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Agile Testing/DevOps

Adapting Digital Transformation with Agile? Consider SAFe

Guest Post from Automators

Digital transformation is accelerating the pace at which today’s businesses are evolving. The stakes couldn’t be higher! Companies must integrate technological innovations into their core business functions to remain competitive. But true digital transformation initiatives cannot be achieved if an enterprise does not reimagine the way it deals with systematic improvement at multiple levels of the organization, late delivery, too many dependencies, the too late discovery of problems and poor employee morale.

To meet today’s challenges and improve the effectiveness of traditional approaches like the waterfall model, the agile methodology was developed and implemented in countless projects. Most of us will agree that agile works more efficiently than waterfall in general. However, agile projects face a set of challenges and problems that are different from those following traditional methodologies. Known problems can be summarized into three broad categories.

The first category involves communication between development, product owner or development and quality assurance. Another aspect refers to the lack of cultural transition or organizational change toward agile methodologies. Another problem area arises on the team and management level. Unwillingness or insufficient team training, lack of management awareness or changing behaviour, no product owner authority or difficulties in involving key stakeholders can make working with agile difficult. Other problems can be found in day-to-day operational problems. Putting aside documentation or testing, getting tests automated, regression testing, too old backlog or too many open issues, lack of time to fix failed tests, no traceable or visible project progress – all these things can not only slow down the agile process and delivery, but jeopardize the whole project. The SAFe framework was developed to address these problems with agile and therefore improve engagement, productivity of the team members which results in better product quality and faster time to market.

Becoming Agile with SAFe 4.5: A Perfect Fit

SAFe 4.5 helps businesses eliminate waste hence enabling them to develop and deliver enterprise-class software/systems in the shortest sustainable lead times. Ultimately, by combining the power of Agile thinking and lean product development, businesses can increase their agility, time to market, productivity, transparency, quality and employee productivity.

SAFe 4.5 is founded on 3 pillars which are needed to deliver value successfully at scale:

Delivering More, And More Often.

With SAFe, businesses can achieve and increase their visibility, scalability, and predictability. SAFe has become integral to how companies develop, deploy and deliver better systems and updates to the market faster. For instance, Telia, a leading Finnish telecom provider managed to achieve 39% more capabilities than before, at 34% less cost. During a recent rebranding in 2017, the company relied on SAFe to coordinate the many pieces and was able to pull off the rebrand overnight with a 94% accuracy on all levels.

And that’s not the only success story. Air France managed reported increased productivity with teams delivering 20% more effectively than waterfall teams. Sony Interactive Entertainment reported over $30 million in savings and initial planning time cut by 28%. SAFe helped Hewlett Packard Enterprise to improve quality by 20% while delivering faster. Thanks to SAFe companies all over the world increased their time to market ratio by 30-75%, experienced more than 50% defect reduction, 20-50% increase in productivity and happier, more motivated employees with higher alignment working towards a common mission for the same purpose.

The perfect fit for your business

Providing four different configurations you’ll find the exact SAFe framework that will fit for your business capacity and purpose. The essential Safe provides the most basic framework with elements necessary to be successful wit SAFe. With increasing size and complexity, the portfolio SAFe provides an optimal solution for a modest number of agile teams, large companies and development of multiple, independent solutions. The large solution SAFe is destined for large and complex solutions that require contributions of multiple agile release trains without portfolio considerations.

The full SAFe 4.5 (see graphic below) includes the team, program, large solution and portfolio level. On the ‘Team’ level agile teams build the solution with individual contributors covering all roles to build a quality increment delivering hard- and software. Agile teams deliver valuable, tested, working systems (or iterations) in at least two-week sprints based on user stories. The team structure includes 3 to 9 members including a Scrum Master, Product Owner and development team.

The ‘Program’ level can be described as the heart of SAFe where agile teams, key stakeholders and other resources are dedicated to important ongoing solution missions with the help of the Agile Release Trains (ARTs). These ARTs are virtual organizations with five to twelve agile teams formed to span functional reporting structures and to eliminate unnecessary handoffs by implementing Lean-Agile practises. The key roles include agile teams plus the System Architect with common technical and architectural vision for the solution in development, the Release Train Engineer (RTE), the leader for ART who facilitates the train process and manages risks, value delivery and continuous improvement and finally the Chief Scrum Master.

The ‘Large Solution’ level helps to build large-scale, multidisciplinary software, hardware and complex IT systems providing additional roles, artefacts, events and coordination. The Economic framework provides financial boundaries for value stream and ART decision making. The solution intent as repository for current and future solutions supports verification and validation. Additional roles support ARTs including Solution Management, Solution Architect/Engineer, Value Stream (VSE), supplier and customer.

