SAFe – Scaled Agile Framework

SAFe – Scaled Agile Framework

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The Scaled Agile Framework (abbreviated as SAFe) is a set of organization and workflow patterns intended to guide enterprises in scaling lean and agile practices. Along with large-scale Scrum (LeSS), disciplined agile delivery (DAD), and Nexus, SAFe is one of a growing number of frameworks that seek to address the problems encountered when scaling beyond a single team. SAFe is made freely available by Scaled Agile, Inc., which retains the copyrights and registered trademarks.

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SAFe promotes alignment, collaboration, and delivery across large numbers of agile teams. It was developed by and for practitioners, by leveraging three primary bodies of knowledge: agile software developmentlean product development, and systems thinking.

The primary reference for the scaled agile framework was originally the development of a big picture view of how work flowed from product management (or other stakeholders), through governanceprogram, and development teams, out to customers. With the collaboration of others in the agile community, this was progressively refined and then first formally described in a 2007 book. The framework continues to be developed and shared publicly; with an academy and an accreditation scheme supporting those who seek to implement, support, or train others in the adoption of SAFe. Version 4.5, was released in June 2017 while the latest edition, version 4.6, was released in October 2018.

While SAFe continues to be recognised as the most common approach to scaling agile practices (at 30 percent and growing), it also receive criticism for being too hierarchical and inflexible.

Challenges of scaling agile principles and practices

Coping with longer planning horizons

Development teams typically refine their backlog up to two to three iterations ahead, but in larger organizations the product marketing team needs to plan further ahead for their commitments to market and discussions with customers. They will often work with a very high level, 12 to 18-month roadmap, then plan collaboratively with the teams for three months of work. The development teams will still get into detailed refinement 2-3 iterations ahead, only getting into detailed task plans for the next iteration.

Keeping agile at abstract levels of responsibility

While development teams have a number of frameworks that define how they should be agile, there is very little that describes this for management. SAFe delivers many of the same principles, such as cross-functional teams, to the groups that handle the more abstract levels of responsibility and planning (product and portfolio). SAFe has also been criticized for aggregating too many disparate practices.

Dealing with delegated authority

In Scrum, the product owner is expected to assume responsibility for the full product life-cycle, including the return on investment of development decisions, as well as performance in market. On large-scale developments, the organization wants a view across multiple team backlogs, such as provided by a product manager. Although SAFe assumes the product owner role sits with product management, it has nonetheless been criticized for separating product owners into the development organization.

Synchronizing deliverables

Agile frameworks are designed to enable the development team to be autonomous and free to design how they work. SAFe acknowledges that, at the scale of many tens or hundreds of development teams, it becomes increasingly chaotic for teams to fully self-organize. It therefore puts some constraints on this, so that where teams are working on the same product, their deliverables can be better synchronized for releasing together, although this has been one area in which SAFe has been criticized.

Allowing time for innovation and planning

The SAFe planning cycle recommends including an additional iteration after a release, so that teams can improve their practices and are ready for the next planning increment. Earlier editions of SAFe also designed this to be a hardening iteration, that is to stabilize or harden the product before releasing it. This was predicated on the complications of working with large integration environments where dependencies meant that you could not test everything until the very end. SAFe was criticized for this as it represented an anti-agile or waterfall element. This is not included in recent editions of SAFe.


Underlying principles of SAFe

According to its authors, SAFe is based upon nine underlying concepts, which are derived from existing lean and agile principles, as well as observation:

  1. Take an economic view
  2. Apply systems thinking
  3. Assume variability; preserve options
  4. Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles
  5. Base milestones on objective evaluation of working systems
  6. Visualize and limit work-in-progress, reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths
  7. Apply cadence (timing), synchronize with cross-domain planning
  8. Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers
  9. Decentralize decision-making

The SAFe framework

In SAFe version 4.5, there are four configurations: essential, portfolio, large solution and full:

  • Essential SAFe is the most basic configuration. It describes the most critical elements needed and is intended to provide the majority of the framework’s benefits. It includes the team and program level (which it calls agile release trains or ARTs).
  • Portfolio SAFe includes concerns for strategic direction, investment funding, and lean governance.
  • Large Solution SAFe allows for coordination and synchronization across multiple programs, but without the portfolio considerations. In earlier versions of SAFe, this level was referred to as value stream.
  • Full SAFe combines the other three levels.


