What is SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework)?

Scaled agile framework® (SAFe®) is a freely available collection of structures, principles and practices to scale Agile practices in organisations.

Originally coined the “Agile Enterprise Big Picture,” the SAFe framework was introduced in 2011. Dean Leffingwell defined The Big Picture as a way to leverage existing agile frameworks and apply them to teams, programmes and portfolios.

SAFe core values are a set of guiding philosophies and principles that help to establish correction culture and behaviour within the SAFe portfolio to ensure effective use of the framework. SAFe core competencies include the following:

  • Essential SAFe
    The most basic SAFe framework configuration, Essential SAFe provides only the most basic necessary elements.
  • Large Solution SAFe
    Designed to benefit larger organisations building more complex solutions, Large Solutions SAFe encompasses everything in Essential SAFe while also including additional competencies, roles, artefacts and events.
  • Portfolio SAFe
    Taking Large Solution a step further, Portfolio SAFe provides lean governance, portfolio investment finding and strategy, and Agile portfolio operations.
  • Full SAFe
    The most comprehensive SAFe configuration, Full SAFe supports the largest enterprise solutions. It is fully integrated and combines the three previous levels.

Additionally, SAFe incorporates several core values:

Graphic of the Core values of SAFe


In order to be effective, SAFe demands that all parties involved throughout the entire organisation have a clear picture of where the company is headed and the goals necessary to help it to reach its desired objective. When everyone is in sync, levels of the portfolio are aligned, and information flows in a timely manner.

Built-in quality

Agility should never be implemented at the cost of quality. As such, quality should be a primary focus at all levels—built in, rather than added at a late stage. SAFe describes five key dimensions of built-in quality: flow, architecture and design quality, code quality, system quality and release quality.


Trust-building is a crucial part of SAFe, which includes planning smaller batch sizes of work, providing real-time visibility of backlogs, and inspecting and adapting rituals. Transparency allows organisations to better address issues and failures, using openness and trust. Honesty and transparency at all levels also promotes employee engagement and satisfaction.

Programme execution

The heart of SAFe is programme execution; it powers everything else in the framework. Teams and programmes should be delivering quality software and value regularly. SAFe places significant focus on business outcomes, which depend wholly on effective execution.


Although not specifically identified as a core value, effective lean-agile development cannot exist without dedicated lean-agile leadership. Leaders have the ability to change the system, while creating the right environments for embracing the four core values.

1. Take an economic view

Shorter and more sustainable lead-time needs individuals in the decision-making chain to have an understanding of the economic implications of delays. Most responsibilities to be shared through the organisation include understanding economic trade-offs, operating with lean budgets and sequencing jobs for maximum pay-off.

2. Apply systems thinking

People using the SAFe framework should apply systems thinking that includes the solution, the enterprise building the system and value streams. Solutions can refer to products, services or systems delivered—internal or external.

An organisation looking to succeed in systems thinking should form a higher-level perspective on individual parts and how they fit into the organisation.

3. Assume variability and preserve options

Designing software can be uncertain and complicated. This concept brings in set-based design, which depends on retaining multiple requirements and design options for a longer development cycle. It also relies on data to narrow the focus on the final design option further along in the process.

Set-based designs inform decisions by identifying options and their intended outcomes strategically.

4. Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles

This principal also addresses risk and uncertainty using milestones. The whole system must be considered in order to assess the feasibility of current design choices, as it is not enough to only consider components. It’s crucial to plan integration points on a regular basis to accelerate faster and create more efficient learning cycles.

5. Base milestones on objective evaluation of working systems

Requirements documents or other superficial evaluations don’t provide an effective basis for decision making, particularly when compared to demonstrations of actual systems. Including stakeholders in the feasibility decisions early in the process helps to build trust and supports systems thinking.

6. Visualise and limit Work in Process (WIP), reduce batch sizes and manage queue lengths

This principle offers guidance on optimising for the best result. It’s ideal to maximise throughput while accelerating value delivery by tackling flow one step at a time. This means limiting overlapping work, complexity of individual items, and the total amount of work demanded within a specific time period.

7. Apply cadence, synchronise with cross-domain planning

All possible matters can be reduced in complexity by creating cadence, which is naturally applied in the agile process through iterations. Cadence also addresses uncertainty, enforces quality and instils collaboration. People and activities are incentivised to function where learnt information helps with decisions and incremental planning.

8. Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers

Unleash the potential of teams and help leaders to take the perspective of coaches while serving their team, rather than using a command-and-control mindset.

9. Decentralise decision making

Teams have the autonomy they need to finish work with reduced queue lengths and more economic approaches through decentralised decision making. Leadership should focus their decisions and authority on matters of more strategic importance and let teams make decisions on everything else.

1. Recognise and communicate the need for change

Company leadership should identify and share the business need for a shift toward SAFe—be it changes in legislation, best practices or desired goals. They should then motivate stakeholders and ensure that activities are in alignment with a vision for change.

2. Identify and train change agents

It’s imperative that leadership identify individuals across an organisation who can function as change agents, then help them train as certified SAFe Program Consultants. They will be responsible for training other business leaders and stakeholders in the practices and processes of SAFe.

