Decentralizing Control: The Secret to Enterprise Value Flow?

The recent release of SAFe 6.0 focused on several major themes. These included helping enterprises to address the new challenges of AI, Big Data, and Cloud; delivering better outcomes with Measure and Grow and OKRs; and extending SAFe across the business. These are pretty essential topics, and we hear how valuable this content is to the enterprise.

But we also reflected deeply on the very essence of Agile development, and the heart of that is the Agile team. Indeed if the teams aren’t Agile, the enterprise isn’t either. However, after decades of advancing these practices, it’s clear that the goal isn’t to do or be Agile, Lean, or even SAFe; the goal is the continuous flow of value to the customer. That is why you see the intense focus on flow in 6.0 and why we refactored even the basic Agile team guidance to better implement flow.

During that period, we also had the opportunity to work alongside DevOps-Agile leaders in some of the most recognizable digital native companies. And it became apparent that their teams appeared to have more autonomy and empowerment than the more traditional companies, even those achieving success with their digital transformation.

When we focused on what makes those teams effective, we concluded that these enterprises have done a good job of decentralizing control through effective decentralized decision-making. That’s the root of individual and team empowerment. This makes sense and as Jim Collins (Author: Beyond Entrepreneurship, Good to Great, and Built to Last) notes:

The most innovative companies tend to push decisions as far down in the organization as possible, giving people at all levels the opportunity to move fast, utilize their creativity, apply their intellect, and assume responsibility.

Perhaps that’s the secret to enterprise flow. While it’s not exactly a new thought, it may well be the understated underpinning to all that value flow goodness. We believe it is. To that end, we extended our depth of guidance around SAFe Principle #9 – Decentralize decision-making.

This updated article provides new thinking on how to better decentralize control through more effective decentralized decision-making. Central to this is the recognition that all decision-makers, from CEO to rank-and-file employees, have four options when faced with a decision:

Figure 1. Anatomy of a Decision
Figure 1. Anatomy of a Decision

Selecting the right course of action requires each individual or team to consider five key factors (the thought bubble on the left of Figure 1) and recognize that if they take or delegate the decision, they assume responsibility for both outcomes and for communicating the intent behind the decision.

Getting this right is so critical that it became the topic of our 2023 SAFe Summit keynote, Decentralizing Control: The Secret to Enterprise Value Flow. (Stay tuned for the video of this presentation in the coming weeks.) It’s a powerful concept, but easy to take for granted and forget that it has an enormous impact on the overall performance of your company’s value delivery to your customers.

We sincerely hope this new guidance will enhance your team’s joy of work and improve enterprise outcomes. After all, that’s our purpose; it is why we do what we do.

—Dean Leffingwell and Andrew Sales, SAFe Chief Methodologists