What is the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)?

Scaled Agile Framework
Scaled Agile Framework
Scaled Agile Framework

The increasing number of organizations performing Agile development at the team level know that nothing beats an Agile approach for delivering fully tested, valuable products to the customer in the most efficient manner possible.

Agile methodologies were originally created for teams  working on project-focused and product-focused delivery. But now Agile principles are being applied to work across portfolios and the enterprise, as well.

Today’s SAFe is focused on creating business agility based around customer centricity. It is a methodology at the heart of digital transformations, responsive enterprises and the ability to continually deliver innovative, high-quality, customer centric products and services faster than the competition. It is a framework that “Agile mature” organizations implement to create an Agile organizational structure and agility at multiple levels in the organization.

In essence, SAFe enables the ability to pivot and respond—two qualities with critical importance. In this post, we will explain what SAFe is and the four configurations of the framework.


1. What is SAFe?

SAFe is an industry-proven, value-focused method for scaling Agile to the enterprise level as businesses grow in size. It was formed around three primary bodies of knowledge: Agile software development, lean product development, and systems thinking. It answers tough questions like “How do we budget?”, “How do we plan?”, “How do we become cross-functional in architecture and DevOps?” and “How do we achieve organizational agility?”

SAFe supports the development of business agility across seven core competencies that form the pathway to enterprise agility, from strategy to execution. It helps large organizations point teams toward meeting the organization’s strategic goals, not just individual project goals. It also puts the customer at the center of strategy to provide better experiences and service.

The SAFe model has four configurations that centralize the strategic themes of an organization and accommodate various levels of scale—Essential SAFe, Large Solution SAFe, Portfolio SAFe, and Full SAFe. This centralized strategy, coupled with the de-centralized Agile development execution, can be an efficient manner of achieving enterprise scale Agile. 


2. Essential level

Essential SAFe brings together the program and team levels from previous versions to support Agile product delivery, providing the minimal elements necessary to be successful with SAFe. This level brings teams together for Agile product delivery through design thinking and Agile methodologies. Teams typically work within Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, or XP frameworks. They are cross-functional and typically comprised of a product owner, scrum master, developers, testers, business owners and any specialized role that may be required.

Team requirements are stored in a team backlog, which is a subset of the program backlog and is managed by the team’s product owner. Team’s Sprint lengths are fixed based on the ART’s (Agile Release Train) cadence. 


3. Large solution level

The large solution level in SAFe builds on the essential level by enabling the delivery of large, complex solutions. It helps coordinate and align the full supply chain to deliver large systems using lean methodologies and continually evolve those systems. It encompasses the Essential SAFe configuration and adds the competency of Enterprise Solution Delivery. This is applied in the world’s most sophisticated software applications, networks, and cyber-physical systems.


4. Portfolio level

The portfolio level of SAFe ups the ante again when it comes to delivering on the enterprise’s core competencies. It moves beyond Agile product delivery to incorporate lean portfolio management, investment funding, lean governance and organizational agility. This is where the organization’s strategic themes are given life, value and priority as part of the development process.

Epic owners and enterprise architects join the team to ensure alignment with strategic themes and the overall portfolio vision.

Success in the development of value streams is measured by key performance indicators (KPIs). And a continuous improvement loop is established using measurement to inform improvements and growth. This level of SAFe enables lean budgeting practices for organizations to fund products. The typical financing model of funding fragmented projects will be a thing of the past. 


5. Full level

Full SAFe represents the most comprehensive configuration of SAFe. It supports building large, integrated solutions that typically require hundreds of people to develop and maintain. It incorporates all the previous levels to develop enterprise solutions on a large scale.

With full SAFe, teams from all the other levels come together to deliver the promise of business agility across the enterprise, from Agile product and enterprise solution delivery to lean portfolio management, organizational agility, continuous learning and lean-Agile leadership.  


Learn more abour SAFe today

To learn more about SAFe and how Celerity incorporates it into our agile practices, contact us today! We’d love to connect.