration, and you can easily upgrade your settings at any given time.

SAFe Levels in Agile Hive

Conclusion

SAFe is a leading methodology that enables large organizations to scale Agile. Agile Hive is the tool to execute the processes in Jira. In this blog post, we’ve reviewed how an organization can implement SAFe in Jira and have described the main use cases. We covered what SAF is and why it is important, went over the limitations that organizations face when implementing SAFe in Jira, and discussed in detail how Agile Hive can solve those problems.

It’s now time to start scaling and try out Agile Hive. Happy scaling!

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