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With an objective to enable continuous learning and progression for our learners, PremierAgile curated several learning articles. Out of a wide range of topics, you can choose to learn from the real-world experiences by practitioners in the areas of Agile, Scrum, Product Ownership, Scaling, Agile Leadership, Tools & Frameworks, latest market trends, new innovations etc.

Brief About SAFe Continuous Learning Culture

An organization has to develop a continuous learning culture to enhance the knowledge, competence, and performance of the individual employee and the organization. So, suppose you want your organization to stay ahead of the competition and be the preferred choice of your customers. In that case, you have to foster a culture of continuous learning which would lead to sustained improvements and promote innovations. In a Lean enterprise working in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) environment, continuous learning is one of the core competencies necessary to attain Business Agility. Let's discuss a brief on SAFe continuous learning culture.

What is SAFe Continuous Learning Culture?

Continuous learning is one of the core competencies of SAFe and is described as the practices followed by an organization to boost performance, innovation, and competency. Companies that adopt the continuous learning culture develop a culture of constant innovation and are committed to sustained improvements. It is a set of values that make an organization a learning organization to benefit the individuals and the organization. 

What is the need for continuous learning culture?

Today, the speed of innovations is unbelievably fast. Before you adapt to one innovation, another one presents itself. You have to prepare your organization to be ever ready to adapt to these quick changes. Startups are coming up daily, challenging the old ideas and bringing in new ones. The present generation of employees, customers, and even society has certain expectations that compel organizations to adopt different ways of thinking and delivering beyond calculating profit and loss. This is the digital age, and their previous adage of 'perform or perish' has given way to a new saying, 'adapt or perish.' This means if you are not able to adapt to quick changes taking place around you, then you are sure to go into decline. So what needs to be done?

We all know that the SAFe environment is for those organizations who want to scale the agility of their processes. Continuous learning is achieved in SAFe with more agile and sustainable work. So the solution is that each level of employees of your organization should adopt a culture of quick and productive learning. This will benefit both your employees and your customers. By fostering a continuous learning culture, your organization can leverage the combined knowledge, skills, and experience of everybody associated with it, including employees, customers, suppliers, and others. This way, decision-making does not remain centralized, and the leadership encourages each workforce member to reach their full potential. There are three critical aspects around which an organization can begin to develop a continuous learning culture. These are:

1.     Learning Organization

2.     Relentless improvement

3.     Innovation culture

Source: Scaled Agile

Let's have a look at each of them one by one.

1. Learning Organization

A learning organization invests in and works toward the continued growth of its workforce. The continuous learning of its employees enables an organization to enhance its capability to foresee and seize the opportunities that provide it with an advantage over its competitors by actively changing itself as per the need. Learning organizations do two things very well. The first is that they not only create knowledge themselves but obtain it from other sources too. And secondly, they transfer this knowledge to their employees. Simultaneously, they keep redesigning their practices according to the newly acquired ability to integrate them with their existing practices, thus improving the decision-making process. Such organizations know well that people have an inherent quest to learn, and they further develop this nature and leverage it for the overall good of the organization.

Learning organizations are different from others in the sense that they do not use the scientific management methods that others do. In those organizations, only the people at the top learn, and others are expected to follow whatever processes and policies are formulated by them. A learning organization runs against the natural tendency of maintaining a status-quo which prevents organizations from moving ahead and being in sync with the times. On the other hand, continuous learning encourages innovation, makes for better problem-solving, and recognizes the opportunities to increase efficiency.

2. Relentless Improvement

As explained in the SAFe House of lean and other 'house of lean' models, Kaizen has been a fundamental precept of Lean. It means relentlessly pursuing perfection or continuously minimizing and removing errors. We all know that perfection can never be achieved, but a continuous quest for perfection encourages continuous improvement. The man who created Kaizen, Taiichi Ohno said, conducting Kaizen is only possible when every member of the workforce always thinks about constant improvement. But there can be no improvement without learning. The continuous improvement model of Lean consists of many minor but gradual enhancements that help organizations to learn more and get the best possible solution for a specific problem. Here are a few factors that explain why continuous learning is key to relentless improvement.

