Why “program” is still used in one place in SAFe 6.0 

By Steve Mayner

At Scaled Agile, we often hear from our SAFe community, “Why is ‘program’ still in the fishbone diagram for the problem-solving workshop? I thought that term was removed in SAFe 6.0?” The workshop they are referring to is an activity that is part of the Inspect and Adapt event ARTs conduct at the end of each PI.  

Fishbone diagram used in the problem-solving workshop during I&A 

It’s easy to see why people ask this question. One of the notable changes in SAFe 6.0 was to retire the use of the word ‘program,’ as we describe in our article What’s New in SAFe 6.0?  

Some background information is helpful to better understand the answer. Before version 6.0, in SAFe, a ‘program’ was the part of the Framework that focused on creating and delivering value through Agile Release Trains (ARTs). In other words, ‘program’ referred to the Essential level of SAFe. A PI was a ‘program increment,’ the ART pulled from a ‘program backlog,’ dependencies were tracked on a ‘program board,’ and so forth.  

However, the term ‘program’ in technology development was around for a long time before SAFe started using it. In project management, a program usually means a group of related projects and tasks that work together to reach strategic business goals and deliver significant value to customers. In my 13 years working with the U.S. Federal government as a contractor, I served as the ‘program manager’ for many government technology programs ranging from global infrastructure upgrade initiatives to managing the testing program for the U.S. Decennial Census.   

We made the decision to change SAFe’s adaptation of the word program based on several years of feedback from our community that SAFe’s use of ‘program’ was continuously being confused with the more general use of the term in most organizations. The What’s New in SAFe 6.0 article includes a table of each term that was changed, what the term was prior to 6.0, and what the term was changed to for 6.0 and beyond. 

However, with regard to the fishbone diagram used in the problem-solving workshop, the ‘program’ label for one of the ‘bones’ of the diagram has always referred to the general use of the term program, not SAFe’s adapted use of the term to refer to ART practices and the PI. Therefore, the term remains valid for this exercise even in version 6.0. In this context, teams might use that ‘bone’ to identify possible root cause issues related to lifecycle management and governance of a large initiative that the ART contributes to by delivering features in a system supporting that initiative. 

Of course, these labels on our example fishbone are just suggestions, not prescriptions! Customers can and should change these labels to whatever makes the most sense in their context! 

Hopefully, this helps clarify the history of the term ‘program’ in SAFe and why one instance of that term remains alive and well in 6.0! By the way, we love how engaged and ready the community is to ask questions and provide feedback, so keep it coming! 

Be SAFe! 

— Dr. Steve and the Framework Team