The Ultimate Guide to Know Everything about SAFe

As an organization grows, so does its team. While this is a great thing, it also comes with its own set of problems. For example: 

  1. Team members struggle to synchronize their work towards a common goal. 
  2. The entire team fails to tackle the increased product load. 
  3. Extensive work projects with multiple features to fit within a Sprint. 
  4. Lack of quality and transparency, which results in low motivation and productivity across the team. 

If you’re relating to any of the above-mentioned issues and struggling to implement Scrum practices into your large team, you’ve come to the right place. 

When a large organization with hundreds of teams fails to achieve a common goal, SAFe comes to the rescue. The scaled agile framework helps enterprises manage their team and provides great results. 

But what and how? Let’s dive into this post to find out.

What is SAFe

Technically speaking, SAFe or the Scaled Agile Framework is a set of workflow patterns for applying agile practices at a large enterprise scale. It’s a knowledge base that provides guidance on how to manage multiple teams and responsibilities and uphold values at an enterprise level. 

Now, if we remove all the technical jargon and speak in simple terms, SAFe is a way for large organizations to adopt a lean and agile way of working. 

“SAFe is a way for large organizations to plan and work in a more agile way.” 

SAFe was designed to promote alignment, collaboration, and fast delivery across a large team or complex work environment. It mainly combines the principles of— agile software development, lean product development, and system thinking. 

That means, with the Scaled Agile Framework, your organization can successfully tackle large, complex projects while maintaining quality and speed. 

Dean Leffingwell and Drew Jemilo in 2011 first introduced SAFe. The idea was to help enterprises create better systems and software that matches the constant changes in the market and customers’ needs. As of today, SAFe is a popular scaling agile framework used by a wide and evolving global community. 

Core Principles and Values of Scaled Agile Framework

The core principles of the Scaled Agile Framework are designed to improve an entire organization by implementing lean-agile principles across that organization. By using lean agile principles, any organization can shape the decision-making of leaders, managers, and every employee. 

And as you already know, agile is a mindset; using the Scaled Agile Framework will help the entire organization shift its mindset from the traditional waterfall approach to the lean-agile approach. 

On the other hand, SAFe’s values define the work culture a leader should foster in their team and how every member of that team should adopt that culture and behave accordingly to use SAFe effectively. 

Let’s take a look at the core principles and values of SAFe below:

Core Values of SAFe



Alignment means an entire enterprise or organization has clear visions about the end goal. Let’s explain this further with an example:

Imagine a team of rowers in a boat rowing towards the same goal of reaching the finish line. The rowers are pulling in the same direction. If any rowers aren’t aligned and pull in different directions, the boat will not move in the right direction, and they may even go off course. 

However, if the rowers are aligned and rowing together, the boat will move smoothly and effectively toward its goal. 

Similarly, if your organization has a clear understanding of where it’s going and how it’s working towards its goal in a coordinated and cohesive manner, you’ll accomplish success. On the other hand, if an organization with multiple teams lacks alignment, it won’t respond well to changes and will fail to reach the goal. 

How to Achieve Alignment:

  • Understand the current position of your organization and its goals 
  • Synchronize team members and activities regularly
  • Align the strategic themes and product backlogs with your organization’s vision and roadmaps 

Built-in Quality

In the Scaled Agile Framework, built-in quality defines the value of quality. According to SAFe, quality should never be compromised in pursuit of agility. That means, no matter what product or project your organization is working on, it should project the highest quality standards at every increment.

In SAFe, there are five dimensions of built-in quality: flow, architecture and design quality, code quality, system quality, and release quality. 

“Quality should never be compromised in pursuit of agility.” 

Many organizations make the mistake of keeping quality as an afterthought. They tend to inspect the quality once the project or product is completed or “done.” According to SAFe values, this is a “too late” approach. 

So, make quality a priority rather than an afterthought. It should be built into every step of the work process. 

How to Achieve Built-in Quality: 

  • Teams should define the “definition of done” at all levels for each project or product
  • Ongoing training and commitment 
  • Induce quality development practices at every step of the work process  


According to the SAFe methodology, transparency is a strong foundation of a productive, healthy, and successful organization. Without transparency, your organization will face a lack of trust, communication breakdowns, and lack of accountability. 

Transparency is crucial because it makes your organization robust. Contrarily, a lack of transparency can ultimately lead to the downfall of your company. 

