What Is SAFe? Scaled Agile Framework Explained

Are you wondering what is involved in the Scaled Agile Framework methodology? Here is everything you need to know about SAFe.

Keyword(s): scaled agile framework

Agile isn't just the direction the world is going. The world is already there.

But as organisations sprint into adopting agile principles, many are stumbling. Scrum can be oversimplified and not well suited for large-scale development efforts. Some projects are simply larger, more complex and require more than two-pizza teams.

What to do then when Scrum isn't enough?

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is there for large organizations with multiple teams. The framework guides these large organizations through their Agile journey. A growing number of organisations are transitioning toward SAFe as a way to protect stakeholder interests. 

Why Doesn't Scrum Work?

Scrum is an iterative development methodology that focuses on the velocity of small teams. It comprises a set of ceremonies, roles, and practices that are designed to support that velocity.

Scrum works best when:

  • teams are colocated
  • teams adopt Agile practices
  • there is no management involvement

Scrum has limits when:

  • teams are distributed
  • the enterprise adopts Agile practices
  • efforts fall under portfolio management  

What Is the Scaled Agile Framework?

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is an enterprise-class knowledge base. It is designed to help organisations adopt a right-sized Agile approach. This takes Agile past the basic practices of Scrum.

What makes SAFe practical is in its scalability, which includes configurations that provide for:

  • Essential SAFe - serves as the building blocks for the framework, supporting small teams and programs
  • Large Solution SAFe - serves multiple teams and programs with a common cohesive objective
  • Portfolio SAFe - serves the enterprise by providing a strategic view of initiatives across all domains
  • Full SAFe - combines all three levels in a fully integrated operating model

SAFe Core Values

Four values that are foundational to SAFe:

  • Alignment begins with decisions at the portfolio level ties strategic themes to the vision, roadmap, and team backlogs
  • Built-in Quality ensures every incremental delivery meets quality and security standards
  • Transparency enables trust by making all backlog items transparent
  • Program Execution focuses on working systems and business outcomes

The Principles of SAFe

SAFe was designed with Lean and Agile concepts in mind. These concepts are captured in the following ten principles:

1. Take an economic view 

Decisions must be based on the value of the result, including operating within an approved budget and set of operational guardrails

2. Apply systems thinking

Consider the holistic levels of systems, including automated systems and the organisational systems of how people work.

3. Assume variability; preserve options

Start with multiple requirements and design options, and narrow them down as the lifecycle progresses.

4. Build incrementally with fast integrated learning cycles

Constantly deliver, whether to serve as prototypes or Minimum Viable Products (MVPs), these incremental deliveries also serve as immediate feedback loops for incremental team and system improvements.

5. Base milestones on objective evaluation of working systems

Set evaluation points through the lifecycle for an objective view of whether business needs are being met.

6. Visualize and limit work-in-progress, reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths

Design systems with continuous flow in mind, avoiding bottlenecks by creating small processing steps that can match demand to capacity.

7. Apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain planning

Manage development velocity while maintaining the broader perspectives of other domains to gain an integrated view beyond the work.

8. Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers

Create a culture of employee engagement and cooperation rather than compensation to avoid a pattern of competition.

9. Decentralize decision making

Establish a fast decision-making framework where decisions can be made at the lowest level as well as the strategic level without coupling the two and slowing down delivery.

10. Organize around value

Change the mindset from delivering functionality to delivering value; this is achieved by responding to change quickly.

Implementing SAFe

Transforming an organisation into adopting SAFe takes time and effort. There are roadmaps that guide the way, but there are some keys to successful implementation.

Practice Some Agile First

Leading the way toward Agile transformation is a big undertaking. Switching from a pure waterfall environment puts you at a disadvantage at the start. Gain some exposure to Agile before implementing SAFe, including getting the teams to follow agile practices

Know Your Why

Is your organisation ready? Do you know what problem you are trying to solve with SAFe? Spend some time to understand what is driving this transformation and make an honest assessment of the pros and cons.

Don't Ignore Organizational Change Management

Get ready for the pushback. You're changing a culture, and often that type of change is the hardest to make. Be ready to listen, but also be good at your pitch for implementing SAFe and how it benefits the teams.

Set an Example

Practice what you preach, and employees will listen. Implement SAFe at a smaller scale for internal projects and use your own case studies and success stories. Openly share the lessons you've learned.

Learn From Your Mistakes

Ultimately, SAFe is a framework. This means recognizing what doesn't work, learn from the mistakes, adjust and move on. Just like the core concepts of Agile, implement SAFe in increments. That gives you an immediate feedback loop to immediately apply what you've learned to improve the system.

Most importantly, putting SAFe to practice includes preparing yourself to lead the way. Arm yourself with all the tools, knowledge and certifications to transform your organisation.

Become a SAFe Agile Practitioner

Put your organization on an industry-proven path of Agile alignment and success. Move to a Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) environment. Advised Skills has all your SAFe technical knowledge needs to help with your journey.

We have Scaled Agile Framework courses that span the delivery lifecycle. We target multiple roles across the organisation and accommodate different industries.

We have a 98.99% exams pass rate and a growing number of graduates.  Advised Skills is the fastest-growing centre for gaining technical knowledge and skills.

Get your Scaled Agile Framework certification today and join the SAFe Agile transformation!

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