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Introduction to SAFe

SAFe® is an acronym for Scaled Agile Framework® and was introduced in 2011 by co-creators Dean Leffingwell and Drew Jemilo as an actionable framework for Business Agility, inspired by the Agile Manifesto of 2001.

The Agile Manifesto and subsequent ‘Agile Movement’ sprung from a deep desire to move away from traditional waterfall-style project management and instead focus on delivering continuous and incremental value to customers.

Where Project Management focused on deadlines and project milestones, Agile focused on customers, continuous improvement and drew on the foundations of Lean Project Management to create a new style of working that enabled companies to become adaptive and responsive.

Empowered organisations to focus on the highest value work, in the right way, at the right time.

What is SAFe?

SAFe draws on the foundations of Scrum and creates a framework for scaling business agility across the organisation. Like the Agile Manifesto, SAFe is built on a foundation of core principles.

  • Principle 1: Take an economic view.
  • Principle 2: Apply systems thinking.
  • Principle 3: Assume variability; preserve options.
  • Principle 4: Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles.
  • Principle 5: Base milestones on objective evaluation of working systems.
  • Principle 6: Visualise and limit WIP, reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths.
  • Principle 7: Apply cadence, synchronise with cross-domain planning.
  • Principle 8: Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers.
  • Principle 9: Decentralise decision-making.
  • Principle 10: Organise around value.

Like Agile, SAFe is a mindset. An organisational culture.

Scrum is built on the value proposition of ‘achieving twice the work in half the time’, and SAFe taps into this; however, its focus lies in doing the right work, in the right way, at the right time in alignment with organisational capability.

SAFe is purpose-built for large organisations that are seeking a safe, structured and organised transformation to Agile. 

The co-creators of SAFe understood that whilst there are a number of Agile frameworks which boast rapid iteration cycles and hyper-productivity, many organisations simply aren’t ready to transform in such a drastic way overnight.

Much of the Scaled Agile Framework is rooted in developing Agile capability and embedding those skills, mindsets and organisational culture through a proven, trusted and resilient framework that large organisations could both trust and invest in.

Why is SAFe one of the most widely implemented frameworks?

“The impression that ‘our problems are different’ is a common disease that afflicts management the world over. They are different, to be sure, but the principles that will help to improve the quality of product and service are universal in nature.” —W. Edwards Deming

Sometimes, the best advice is the hardest thing in the world to implement. 

The McKinsey 7S model is a tribute to how organisations need to align 7 key elements – Skills, Strategy, Structure, Shared Values, Style, Staff and Systems – to be successful with a project, initiative, or in achieving organisational objectives.

If you’ve got a great strategy but don’t have the key staff or critical skills in place to support that strategy, you’re going to scale problems rather than solutions.

Different horses for different courses.

What SAFe does so well is to provide an actionable framework that enables enterprise organisations to transform, at scale, supported by processes and roles to achieve incremental business agility.

Introduction to SAFe

As with any philosophy, there are pragmatists, and there are dogmatic evangelists.

SAFe falls firmly in the category of pragmatic transformation. 

Whilst Agile purists and evangelists criticise SAFe for being a hybrid model rather than a true high-performance Agile framework, many large and multi-national organisations simply cannot transform overnight.

They need a structured, proven framework that enables them to transform at scale. SAFe has proven to be one of the most effective and reliable Agile Frameworks for enterprise-level organisations and continues to grow in popularity and effectiveness in C-Suites worldwide.

SAFe Adoption

SAFe for lean enterprises comes in 4 configurations:

  1. Essential SAFe – the most basic configuration of the framework and the absolute essentials necessary to be successful with SAFe.
  2. Large Solution SAFe – the configuration that best works for organisations that deliver large and complex solutions which do not require the constructs of the Portfolio level.
  3. Portfolio SAFe – provides portfolio strategy and investment funding, Agile Portfolio Operations, and Lean Governance.
  4. Full SAFe – represents the most comprehensive configuration. It supports building large, integrated solutions that typically require hundreds of people or more to maintain and develop.

If you’re new to SAFe or simply exploring the framework as a potential solution for pre and post-Agile Transformation, training is a great place to start.

Our Leading SAFe – Certified Lean Agilist course is the preferred starting point in your SAFe journey. 

During this two-day course, attendees gain the knowledge necessary to lead a Lean-Agile enterprise by leveraging the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) and its underlying principles derived from Lean, systems thinking, Agile development, product development flow, and DevOps.

If you’re thinking of a private training course for a number of individuals in your company, touch base with our team on for more information and discounted corporate rates.

How can we help?

Do you need support with SAFe in your organisation?

Get in touch to see how we can help, or check out our Scaling Agile & Scrum page