How to Achieve Transparency: 

  • Encourage trust-building behaviors in your organization
  • Plan work in small batches so problems can surface sooner
  • Provide real-time access to backlog progress across all team levels
  • At the end of each increment, hold Inspect and Adapt event

Program Execution

Program execution is the most crucial value of SAFe. Since a large team works together to develop a product, SAFE focuses on continuously delivering high-quality, working software and high-value business results. 

How to Achieve Program Execution: 

Achieving quality program execution depends on SAFe’s other values. You have to focus on the highest standard of quality (built-in quality) while working on a project to detect or troubleshoot errors early. When you can detect the errors early, it becomes easier to find the solutions before it turns complex. And most importantly, thus you can ensure reliable program execution continuously. 


All of the four core values of the Scaled Agile Framework will work if the organization’s leaders can create the right environment to adopt these values and change the traditional system. How the leader communicates or exhibits these values depends largely on the leader’s behavior. 

How to Achieve Leadership: 

According to SAFe, business leaders need to adopt lean-agile leadership behavior to transform the environment and embrace the core values and principles.

The Core Principles of SAFe

The core principles of the SAFe agile framework are inspired by lean-agile principles. These principles are meant to influence the decision-making of leaders, managers, and the entire organization. The purpose of these principles of SAFe is to shift the waterfall mindset to a lean-agile mindset and improve the whole organizational and functional bodies.

Here are the ten core principles of the Scaled Agile Framework: 

1. Take an economic view

SAFe suggests that to deliver quality and value for people in the shortest lead time, you need to understand the fundamentals of economics. Everyday decisions like incremental value strategy should be based on a proper economic context. 

The Scaled Agile Framework allows you to understand the Cost of Delay, manufacturing, development, operational cost, and trade-offs between risks. Also, every development value stream must function within the context of the approved budget. This will reduce the chances of failed products or solutions. 

2. Apply system thinking 

According to the SAFe principle, system thinking should be applied to three areas: the organization building the solution, the value streams, and the solution itself. By solution, you can refer to anything, from deliverable products to services. 

Building complex solutions in large organizations can be challenging as they include many interrelated components. Organizing one component doesn’t optimize the entire solution. So every team member should have an understanding of how their part fits into the bigger picture of the organization.

3. Assume variability; preserve options

Building any solution, product, or service is an uncertain practice as, throughout the development process, market and technical variability always exist. 

Now imagine you’re following the traditional practices and working with only one design and requirement option. So, during the development process, if you come across a roadblock, you must go back and start the development process from scratch. This process wastes too much time to solve the issue.

This is where the SAFe principle provides the solution. The framework encourages you to maintain more than one design and requirements option during the development cycle. 

4. Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles 

Getting customer feedback isn’t easy before completing the deliverable product. Also, if the development process doesn’t allow customer feedback, the end results may consist of issues or errors. 

The fourth principle of SAFe provides a solution to this problem. It encourages organizations to develop systems or solutions incrementally in short iterations to get fast customer feedback and reduce risks. 

5. Base milestones on objective evaluation of working systems

It is the responsibility of both the business owner and customers to ensure their investments in developing new solutions will be economically beneficial. In the SAFe framework or the lean agile development process, the integration points provide objective milestones that evaluate the solution during the development cycle. 

This regular evaluation makes sure that all the investments will give organizations equivalent economic returns. 

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

According to the sixth principle, reducing the amount of work in the development process helps you see how productive your system is. Also, reducing the batch sizes of work ensures fast and reliable flow. And managing the queue length decreases the wait time for the new working system.

7. Apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain planning

This SAFe principle suggests that applying cadence creates predictability, reduces challenges, and gives a rhythm for development. Applying synchronization with cross-domain planning ensures that multiple perspectives get understood, resolved, and implemented. Cadence synchronization and cross-domain planning provide the required mechanism for operating effectively during development uncertainty. 

8. Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers

The eight principles of SAFe encourage large enterprises to find ways to motivate employees to reveal their best potential. According to SAFe, you can motivate your employees in different ways, for example: by minimizing constraints, creating a healthy work environment, offering mutual influence, etc. 

Employees who are motivated and engaged will provide better results for the organization, themselves, and the customer. 

