The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) Explained

Mar 7, 2022
6 min read

Defined as a management method for deploying agile processes on a large scale, the Scaled Agile Framework or SAFe can enable your company to efficiently execute its projects, reduce its time to market and increase the value of the parties' stakeholders.

Generally speaking, large companies evolve more slowly - and are more resilient to change - than their smaller, more agile competitors. This slowness is primarily due to a strong cultural hold related to company size and policy and process barriers, as bureaucracy tends to thrive in larger corporate environments. Nevertheless, many large companies seek to take advantage of the advantages of agile development for which they are not necessarily suited. In this area, the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) can serve as a powerful lever and help them overcome the problems that can hinder the success of their projects. With the SAFe framework, large companies can become more agile and get their products to market faster. Here is an overview of SAFe, its benefits and principles on how to effectively implement the framework along with methodologies.

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

The Scaled Agile Framework circumscribes a set of principles, processes, and best practices that enable large organizations to adopt agile methodologies like Lean, Kanban, and Scrum to develop and deliver high-quality products and services faster. SAFe is particularly well suited for complex projects involving multiple large teams at the project, program, and portfolio levels. The framework offers large companies to exploit the advantages of Scrum and Kanban in a more scalable way. It allows them to manage projects with a higher level of agility, and stakeholders from different groups get faster feedback, resulting in higher levels of engagement, productivity, and satisfaction: increased professionalism and better quality of work.

Principles of SAFe

SAFe is based on nine fundamental principles derived from existing agile principles and Lean:

- Consider the economic point of view to allow an optimal lead time while offering the best quality and the best value.

- Address all aspects of development from a systemic point of view.

- Recognize market and technical variability by preserving choices and encouraging innovation.

- Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles that allow customers to provide feedback and reduce risk.

- Set milestones based on objective assessment and evaluation of work systems to achieve economic benefit.

- Limit the amount of work in progress, reduce batch sizes and manage queue lengths to allow continuous flow.

- Apply timing, sync with cross-domain training to identify business opportunities, and enable corrective action where necessary.

- Unleash the motivation of knowledge workers to enable them to reach their full potential.

- Decentralize decision-making to be more agile and efficient.

SAFe 5.0

The current release SAFe 5.0 targets operational and business agility using Lean and is based on the following five competencies:

- Lean agile leadership: Lean agile leaders are the drivers of change and operational excellence. They must lead by example to help teams unlock their potential. This includes instilling SAFe's lean-agile thinking, principles, and practices.
- Team agility and technical agility: Teams must have specific essential skills and adhere to Lean agile practices to quickly create well-designed solutions. It is imperative to ensure the technical agility of the teams because they are the ones who ultimately do the actual work that will be delivered to your customers.

- DevOps and release on demand: Establishing a continuous and permanent pipeline of deliverables is essential to create value to meet your customers' needs.

- Lean business solutions and systems engineering: The more companies facilitate lean-agile practices to carry out plans, development, and deployment, the more innovative they can be.

- Lean Portfolio Management: A solid organizational strategy that considers financial, portfolio management, and compliance aspects are critical to the success of SAFe.

SAFe Agile Methodologies

Teams time and use SAFe to scale agile methodologies like Lean, Kanban, and Scrum. The critical point is to understand that SAFe makes it possible to mount more broadly at the level of teams and companies and to implement more complex projects. Comparatively, smaller projects won't necessarily need the SAFe framework. SAFe does not change the principles of other methodologies. For example, Kanban focuses on ongoing collaboration and fosters an environment of continuous learning and improvement. It uses charts and visual maps to help teams know what tasks are complete, in progress and pending.

Lean Development (LD) is all about reducing waste while maximizing output and increasing stakeholder value. Lean respects seven fundamental principles:

  • Minimize waste
  • Improve quality
  • Share knowledge with others
  • Maintain a state of continuous improvement and accelerate deadlines

Scrum relies on interactive sessions or "30-day sprints" to prioritize tasks. It is possible to have small teams work on specific tasks independently, then connect them with the Scrum "scrum boss" to assess progress or results and reprioritize pending tasks.

