SAFe’s foundation contains the supporting principles, values, mindset, implementation guidance and leadership roles needed to successfully deliver value at scale. – from What is SAFe?, © 2010-2017 Scaled Agile, Inc.

Why is a foundation important? As the underlying base of a residential or commercial building (or the bell tower of a famous Italian cathedral, more on that later), the foundation gives stability to the structure above it. The foundation, if it is solid and reliable, can also provide support as the structure over it grows and expands over time. In other words, to have a structure (or in this case, a framework) that scales, the structure itself should be undergirded by a foundation that is rock solid.

Let’s consider what happens to a building when the foundation isn’t that strong. What issues can affect the foundation? The foundation might not be complete — possibly a work in progress. Or the foundation may look structurally sound, but questionable materials and effort went into making the foundation. The very ground that the foundation rests on may be unstable. That’s not the fault of the foundation, but it does mean the foundation and the structure above it can be impacted by environmental factors. Even worse, the foundation may not even exist, but the structure above it is still in place and may even be expanding.

So the real question is, what happens when the foundation isn’t solid? This is what you get:

If the foundation isn’t solid, the structure that rests on it may be usable for some time. But after enough time passes, there’ll be a noticeable tilt. The leaning structure may attract visitors who will take funny photos and selfies. But mostly, the structure will become a highly visible example of how not to build or scale something on a potentially shaky foundation.

And that is precisely where the Scaled Agile Framework has its biggest opportunity and biggest challenge: its foundation.

Next, I’ll look at each element of the foundation to see how it all comes together. Start with Part 1 – Lean-Agile Leaders.