9. Decentralize decision making

The ninth principle of the Scaled Agile Framework states that a decentralized decision-making system is required to produce value in a short time. If your team members need to contact the leaders or authorities before making any decision, it will be a delay in work. Especially if anyone from the authority doesn’t reply on time, the delay will increase. 

That’s why SAFe promotes decentralized decision-making to improve development flow, deliver fast feedback, and create more innovations. However, some organizational decisions that have strategic, global, and economic importance should be centralized. 

10. Organize around value  

According to the tenth principle of SAFe, in today’s era, an organization is successful if it can respond to the changing needs of the customers with innovative solutions. Business agility suggests that organizations must organize their work culture around standard values to ensure fast delivery. 

And every time the market or customer needs change, the organization must be prepared and seamlessly reorganize its values accordingly. 

How does SAFe Work?

Let’s imagine your organization is ready to transition from Scrum or Lean to SAFe. In that case, you can follow the SAFe implementation roadmap provided by Scaled Agile, Inc. These 12 steps contain information on how you can get started with the Scaled Agile Framework in your enterprise: 

  1. Reaching the tipping point
  2. Train lean-agile change agents
  3. Train executives, managers, and leaders
  4. Create a lean-agile center of excellence
  5. Identify value streams and ARTs 
  6. Create the implementation plan
  7. Prepare for ART (Agile Release Train) launch
  8. Train teams and launch the ART
  9. Coach the ART execution
  10. Launch more ARTs and value streams
  11. Extend to the portfolio
  12. Accelerate

As we’re only discussing the basics of SAFe in this article, we’re not going to get into the details of the SAFe implementation roadmap. So instead, here we’ll briefly describe the different levels of the SAFe implementation journey. 

Different Levels of Scaled Agile Framework 

Scaled Agile Framework has introduced different levels of configuration with three different SAFe versions: SAFe 3.0, SAFe 4.0, and SAFe 5.0. 

SAFE 3.0 has three levels-Portfolio, Program, and Team. This SAFe implementation method is mostly used for small organizations with 100 or fewer team members. SAFe 4.0 framework has four different SAFe levels: Portfolio, Value Stream, Program, and Team level. The 4.0 framework of SAFe provides solutions that can be implemented in a large team with more than hundreds of people. 

The SAFe 5.0 is a relatively new version of the Scaled Agile Framework. It introduces a new model or level known as Essential SAFe. This version was introduced to help organizations adopt full business agility. 

Essential SAFe

Essential SAFe is for organizations that want to start their development journey with SAFe. This level is the basic level configuration of the scaled agile and acts as a foundation for other levels. The Essential SAFe model will be familiar to you if you’re already coming from a background of agile and scrum.

Large Solution SAFe

Large Solution SAFe is used for large scaled organizations that face complex challenges while developing complex solutions that a single ART (Agile Release Train) can’t develop. Building solutions using Large Scale Solution SAFe requires additional roles, events, artifacts, and coordination. 

Portfolio SAFe

Portfolio SAFe configuration is used at the portfolio level of your organization or large-scale enterprise. Portfolio SAFe helps to align business strategy and investment funding with development solutions through value streams to accomplish business agility. The three main competencies of Portfolio SAFe are lean portfolio management, continuous learning culture, and organizational agility. 

Full SAFe

Full SAFe is a comprehensive configuration level that includes all the seven competencies required for business agility. Large organizations use full SAFe to provide complex solutions and maintain portfolios. Organizations with hundreds of people that work on numerous development processes can use this level of configuration. 

What are the Business Benefits of SAFe?


Implementing the Scaled Agile Framework at a large-scale enterprise helps manage projects better and yields many benefits. In fact, over 1m individuals in 20k companies around the globe have admitted the benefits of scaling agile. 

Based on customer case studies and data, the benefits of the Scaled Agile Framework are the following:  

Increase Quality 

SAFe values the concept of built-in quality, which focuses on implementing quality in every process of the development journey. It reduces the roadblocks, ensures that your team is meeting the acceptance criteria, and delivers products to maintain quality standards.

Using the Scaled Agile Framework in your organization, you can expect to enhance customer satisfaction and reduce bugs and warranty expenditure. 

Improve Team Productivity 

20-50% of businesses agreed that using SAFe has increased productivity in their organization. 

The Scaled Agile Framework encourages teams to reduce unnecessary work, find and remove delays, collaborate, and communicate to break the silos across the whole organization. As SAFe encourages teams to work together and contribute equally to achieve the business goal, everyone in the team stays productive and engaged. 

