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Scaled Agile Framework

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What does SAFe mean in project management?

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), also known as SAFe for Lean Enterprises, is a framework for thinking and acting that makes agile software development possible in a classic corporate context with large-scale projects and organizations. Rather than a single methodology, it is a broad knowledge base of proven best practices that teams have used to deliver successful software products. The framework provides structured guidelines for roles, responsibilities, task planning and values and thus serves as a knowledge resource. 

SAFe is a complex model for aligning and integrating agile development across many teams. It enables efficient collaboration, greater flexibility, and better coordination. The framework combines approaches from the agile methods Scrum and Kanban as well as the principles of lean product development, making it possible to apply agility in a corporate environment and on a large scale. SAFe considers the three levels of team, program and portfolio and is currently one of the most popular solutions for scaling agile methods. 

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These are the levels of SAFe

The Scaled Agile Framework enables effective collaboration between teams, departments, and different levels of an organization. As briefly mentioned above, SAFe works with different levels. Each of these levels has specific roles, which are described in more detail below. 

Team level

An agile team that works in a self-organized manner forms the basis of SAFe. Here, coordinated operational work in the areas of design, development and testing is synchronized for each business unit. The team uses Scrum or Kanban to organize the work. A team consists of a Product Owner, a Scrum Master and a development team. 

Program level

Here, several agile teams (up to 10) work together in an Agile Release Train. The clocking takes place in so-called program increments (PI), which usually extend over 3-4 sprints each. Strategic goals for the next three months are set by the Business Owners. The Product Manager is responsible for the product and works closely with the Product Owner. The Release Train Engineer is responsible for the management of risks and dependencies as well as the continuous improvement of processes. He acts across several teams, promotes collaboration, and takes care of dependencies between teams. The System Architect is responsible for system design and takes care of subsystems, interfaces, and important system elements, for example. 

Large solution level

At this SAFe level, two or more Agile Release Trains are required. If a single ART is not sufficient, several ARTs are combined to form a Solution Train. The Large Solution level is relevant for organizations that develop complex solutions, e.g. in the automotive industry. Roles at this level are: Solution Manager, Solution Architect or Engineer and Solution Train Engineer. 

Portfolio level

At this level of the SAFe framework, the entire company or an individual business unit has already successfully introduced the agile methodology. This now requires a corresponding adaptation of management methods to bring them into line with agile practices. It is time to integrate lean budgeting and strategic governance processes into the overall structure. The portfolio level includes the roles of Epic Owner and Enterprise Architect. 

The principles of SAFe:

SAFe is based on ten key principles that build on existing Lean Management and Agile methodologies. 

1. Economic value creation in the Scaled Agile Framework

In the SAFe framework, everyone in the company is responsible for optimizing the sequence of tasks, understanding economic trade-offs and dealing with limited budgets. The concepts and tools are derived from Reinertsen’s theory of the product development workflow. To deliver maximum value and best quality as quickly as possible, it is crucial to understand the economic conditions for product and service development. Daily decisions should be made in the right economic context. To this end, the development and communication of a strategy for additional value creation is of great importance. 

2. Application of systems thinking

An organization can be viewed as a complex system consisting of numerous interconnected parts such as employees and processes that pursue common goals. In order to optimize the overall organization, everyone involved must understand and commit to the system goals. SAFe therefore relies on systems thinking to achieve comprehensive improvements throughout the entire organization.  

3. Flexible product development 

Many product development methods rely on clear, predefined design and end goalsFuture adjustments are very time-consuming and often ineffective if the wrong goals are chosen at the beginning. A more effective approach is to keep different options for design and end goals open over a longer period of time. Using empirical data, these options can then be analyzed and narrowed down to develop a design that leads to better economic outcomes. 

4. Incremental development

Solutions should be developed in successive iterations. Each iteration results in an integrated, incremental part of a functional system, building on the previous one. This iterative approach minimizes risks and allows customer feedback to be incorporated quickly and regularly.  

5. Milestones based on an objective evaluation of the work processes

The investments made must be reviewed by the company, developers and stakeholders and it must be ensured that they retain their value. The iterative working methods make it possible to evaluate each cycle whether the investment made is still relevant. 

6. Continuous flow: visualize, limit, minimize

A continuous flow of work must be established in the organization to transform ideas into products and services. To achieve this “flow”, three key factors must be taken into account: Visualizing the work, limiting the number of tasks being processed simultaneously and minimizing waiting times. If these points are optimized, the best possible results will be achieved. 