  • The constant sense of danger

In the House of Lean, when SAFe says relentless improvement, it implies that continuous improvement is critical for any organization's survival and has to be given precedence. SAFe assists in all improvement activities by holding a problem-solving workshop in the course of Inspect and Adapt.

  • Optimize the whole

It implies that the improvements should be carried out in the whole system and not for individual members, teams, or sections. Each member of the workforce, at every level, should adopt the mindset of improvement. Improvement in only one area or aspect may not be as effective as improving the system as a whole.

  • Problem-solving culture

Problem-solving is what pushed improvements in Lean. There is always some gap between the existing state of things and the desired state, and it understands that. So Lean uses an iterative process to reach the desired shape.

  • Reflect on key milestones

Relentless improvement means that continuous improvement should not be ignored for other activities. In SAFe, every Program Increment (PI) is shown as a part of  Inspect and Adapt by Agile Release Trains (ARTs) and solution trains.

  • Fact-based improvement

This one implies that the improvements should be based on complex data and factual information and not on the opinions of individuals so that results are tangible and measurable. When improvements are based on facts, there is less scope for employees to get into a blame game and focus more on solving the problem

3. Innovation Culture

You can not compete in this digital age with sporadic and haphazard innovations. Innovations have to be consistent and continuous. And to achieve that, organizations have to develop an innovation culture. This can happen only when organizations encourage creative thinking and foster an environment for the same. An organization with an innovation culture encourages its employees to think about improving the existing products or services, create ideas for new products and try them, bring improvements for reducing waste, and work toward removing hindrances in increasing productivity.

SAFe goes a step ahead. When doing innovation and planning iteration, every member of the Agile Release Train (ART) is given time to work on innovation activities. Agile product delivery and continuous delivery pipeline have innovation as their integral part. Here is how you can start an innovation culture and keep improving it.

  • Innovative people

First, organizations must understand that it is not the things or systems but the people who innovate. So, existing employees may need coaching and training to teach the mindset of innovation in them. And the new employees should be assessed for their capability to adapt to an innovative culture.

  • Time and space for innovation

If people have to innovate, they have to be given space for this activity and time for it. A specific time can be set aside when people, including employees as well as customers and suppliers, can interact among themselves to discuss innovative ideas. There may be planned activities like hackathons, IP iteration, etc., or opportunistic or unplanned activities.

  • Go see

When we see the problem with our own eyes and get a first-hand idea, we are more apt to bring innovative ideas than hearing or visualizing the problem. So, see the problem yourself. SAFe supports Gemba, a Lean term where the actual work is performed. This is an excellent way of sparking innovative ideas.

  • Experiment and feedback

Innovation culture recognizes that experimenting is a very effective way of learning and progress. It encourages learning from experiments and incorporating those learnings in later activities.

  • Pivot without mercy or guilt

Assumptions are innovation triggers, like assuming how the improved product or service would be received in the market and achieve company goals. But only assumptions do not suffice for creation. They have to be supplemented by actual feedback from the customers. So, a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is created and gets tested by the existing user. The feedback from the real user decides whether to go ahead with the innovation or move in some other direction.

  • Innovation riptides

You can't develop an Innovation culture by routine methods like hackathons or creating innovation teams. You need to change the primary mindset of the people and make it more innovation-oriented. And for this, you need to develop processes and systems which encourage innovation. SAFe provides these. And the resultant innovations can be considered as 'innovation riptide.'

Conclusion:

The universal truth is that change is permanent. And your past laurels do not guarantee success in the future. You have to adapt to change continuously for continuous success. And for this, adopting SAFe continuous learning culture is essential. So, this was our brief about SAFe continuous learning culture.

References
  1. https://www.scaledagileframework.com/continuous-learning-culture/
  2. https://www.learnow.live/blog/safe-and-continuous-learning-culture

Author

Paula

Is a passionate learner and blogger on Agile, Scrum and Scaling areas. She has been following and practicing these areas for several years and now converting those experiences into useful articles for your continuous learning.