Best practices for configuring Aha! to support SAFe®

Many large companies use the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe) for planning and delivering software. It provides a model for implementing agile and lean practices at scale. But success applying SAFe largely depends on how effectively you can set strategy, build plans, and organize development around the flow of value from enterprise strategy to portfolio implementation.

The Customer Success team at Aha! has deep product management expertise. And many of us have experience using SAFe to coordinate the planning and delivery of software in complex environments. So we are familiar with some of the challenges teams face when doing so. There are multiple levels of the framework, each with its own guidelines and workflows, and many cross-functional roles that need to work together effectively.

Aha! provides an effective solution for managing SAFe. A flexible workspace hierarchy and the ability to customize nearly everything — including terminology, workflows, views, and reports — gives you all the tools you need to effectively manage each level of the framework.

You can create relationships between records across your workspace hierarchy, weaving a red thread of strategy throughout your organization. Bring together business owners, epic owners, product managers, product owners, release train engineers, solution managers, and system engineers in one place so everyone can move forward in a synchronized way.

This best practices article explains to how to configure your workspace hierarchy so you can manage SAFe at the portfolio, program, and solution levels in Aha!

If you are new to SAFe, you might find it helpful to read our product management guide about the framework. Click on any of the links below for additional recommendations on how to use Aha! for specific areas of SAFe.

Step 1: Configure your workspace hierarchy

Get started by configuring your workspace hierarchy. Establishing the right hierarchy is essential for aligning strategy and execution at each level of SAFe. Workspaces in Aha! can belong to parent lines and parent lines can belong to other parent lines. This gives you the flexibility to structure your account so it matches your SAFe configuration.

Here is an example of how you can organize your hierarchy to support Portfolio SAFe.

  1. Company: By default, every new Aha! account starts with a parent line at the top level of your hierarchy that we recommend using to represent your company. This is where you will define strategic themes that inform the rest of your organization.

  2. Portfolio: Create as many parent lines as you need underneath the company level to represent your portfolios. This is where you will capture your portfolio vision and define portfolio epics.

  3. Value stream: Add parent lines within each portfolio to represent development and operational value streams. This is where you will define program epics and manage the steps required to build a set of solutions.

  4. Solution: Add as many product workspaces as you need within each value stream to represent your solutions — these are the products, services, or systems delivered to the customer. This is where you will define and prioritize features for release.

The example below shows a workspace hierarchy for a fictitious company, Fredwin Sports. We configured the workspace hierarchy to support multiple portfolios, value streams, and solutions. This hierarchy ensures we can connect strategy through each level of SAFe in a way that makes it easy to track and report on progress.

Many of our customers integrate Aha! with their development system of choice to manage work at the team-level of SAFe. Bidirectional integrations with systems such as Jira, Azure DevOps, and Rally make it easy to send planned work to your engineering team and track progress without ever leaving Aha!

Top

Step 2: Customize your terminology

You can customize the terminology that is used in Aha! to match the language SAFe uses. We recommend making the following changes to Aha! record types.

Set the terminology you want to use at the parent line level of your workspace hierarchy. This way, any workspaces within that parent line will automatically inherit the same terminology. Of course, you can always customize each workspace individually if there are teams using Aha! within your organization not following SAFe.

Default Aha! terminology

SAFe terminology

Goal

Strategic theme

Initiative

Epic

Epic

Capability (for "Large solution" implementations)

Requirement

User story

Top

Step 3: Create custom workflows and fields

Aha! is wildly flexible — you can customize the software to make it your own. You can customize workflows, add unlimited custom fields, and determine the layout of each record type. Here are some ways you can adapt Aha! to match how teams work at each level of SAFe:

  • Custom workflows: SAFe defines specific workflows for each level of the framework. You can change any default workflow in Aha! and apply SAFe processes in each workspace. This helps you establish a consistent approach for managing work across your organization.

  • Custom fields: Capture data that is important to SAFe but not part of Aha! by default. Below are some of the custom fields we recommend you create by record type.

SAFe record type

Custom fields

Epic

  • Epic type

  • Business outcome hypothesis

  • Leading indicators

  • Non-functional requirements (NFRs)

Feature

  • Target and actual KPIs

  • Benefit hypothesis

  • Acceptance criteria

  • Program increment

  • Class of service (Standard, Fixed Date, Expedite)

Requirement

  • Scrum team

  • Sprint

  • Custom layouts: Define the fields you want your team to see on each record type in Aha!

Top

Step 4: Define strategic themes

Now that you have configured your workspace hierarchy and workflows to support SAFe, it is time to capture your strategy. The first step is to set strategic themes or goals. These are the high-level objectives you want to accomplish. Capture your strategic themes at the company level of your hierarchy, including a success metric and a time frame for each one.