The ‘Portfolio’ level organizes the Lean-Agile enterprise around the flow of value through one or more value streams. Used for budgeting and other oversight necessary ensuring that value streams meet their goals. Strategic themes are business objectives connecting the portfolio to the enterprise strategy. Enterprise value streams deliver solutions, products and services that help enterprises achieve its mission. On that level, Epics, significant initiatives, that require multiple value streams, help and guide development through the whole portfolio. The enterprise value stream is monitored by objective metrics supporting Lean-Agile governance and continuous improvement.

SAFe and continuous test automation

Agile Teams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs) can’t go fast without high quality, and they can’t achieve that without continuous testing and, wherever possible, testing first.

Q2 in the SAFe testing matrix contains functional tests for Stories, Features and Capabilities to validate that they work the way the Product Owner intended. Teams automate these tests whenever possible and use manual ones only when there is no other choice. While Solution/System acceptance tests in Q3 are done manually due to the involvement of end users, continuous testing in Q4 is usually supported by a suite of automated testing tools, such as load or performance, designed specifically for this purpose.

Due to the variety of approaches acceptance tests are executed manually so they pile up very quickly. The amount of manual work required to run regression testing slows down the team and causes delays in value delivery. Teams automate most of their acceptance tests by using a variety of tools to avoid late delivery.

SAFe 4.5 has a newly added function of scalable DevOps and continuous delivery pipeline on the ‘Program’ level that will help teams to create ‘value to production’ and deliver much faster. Development teams will need to focus on being able to specify, build, test, and deploy software effectively and efficiently. The continuous delivery pipeline allows for a smooth 360-degree build-measure-learning cycle, allowing teams to establish some hypotheses, build and deliver against them, measure results and learn from that work. Besides, the continuous delivery pipeline will help teams integrate their work frequently and in small elements. Each one of these integrations will need to be verified by an automated build to detect any errors as quickly as possible.

Since SAFe 4.5 allow end-to-end integration of Test-Driven Development (TDD) to the software development cycle, automated tests can be run on these updates on-demand. This should prevent expensive system downtimes while allowing teams to develop quality and cohesive software more rapidly.

One of the key practices in realizing Built-In Quality is Acceptance Test-Driven Development (ATDD) which is also known as Behavior-Driven Development (BDD).

The system team as a critical success factor in continuous testing

The system team assists in building and using the Agile development environment, including continuous Integration, Continuous Testing and Continuous Deployment performing end-to-end Solution testing where necessary. The Automators with its Lean Automation Team consisting of 3 roles (Test Architect, Test Designer, Automator) is mainly part of the system team, assisting your framework with the creation of newly automated test scenarios, organizing test cases designed by individual teams into orders suites, performing automated tests for new features and Stories, prioritizing time-consuming tests, refactoring, and running reduced test suites where applicable. By helping teams to create reduced-test suites that they can run independently, the Automators offer test solution performance against non-functional requirements and assist system and solution engineering in identifying system shortfalls and bottlenecks.

To increase continuous integration and delivery the team roles of the Automators are in sync to the key agile release train roles. The Test Architect whose main responsibility is ‘Continuous Test Performance Engineering’ can work together with the system Architect in integrating the test solution into the system landscape. With his vast knowledge, the Architect is responsible for configuration and technical support of test automation providing by understanding the application landscape to integrate security permissions and user rights to access layers, implement modular connectors for system specific extensions or evaluating the infrastructure for End-to-End Testing.

A close collaboration between the Release train engineer on the program level and the Test Designer whose main responsibility is ‘Risk Coverage Optimization’ allows to identify the most important parts of the system landscape to structure processes, requirements and applications. In the next step the Designer builds test case design according the requirements specification resulting in a logical test case portfolio which will be transparent, non-redundant and maintenance friendly. According to this test case design the Automator is responsible for the creation and implementation of the test case portfolio and the management of daily testing operations in close cooperation to the release train engineer and agile teams on the release train. To ensure continuous delivery the Automator starts tests as early as possible (in the coding phase and optimally within the agile team) and continuously reviews and optimizes existing test ware.

To sum it all up, SAFe 4.5 is a very useful if not essential tool to respond to today’s challenges businesses are facing in a disruptive industry. The three pillars agile, lean product development and system thinking lead to faster time to market, more employee engagement, hence increased productivity which results in better product quality. SAFe provides a framework tailored for your business. Depending on the size and complexity of your projects, one or several agile release trains ensure continuous delivery with continuous exploration, integration and deployment. The alignment between the key roles of the agile release trains and the Automators create synergies allowing your business full utilization of the SAFe 4.5 framework.

Want to learn more? Visit the Automators booth at Accelerate 2018.