What is Scaled Agile Framework?

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Jun 18, 2024

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Scaled agile framework made it easy for handling development and delivery even with larger and multiple teams. It still did not compromise in the Agile Manifesto. This framework is in general referred to as the Safe methodology in the industry. 

Managing projects in an efficient manner became easy with agile approach. It is an iterative process that helped in saving the cost and time of the resources. Also, it avoided redoing the entire work as the team worked collaboratively and met for daily stand up meetings, sprints, and sprint retrospective to make changes iteratively. This gave a great sign of relief from the traditional method. 

Having said that, this method also had hiccups when larger teams or multiple teams were involved in development and delivery. Scaled Agile Framework ® addressed this issue and fine-tuned the process there as well to live up to the Agile Manifesto. This framework is in general referred to as the SAFe® methodology in the industry. 

Let us understand this methodology in detail using this guide which is carefully drafted for all those who wish to update agile at the enterprise level. 

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First things first – Definition and Intro 

Application of lean-agile practice to enterprise-level projects can be done with the help of this scaled framework. The three sections of this framework are team level, portfolio level, and program level. The SAFe® agile framework has built its base on agile and lean principle. The purpose of Safe methodology is to match the expectation of the entire organization's stakeholders. 

History of 

Dean Leffingwell is the father of the SAFe® framework. He is the co-founder of scaledagile.com which is functioning since 2011. 

SAFe® Version1.02.03.0LSE4.
Release Year2011 2014 2016June 20173rd Oct 2018Expected Jan 2020

Roots of SAFe®

The roots of SAFe® have a deep focus on iterative, increment, agile and product development. Lean thinking and experience at the field level is the core in a scaled agile framework. The picture below depicts the roots of SAFe®. 
When should we use Safe Methodology in Agile
Agile process is simple which can be understood with the following points
- Epics – Large user stories  
  • - Sub epics – Smaller user stories or story allotted to each team 
Scaled agile process is no different from this but the only thing we need to remember is, it is applied for large enterprise-level projects. There is will collection of epics and each epic will have its features to be implemented by teams. Therefore this model is used during the following 5 situations. 

Top 5 situations to use SAFe® agile methodology for improving the organization performance 5x

  1. Agile implementation to be done consistently across multiple teams and larger portfolios.
  2. Teams that always face challenges in managing time in delivery. 
  3. When the team requires independence, the organization can allow this model and manage things by objective 
  4. Improving the development lead time for scaling the organization to the next level. 
  5. When there is a lack of clarity on role, then the team can apply this model to take ownership to implement things effectively.

Difference between SAFe® and other practices followed in agile 

Other practices (AGILE)
1It is available for free and in public domainNot all are available for free and in public domain 
2Level specific but lightweightLightweight but not specific to levels 
3Easily usable form Not approachable
4Constantly upgrades matching agile practicesNot much of upgrades evident officially 
5The agile practice is grounded to the enterprise levelAgile practice for small level
6The entire software development process is covered Only partially covered 
7Visible and transparent Visible and transparent 
8SAFe® is for enterprisesFor teams
9Agile release train (ART) to programSprint for teams 

With this basic introduction, let us move into the basic foundation of SAFe®.

Basic building block 

The framework lies on the following basic building blocks and that form the strong foundation of SAFe®.

1. Principle – Lean-Agile
Understanding the principle of SAFe® is a must as that will help the individual and team to accomplish the goal at the enterprise level. The principles of this framework are not rocket science though. They are simple and offer a view from an economic standpoint. It applies system thinking and reserves options for future use. Variables are assumed and changes are implemented based on need. The increments are built fast and the learning cycles are integrated. The work in progress (WIP) is limited based on the visualization. Batch sizes are reduced and queue length is well-managed. The working systems are evaluated to set the base milestones. Cross-domain planning is in sync and well-applied. Decision making is decentralized and the motivation of workers with knowledge is unlocked. These are the underlying principles of the framework and one must understand this before working on the projects. 
They are not difficult principles but one must transform from the agile mindset to lean-agile to adopt these principles. 

