The Pros and Cons of Scaled Agile Framework

There are many conflicting opinions when it comes to the effectiveness of scaled agile framework. Explore the pros and cons of the SAFe methodology here. 

Keyword(s): scaled agile framework

Are you experiencing difficulty in your organisation’s ability to adopt agile? Have you looked into SAFe, and are you unsure if it’s the right fit for you?

It’s not for everyone, but then again, it just might be the missing piece for your organisation to get over the agile adoption hump. We can help you figure it out, but to understand if SAFe is a good fit, we have to understand the principles of scaled agile framework.

What is Scaled Agile Framework

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is a way to introduce agile practices to large organisations while applying Lean principles. SAFe was a reaction in the software development industry to the loose and informal nature of the agile methodology. 

The pure agile approach poorly addresses legacy processes and organisations with multiple management layers. SAFe puts in place connectors between business program areas and higher-level portfolio management practices.

There are four configurations for SAFe:

  • Essential SAFe - the building blocks for the framework, practical in its support for small teams and programs
  • Large Solution SAFe - useful when there are multiple teams and programs tied together through common objectives
  • Portfolio SAFe - a higher-level configuration that provides a strategic view of initiatives across all domains
  • Full SAFe - maximizes all three levels by integrating them into one operating model

SAFe provides thorough guidance for all the configurations. The prevailing questions are: Is it too much? How well will SAFe really work? Should your organisation adopt the framework?

Since SAFe was introduced, there have been multiple versions implemented. The current iteration is SAFe 5, which this article addresses. 

Here are the top 3 reasons how SAFe helps and 3 reasons why it won’t.

Top 3 Pros

1. Help Organisations Scale to Fit

When there are cross-functional teams that need to work together, this is where SAFe provides the most value. From the lower level configuration of Essential SAFe to Full SAFe, the framework can be applied to large enterprises that want to scale the agile practices. 

SAFe extends those practices beyond the team responsible for delivery. It broadens the scope to management, stakeholders, and customers so the decisions made and risks are managed consistently.

2. Program Increment Planning

Program Increment planning is the framework’s method of providing clarity to the vision of what the program needs. The cross-functional teams work in concert across all the program increments and plans for delivery in the SAFe release trains.

Especially with large, complex projects that impact multiple areas, Program Increment Planning is an orchestrated process to direct teams toward common milestones and dependencies.  Structured three-day planning activity ensures consistent cadence and velocity.

3. Business Alignment

Where SAFe excels is in breaking down the various silos between the technology providers and the business stakeholders. Business is actively working with IT to prioritize initiatives and backlog items by designating value to each item.

By extending agile practices of capturing what is most important to the business, the business, in turn, can inherit the processes to reassess priorities. This creates business agility that parallels IT’s model of working. This creates a seamless organisation fostering synergy between business and technology.

Top 3 Cons

1. New Terms, Activities, Processes

The agile approach’s most common practice is scrum. Scrum has several concepts, artefacts, and ceremonies that are well understood. When a practitioner moves from project to project and organisation to organisation, there is little translation and a shallow learning curve.

With SAFe, there are many new terminologies (not normally applied to agile) where it will take some time for teams to understand and adopt. This includes:

  • Program Increments
  • Agile Release Trains
  • Value Streams
  • Iterations
  • Capabilities 
  • Architectural Runway
  • Guardrails

For organisations with a deeply embedded software development culture, introducing so many concepts and terminologies can be disruptive and impact velocity.

2. Not for Small Teams

SAFe was originally designed specifically to help large organisations tackle complex projects. For small teams that don’t require program increment planning or portfolio management, the framework can be overkill.

This is also especially in the case of startups, where the early phases of a company depend on changing and adopting new practices for market survival. A comprehensive framework such as SAFe gets in the way of these smaller, immature teams in creating their own niche and identity.

3. Goes Against Pure Agile Principles

While Program Increments can be smaller, they generally are seen as quarterly activities since the business already manages outcomes and expectations at a quarterly rate. The impact of introducing agile practices to business is often too expensive.

If the program priorities are set at a quarterly cycle, this creates large batches of work. Inevitably enough is bundled into the scope of a single Program Increment where it starts becoming a waterfall model.

One way to describe SAFe is it adds process to the agile approach. While it can be seen as needed to address organisational constraints and needs, the focus on process moves the framework further from the pure agile delivery model.

Making the Right Choice for the Scaled Agile Framework

It’s easy for heads to spin between how SAFe helps and how it doesn’t. Implementing SAFe is a major undertaking that requires a good understanding of the framework. You’ll also need to assess how ready your organisation is to tackle SAFe.

Following the SAFe implementation roadmap will guide you through the critical points toward agile transformation.

The Journey Begins with Knowledge

There are many organisational nuances to consider in your agile journey, including if the cost is worth the benefit. There’s no greater way to arm yourself for the task of determining if Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is right for you than gaining knowledge.

Advised Skills has all the technical knowledge and training to help you through implementing all four configurations of SAFe. From insightful articles to scaled agile framework certification, we have all aspects of SAFe covered. 

Advised Skills can help you become the SAFe leader for your organisation today!

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