3. Get executives and managers on board

Executives must be trained to allow them to model behaviour around Lean agile views and practices. Committed leadership will help to ensure adoption throughout the organisation.

4. Create a Lean agile centre of excellence

A centre of excellence helps to ensure that company-wide performance is optimised rather than just practising agile within specific domains.

5. Identify value streams and agile release trains (ARTs)

Value streams are the value a business provides to its customers, whereas ARTs are agile teams that develop solutions to create value. This combination of technology, internal processes and people will deliver an improved customer experience.

6. Prioritise and roadmap

It’s crucial to prioritise goals and set a roadmap to accomplish your SAFe transformation. Implementing this transformation means selecting the initial value stream, selecting the first ART, then repeating the process.

7. Define parameters for each ART launch

Set the definition for the ART, define deadlines, assemble agile teams, train personnel and perform readiness assessments for your launch. You must also undertake backlog program preparation.

8. Train teams and ensure that everyone understands their role

Individuals working as a team to develop business systems are crucial to the success of each ART. Everyone must completely grasp their role and possess the skills to execute their job skilfully.

9. Execute your ART

Execution relies on excelling at backlog refinement, iteration reviews, daily standups, system demo, iteration planning and iteration retrospectives, alongside Scrum-of-Scrums, ART Sync, and PO Sync.

10. Launch more ARTs and value streams

Subsequent ARTs must be launched as above by training teams, giving each ART the necessary time and effort to succeed, and coaching ART execution.

11. Extend to the portfolio level to lead business transformation

Apply each of the above steps at the portfolio level to set the overall culture, increase goal attainment and improve company-wide performance.

12. Sustain and improve operational effectiveness company-wide

Seek ways to take advantage of opportunities and find improvements that will give you continued success. Business leaders must operate with a continuous Lean agile mindset.

SAFe creates continuous integration, releases on demand and continuous deployment. CALMR is an approach to DevOps in SAFe. CALMR stands for culture, automating, lean flow, measurement and recovery. In other words, CALMR promotes a culture of shared responsibility, supported by CD pipeline automation, dynamically tearing down development environments that emulate production. Lean flow suggests a general push for smaller batches of software delivery, while measuring the flow through delivery improvement. This enables real-time monitoring and faster recovery.

Learn more about DevOps here.


SAFe helps teams to collaborate in an effective, cross-functional manner. Organisations are capable of achieving greater transparency and all aspects of a project are aligned with the larger business goals.


SAFe requires a significant amount of front planning and process definition, which leads some to argue that it is not a purely agile framework. The strategy is more top-down than team-based.

Other scaled agile frameworks have gained traction over time as SAFe has been integrated into large-scale software development teams.


Everyone is a part of an interchangeable team, and the network of Scrum teams come together to form an ecosystem depending on their goals. The purpose is to create a network of Scrum teams with basic roles and events that are linear and scaled without new process dynamics.

Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS)

SAFe offers four configurations for teams of increasing size with complex solutions, while LeSS offers two configurations: two to eight teams, and more than eight teams. It also differs in that product owners should have content authority and strategic influence, whereas SAFe is more democratic.


Oriented around the development of software, while supporting the products that are scalable. Nexus is a framework that consists of roles, artefacts, techniques and events that intertwine the work of three to nine Scrum teams on a single product to create a more integrated increment for a goal.

Disciplined Agile Delivery (DA)

DA is unlike the other Agile frameworks in that it is a toolkit that allows organisations to choose the manner of working that makes the most sense to them. Agile governance is more lightweight and is rooted in Scrum and Kanban, in addition to transformative knowledge in places like HR, finance, DevOps, governance and portfolio management.


This model is named after the organisation that developed it. People-driven and autonomous, the Spotify model can be applied in the coordination of agile teams. Some businesses have adopted it as a framework, although it was not intended to be. Spotify emphasises self-organisation and co-located, cross-functional teams, whereas SAFe doesn’t have a stipulation on the co-location of teams.

  • Fannie Mae
  • TomTom
  • SEI
  • Valpak
  • John Deere
  • Lego
  • Itel
  • Fitbit
  • Capital One
  • Phillips
  • Hewlett Packard
  • Sony
  • Air France
  • Elekta
  • NHS

SAFe is commonly used by large organisations, as they tend to focus on eliminating challenges that arise when scaling agile. It may also be a viable option if you are beginning to transition to an agile framework—it has a more prescriptive approach and offers flexibility and customisability while requiring an organisation to fully understand agile.

To remain competitive, modern businesses need to be able to increase both the quality and the speed of delivery of their applications. SAFe provides a framework by which businesses may make these improvements, but incorporating this framework can be difficult and time consuming. ServiceNow, the world leader in IT management, provides the solution.

The ServiceNow Scaled Agile Framework application makes it easy to apply Agile principles to even the most complex, large-enterprise software initiatives. ServiceNow Agile Development 2.0 and Scaled SAFe applications provide effective solutions to the challenges of agile management. Enable essential tasks for developing and maintaining software, from ideation to deployment and support, and enjoy complete visibility of the entire software value stream. ServiceNow SAFe connects strategy and execution to accelerate innovation, manages your agile portfolio to deliver customer value, and optimises work for teams to more quickly deliver products and services.

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