13Oct 2022

What is Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)?

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) can be the best option for your company if you’re looking for effective project delivery, a shorter time to market, and more stakeholder value.

The agile methodology has made managing projects effectively simple.

Both project management and software development use an iterative strategy that also helps to save money, time, and workforce. Delivering software in modest steps gives clients greater value.

Many bigger businesses are ill-equipped to profit from agile development. In this regard, SAFe is a tailored solution to assist bigger organizations in resolving a problem that adversely affects project success.

Let’s learn more about this framework and the reasons that make it the best option for businesses.

What Is the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)?

SAFe Implementation Roadmap
SAFe Implementation Roadmap – Image Source: PowerSlides

The SAFe includes organizational patterns, best practices, processes, and concepts for implementing agile approaches in bigger businesses.

The body of knowledge comprising roles and duties, managing tasks, and applying suitable values are included in the SAFe framework structure.

Since Dean Leffingwell first presented it in 2011, it has been the most widely used software development framework among major corporations.

Large teams managing complex projects at many levels, including program, portfolio, and project levels, are using the SAFe approach. The popularity of SAFe is a result of its organized and methodical approach.

In fact, according to the 12th Annual State of Agile Report, the SAFe is identified as the most widely-used technique for scaling agile, with almost 1/3 (29%) admitting that SAFe is the way they need to follow closely.

The report also found that 75% of respondents cited speeding software delivery as their primary motivation for implementing Agile.

This is made possible by SAFe, which gives bigger businesses the ability to manage projects with a greater level of agility and provides a method for stakeholders from other divisions to provide quicker input.

Higher levels of engagement, more productivity, greater job satisfaction, and better work quality are all results of this expedited feedback loop.

The Core Values of SAFe

Everyone working on the project must understand how to act and conduct themselves in order to achieve an efficient and timely delivery, thanks to the SAFe core values. 

Let’s go into more depth about each of them.

1. Alignment

Scaled Agile, Inc. asserts that misaligned corporations may create major difficulties, much like automobiles out of alignment. “They are hard to steer, and they don’t respond well to changes in direction. Even if it’s clear where everyone thinks they’re headed, the vehicle is unlikely to get them there.”

In order to stay up with rapid change, disruptive competitive pressures, and geographically dispersed teams, alignment is necessary. Agile Teams are fine when given the freedom to make decisions.

However, no matter how effective the teams are, they cannot be responsible for strategy and alignment.

Instead, SAFe mandates that organizations establish planning and reflection cadences at all organizational levels. Having these in place, everyone is aware of the company’s present situation, its objectives, and how individuals should work together to actually accomplish those objectives.

By routinely coordinating people and activities, the portfolio’s many levels remain in line. In contrast to conventional top-down command and control systems, information moves both upward and downward in a timely manner.

However, alignment does not suggest or promote top-down control and command. When everyone is moving in the same direction, alignment happens.

It is true that alignment promotes empowerment, independence, and decentralized decision-making, empowering people who apply value to make effective improved judgments or decisions.

2. Built-In Quality

The SAFe approach implies that quality should never be sacrificed for agility. Teams must specify what is “done” for each job or project under SAFe, and every working agreement must include quality development principles.

Built-in quality guarantees that during the whole development lifecycle, every component and increment of the system matches quality standards. There is no “added later” in quality.

Lean and flow cannot exist without integrating quality; otherwise, the firm would likely run with a large quantity of unconfirmed, unsubstantiated work. Slower speeds and unnecessary or extra rework are possible outcomes.

There can be no doubt about the significance of built-in quality in large-scale or complex systems since endemic quality is also more significant the larger the system.

Simply said, SAFe believes that quality should be included in the development process from the beginning rather than being added afterward.

As seen below, SAFe defines built-in quality as having five primary dimensions: flow, architecture and design quality, code quality, system quality, and release quality.

Primary Dimensions of Build-In Quality
Primary Dimensions of Build-In Quality – Image Source: Net Solutions

3. Transparency

The teams responsible for product development are prone to miscommunication. In consequence, this causes delays, resource waste, and improperly handled priorities. 

It takes transparency to lessen the impact of these errors.

However, trust is necessary to ensure transparency. When a company or development can depend on another to behave honorably, especially during trying circumstances, it shows trust has already been established.

No one can develop high-performance groups or initiatives without trust, and no one can develop (or regain) the confidence required to set and keep realistic promises. Working settings are also far less enjoyable and motivating when trust is absent.

SAFe promotes trust-building behaviors such as inspect-and-adapt routines, planning work in smaller batch sizes so that issues may be identified sooner, and giving real-time insight on backlog progress across levels.

Everyone may safely depend on each other and prove productive if the teams maintain clear facts and routine communication.

4. Program Execution

One of the core principles of SAFe and Agile itself is the production of usable software. To really provide value to businesses, teams must be able to execute initiatives effectively.

Because of this, the Scaled Agile Framework strongly emphasizes dependable systems that regularly provide successful results.

History teaches us that although many businesses begin their transformation with lone Agile teams, they often get impatient as even such teams struggle to consistently and effectively provide increasingly meaningful sums of solution value.

The ART was created with that in mind, which is why Scaled Agile Framework first concentrated on Essential SAFe while implementing it. The capability of the ARTs and Solution Trains, in turn, determines the capacity of Value Streams to provide value.

Development value streams in SAFe
Development value streams in SAFe – Image Source: Scaled Agile, Inc.

A manager with a solid Lean-Agile mentality must support these four essential values. 

Employees will be well-equipped to expedite corporate delivery and raise customer satisfaction by fusing the flow-management features of Lean with the iterative methodology of Agile.

Managers must also have the drive to learn new things all the time. They will develop a continuous improvement environment by embracing new approaches and pushing colleagues or teams to do the same.

5. Leadership

Lean-Agile Leadership and a Continuous Learning Culture must actively support scaled Lean-Agile development and the above four essential principles.

The SAFe Lean-Agile principles and practices, which we will cover next, as well as a focus on delivering value to customers, are coupled with these core values by leaders. 

The result is the development of a lasting and significant culture for the organization and its stakeholders.

Successful teams and projects operate in this manner, which is why they reap the numerous advantages that Lean-Agile organizations enjoy, including employee satisfaction, productivity, reliability, and speed to market.

SAFe Lean-Agile Principles

10 Principles of SAFe
10 Principles of SAFe – Image Source: ProductPlan

SAFe is built on 10 fundamental Lean-Agile principles that cannot be changed.

The concepts of the Scaled Agile Framework are intended to enhance the business as a whole by encouraging lean-agile decision-making across functional and organizational constraints.

The goals of the principles are to change everyone in the organization’s decision-making process from a traditional waterfall mindset to lean-agile thinking, which incorporates techniques like Lean Portfolio Management. 

The principles are meant to have an impact on the entire institution, not just on leaders or managers.

Here’s an insight into each principle:

1. Take an Economic View

A key component of Lean methodology is sound economics. The Scaled Agile Framework approach advocates using an economics foundation and distributing content often. This helps to save expenses by reducing delays and lengthening lead times.

Nevertheless, providing the “greatest value and quality for individuals and society in the shortest sustainable lead time” necessitates having a solid grasp of building system economics.

A correct economic framework must be used while making daily choices. This covers the plan for delivering value incrementally as well as the overall economic foundation for each value stream.

The trade-offs among risk, Cost of Delay (CoD), manufacturing, operating, and development expenses are highlighted by this approach. 

Every development value stream must also function within the parameters of a budget that has been authorized and adhere to the rules that facilitate decentralized decision-making.

Decisions made in the early phases of scaled agile development should be understood by the organization and the teams in terms of their financial implications.

According to the guiding principle, every firm should take economics into account while making choices at every step.

2. Apply Systems Thinking

Applying systems thinking to three crucial areas—the solution itself, the enterprise creating the system, and the value streams—is encouraged by SAFe.

