The scaled agile framework (SAFe) helps larger organizations manage the challenges they face when practicing agile. The scaled agile framework was first introduced in 2011 by software industry guru Dean Leffingwell in his book Agile Software Requirements. The framework details a set of workflow patterns for implementing agile practices at an enterprise scale. This is achieved by guiding roles and responsibilities, planning and managing work, and establishing certain values that large organizations must uphold.
|Agile Principles||SAFe adheres to Agile principles, emphasizing customer collaboration, adaptability, and early delivery.||– Promotes customer-centricity and flexibility. – Encourages iterative development.||Prioritizing customer feedback.||Agile software development projects.|
|Lean Principles||Lean thinking is incorporated to minimize waste, optimize processes, and improve efficiency.||– Focuses on eliminating waste and enhancing value delivery. – Drives continuous improvement.||Implementing Kanban boards.||Streamlining production processes.|
|Agile Release Train (ART)||ART is a self-organizing team of Agile teams working together to deliver value in a fixed timeframe.||– Facilitates collaboration and alignment among teams. – Ensures synchronized planning and delivery.||Scrum teams working together.||Large-scale product development.|
|SAFe Roles and Responsibilities||Roles like Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Release Train Engineer have specific responsibilities.||– Defines clear roles and accountability. – Ensures efficient teamwork and communication.||Scrum Master facilitating daily stand-ups.||Role clarity in Agile projects.|
|Program Increment (PI)||PI is a time-boxed planning interval (usually 8-12 weeks) during which an Agile Release Train delivers value.||– Enables regular inspection and adaptation. – Aligns all teams toward a common goal.||Quarterly PI planning sessions.||Coordinating multiple teams’ efforts.|
|PI Objectives||Teams set PI objectives during PI planning, defining what they aim to accomplish within the Program Increment.||– Provides focus and alignment around shared goals. – Measures progress and success.||Setting objectives for a software release.||Tracking team achievements during a PI.|
|Lean Portfolio Management||This involves aligning strategy and execution by prioritizing and funding value streams and Agile Release Trains.||– Ensures the allocation of resources to the most valuable work. – Aligns business strategy with execution.||Allocating budget to development efforts.||Aligning organizational strategy with projects.|
|Inspect and Adapt (I&A)||Regularly reviewing progress, identifying issues, and adapting to changes to enhance the overall solution.||– Promotes continuous improvement and responsiveness. – Addresses challenges proactively.||Conducting retrospectives after a PI.||Enhancing project performance iteratively.|
|SAFe Big Picture||The visual representation of SAFe, illustrating roles, activities, and the flow of value in a scaled Agile context.||– Provides a shared understanding of SAFe principles and practices. – Aids in visualizing the framework components.||Referencing the Big Picture for guidance.||Communicating SAFe concepts to teams and stakeholders.|
Understanding the scaled agile framework
One of the key strengths of the scaled agile framework is its ability to promote the alignment and successful collaboration of multiple agile teams.
It is not a single methodology. Instead, it provides a broad knowledge base of proven best practices.
Some core values and principles of the scaled agile framework
SAFe requires that all employees understand the goals of the business and collectively move toward achieving them.
Importantly, the flow of information runs upward and downward in a timely manner.
This is in stark contrast to the traditional top-down or hierarchical approach.
All teams operating under SAFe principles must never sacrifice quality for agility.
Practices that increase quality output should be incorporated into five key dimensions: flow, architecture and design quality, code quality, system quality, and release quality.
Teams must be able to routinely execute high-quality programs that are aligned with company values.
Apply systems thinking
Large solutions invariably have many interconnected parts in vast organizations.
Here, solutions are defined as products, services, or systems delivered to an internal or external customer.
Team members should understand how their role fits into the bigger picture.
This can be achieved by considering three key areas: the solution itself, value streams, and the enterprise building the system.
Take an economic view
Everyone must understand the economic impact of project delays and act accordingly.
Operating within lead budgets and developing an understanding of economic trade-offs are a good place to start.
Limit work in progress (WIP) and manage queue lengths
Reducing work in process gives key stakeholders a more holistic understanding of project development.
Here, achieving flow through maximizing throughput is the priority.
This entails limiting the prevalence of overlapping work and the amount of work tackled at a given time.
Work should also be carried out in smaller batch sizes and be less complex.
Scaled Agile vs. Agile
As the name might suggest, the main difference between agile and scaled agile is in the ability of each discipline to work with smaller (agile) or larger enterprise teams (scaled agile).
Indeed, the main goal of scaled agile is to make the agile methodology viable at an enterprise level, thus focusing on some of the key values that matter the most at that level.