7. Synchronization for predictability in complex projects

Predictability can be enabled with a fixed development cycle. In complex projects where several teams are involved, dependencies often arise between the teams. Synchronization of development work makes it easier to identify and resolve these dependencies. 

8. Use of intrinsic motivation

The intrinsic motivation of employees should be addressed above all. Teams need to be given certain freedoms and clear goals. This results in a higher level of commitment from team members, which in turn can lead to more creativity and the development of improved products and services for customers. 

9. Decentralized decision-making:

Decentralized decision making leads to fewer delays, improved product development flow, faster feedback and more innovative solutions. However, centralized decision-making is still necessary in some cases, especially when there are strategic implications. 

10. Value-oriented organization

This principle emphasizes the importance of three organizational patterns: Value Streams, Agile Release Trains (ARTs) and Agile Teams. They help companies to build a more flexible operating system. Compared to the hierarchical system, this network enables faster adaptation to market changes. Value streams, ARTs and agile teams remain in place as long as the solutions they develop are successful on the market. Nevertheless, value streams can be further developed or adapted as required, while the hierarchy remains stable. 

Components of SAFe

There are different configurations for the application of SAFe, depending on the size and scope of the organization.  

  • Essential SAFe: This configuration is the most basic and is suitable for smaller organizations and teams that want to get started quickly.  
  • Large Solution SAFe: This configuration is designed for scaling large and complex projects.  
  • Portfolio SAFe: Is used in organizations that require comprehensive portfolio management. It contains mechanisms for lean portfolio management to control strategic alignment and investments.  
  • Full SAFe: All SAFe principles and artifacts at the various levels are integrated here and thus enable a complete agile transformation throughout the entire company. 
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The advantages of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

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Faster feedback loops can be guaranteed with the help of the SAFe framework. As a result, teams are more motivated and work more effectively, which in turn leads to increased productivity and accelerated goal achievement.

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SAFe enables the application of agile principles at company level and thus facilitates scaling to multiple levels and teams.

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Clear hierarchies, programs and portfolios ensure more efficient organization and collaboration.

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More effective communication:

The structured and agile methods can promote more intensive communication between levels and teams, which in turn leads to better understanding and coordination.

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Risk minimization

The framework is well suited for projects with high complexity. The methods of SAFe make it possible to react flexibly to changing requirements and unforeseeable events. In addition, clear hierarchies of teams, programs and portfolios provide a good basis for identifying and managing uncertainties.

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Faster time to market and improved quality:

The method enables a faster response to customer needs and provides continuous feedback, which leads to an accelerated time to market for products. Quality also improves.

The disadvantages of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

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Clear hierarchies:

Additional hierarchy levels are often built into the framework, which contradicts the agile principle of flat hierarchies.

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There may be additional costs for training and certification of team members and managers. 

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The correct application of SAFe principles often requires experts, which entails certain dependencies. Incorrect application of the framework can also lead to misunderstandings. 

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Cultural change:

The introduction of SAFe often requires a change in the organizational culture, which some employees and managers may find difficult. 


Which companies use SAFe?

The use of the Scaled Agile Framework is not limited to specific industries or types of organizations. It can be used by companies of all sizes and industries, especially those that develop complex products or services and are ready to scale agile principles at the enterprise level. Many large and internationally active companies, particularly in the financial services, healthcare, IT, telecommunications, and automotive industries, use SAFe. However, its application depends on the organization’s specific requirements, goals, and readiness to apply agile principles at scale. According to SAFe®, around 20,000 companies worldwide trust the framework. 

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How can SAFe be implemented in companies?

The following sequence is suitable for implementing the framework in companies:

1. Communication

Changes in the company can have a wide variety of triggers, such as legal changes or the pursuit of specific goals. Regardless of the cause, it is crucial that the management level recognizes the reasons for the transition to SAFe and communicates them transparently. It is then the task of managers to accompany the change and motivate all project participants to act together in accordance with the shared vision. 

2. Change Agents

Employees must be selected within the company who can act as ‘Change Agents’ and later be established as certified ‘Program Consultants’. They not only provide technical guidance to stakeholders in the Scaled Agile Framework, but also train the management level. 

3. Trainings

Managers must receive SAFe training in order to apply the agile methods correctly and serve as role models. 

4. Lean Agile Center of Excellence

The establishment of a ‘Lean Agile Center of Excellence’ offers an opportunity to consolidate lean and agile methods throughout the entire organization and thus contribute to an optimized performance of these methods at company level. 

5. Agile Release Trains (ART)

These agile teams are responsible for developing value-adding solutions by using a combination of people, internal processes, and technology to deliver that value to customers. 

