SAFe Mix-in’s: The Core Protocols

April 17, 2019

Overview

For some organizations that prefer to have things really well explicitly defined or proscribed, especially if they are in a SAFe transformation, they might want to consider taking a long look at Jim McCarthy’s Core Protocols. To me at least, there is a very natural fit between the Core Protocols and SAFe. The Core Protocols define the kind of interpersonal interactions that you have on a team and SAFe defines the interactions that you have at a cross-team level and above. So, to a certain degree, especially for organization that are really seeking a highly proscribed picture of what to do next, it seems that the Core Protocols and SAFe might be well suited to each other. 

In fact, you might find that you can even evolve the core protocols to some degree. So how would this look? Well, Core Protocols specify, step-by-step, how to define major team interactions. An example is the Core Protocols Check In, where at the start of a meeting you will go around the group and have every person tell you what their current emotional state is, in terms of being mad, sad, glad, etc. Simple attributes. By doing this we get an emotional check-in and a starting point for everyone in the room, and we make it visible. So, it aligns with our need to keep things visible and transparent within the team. It also makes it clear where people are coming from. This Check In, could easily be incorporated into any meeting that you are using in SAFe, whether that is a team level meeting, or a scrum of scrums, PI Planning, any of your higher level meetings across the board. 

That’s just one example. There are about a dozen different protocols within the Core Protocols that could be incorporated in a variety of places. Here’s a short list:

  • Pass(Unpass)
  • Check In
  • Check Out
  • Ask for Help
  • Protocol Check
  • Intention Check
  • Decider
  • Resolution
  • Perfection Game (I love this one)
  • Personal Alignment
  • Investigate

Another example of a Core Protocol that we might use is the Perfection Game, which again can be used in many places in SAFe. It’s a wonderful way of providing feedback and you could incorporate it anywhere that you have reviews or retrospectives. Basically, you give feedback starting with a score of 1 to 10 (10 being perfect). Then you provide examples of what it would take for them to make that score a 10. So, for example, I love the new widget feature and I would give it an 8 out of 10. To get to a 10, I would change the widget so that it takes 1 mouse click instead of 2 to perform that action. That’s pretty much all there is to it. You let the person know how it rates, and then you provide the feedback to help them get to great. If you can’t think of anything to improve it, then you should probably give them a 10. I use this feedback mechanism all the time and folks really seem to appreciate it.

The more I think about this particular mix-in, the more I think there is a small bit of genius to it – at least for some organizations. I think there are some places where it might be very popular. We might also discover along the way that there are a few protocols that can be used at higher levels when having strategic discussions and at the portfolio level or solution level in SAFe. My belief is that there is actually a fair amount of room for creative interpretation and mixing of Core Protocols with SAFe.  

Forces

  • You are seeking more proscriptive guidance for certain team level interactions

Framework Impacts

  • None

Benefits

  • More explicit guidance for healthy team-level interactions

Interested in more Mix-ins? Join Ron Quartel and I for a 3 day workshop on SAFe+FAST Agile. Combine the 2 to get max value from your agile transformation. It’s an opportunity to explore the latest scaled agile processes and practices with other agile innovators on May 15, 16, 17. ‪https://bit.ly/2HXCcKD ‬