Support - Best practices for configuring Aha! to support SAFe® - inline image

Top

Step 5: Build a portfolio strategy

Your strategic themes are set. Next, define the strategy for each portfolio in your hierarchy. You can easily customize a business model template in Aha! to match the portfolio vision template recommended by SAFe. We recommend sharing the template at the highest level in your workspace hierarchy so it can be used across all of your portfolios, ensuring a consistent approach to strategic planning.

Support - Best practices for configuring Aha! to support SAFe® - inline image

Then, define your portfolio epics or initiatives. Show how epics align to the overall business strategy by linking them directly to strategic themes at the company level. The initiatives workflow board provides a kanban-style view so you can easily visualize the progress of your portfolio epics. We recommend customizing your workflow to match the steps an epic moves through in a SAFe portfolio kanban system.

Support - Best practices for configuring Aha! to support SAFe® - inline image

Top

Step 6: Set program epics

You will define, prioritize, and manage program epics (initiatives) at the value-stream level in your hierarchy. Link program epics to portfolio epics so you can see how your strategy ties together.

The initiatives workflow board is a great way to visualize your SAFe program kanban system. SAFe recommends using the "weighted shortest job first" (WSJF) approach to prioritize what to build and when. Create a custom scorecard in Aha! so you can easily apply the WSJF prioritization model to your work and make decisions about the most important work to complete first.

Support - Best practices for configuring Aha! to support SAFe® - inline image

Top

Step 7: Capture features and capabilities

Now you are ready to plan exactly what you will deliver and when. Use the individual workspaces in your hierarchy to organize features for each product. You can also group related features into capabilities (labeled as epics in Aha!) to show all the work necessary to support a higher-level solution.

Note: You will need to enable this functionality in Aha! if you have not already done so.

Here is a quick overview of the major functionality you can use in Aha! to help you define, prioritize, and manage features:

  • Capture features and define user stories

  • Group related features within capabilities (epics)

  • Estimate the effort required to build each feature

  • Score each feature based on WSJF

  • Set dependencies between features

Remember to link features and capabilities to program epics to maintain that red thread of strategy at each level within the framework. You can choose between different views to visualize your features and capabilities, including the features board, workflow board, and a user story map. You can also add user stories to each feature to break down the desired functionality into small chunks that can be completed in a single iteration.

Top

Step 8: Plan program increments and releases

The planning cadence in SAFe is often different from the release cadence. A program increment (PI) is used to provide a time-boxed interval (typically eight to 12 weeks) during which an Agile Release Train (ART) plans and delivers incremental value. It is important to note that ARTs can release more or less frequently than the PI cadence.

We recommend that you create a custom field for capturing the PI each feature will be delivered in. Use releases to coordinate when features will be delivered to customers. This makes it easy to see track when features will be delivered by PI or release.

Support - Best practices for configuring Aha! to support SAFe® - inline image

Once ready for implementation, send your releases, features, and user stories to your development system for engineering to build. Our bidirectional integrations keep both teams immediately informed of updates.

Top

Step 9: Report on progress

Aha! comes with a powerful analytics engine and more than 75 example reports. There are more than 200 data fields (along with unlimited custom fields) that you can use to create list reports, pivot tables, charts, and custom roadmaps. The Aha! report builder makes it easy to quickly create the SAFe reports you need. Below are three examples of roadmaps and reports to show you what is possible.

The strategy roadmap in Aha! is a great way to visualize epics at the portfolio and program level. Include epics from multiple workspaces and visualize dependencies. You can also visualize which releases, capabilities, and features link to each epic.

Support - Best practices for configuring Aha! to support SAFe® - inline image

Create a pivot table to show how work is progressing through your portfolio and program kanban systems. This is a great way to report on the status of epics, capabilities, and features. The example below shows a program-level SAFe kanban.

Support - Best practices for configuring Aha! to support SAFe® - inline image

Next is a pivot table that shows plans for a program increment. The report highlights the status of user stories organized by sprint so you can understand what will be delivered and when during a program increment.

Support - Best practices for configuring Aha! to support SAFe® - inline image

SAFe is meant to provide large enterprises a framework to build better software. Aha! can help guide your team through each level of the framework so you can do exactly that. If you need help configuring your account to support SAFe, contact us at support@aha.io. A member of our Customer Success team will respond to your request fast and share more about how you can get the most out of Aha! in a SAFe environment.

Top

Aha! is a trademark of Aha! Labs Inc. SAFe and Scaled Agile Framework are registered trademarks of Scaled Agile, Inc. All other company and product names may be trademarks of the respective companies with which they are associated.

Strategic roadmaps
    Integrations
    Announcements

    The worldʼs #1 roadmap software

    Not ready? Join a demo
    © 2020 Aha! Labs Inc.All rights reserved