SAFe vs. DAD vs LeSS

While SAFe focuses on alignment, teamwork, and provisioning of multiple agile teams, other popular frameworks also offer scale agility in large enterprises. This is particularly the case with Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) and Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD). Understanding each of these frameworks is essential to choosing the best option for your projects.

- SAFe: To create the Scaled Agile Framework, professionals invested in three significant bodies of knowledge: agile software systems development, systems thinking, and lean product development. It is a well-recognized approach to scaling agile practices.

- Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD): DAD focuses on the end-to-end product lifecycle, from inception to delivery. It is based on seven principles: satisfying customers, surprising, being pragmatic, taking the context into account, choosing well, optimizing flow, and raising company awareness.

- Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS): The objective of LeSS is to ensure that all teams see the product as a whole and not according to "their part."

SAFe Agile Process Flow

To implement SAFe, companies must follow 12 general processes, but it is important to note that each step must be adapted to the needs of each.

- Recognize and communicate the need for change: Many factors may call for organizational change, including changes in industry legislation, best practices, or desired goals. Business leadership should identify and communicate the reasons that prompted it to move to SAFe, then coach and motivate stakeholders to ensure that all activities are aligned with the purpose of this change.
- Identify and Train Change Agents: Management should identify individuals across the organization who can be change agents and facilitate their training as SAFe Program Certified Consultants. These change agents will train business leaders and other stakeholders in SAFe practices and processes.
- Obtain buy-in from executives and leaders: Executives must also be trained so that they can adopt behaviour per Lean agile objectives and practices.
- Create a Lean agile center of excellence: Creating a center of excellence will optimize the company's performance as a whole rather than being limited to agile project management in specific areas.
- Identify value streams and Agile Release Trains (ART): Value streams refer to the value a company provides to its customers. In contrast, Agile Release Trains refer to agile teams developing solutions that create value. This combination of people, internal processes, and technology will deliver value to your customers.
- Priorities and roadmap: Goals should be prioritized, and a roadmap should be established to achieve your SAFe transformation goal. The implementation involves selecting the first value stream, then selecting the first ART, and repeating this process.
- Define parameters for each ART launch: Define ART, set deadlines, build agile teams, train staff, and assess readiness. It is also essential to undertake the preparation of overdue programs.
- Train teams and ensure that everyone understands their role: People who work as a team to develop business systems are essential to the success of each ART. Therefore, each must fully understand their role and possess the skills necessary to succeed in their task.
- Execute your ART: Good execution relies on excellence in iteration planning, more nuanced insight into delays, daily stand-ups, iteration review, system demo, and iteration retrospectives, as well as Scrum-of-Scrums, Product Owner (PO) Sync, and ART Sync.
- Launch more ARTs and value streams: Priority ARTs should be launched according to the previous principles, building teams, coaching the execution of ARTs, and giving each ART the time and effort to succeed without skipping steps or being diligent.
- Extend to the portfolio level to drive business transformation: Now is the time to apply all of the above steps at the portfolio level to define the overall culture, improve business performance and increase achievement.


SAFe Certifications

SAFe certifications are increasingly helpful for recruiting people with proven skills and knowledge. The Scaled Agile Academy offers five SAFe certificates:

-SAFe Program Consultant Trainer

-SAFe Program Consultant

-SAFe Agilist

-SAFe Practitioner

-SAFe Product Manager/Product Owner

SAFe certification includes other options, including Scaled Agile, Agile Training, and Knowledge Hut for online certification training.

SAFe Training

Many SAFe training options, especially online training, like free podcasts offered by PM Podcast, Scaled Agile, Learning Tree, Simplilearn, Agilest, and LinkedIn. The possibilities are many. Therefore, it is imperative to do your due thoroughness before choosing the right SAFe Agile trainer. One should take a close look at each trainer and training to ensure both will meet your goals.