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Complete Details on SAFe® Milestones

In an organization that follows the Agile approach, a business grows in a step-by-step fashion gradually. The business will develop based on time. Agile is about accelerating product releases, customer feedback, and many other things. When things move faster, there is no room for mistakes. When achieving the desired quality in a product with Agility, it is better to divide the goal into smaller milestones per the Agile approach. When the milestones are smaller, one can quickly achieve them one after the other. 

In the case of the Scaled Agile Framework, milestones aid with an essential stage of project development. Further, SAFe® milestones help achieve the vision of success and the rest of the path to cover. Milestones are used more considerably in Agile; There are three types of milestones used for measuring and keeping an eye on the project evaluation and the risk involved.

Three Types of SAFe® Milestones:
  • PI Milestones: Among the Scaled Agile Milestones, the purpose of this Program Increment Milestone is to support the ability to evaluate progress objectively towards the business or technical hypothesis. These things happen on the Program Increment Cadence.
  • Fixed-Date Milestones: These are milestones that are distinct from the development cadence. System building depends on external constraints, third-party deliverables, and external events. Nevertheless, not everything occurs on cadence.
  • Learning Milestones: The purpose of learning milestones is to help validate opportunities for a business and hypotheses.

The good thing about these types of SAFe® milestones is that when applied properly, they can bring better attention to the work. They will help with better business results and effective governance when applied rightly. 

Challenges Faced By Present-day Businesses:

The development of the present day's large systems needs considerable investment. The investment required can reach millions and even billions of dollars. The fiduciary responsibility of ensuring that the investment in new solutions will bring the required economic benefit lies with Agile teams and other stakeholders. The active engagement of stakeholders is essential all through the development process; otherwise, there is no point in investing. The Stakeholder-participation will also aid in ensuring that the realization of the intended economic benefit happens.

Phase-Gate Milestones – The Issue:

Organizations have followed the waterfall development process to address this stakeholder participation challenge. In this historical development process, progress is measured, and control is exercised through a series of particular progress milestones. These milestones are historically document-based and follow the sequential and traditional process of delivery, test, implementation, design, requirements, and discovery. As stated by the author Oosterwal in his book Lean Machine, phase gates do not measure real progress, so they will not be in a position to mitigate risk. For instance:

  • Using documents as a proxy for solution progress generates a false sense of security for solution progress. They even drive different metrics and measures like earned value measures, breakdown structures, etc. They might come in the way of flow and accurate delivery of value.
  • It is forcing false-positive feasibility and too-early decisions regarding design.
  • Assuming that a "point" solution exists prematurely in the cone of uncertainty, it can be developed right at the initial instance.

The final thing is that all the phase-gate milestones listed above have not helped mitigate risks at all times. Instead, a point solution is chosen far too premature in the cone of uncertainty. Issues come behind without missing out, as in the picture below:

Source: Scaled Agile

With this backdrop, you can understand that a different approach is required, as stated below:

PI Milestones: Objective Evidence of Working Systems:

The good thing about SAFe® Principles is that they offer many means for addressing the issues listed above. For instance, when you take the case of the fourth principle of SAFe®, it suggests building incrementally with integrated and quick learning cycles, mainly when combined with set-based design. Based on this principle, SAFe® offers elements of the solution, and the system is developed in increments. The incremental development is made with the integration and knowledge point that explains evidence of the solution's viability. Moreover, these objective evaluations are done in standard timeframes on the PI Cadence. The evaluation offers the disciple required for regular evaluation and availability and predetermined time boundaries. These things can become employe to collapse the field of less desirable options. As you can understand from the picture below, every program increment creates an objective measure of progress:

Source: Scaled Agile

This rule applies both for Large Solution SAFe® and Essential SAFe® because both validation and system/solution validation happens in both places. The type and nature of the system determine what measures, in reality, are at these crucial integration points. Nevertheless, the system is evaluated, assessed, and measured regularly. A suitable stakeholder or stakeholders do the evaluation all through the development. When there is still time to make the changes, we can make the most crucial modifications as from the picture below:

Source: Scaled Agile

This offers the fitness-for-purpose, technical and financial governance required to ensure that the ongoing investment will produce a return in line with the investment. When you take the case of the Scaled Agile Framework, these are the essential learning milestones. They are responsible for controlling solution development. Understand the importance of these milestones because they are assumed to be objective and credible. You can understand better that every program increment is a kind of a learning milestone. But, there are other Scaled Agile Framework milestones as well as discussed below:

Other Learning Milestones:

Apart from Program Increment, other learning milestones can employ for underwriting the critical objective of developing a solution that satisfies customers' requirements and generates value for the business. It is necessary to remember that the value proposition behind a new solution or a more significant initiative is considered a hypothesis that needs validation and conceptualization against the present conditions in the market. In Lean-Agile product management, translating a hypothesis into business demand is considered an art and a science. It encompasses a great deal of intermediate organizational learning. Here, Learning Milestones can help with the following:

  • To spot the availability of a viable business model in support of the new capability or product.
  • To evaluate the revenue that the organization can get.
  • To judge the presence of all non-financial accounting measures available for explaining real progress.
  • To find whether the solution will solve the issues of the target users.
  • Whether there is a market for the new capabilities and will it get an immediate return on the time, effort and money invested.