2. Values 

Safe Core values are just not a coupe but 4 primary values that drive the entire model. 
Built-in quality 
Program Execution 
  • Alignment begins at strategic theme in the portfolio backlog 
  • Pass through the vision 
  • Then to the program backlog roadmap
  • Finally to the team backlog
  • Each increment delivery quality is checked
  • Quality is along the way with the process and not added at the end 
  • Lean and built-in q
  • Trust is the key to successful delivery and being transparent is the core mantra of SAFe® model
  • Across levels, transparency is ensured beginning from executives till portfolio managers and all stakeholders involved 
  • Portfolio, Program and Team backlog is visible in the Kanban
  • PI goals are clear to every team across levels
  • Both teams and programs can view the architecture epics as well they have access to business.
  • This is the level of transparency  
  • The program must be executed continuously
  • Value delivery in the program is the key
  • The business outcome ensures 100% program execution.

 3. Leaders – Lean-Agile

The leaders do not wear any hat and keep minding the team but they undergo a continuous learning process. They learn and don’t stop but educate the team. Continuous learning will let them align with the principles and this offers large scope for improvement. The roles in SAFe® Agile for every leader includes 
  • Adoption 
  • Success 
  • Improvement of lean-agile development 

Basic 7 characteristics of the lean-agile leader include the following 

  1. Leading to change 
  2. Learn as though it is a lifelong process
  3. People development 
  4. Minimizing constraints   
  5. Inspiring and aligning the team with the mission 
  6. Decentralizing decision making 
  7.  Motivating the workers 

4. Mindset – Lean-Agile

Mindset is the first step in agile methodology. Migrating from waterfall to agile did not happen overnight and it took time. Agile mindset paved the way for success and similarly, the lean-agile mindset will carve the way to enterprise success. It is represented by the SAFe® House of lean and the manifesto. 
SAFe® lean house is built on the following bricks and the leader is the binding agent to construct this house. 
This house has 4 storey namely the people, process, innovation, and improvement. 
Level 1 - Respect – This is the base and it needs to be strong to hold the entire house. Respect means not just for the customers, process, principle, and culture but to the entire team across levels. The team must be a prime focus as nothing can be built without a team. Respecting a team is important just not in words but in action. They should not be overloaded or forced with work. Trust should be the key to build a long-term relationship. Also, organization change must be respected and so their culture. 
Level 2 – Process – Continuous flow is required for the smooth process and the built-in quality is checked at every stage. Avoid any delay in the project start and make sure the flow is continuous. Make the process effective with an informed decision and constructive feedback. 
Level 3 – Innovation – Innovative works is required for continuous improvement. But make sure the customer validates the innovation to avoid any last-minute surprises. Take time for innovation and account for each innovation. 
Level 4 – Improvement – Foresee constraints if any and keep improving by optimizing the entire process. Make the best use of the lean tool and identify the root cause and arrest the issues. Check the key milestones, and arrest shortcomings if any.

Agile Manifesto 

The manifesto of the agile methodology focuses on Individuals and not on tools/Processes. The importance is given to the working software and on the documentation. Customer interaction at all levels is important than negotiating the contract and responding to the changes spontaneously is of prime need and not just blindly following the plan. 
In a nutshell, agile manifesto is to develop software not just following the process but understand the value to work as a team to improve every time. 

5. Practice communities 

The people who work with a common interest in developing software or any business is called a practice community. One who collaborates and exchanges information to work towards a common goal. 
They are called CoPs in Scaled agile who work together and solve the problem, improve quality and exchange skills. SAFe® Agile Roles are not limited to just development and these CoPs find out innovative ways to improve the team performance effectively. 
The 3 individual traits of the CoPs are the domain, practice, and community. 
  • Domain – The common interest area  - WHAT is cared about – Interest 
  • Practice – skill, techniques, and experiences shared – WHAT is done together – Techniques 
  • Community – Team of people who work together with a common goal and interact regularly to achieve the goal – WHO does it. 


  •   Scrum master from various agile teams group together to form a CoP. They exchange their practices, and experience to make their agile team highly productive. 
  • CoPs consisting of testers and developers form an automated testing community. 

Stages of development of CoPs:

Need for CoP team is discussed and agreed to form a teamPeople are elected to play a role in the CoP teamCoP team is in action and they start working together sharing details and resolving issues thus enhancing the practicePractice improves as problems are resolvedCoP team dissolves as 

Levels of the CoPs

There are 5 types of members present in the CoP team namely the core team, active, occasional, peripheral and transactional. 


  • The core team includes the nucleus of the CoPs who will make decisions. 
  • The active team consist of people who work actively 
  • The occasional team participates only for a specific need and dissolve
  • The peripheral team is an extra team which get engaged on a need basis 
  • The transactional team will connect for completing the transactions 

Also Read: LeSS vs SAFe

6. Implementation 

The steps in implementing the framework in lean-agile practice are 12. It is briefly described and based on your project you may want to get into the detail of each step to accomplish the goal. 

      1. Vision identification by reaching the tipping point 

     2. Provide training to the lean-agile change agents 

     3. Offer training to all the executives, leaders, and managers 

     4. Creating a CoE based on lean-agile principles 

     5. Make a note of the ARTS and value streams 

     6. Creating a detailed plan

     7. Getting ready for agile release train launch 

     8. Training the team and concurrently launching ART

     9. Coaching for executing ART

    10. Launching more value streams and ARTs

     11. Extending the portfolio 

     12. Sustaining and improving 

We call this an Implementing 1-2-3 model and stage 1 is identifying vision, providing training, and creating a CoE. Stage 2 is to work on ARTs identification, planning, and launching. Stage 3 is to extend the portfolio, add more ARTs, and improvement. 

SAFe® and its levels 

The latest SAFe® version contains 4 Different levels of SAFe namely the 
  • Portfolio
  • Value stream 
  • Program 
  • Team 
This is now used for implementing SAFe® with team size more than 100. Previously until SAFe® 3.0, only 100 or fewer people can involve. To make really large the higher versions of SAFe® included the value stream level as well. Let us analyze the roles, events, and artifacts of each level in detail. Also, finally we will summarize them in a table for a quick review. 
We will use the bottom-up method and start from the team level so that it will be easy to explain and a better understanding will be there. We will also see the Scaled Agile Artifacts, and Scaled Agile Ceremonies followed by different stakeholders in the scaled agile framework. 
Before we get into the details at each level find the table below that explains the ceremonies, roles, and artifacts of the SAFe® framework.
Roles Across Levels 
Portfolio Large SolutionProgramTeam 
Enterprise Architect Manager System Architect Development
Epic Owner Architect Product Manager PO
Lean Portfolio Management Engineers/TraineeRelease Train Engineer 
  Business Owners  
Ceremonies Across Levels 
 Solution DemoPI PlanningIteration Planning 
 Pre PISystem DEMOReview
 Post PIWorkshopRetrospective
  ART Sync 
Artifacts Across Levels
Strategic ThemesSolution Intent FeatureStories
Portfolio Canvas Enabler CapabilityPI Objectives Iteration Goals
Epics Backlog Program BoardBacklog
Business Case Lean Enabler Feature  
Backlog Backlog  
Team Level 
Each team formed belongs to any of the ART. Every individual team is empowered and self-organized. Everyone takes ownership and define, build, test the stories present in the team backlog with defined length iterations. Then the team plans the execution and completed based on time-box iteration. Kanban or ScrumXP is used and a high-quality system is delivered with a fortnightly demo. Each team then creates an integrated and tested system that is evaluated by the stakeholders. They then provide feedback. Based on that a built-in quality practice is applied. 
The iteration time is divided as PI (program increment) with a duration of minimum 8 and maximum of 12 weeks. User stories are used by the team to deliver value and the PO has the right to accept the stories. The customer requirement is present in the stories and team backlog contains the stories of the users and the enablers. The management works towards the following at the team level with the stories. 
  • Identify à Elaborate à Prioritize à Schedule à Implement à Test à Accept 
  • Iteration steps 

à Increment of new functionality 

à  Repeat pattern till accomplishment 

à  Iteration planning 

    à  Commitment to functionality 

à  Iteration execution 

        à   Demo for new functionality 

       à  Retrospective meeting 

à  Repeat the same process for next iteration 

Note: Multiple ARTs will be present for larger value streams and innovation iteration will enable the team with a chance for better exploring the possibilities in execution. 

Program Level 

Long-lived ART delivers SAFe® at the program level. In fact, ART is the key vehicle for value delivery. The PI duration is same as the team level ranging between 8 and 12 weeks. The program level consists ART from minimum 5 and maximum 12 agile teams. PI will be thus multiple iterations and time-boxed. Every PI must contain a demo followed by INSPECT ADAPT session. Alignment is emphasized at this level as different agile teams work for creating value for the customer. 
Artifact hierarchy is EPICS à FEATURES à USER STORIES 
The backlog is defined by the program or the product manager. The backlogs are prioritized based on the features. These features can originate or can be taken from the epic that is defined in the portfolio level. 

Role of each key stakeholder in program level 

  • Product manager – Program manager to prioritize the backlog 
  • The system architect collaborates with the daily work and keeps a check on the non-functional requirement being met. They work with the enterprise architect (portfolio level) and ensure the architectural runway is sufficient. 
  • UX designers interface the design and user experience. 
  • Scrum Master plays the role of a release train engineer 
  • DevOps team works to deploy the software to the customer and takes care of delivery.

Also Read: SAFe Core Competencies

Portfolio Level 

This level shows the highest level of concern in SAFe® and provides a basic block for organizing the flow in multiple value streams. It allows the system and solution to develop and is described by the strategic theme. The objectives are met at this level by making a budget and streamlining the governing mechanism. It has a bidirectional connection with the business. One is the strategic theme that guides the business and another one is the flow of the portfolio values. A value stream is a key goal on portfolio and hence it funds the people and resources for building a solution. The concepts adopted in this level include a connection with the enterprise, program portfolio management and portfolio epics flow management. 

Value Stream

As already mentioned this is an optional level in SAFe®. It is present when there are more than 100 people on the team. Typically following enterprises include this level who requires an independent, large-sized team and complex solutions. Multiple ARTs are used and include several suppliers. 

Minimum 100 practitioners are required to build this system. This can be kept optional and expandable and keep it in a collapsed view when built by less than 100 practitioners. Additional constructs, coordination, artifacts are required to build this solution in a lean-agile pattern. Value stream engineer, solution architect, and Solution Management team are the additional stakeholders who play a significant role in making a decision at this level. 

The table below explains the role, event, and artifact of all 4 levels in SAFe®. The details of all this need explanation which you can understand from the theory given above. Further, we suggest you apply for SAFe® training and hear from experts to master scaled agile framework. 

                     Team                             Program                        Portfolio                      Value Stream
Scrum master
System team
Release and product management
UX architect 
System architect
Business owner 
Leaders - lean agile
Epic owners 
Enterprise architect 
Program portfolio management 
System team
Release and solution  management
UX architect 
RTE - Value stream engineer 
Solution architect
Shared services 
PI objectives 
Sprint goals 
Built-in goals
Coordination - Value stream 
Strategic themes 
Value stream
Epics - Value Stream
Kanban - Value Stream
Backlog - Value Stream
Coordination - Value stream 
Economic framework
Agile architecture 
Solution intent 
Planning for sprint
Iteration Review 
Backlog grooming 
Daily stand up
Iteration Execution
Sprint demo
Iteration Retrospective 
IP sprints 
System Demo
Inspect and adapt the workshop
Architectural runway
Release any time
Strategic investment planning 
Kanban Epic planning
Pre PI Planning 
Post PI Planning 
Solution demo

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Also Read: SAFe Metrics 


We are sure that after reading this exhaustive blog you will be looking for the SAFe® Agile Certification course to get your organization ready to meet lean-agile transformation at the enterprise level. We provide role-based training to make you an expert in implementing scaled agile framework. 
Learn to scale agile using this value-focused method at an enterprise level. Know the right way to plan, and plan for ideal budgeting. With this approach, you can meet the goal of the organization as a whole and not just the project goal. Creating a centralized strategy and deliver value is what this framework will teach you. 
Further after gaining knowledge from your training you can apply for certification and become a SAFe® agilist. Then if you refer scaled agile website you will get a bird eye view but can implement things easily. 

What next? 

SAFe® 5.0 is expected to be released in 2020 and has much in store for you to offer. Do not wait but understand SAFe® before to cope up with the changes in the latest version. It will have 7 core competencies that include two new ones namely the organizational agility and continuous learning culture. This will lead to creating an integrated culture and customer-centric focus. 
Let us get ready to welcome the new year with many more new additions in SAFe® 5.0.

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