At an enterprise level, indeed, things like alignment, quality, and scaled execution matter the most.
Therefore, those values need to be balanced out with fast iterative product development loops.
Whereas in the agile methodology, instead, what matters the most is the ability of the small and lean team to ship fast and iterate even faster.
With very short development cycles that move along a continuous loop of building, launching, measuring, and learning.
Strengths and weaknesses of the scaled agile framework
The most obvious strength of the scaled agile framework is that it allows large businesses to have the best of both worlds.
In other words, they can tap into the power of agile and efficient software development while still maintaining centralized, enterprise-level decision making.
The framework also delivers benefits in project alignment.
Alignment can sometimes waver in agile environments when developers lose sight of broader company objectives.
Centralized decision making again comes to the fore by ensuring that strategic objectives remain a key focus during product development.
Perhaps ironically, SAFe tends to add layers of oversight and administration that many large organizations are trying to negate.
With administrative roles assigned for multiple projects, some argue that developers have little of the freedom or flexibility that characterizes agile environments.
The “bigger picture” thinking of SAFe also leads to longer planning cycles and fixed roles within development cycles.
Again, this contravenes agile development principles around delivering short sprints to bring products to market quickly.
Broadscale thinking also hinders the creation of continuous loops that are important in ensuring quality at every step of the process.
Scaled Agile Framework vs. Scrum
Whereas Scaled Agile focuses on large organizations, to align large teams with launching products at scale.
Scrum focuses on an iterative approach for smaller teams to work more effectively to speed up execution.
Thus, a scrum might be more suited for smaller startups.
Scaled Agile might be more useful for large workforces and complex teams to collaborate effectively at scale.
Is Kanban Scaled Agile?
Kanban is an excellent tool for recording project management tasks related to software development.
Thus, Kanban might be one of the tools used within the Scaled Agile methodology.
- The scaled agile framework was developed to help large organizations bring better products to market in a timely fashion.
- The scaled agile framework is based on several values and principles that help project teams in large or complex workforces collaborate effectively.
- The scaled agile framework gives large organizations greater access to agile project development while maintaining centralized decision making. However, the effectiveness of this decision making when paired with agile principles is questionable.
- Introduction to SAFe: The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) was introduced by Dean Leffingwell in 2011 as a way for larger organizations to implement agile practices at an enterprise scale. It offers workflow patterns, roles, and values to manage challenges in practicing agile at a larger level.
- Key Strength of SAFe: SAFe excels in aligning and collaborating multiple agile teams within a larger organization. It’s not a single methodology but a knowledge base of best practices.
- Core Values and Principles:
- Alignment: SAFe emphasizes understanding business goals and promoting upward and downward information flow, unlike traditional hierarchical approaches.
- Built-in Quality: Quality should not be compromised for agility. Five dimensions of quality are emphasized: flow, architecture, code, system, and release quality.
- Program Execution: Teams should routinely execute high-quality programs aligned with company values.
- Systems Thinking: Understand interconnected parts in large solutions. Consider solution, value streams, and enterprise perspective.
- Economic View: Understand economic impacts and trade-offs of project delays.
- Limit WIP: Limit work in progress, reduce overlapping work, and aim for flow and smaller batch sizes.
- Scaled Agile vs. Agile:
- Agile emphasizes smaller, iterative development, while Scaled Agile focuses on agile practices at an enterprise level.
- Scaled Agile aims to balance values like alignment, quality, and scaled execution with fast iteration.
- Strengths of SAFe:
- SAFe allows large organizations to combine efficient software development with centralized decision-making.
- It enhances project alignment by maintaining strategic objectives during development.
- Weaknesses of SAFe:
- SAFe can introduce oversight and administration layers that counteract agile flexibility.
- Broadscale thinking can lead to longer planning cycles and fixed roles, contrary to agile principles.
- SAFe vs. Scrum:
- Scrum focuses on effective team collaboration in iterative cycles for smaller teams.
- SAFe targets large organizations, aligning larger teams to launch products at scale.
- Is Kanban Scaled Agile?
- Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework that visualizes work and identifies bottlenecks.
- Kanban can be used within the SAFe methodology as a tool for project management tasks.
- Key Takeaways:
- SAFe helps large organizations align and collaborate for effective agile practices.
- It emphasizes values and principles to guide project teams in larger or complex workforces.
- SAFe aims to provide access to agile development while maintaining centralized decision-making, though it has some potential drawbacks.
Connected Agile & Lean Frameworks
- Business Models
- Business Strategy
- Business Development
- Distribution Channels
- Marketing Strategy
- Platform Business Models
- Network Effects
Main Case Studies: