LeSS vs SAFe - Choose the Right Agile Framework

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Mar 13, 2024

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Scaling an organization while maintaining agility has always been one of the biggest problems in the business environment. Among the many scaling frameworks available, two major frameworks: LeSS (Large-Scale Scrum) and SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework)stand out the most. While both aim to tackle the challenges of scaling agile practices, they do so in different ways, with unique philosophies and impacts on organizational dynamics. In this detailed article, we'll explore the origins, core principles, market presence, certification programs, organizational impacts, team structures, and more of LeSS and SAFe.

Origins and Evolution

SAFe, conceived by Dean Leffingwell, a distinguished entrepreneur and software development methodologist, made its debut in 2011. Dean's extensive consultancy experience with major players in the industry, including Rational Software and Rally Software, provided the fertile ground for the development of SAFe. Over the years, SAFe underwent several iterations, each aimed at refining and enhancing its scalability and applicability in diverse organizational contexts.

On the other hand, LeSS emerged from the collaborative efforts of Craig Larman and Bas Vodde, seasoned software developers with a profound understanding of large-scale product development environments. Although officially introduced as a framework in 2015, LeSS's foundations were laid much earlier through the publication of seminal books on large-scale product development. This rich history underscores the depth of knowledge and practical insights embedded within the LeSS framework.

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Major Difference between LeSS and SAFe





Co-founded by Larman and Vodde, software developers.

Created by Leffingwell, entrepreneur and methodologist.

Market Presence

Relatively modest.

Widely recognized.


Basics, Practitioner, Executives.

Multiple versions, role-specific.

Consultancy Impact

Less recognition, challenges traditional structures.

Favored for compatibility with existing hierarchies.

Tooling Partnerships

Neutral stance, prioritizes simplicity.

Strong partnerships, facilitates adoption.

Organizational Design

Leaner, flatter structure.

Accommodates various layers, structured.

Team Structure

Cross-functional, minimal coordination.

Specialized, requires coordination.


Single shared backlog.

Multi-tiered, requires coordination.

Product Ownership

Strategic decision-making, transcends boundaries.

Delineated roles for management.

Stakeholder Engagement

Direct engagement.

Structured interactions.


Decentralized, team responsibility.

Centralized coordination.


Market Presence and Certification Programs

SAFe's dominant presence in the market is a testament to its adaptability and scalability, catering to the diverse needs of organizations ranging from small startups to large enterprises. Its popularity is not only reflected in the sheer number of Certified SAFe Product Consultants (SPCs) but also in the extensive range of role-specific certification courses offered. These certifications serve as a validation of individuals' proficiency in implementing SAFe practices within their respective roles, further enhancing the framework's credibility and attractiveness to businesses seeking agile transformation solutions.

Moreover, SAFe's continuous evolution with multiple versions tailored to different organizational contexts ensures its relevance and applicability across various industries and business landscapes. This adaptability fosters trust among stakeholders, positioning SAFe as a reliable choice for navigating complex agile transformations effectively.

SAFe Certification Programs

Certified SAFe Agilist (SA)

Certified SAFe Practitioner (SP)

Certified SAFe Scrum Master (SSM)

Certified SAFe Product Owner/Product Manager (POPM)

Certified SAFe Advanced Scrum Master (SASM)

Certified SAFe Release Train Engineer (RTE)

Certified SAFe DevOps Practitioner (SDP)

Certified SAFe Government Practitioner (SGP)

Certified SAFe Agile Software Engineer (ASE)

Certified SAFe Lean Portfolio Manager (LPM)

Certified SAFe Product Consultant (SPC)

Certified SAFe Program Consultant (SPC4)

These certifications cater to various roles within organizations undergoing agile transformations, providing individuals with the knowledge and skills needed to effectively implement SAFe practices.

On the other hand, while LeSS does not have the same level of market dominance as SAFe, its emphasis on organizational design improvements signifies a strategic approach to agile adoption. By prioritizing deep understanding and systemic change over role-specific training, LeSS cultivates a culture of agility that transcends individual roles, fostering collaboration and innovation within organizations.

However, LeSS's focus on significant structural changes may pose challenges for organizations hesitant to undergo such transformations. Despite its more modest market presence, LeSS remains a valuable option for businesses committed to embracing agile principles holistically and willing to embark on the journey of organizational redesign for long-term agility and resilience. 

LeSS Certification Programs: 

LeSS Basics

Certified LeSS Practitioner (CLP)

Certified LeSS Executive (CLE)

LeSS certifications focus on deepening understanding and expertise in Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) frameworks, emphasizing principles and practices for scaling agile Software development in large organizations. The CLP certification, in particular, equips participants with the knowledge and tools necessary to apply LeSS principles effectively in their organizations, fostering agility at scale.

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Influence by Large Consultancies

Large consultancies often favour SAFe due to its alignment with traditional organizational structures and minimal disruption to existing hierarchies. SAFe's compatibility with the status quo ensures prolonged engagements and profitability for consulting firms, making it a popular choice for corporate clients seeking agile transformations. Its structured approach and extensive certification programs provide a framework that consulting firms can readily implement and support, reducing risk and ensuring smoother transitions for their clients. 

