March 1, 2019

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe): Introduction to Scaling Agile & Lean 

In this article, you will find an overview of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe version 4.6), its values, mindset, principles, and practices along with the 5 Core Competencies of the Lean Enterprise that guide teams to effectively build solutions while scaling Agile and Lean.

List of topics covered in this article:

What is a Scaled Agile Framework?

Scaled agile framework abbreviated as SAFe is a framework of proven, integrated principles, practices and competencies for Lean, Agile, and DevOps.  SAFe is a scalable and configurable framework that helps organizations in scaling agile and lean.

Scaled Agile Framework addresses the problems encountered when scaling agile beyond a single team.  SAFe promotes collaboration, coordination, and delivery across a large number of agile teams. This framework leverages three primary bodies of knowledge:

  • Agile software development
  • Lean product development
  • System thinking

Challenges in Scaling Agile:

There are certain challenges that an organization encounters when scaling agile principles and practices.

Lack of long term planning

The development teams working on agile principles usually refine their product backlog for up to two to three iterations.

In larger organizations, the product marketing team requires a further plan to deliver on the commitments to the market.  Although the team works with a high level 12-18 months roadmap, usually the team collaborates on plans for three months of work.

The development teams still have detailed refinement of product backlog for 2-3 iterations. The detailed tasks plans are often limited to the next iteration.

Lack of agile practices at management levels

The development teams usually work with frameworks that help them in defining how to be agile but there is a lack of a framework for agile practices at the management level.

The cross-functional teams that can handle more abstract levels of responsibility and planning are missing.

Handling delegated authority

In the Scrum framework, the Product Owner takes the responsibility of the product lifecycle along with the return on investment.  The Product Owner is also responsible for the performance of the product in the market.

At a large-scale, there is a need to have a view across multiple team backlogs. A Product Manager is usually responsible for keeping a view across multiple team backlogs.

There is still a challenge as the Product Owner is separated from the development of the organization.

Lack of synchronization

The agile frameworks give autonomy to development teams. They are free to design their own ways of work. At a large scale when there are hundreds of development teams, it is a challenge for the teams to be fully self-organized.

The self-organized teams working on the same product will face a challenge in synchronizing their deliverables and releasing together.

Lack of Innovation

Working with agile at a large scale, there is a need for an additional iteration after a release that helps to improve their practices. This helps them to prepare for the next planning increment.

The dependencies created when working with large scale agile model pushes the testing of everything working together until the end.

SAFe is a framework for organizations to handle the challenges they face while scaling agile and lean. To gain an understanding of the Scaled Agile Framework, we need to understand its principles.


Scaled Agile Framework – Lean-Agile Principles:

The Lean-Agile principles of Scaled Agile Framework guides to implement the SAFe.

Take an economic view

The economic variables such as development cost, production cost, delivery lead time and value created should drive decisions.

Apply system thinking

Everyone should understand the common goals of the larger system and commit to achieving them.  Optimize the system as a whole rather than optimizing the parts.

Assume variability; preserve options

Explore alternatives constantly and aggressively by delaying decisions until the last responsible moment.

Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles

To gain knowledge, inform decision-making and evaluate alternatives use Cadence-based learning cycles.

Cadence is a rhythmic pattern of events in the development process. It makes everything that can be routine as routine so that the developers can focus on the variable part of solution development.

Base milestones on objective evaluation of working systems

The progress can be measured by objective measures rather than traditional phase-gates.

Visualize & limit WIP, reduce batch sizes, & manage queue length

To ensure a fast flow of value and learning, there should be small batches of work, controlled Work in Progress (WIP) and small queues.

Apply cadence; synchronize with cross-domain planning

Synchronize regularly to continually align all the system builders. Ensure that all the perspectives are understood and resolved.

Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers

Leaders are responsible to create an environment in which knowledge workers can thrive. Knowledge workers have different motivations and exhibit curiosity.

 Decentralize decision-making

The leaders should support decentralized decision making by equipping individuals and teams with the knowledge that they need to make good decisions.


SAFe 4.6 – Five Core Competencies

Scaled Agile Framework

The latest version of Scaled Agile Framework i.e. SAFe 4.6 introduces 5 core competencies of the Lean Enterprise which are as follows:

  1. Lean-Agile Leadership
  2. Team and Technical Agility
  3. DevOps and Release on Demand
  4. Business Solutions and Lean Systems Engineering
  5. Lean Portfolio Management

The Lean-Agile Leadership

This competency describes the approach that Lean-Agile leaders should take in driving and sustaining organizational change. The Lean-Agile leaders help to achieve operational excellence by empowering individuals and teams.

They learn, exhibit, teach and coach SAFe’s Lean-Agile values, mindset, principles, and practices to help everyone reach their greatest potential.

The organization’s managers, leaders, and executives continuously improve the system that governs the work performed.

The leaders enable high performing agile teams that create value and flourish. The main aspects of Lean-Agile Leadership are:

Lean-thinking managers-teachers

These are the people who understand Lean at a deeper level and teach it as part of their daily activities.

Leading the transformation

The Lean-Agile leaders guide their organization through the Scaled Agile Framework transformation. They outline at each step, where they are, where they should go next and why it is important to continue the transformation.


Team and Technical Agility

Team Agility

The agile teams that have skills to define, build, test and deploy value in short iterations.  These Agile teams use a blend of methods such as Scrum and Kanban.

The Agile teams collaborate in an organizational construct called the Agile Release Train (ART). The ARTs bring together all the people who define, build, test, and deploy a solution.

Technical Agility

The Technical Agility defines the agile software engineering principles and practices that the teams use to deliver reliable solutions quickly.

Lean-Agile values and principles, eXtreme Programming (XP) practices, Behavior-Driven Development (BDD), Agile modeling, built-in quality, proven approaches and patterns for object-oriented software design are part of Technical Agility.


DevOps and Release on Demand

This competency outlines how the principles and practices of DevOps provide the enterprise with the capability to release value at the time necessary to meet market and customer demand.

DevOps aligns development, operations, business, information security, and other areas to work together better by sharing responsibility and improving business results.


Business Solutions and Lean Systems Engineering

Scaled Agile Framework includes components such as requirements analysis, business capability definition, functional analysis and allocation, verification and validation (V & V), design alternatives, modeling, simulation and trade studies that cater to the need of complex and large cyber-physical systems.

SAFe replaces phase-gates with a flow-based process and uses roadmaps that allow continuous development.  This framework provides for continuous learning, frequent adjustment, and emergent design while keeping the development efforts on track.

The frequent integrations shorten the time to discovery of issues and delivery.


Lean Portfolio Management

The Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) competency outlines how an organization can implement Lean approaches to agile portfolio operations, investment funding, and Lean governance.

There are SAFe portfolios that manage a set of value streams for a specific area of the business.  LPM function conducts its work with the help of a series of three collaborations that include:

  • Strategy and investment funding
  • Agile portfolio operations
  • Lean governance

These collaborations provide the ability to execute existing commitments reliably and enable innovation to the enterprise by building on the foundation of four other competencies.



Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) addresses the challenges an organization faces while scaling agile. SAFe’s Lean-Agile Principles gives guidelines to implement the Scaled Agile Framework in an organization. Building the five core competencies as outlined in SAFe 4.6 helps an organization to scale Agile and Lean.

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