Three Aspects of Systems Thinking
Three Aspects of Systems Thinking – Image Source: Scaled Agile, Inc.

Scaled Agile Framework provides a comprehensive picture of solution creation by demystifying these ideas.

Whether they are within the organization or a third party (external), solutions may relate to any goods, services, or systems that are provided to the consumer.

Team members ought to possess a higher-level view of how their element fits into the overall picture since complex solutions have many interrelated component pieces.

Individuals who adhere to Scaled Agile Framework should think about the company constructing the system while taking into account its management, people, and procedures.

Therefore, if a company wants to improve how people operate, it could have to do away with divisions, become cross-functional, and establish new working relationships with vendors and clients.

Lastly, the business should specify exactly how value streams for solution development move from idea to revenue. Managers or leaders must work to increase value transfer across organizational and functional barriers.

3. Assume Variability; Preserve Options

Designing software and its system is, by nature, an unpredictable task.

By incorporating the idea of set-based design, which calls for keeping a variety of needs and design possibilities for a longer length of time throughout the development cycle, this principle resolves uncertainty.

Set-Based Design (SBD) Provides Multiple Design Options
Set-Based Design (SBD) Provides Multiple Design Options – Image Source: Scaled Agile, Inc.

The set-based design additionally makes use of empirical data to further concentrate attention on the chosen design alternative.

Set-based design, which is similar to placing a strategic wager, assists in guiding decision-making during times of ambiguity by specifying the possibilities and desired results.

The set-based design relies on the idea of incorporating learning milestones, which allude to a deadline for a choice. Teams may narrow down their options as they gain experience.

It becomes simpler to choose the best course of action and provide the finest results for clients the more options they remove.

4. Build Incrementally With Fast Integrated Learning Cycles

This principle uses learning milestones to overcome risk and uncertainty, much as the preceding one. 

According to this approach, the solution should be developed gradually across many agile scrums that are comparable to agile development.

Each sprint should produce a functional component of the system, that is, by adhering to the microservice architecture. When merged, all the microservices need to be able to create a complete system.

The system as a whole must be taken into account in order to evaluate the viability of the present design decisions; it is not sufficient for each component aspect of the system to demonstrate functionality. 

In order to speed up learning cycles, integration points must be scheduled at a regular frequency.

5. Base Milestones on an Objective Evaluation of Working Systems

This concept states that all concerned stakeholders should work together to examine the process’s economic advantages throughout the development lifetime.

This will guarantee that the proposed solution provides value and gains for the economy.

It is, however, the joint obligation of business owners, developers, and clients to guarantee that investments in novel solutions will provide financial returns.

The sequential, phase-gate development paradigm was created to address this issue; however, experience has shown that it falls short of expectations in terms of risk mitigation.

The Problem With Phase-Gate Milestones
The Problem With Phase-Gate Milestones – Image Source: Scaled Agile, Inc.

Integration points in Lean-Agile development provide objective benchmarks at which to assess the solutions over the course of the development life cycle.

The financial, technical, and fitness-for-purpose governance required to ensure that continuous investment will provide a corresponding return is provided by this routine examination.

6. Visualize and Limit Work in Progress (WIP), Reduce Batch Sizes, and Manage Queue Lengths

Limiting the amount of work in progress enables stakeholders to track the progress of the project.

Scaled Agile Framework suggests the three items mentioned above to improve workflow. To boost visibility, teams may utilize a Kanban board

Kanban Board Components
Kanban Board Components – Image Source: Kanbanize

They can also break up large batches into smaller ones to save holding and transaction expenses.

In terms of software development, this implies keeping the complexity of each individual task, the amount of work that can be completed at once, and the degree of overlap between tasks to a minimum. 

Small batch sizes provide ongoing verification of the direction of the effort. This concept aims to provide direction on how to optimize this for the best outcomes.