In contrast, LeSS's emphasis on organizational de-scaling and radical redesign challenges the conventional wisdom upheld by many consultancies. The reluctance to adopt such transformative change, coupled with a lack of internal success stories, diminishes LeSS's visibility and endorsement within consulting circles. Moreover, the complexity and uncertainty associated with LeSS implementations may deter consulting firms from advocating for its adoption, preferring more familiar and less disruptive approaches like SAFe.

However, as organizations increasingly recognize the limitations of traditional hierarchical structures and seek more agile and adaptable operating models, there may be a growing demand for consultants with expertise in LeSS and similar frameworks. Consulting firms willing to embrace innovative approaches and challenge established norms may find opportunities to differentiate themselves in the market and drive meaningful change for their clients.

Business Partnership with Tooling Companies

SAFe's tight integration with popular workflow management and tracking tools facilitates seamless adoption within enterprises. Tooling companies strategically align their products with SAFe's multi-layered structure, offering tailored solutions that resonate with organizations undergoing agile transformations.

In contrast, LeSS maintains a neutral stance on tooling recommendations, prioritizing simplicity and ease of operation over specific software partnerships. While this approach allows for flexibility, it may require organizations to adapt existing tools or develop custom solutions to support LeSS practices effectively.

Framework 'Size' and Traditional Organizational Design

SAFe as a framework, accommodates various organizational layers and roles, providing a structured approach to scaling agile practices. Traditional management hierarchies and roles find a place within SAFe, ensuring continuity and familiarity for stakeholders transitioning to agile methodologies. Its scalability allows for the integration of existing roles and structures, minimizing disruption and facilitating smoother adoption across large organizations. This adaptability is particularly beneficial for enterprises with complex hierarchies and diverse teams, as SAFe provides a common language and framework for coordination and alignment.

Moreover, SAFe's framework follows a wide range of practices, processes, and principles tailored to different organizational contexts, ensuring its applicability across diverse industries and business landscapes. From small teams to large-scale enterprises, SAFe offers scalability and flexibility, allowing organizations to tailor their agile transformations to their specific needs and constraints. This versatility enhances SAFe's attractiveness to businesses seeking comprehensive solutions for navigating complex agile transformations effectively.

Whereas, LeSS advocates for a leaner, flatter organizational structure, challenging the conventional wisdom of hierarchical management. By prioritizing team autonomy and decentralized decision-making, LeSS fosters a culture of empowerment and collaboration, albeit requiring significant cultural shifts within organizations. This emphasis on simplification and streamlining aims to reduce bureaucracy and improve responsiveness, enabling faster decision-making and innovation. However, it also necessitates a fundamental reevaluation of traditional roles and power dynamics, which can be daunting for organizations accustomed to hierarchical structures and centralized control.

Team Structure and Coordination

SAFe incorporates specialized teams, such as agile Methodology, Kanban Methodology, XP, and DevOps teams Structure, necessitating coordination and integration efforts to align diverse functions. Release managers and coordination specialists play vital roles in bridging gaps between teams and ensuring smooth delivery processes. These specialists facilitate communication, resolve conflicts, and synchronize activities across different teams, promoting a cohesive and collaborative working environment. Moreover, SAFe's framework emphasizes the importance of continuous integration and delivery, requiring teams to coordinate closely to deliver high-quality products and services efficiently.

SAFe also encourages the implementation of agile release trains (ARTs), which are cross-functional teams responsible for delivering value in a consistent and predictable manner. ARTs bring together individuals from various disciplines, including development, testing, and operations, fostering collaboration and shared accountability for outcomes. This structured approach to team organization facilitates coordination and alignment at scale, enabling organizations to deliver value to customers more effectively.

Whereas, LeSS promotes cross-functional feature teams capable of end-to-end product delivery, minimizing dependencies and coordination overhead. Teams take ownership of coordination and integration, leveraging communication and knowledge-sharing practices to facilitate seamless collaboration. By breaking down silos and encouraging collective ownership of outcomes, LeSS fosters a culture of collaboration and empowerment, enabling teams to adapt quickly to changing requirements and deliver value iteratively.

LeSS emphasizes the importance of simplicity and transparency in team structures, advocating for smaller, self-managing teams that are responsible for end-to-end product development. This decentralized approach reduces coordination overhead and streamlines decision-making, enabling teams to respond more effectively to customer needs and market dynamics.

Backlogs and Product Centricity

SAFe's multi-tiered backlog structure reflects the organizational hierarchy, with separate backlogs for teams, programs, solutions, and portfolios. While providing clarity at different levels, this compartmentalized approach requires extensive coordination to maintain alignment and relevance across backlogs. Each backlog serves a specific organizational level, with items flowing down from higher-level backlogs to lower-level ones, ensuring alignment with overall business objectives. However, this hierarchical structure can introduce complexity and overhead, requiring robust coordination mechanisms to synchronize priorities and dependencies between different levels of the organization.