Scaled Agile provides certifications that cover different areas and knowledge levels.

See also


  1. ^ Hayes, Will; Lapham, Mary Ann; Miller, Suzanne; Wrubel, Eileen; Capell, Peter (2016). Scaling Agile Methods for Department of Defense Programs. Software Engineering Institute. CMU/SEI-2016-TN-005.
  2. ^ Athrow, Desiree (29 January 2015). “Why Continuous Delivery is key to speeding up software development”TechRadar. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  3. ^ Linders, Ben (January 22, 2015). “Scaling Agile with the Disciplined Agile Delivery Framework”InfoQ. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  4. ^ van Haaster, K (2014). Agile in-the-large: Getting from Paradox to Paradigm. Unpublished paper from Charles Sturt University.
  5. ^ “Permissions FAQ”Scaled Agile. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  6. ^ King, Michael (2017). “Serving Federal Customers with SAFe Concepts” (PDF)Capability Counts Conference Proceedings.
  7. ^ Bridgwater, Adrian (August 7, 2013). “Real Agile Means Everybody Is Agile”Dr. Dobb’s. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  8. ^ Linders, Ben (August 28, 2014). “Death by Planning in Agile Adoption”InfoQ. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  9. ^ Leffingwell, Dean (2007). Scaling Software Agility: Best Practices for Large Enterprises. Addison-Wesley. ISBN 978-0321458193.
  10. ^ Cleveland, Regina. “Scaled Agile, Inc. Releases SAFe® 4.5” Retrieved 2017-09-11.
  11. ^ “Welcome to SAFe 4.6 for Lean Enterprises”. Retrieved 2019-01-30.
  12. ^ “13th Annual State of Agile Report”State of Agile Survey. CollabNet VersionOne. 2019. Retrieved 2019-08-27.
  13. ^ Link, P; Lewrick, M (29 September 2014). “Agile Methods in a New Area of Innovation Management” (PDF)Science to Business Marketing Conference.
  14. ^ Baptista, Roberto (28 January 2015). “Profissionais brasileiros e o interesse por treinamentos de especialização”. Computerworld Brazil. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  15. ^ Schwaber, Ken (2013-08-06). “unSAFe at any speed”Telling It Like It Is. Retrieved 2017-11-11.
  16. ^ Eklund, U; Olsson, H; Strøm, N (2014). Industrial challenges of scaling agile in mass-produced embedded systemsAgile Methods. Large-Scale Development, Refactoring, Testing, and Estimation. Springer International Publishing. ISBN 9783319143583.
  17. ^ Heusser, Matt (23 September 2014). “Agile testing methods for multiple teams”SearchSoftwareQuality. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  18. ^ Stettina, C; Horz, J (2015). “Agile portfolio management: An empirical perspective on the practice in use”. International Journal of Project Management33 (1): 140–152.
  19. ^ Laanti, M (2014). Characteristics and Principles of Scaled AgileXP 2014 Workshops. Springer International Publishing.
  20. ^ Elssamadisy, Amr. “Has SAFe Cracked the Large Agile Adoption Nut?”InfoQ. Retrieved 2017-11-11.
  21. Jump up to:a b Vaidya, A (2014). Does DAD Know Best, Is it Better to do LeSS or Just be SAFe? Adapting Scaling Agile Practices into the Enterprise. Excerpt from PNSQC 2014 Proceedings. pp. 8–9.
  22. Jump up to:a b Maximini, Dominik (11 September 2013). “A critical view on SAFe – Scrumorakel – Blog”Scrum Oracle. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  23. ^ Stafford, Jan (December 9, 2013). “Scaling Agile development calls for defined practices, consultant says”SearchSoftwareQuality. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  24. ^ Killick, Neil (21 March 2012). “The Horror Of The Scaled Agile Framework”Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Lean, and everything that’s in between. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  25. ^ “SAFe Lean-Agile Principles”. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  26. ^ Rose, Doug (2018). Enterprise Agility For Dummies. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 87–89. ISBN 9781119446095.
  27. ^ “Certification”Scaled Agile. Retrieved 19 February 2016.

Further reading

External links

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