How Agile working with SAFe helps Air France - KLM bolster performance

25 June 2018 5 min. read

In order to boost its time to market and efficiency, commercial airliner Air France – KLM recently underwent a concerted campaign of Agile adoption. A team of more than 150 professionals were trained in the Agile Adoption ART, while half of those also followed a Leading SAFe course. The transition has according to insiders already helped deliver a 20% improvement in efficiency.

Operating up to 2,200 flights daily and carrying over 93 million passengers annually, Air France - KLM is one of Europe’s largest passenger airline groups. The company consists of five airlines – Air France, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Transavia, HOP! Air France and Joon – together they form a network covering 320 destinations across 110+ countries.

Amid an increasingly competitive industry, where adaptability and efficiency are key to avoid being outflanked by rival airlines, information systems can be strategic competitive assets. Recently this saw Air France – KLM set out to reduce its time-to-market with business applications, via the improvement of the firm’s business/IT collaboration by breaking down silos and expanding Lean-Agile practices.

Agile is an iterative, team-based approach to development, which emphasises on rapid delivery of an application in complete functional components. Unlike traditional methods, rather than creating tasks and schedules, all time is "time-boxed” into phases called “sprints". Each sprint has a defined duration, usually lasting a few weeks, with a running list of deliverables planned at the start of the sprint. These deliverables are prioritised by business value as determined by the customer, something which is of major importance in crowded markets, as rivals vie for customer loyalty. Despite this, according to a recent study, around half of all companies are yet to adopt fully Agile working methods – meaning those which do so have a distinct advantage.
How Agile working with SAFe helps Air France - KLM bolster performance

Before the beginning of 2017, KLM - Air France opted for the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) method to foster and accelerate the adoption and scaling of Agile practices across the firm's eleven business domains. Didier Lavielle, Programme Manager for Agile Adoption at Air France – KLM, explained the choice, stating, “SAFe gives us the framework we have been missing while at the same time empowering each business domain to define their own way to reach their goals.”

The implementation was not an easy one however, and previous attempts in moving from waterfall (a traditional linear approach to software development) to Agile practices had been unable to make the leap on a broader scale. Achieving Air France – KLM’s goals would therefore require bringing together diverse cultures at French and Dutch offices, as well as contending with diverse contexts, operational constraints or regulations across the different business domains. This meant that alongside the uniting of Air France – KLM’s own resources to deliver Agile working conditions, the group would also need to tap external experts specialised in Agile transformations.

In order to deliver adequate up-skilling for the business to leverage Agile practices, Air France – KLM joined forces with BlinkLane Consulting – a Netherlands-based consultancy – for guidance and training. According to the airliner, around 150 of its team members in the Agile Adoption ART (ART, or Agile Release Train, is the primary value delivery construct in SAFe) from the various business domains and Transversal Track teams attended BlinkLane’s introduction to Agile training, with about 50% of them also taking the Leading SAFe course.


The company officially kicked off the Air France – KLM New Ways of Working #Agile ART at an inaugural event in Paris, in March 2017. The Release Train Engineer (RTE), BlinkLane’s Odile Moreau, oversaw a Core Team of transformation leaders, consisting of three executives from Air France – KLM and three consultants from BlinkLane. The group planned for the best way to foster the adoption of Agile throughout the airline network’s structures.

Within months of implementing Agile

This saw the Core Team organise a programme and its events; support the domains and the transversal tracks; and monitor progress and the results. The five transversal tracks, eleven business domain adoption teams, and the Core Team formed the ART, while the company’s group CIO, Jean-Christophe Lalanne, and Commercial Strategy EVP, Pieter Bootsma, attended as executive sponsors.

One year later, the results show the potential of Agile adoption. Within three months of deploying SAFe, Air France – KLM  saw its efforts begin to pay off in business results. First in the Cargo group, then in broader terms, as the company gained 20% market share in the small and medium logistics market alone. SAFe teams deliver, on average, more than 20% more effectively than waterfall teams, while of 17 releases, only one delay in time-to-market has occurred, boosting productivity and efficiency. Workplace relations were also boosted, with employee satisfaction rising by 25% after the adoption of SAFe.

Related: Seven best practices for Agile working according to BCG Platinion.