SAFe's approach to backlog management emphasizes the importance of backlog refinement and prioritization ceremonies, ensuring that teams focus on delivering the highest-priority items first. This iterative approach enables organizations to respond quickly to changing market demands and customer feedback, maximizing value delivery and ROI.

Whereas, LeSS adopts a simpler approach with a single Product Backlog shared by all teams working on the same product. By focusing on a unified product vision and prioritization, LeSS fosters alignment and coherence across teams, streamlining the product development process. This shared backlog eliminates the need for extensive coordination between multiple backlogs, reducing overhead and complexity. Moreover, it encourages collaboration and shared ownership among teams, fostering a collective sense of responsibility for delivering value to customers.

LeSS emphasizes the importance of transparency and visibility in backlog management, advocating for lightweight processes and tools that facilitate open communication and collaboration. This enables teams to adapt quickly to changing priorities and market conditions, maximizing flexibility and responsiveness in product development.

Product Ownership and Stakeholder Engagement

SAFe delineates specific roles for product ownership, with Product Owners responsible for backlog management and prioritization. Stakeholder engagement occurs through designated roles like Epic Owners and Business Owners, facilitating structured interactions with development teams. This structured approach ensures clarity in responsibilities and accountability for product delivery, enabling effective communication and alignment between stakeholders and development teams. Additionally, SAFe emphasizes the importance of collaboration and feedback loops between Product Owners and stakeholders, enabling continuous refinement of product priorities and ensuring that development efforts align with business objectives.

In LeSS, product ownership includes strategic decision-making and maximizing ROI, transcending the traditional boundaries of functional roles. Direct engagement with users and stakeholders is encouraged, fostering a collaborative environment where teams have direct access to customer insights and feedback. This emphasis on direct engagement enables teams to gain a deeper understanding of user needs and market dynamics, facilitating more informed decision-making and faster response to changing requirements. By empowering teams to take ownership of product development and engage directly with stakeholders, LeSS promotes agility and responsiveness, enabling organizations to deliver value more effectively in today's dynamic business environment.

Integration and Release Management

SAFe delegates integration and release management to dedicated teams like the System Team and Agile Release Train (ART), streamlining the delivery pipeline and ensuring continuous deployment capabilities. Centralized coordination minimizes bottlenecks and optimizes release cycles across the organization. This structured approach allows for efficient management of dependencies and ensures that releases are synchronized across multiple teams and components. Moreover, SAFe emphasizes the importance of automation and continuous integration practices, enabling organizations to deliver high-quality software at a rapid pace.

  1. Dedicated teams like the System Team and Agile Release Train (ART)
  2. Centralized coordination minimizes bottlenecks
  3. Emphasis on automation and continuous integration practices

In contrast, LeSS promotes decentralized integration and release management, with teams collectively responsible for maintaining a shared Definition of Done (DoD) and delivering shippable increments. By distributing these activities among teams, LeSS encourages autonomy and self-organization, reducing reliance on specialized roles. This decentralized approach fosters a culture of ownership and accountability, empowering teams to make decisions autonomously and adapt quickly to changing requirements.

  1. Decentralized integration and release management
  2. Teams are collectively responsible for maintaining a shared Definition of Done (DoD)
  3. Encourages autonomy and self-organization

Furthermore, LeSS emphasizes the importance of collaboration and transparency in integration and release management, encouraging teams to work closely together to ensure that increments are integrated seamlessly and released in a timely manner. This enables organizations to leverage the collective expertise of their teams and deliver value to customers more effectively.


The decision between adopting LeSS or SAFe is not just a mere preference; it has to be a choice influenced by organizational context, objectives, and cultural readiness for change. In Summation, SAFe presents a structured, top-down approach ideal for organizations seeking order and control. Its tiered structure and role delineation offer clarity and guidance, particularly beneficial for larger enterprises with intricate hierarchies. On the other hand, LeSS advocates for a leaner, decentralized model that prioritizes empowerment and collaboration. It challenges traditional organizational hierarchies, promoting self-organization and team autonomy. This approach fosters a culture of ownership and accountability, conducive to innovation and adaptability in rapidly changing environments.

By conducting a thorough evaluation of the features, principles, and implications of LeSS and SAFe, businesses can make well-informed decisions aligned with their distinct needs and aspirations. Organizations should consider factors such as their size, industry, and existing processes when selecting the most suitable framework. Engaging stakeholders and fostering a culture of openness and collaboration can facilitate smoother adoption and integration of agile practices. Ultimately, whether opting for the structure and guidance of SAFe or the flexibility and autonomy of LeSS, enterprises must prioritize creating an environment conducive to sustainable agility and innovation.  Are you looking to improve your understanding of SAFe? Enroll in our Leading SAFe certification course today and gain the knowledge and skills needed to lead successful agile transformations in your organization.


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