Also, it helps to improve communication, enhance cross-functional culture, and boat the quality of the deliverables.  

High Employee Engagement

Improved team productivity always results in high employee engagement. SAFe ensures that every member of a large team moves in the same direction and in synchronization to accomplish greater results. 

Seamless Product Execution

SAFe follows all the values and principles that bring rhythm to the work process. Using the framework, large organizations can plan and execute quality results without any roadblocks. In short, with SAFe, your organization can ensure streamlined and timely product execution,

Maintain Transparency 

One of the core values of SAFe is transparency. The framework encourages maintaining transparency to build trust in the team. Without trust, you can expect your team to lack accountability, work motivation, and even innovation. 

By providing access to the backlog at all team levels, holding retrospectives at the end of every increment, and providing regular feedback, SAFe maintains transparency across the entire team. 

Faster Time to Market 

In today’s world, the market is unpredictable and ever-changing. Scaled Agile Framework helps large organizations sustain in this uncertain market, adopt changes, and shift their mindset or creativity according to the market needs. 

The framework can help a team stay focused as a unit and move at a velocity that will help them reach their business goal. According to the stats provided by, SAFe helped 30-75% of businesses drive faster time to market. 

Differences Between SAFe and Other Agile Frameworks

SAFe is undoubtedly the most popular agile framework for large enterprises. But it isn’t the only agile practice that organizations can adopt to reap benefits. 

Let’s take a look at some of the other agile practices out there so that you can choose the best practice for your organization: 

SAFe vs. Scrum@Scale

In Scrum@Scale, every member of an interchangeable scrum team comes together based on their goals to build a network. The goal of Scrum@Scale is to build an ecosystem using a ‘scale-free architecture.’ This means the scrum roles and events are linearly scaled, so the team doesn’t have to introduce new process dynamics. S@S is less prospective than SAFe, but it helps organizations understand if they’re ready to scale. 

SAFe vs. Large-Scale Scrum 

Compared to the Scaled Agile Framework, Large-Scale Scrum takes a less complicated road to roles and artifacts. Unlike SAFe, LeSS offers two configurations: Less for two-eight teams and Less Huge for more than eight teams. Also, Large-Scale Scrum is best suited for teams with good scrum knowledge. 

SAFe vs. DA

The Disciplined Agile or DA framework helps organizations determine what working method works best for them. This first level of disciplined agile mainly focuses on people and offers lightweight, agile governance. If your organization wants to stay flexible and decide its SA path, then DA is the right tool for you. 

SAFe vs. Spotify Model 

Spotify Model isn’t a framework; it’s a people-driven, autonomous practice used for coordinating agile teams. This model focuses on cross-functional, self-organizing teams known as “squads.” These Squads are organized into larger units known as “tribes.” Spotify Model best suits organizations with a culture to learn, allow mistakes, and take controlled risks.

Values and PrinciplesLean-Agile valuesScrum Scrum Different agile techniques
Company SizeLarge organizations and enterprisesMultiple Scrum teamsMid-sized organizationsMid-sized organizations
ComplexityMedium to HighLow to MediumLow to MediumHigh

Table: SAFe vs. S@S vs. Less vs. DA

Why You Should Take Scaled Agile Certification and Training

In our changing marketing environment and customers’ needs, team leaders must stay updated with the knowledge of the Scaled Agile Framework. In addition, team leaders should be well-versed in adopting lean-agile practices to transform their organizations. 

SAFe certification and training are well-recognized across the globe. With SAFe certification and training, you can upskill and empower your team, drive business agility in your daily work, and deliver value. 

Wrapping Up

Scaled Agile Framework is meant to help large organizations boost productivity, reduce bugs, increase team satisfaction, and drive faster time to market. For scaling your business and bringing positive outcomes, SAFe practices are an important tool for you. Especially in this volatile market, the lean agile principles of SAFe can solve all your pain points.

However, just like any other tool, SAFe needs proper guidance and knowledge to implement it across the team. So, make sure to do proper research and consult the experts before considering making a transition to SAFe.  

Author’s Bio

Businesses transform when they realize that the current ways of working can no longer address the fast-changing market dynamics and rising user expectations. Agilemania, a small group of passionate Lean-Agile-DevOps consultants and trainers, is the most trusted brand for digital transformations in South and South-East Asia.

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