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My Top Three SAFe Reads!

06-Jun-2019 09:26:36 Scaled Agile Implementing SAFe
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During every Implementing SAFe class, I create a reading list of the books and white papers that I reference in addition to the various videos that I show throughout the course; it’s quite a list. But then someone ask what would be you Top 3 if you have to prioritise – well that’s like asking which is your favourite child!

Either way here goes! So, in a series of 3 blogs let’s start with my top 3 SAFe Books!

Top 3 Books

This was really difficult because there are so many influential books; if you want to become a SPCT then there are 7 core books and 19 elective books. How do you pick three out of that lot?

It would have been really easy to pick the 3 books that feature heavily in the SAFe 9 Principles; Out of the Crisis, Principles of Product Development Flow and The Lean Machine. However, even Don Reinertsen said himself at my London Scaled Agile Framework Meet up last year that his book Principles of Product Development Flow is a ‘dense’ read! I will come back to Don later!

I have also had to leave out Tribal Unity by Em Campbell-Pretty, a fellow SPCT one of my favourite reads of 2017. You only have to see my review on Amazon to see why this was difficult choice.

Also, if we only concentrate on the principles it ignores Leadership, Change, Team and Technical agility. So, I wanted to recommend three books that gave a balanced spectrum of SAFe. Here we go:

Out of the Crisis ( W. Edwards Deming)

demming2There are only a few people that are referenced more than once in the SAFe classes and Deming is the one that referenced the most and that why he is my number one pick.

Deming died in 1993 and Out of the Crisis was originally published in 1982 with Deming offering a theory of management based on his 14 Points for Management based on his time spent in Japan post World War II. There is no new theory here!

It is effectively a letter to all American Organisations in the 1980s telling them to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ i.e. you require a whole new structure from foundation upwards – he called it mutation. Plus, the transformation needs directed effort if as an organisation you want to survive.

 Not an easy book to read but there are real gems in the books and difficult to pick just one or two. But at the time, American organisations felt that in order to be fast you have to sacrifice quality; quality control slows down the process. In fact, the opposite is true, lack of quality requires rework, rework raises costs and also leads to unsatisfied customers. However, inspection does not improve the quality, nor guarantee quality. Inspection is too late – ‘you cannot inspect quality into a product’. We have to build in quality.

Finally, his insight on Annual Performance Reviews was well ahead of him time - this one you need to read for yourself! 


The DevOps Handbook (Gene Kim, Jez Humble, Patrick Debois and John Willis)


Let me state up front that I do not come from a technical background and to be honest I consider this to be a technical book and what’s more with over 400 pages!! Not top of my reading list.

However, two things motivated to read the book (1) seeing Gene Kim present at the SAFe Global Summit in San Antonio in 2017 and (2) a colleague encouraging to read the book in an agile way!! i.e. just read 25 pages per day!

Well I did and I am very grateful. Just there are some technical bits in there but moreover it is filled with real case studies (and not just unicorn companies) and practical advice on implementation strategies.

 The book follows in the footsteps of The Phoenix Project and shows leaders how to integrate Product Management, Development, QA, IT Operations and Information Security to reliably deploy code into production hundreds or even thousands of times per day even for high regulated companies with legacy code!!

Leading Change (John P. Kotter)


Other change books are available but if I am honest this is my preferred approach

In 1994 Kotter wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review entitled ‘Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail” which was shortly followed by the book in the following year.

However, Kotter wrote a new preface in 2012 because sixteen years later the book is more relevant for one simple reason: the speed of change continues to increase and yet the basics of change are still poorly understood by our leaders. These trends demand more agility and change friendly organisations; more leadership from people and not just top management.

 Speed of change is the driving force; leading change competently is the only answer and Kotter presents an eight-stage process of change with useful examples that show how to go about implementing it and based on experience with numerous companies.


I am sure that there will be people that will debate that other books should be included – keen to know what your top 3 SAFe books would be !


Darren Wilmshurst SPCT


Darren Wilmshurst

Darren Wilmshurst

With his strategic C-suite-oriented approach to IT leadership – and his infectious energy – Darren has successfully delivered multi-million pound business transformations for e-commerce sites, ERP implementations, outsourcing and offshoring, including multiple Agile transformations. Read more