6. Prioritization

Once business goals have been defined, prioritization and roadmap creation take place to implement the overall goals of the SAFe transformation. During implementation, a value stream is selected first, followed by the definition of an ART.  

7. Parameter definition

Before an ART is established, the determination and definition of parameters is important. This includes setting deadlines, putting together agile teams, training staff and carrying out a readiness assessment. The preparation of a corresponding backlog program is also important. 

8. Understanding of roles

Each team member of an ART must understand their role, perform it effectively and needs the necessary skills to do so successfully.  

9. Sustainable role filling

A key success factor in the implementation of Agile Release Trains is to fill the respective SAFe roles on a permanent basis. 

10. Expansion to portfolio level

The expansion to portfolio level can take place as soon as all of the previously mentioned measures have been implemented. This strengthens the entire corporate culture and leads to an improvement in company performance and the general achievement of objectives. 

11. Company-wide efficiency

The efficiency of company processes depends on how quickly new business opportunities are recognized and implemented. At this level, the entire management level of the company is characterized by a mindset that corresponds to the principles of Lean and Agile. 

What is the difference between Scrum and SAFe?

Scrum is an agile project management method that can be used to manage projects and is suitable for establishing self-organization in a company. The method is characterized by close communication between all participants, high adaptability to change and flat hierarchies.

With Scrum, it is possible to realize projects even when they are highly unclear and complex, without having to create a detailed project plan in advance. The method works with small to medium-sized teams with an interdisciplinary composition. Three central roles are defined within the team: the product owner, the scrum master and the development team. The goal and direction are defined within the scrum method, but the teams have the freedom to shape the path to get there independently. 

Scrum is aimed more at flexibility and self-organization in smaller teams, while SAFe offers a structured approach for scaling agile practices at company level.

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SAFe Scrum


Structured, clear hierarchy, specific roles, agile 

Self-organized and agile

Team size

Varies -> everything that goes beyond Scrum sizes; often several teams 

Small to medium-sized teams (with a Product Owner and a Scrum Master) -> maximum 11 people 

Target group

Large organizations and multiple teams looking to scale agile practices across the board 

Small to medium-sized teams that want to work in an agile way 


Framework for scaling agile practices 

No special mechanisms for scaling 


Hierarchical framework with different levels (team, program & portfolio -> within these there are specific roles) 

Clear roles (product owner, scrum master, development team) 

Other frameworks for scaling Agile

SAFe is widely used around the world. However, there are also other frameworks that are suitable for scaling complex and large projects. 

Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS)

LeSS (Large-Scale Scrum) is a scaling framework that extends Scrum to include scaling practices. It does not change Scrum but is based on the same principles. The LeSS framework can be used to develop products with 2 to around 8 teams. The LeSS Huge framework is intended for larger organizations. 

LeSS is characterized above all by its simple structure, as it is based on the functioning Scrum team. The individual teams are responsible for agile product development under the control of a single product owner. The product owner takes care of a central backlog, which is then used by several development teams. The development teams are feature teams that can ideally work on any backlog items from a central product backlog.

Advantages of LeSS:

  • Basic roles of Scrum are adopted and not extended
  • Flat organizational structure 
  • High flexibility  
  • Agility is scaled in larger groups 
  • Decentralization in decision-making 
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Scrum@Scale is a method for scaling Scrum that is based on the basic principles of Scrum and extends them to enable scaling to the entire large organization. In this framework, all employees are designed as interchangeable members of a Scrum team. Depending on the defined goals, several Scrum teams are brought together to form a network that forms a comprehensive ecosystem. The framework thus offers a modular structure that is designed to support the scaling of Scrum in different contexts. 

Advantages of Scrum@Scale: 

  • Basic roles of Scrum are adopted and not extended  
  • Extension of Scrum to organizational level (not just within teams)  
  • Decentralization in decision-making
  • High flexibility  
  • Modular structure of the teams -> enables flexible adaptation
  • Extend the implementation of Scrum to company level

Conclusion: Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

SAFe is a framework to support the implementation of agile methods on a large scale. It provides clear structures and responsibilities for effective scaling and promotes collaboration between teams. Companies using SAFe experience accelerated time to market, improved product quality and reduced risk of project failure. Despite potential challenges such as cultural change and adjustments to existing processes, these should not prevent the implementation. Through active leadership involvement, continuous improvement and clear communication, companies can successfully implement SAFe and reap the full benefits, increasing project agility and efficiency. 

Software solutions around SAFe

Solution Template Essential SAFe

Essential SAFe

The cplace Solution Template helps companies to successfully scale agile. It is the digital support for the basic configuration of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe).

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