7. Apply Cadence, Synchronize With Cross-Domain Planning

This Scaled Agile Framework principle states that in order to create a high-quality system, cadence, synchronization, and cross-domain planning are necessary.

In order to keep everything on schedule and in accordance with a predetermined pattern, cadence makes sure that events move in a methodical manner. It establishes regularity and offers a rhythm for growth.

Benefits of Development Cadence and Synchronization
Benefits of Development Cadence and Synchronization – Image Source: Scaled Agile, Inc.

Multiple viewpoints are comprehended, addressed, and integrated simultaneously as a result of synchronization. Additionally, cross-domain planning provides the chance to combine and evaluate the system’s technical and commercial solutions.

Thus, the mechanisms required to function efficiently in the context of the inherent development uncertainty are provided by the use of development cadence and synchronization combined with periodic cross-domain planning.

8. Unlock the Intrinsic Motivation of Knowledge Workers

This principle states that all skilled workers must be consistently inspired and motivated to do better.

Lean-Agile executives are aware that individual incentive pay seldom serves as a driving force behind staff engagement, creativity, or ideation. 

Such individual incentives have the potential to foster internal competition and undermine the kind of collaboration that is required to accomplish the system’s main objective.

Greater levels of employee engagement may be attained through giving them autonomy and a sense of purpose, reducing restrictions, fostering a culture of reciprocal influence, and better understanding the function of remuneration.

Better results are obtained with this strategy for customers, employees, and the business.

Leaders must also realize that rewards or money are not the only ways to drive their teams; rather, they must provide a purpose, place as few restrictions as possible on that goal, and respect the viewpoints of all team members.

9. Decentralize Decision-Making

This principle states that only decentralized decision-making can produce value in the predicted period.

There is a danger that the decisions will be of low quality when they are made by superiors, who frequently lack clarity owing to a lack of local context or specific settings.

Furthermore, if there is a lengthy wait for approval from the relevant authorities, the information needed to make the decision may become outdated or change entirely as a result of the delay.

In order to optimize the overall flow of product development, decisions should always be decentralized except for those that are exceptional, irreversible, and provide economies of scale.

10. Organize Around Value

Structure of a Development Value Stream
Structure of a Development Value Stream – Image Source: Scaled Agile, Inc.

Product development initiatives are considered effective in today’s environment if they can adapt quickly to change and provide value.

Organizations must structure the workplace culture around standardized values in order to attain this agility. 

The business may swiftly adjust to new expectations for the orderly flow of values as market and consumer demands change.

When expanding Agile at the corporate level, the aforementioned principles may serve as a helpful guide for teams.

Why Scaled Agile Framework?

Agile teams may get a variety of advantages from the Scaled Agile Framework’s rich knowledge base and advice. 

The four core principles address some of the issues, including improved alignment, high-quality goods, more transparency, and effective execution.

  • Other advantages are:
  • Increased engagement
  • Simplified framework
  • A quicker time to market

The Bottom Line: Is SAFe the Best Option for Your Business?

SAFe has clear advantages, but it doesn’t automatically imply your team should use it as its framework. Large-scale projects are a good fit for the framework.

SAFe may be the best choice if you want to scale agile principles across multi-team portfolios and initiatives.

Another possibility is that you have previously attempted to expand Agile across your organization; however, there is a lack of consistency, alignment, and uniformity.

SAFe is an organizational framework that may assist you in overcoming these challenges by bringing together teams from multiple departments.

However, it is important to keep in mind that SAFe’s top-down approach to decision-making and project management might undercut some of the fundamental agile characteristics, like shared ownership, adaptability, and less rigid roles, which may have initially drawn your team agile.

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Rithesh Raghavan

Rithesh Raghavan

Rithesh Raghavan, Co-Founder, and Director at Acodez IT Solutions, who has a rich experience of 16+ years in IT & Digital Marketing. Between his busy schedule, whenever he finds the time he writes up his thoughts on the latest trends and developments in the world of IT and software development. All thanks to his master brain behind the gleaming success of Acodez.

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