These and many other business concerns provide the fundamental hypothesis for any significant initiative. Learning milestones provide the required means to understand the attainability of the solution and frame the best set of capabilities. Some examples of learning milestones encompass validating Lean User Experience assumptions for a feature with the least marketability, testing a concept of a new capability with a focus group, and developing the delivering a product with the least viability. These milestones need not essentially happen on the program increment boundaries. They might need considerable effort on behalf of the product development organizations. Even these milestones can take place as part of other functions of the enterprise like finance, operations, marketing, and sales.

The fact to remember here is that each learning milestone presumes that there is a particular degree of uncertainty. Also, the milestone believes that uncertainty should translate into knowledge. In the end, they should translate benefits to the organization. This needs set-based design thinking and the ability to pivot if required to a varied solution idea. Most SAFe® organizations plan the milestones one after the other alone. The reason is that the outcome of any learning milestone will affect the comprehension of intent. You can understand this concept from the picture below:

Source: Scaled Agile

With this learning, other components that encompass Economic Framework, Solution Intent, and Solution vision also appear. But, even after the new capabilities reach the market, the learning won't stop. The reason is that it will continue to bring benefits to the business. Successful products experience multiple design thinking cycles along with the natural market lifecycle. When you take the case of a business that follows the Lean Thinking approach, learning is an integral part of the organization's Learning Culture. The organization will continue to do it even after the products mature as they know that the application of purposeful learning milestones can be of great help.

Fixed-Date Milestones:

Naturally, when you take the case of any Lean-Agile enterprise, the goal will be to function with the minor constraints possible. This is where Agility gets into the picture. The concerns are different in the real scenarios. The good thing about Fixed-date milestones is that they apply both for Lean-Agile development and the traditional waterfall approach. For instance, fixed dates might arise from:

  • Schedule larger-scale integration issues encompass supplier integration, software and hardware integration, and anything else, where fixed dates offer an appropriate forcing function to combine assets and for validation.
  • Binding dates on demos, payments, intermediate milestones, and delivery of values as agreed upon in the contract with clients.
  • Dates of releases that are controlled by other external and internal business concerns.
  • Events like planned product announcement dates, group meetings, customer demos, and trade shows are planned.

When you take the case of Lean Terms, there are other examples. For instance, when you get into Lean Terms, fixed dates have a non-linear cost of delay. For instance, the required system features become a much higher priority when the delivery dates get closer. The reason is that it will have a negative economic effect when the milestones are not met. It is associated straight with the Program and Solution Backlog prioritization through WSJF. When the dates agreed upon earlier get closer, the time cruciality parameter becomes a higher priority. There will be an increase in the WSJF priorities for components that relies on a specific date. In any case, fixed-date milestones must appear in the appropriate Agile Release Train or Solution Train Roadmap. When this is done, it will be possible for all stakeholders to plan and act accordingly.

Other Milestones:

Various concerns have to be addressed for the economic success of product development. Examples include auditing particular regulatory needs, certifying the system, filing patents, etc. In many cases, these milestones influence priorities and consent of the work. Even they may bring changes to the process of development itself.

Planning and Execution Against Milestones:

An understanding of the kinds of milestones needed for supporting value creation may come up from varied sources. It might be communicated to portfolios from the enterprise or can be spotted during the evaluation stage in the portfolio or via the program Kanban or Solution systems. Otherwise, it can communicate during planning and road mapping for Agile Release Trains and Solution Trains. Following this, teams must create a particular action plan during the PI planning process. The team should develop particular stories in support of a milestone and should reflect the milestone in its PI objectives and roadmaps. Also, a team should spot and meet the dependencies of other trains and teams. Also, the team should negotiate scope and time trade-offs with stakeholders. From thereon, Scaled Agile milestones will execute gradually with progress demonstration at every Program Increment.

Success Measurement:

The successful Scaled Agile milestones execution needs criteria for what success denotes. There will be value in associating particular metrics and measures with milestones. For instance, when you take the milestone as capturing a particular percentage of market share. It might need an understanding of revenue or usage indicators. When you take the case of learning milestones, for example, a search engine is in a position to spot people dependably who can be considered. Irrespective of the type of milestone, thoughtful measures can make it meaningful.

  1. https://www.scaledagileframework.com/milestones/
  2. https://www.wrike.com/agile-guide/faq/what-is-a-milestone-in-agile/
  3. https://www.advanceagility.com/post/milestones-in-agile



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.