There are hundreds of millions of businesses in the world and most of them need software to run their operations. One recent trend in software development is the Agile methodology that has been adopted widely for obvious benefits. However, while the Agile framework has worked well enough for the smaller businesses, scaling it to meet the requirements of large organizations with multiple development teams and a complex layered management system becomes the challenge. This is where the Scaled Agile Framework comes in. This is one of the most detailed frameworks and requires skilled professionals preferably with SAFe Agile certification to implement it effectively. 

What is Scaled Agile framework

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), is an agile methodology that facilitates the implementation of Lean-Agile principles at the enterprise level. SAFe is simply a combination of best practices implemented by teams to develop software products successfully. However, just as in Agile, SAFe helps organizations to align software development with the objectives of the business. Also, it lists out all activities and responsibilities within software development in detail and outlines a clear workflow. This way, allocating resources and improving processes becomes practical and achievable. 

SAFe was developed in 2011 by Dean Leffingwell.  It has been adopted by several industries across the globe including Finance, Insurance, government, and others. 

The SAFe framework will most likely be adopted in situations 

  • Where there is a need to implement the Agile methodology across every level of a large organization with complex structure
  • That involve aligning multiple Agile/Scrum teams working independently but collaboratively towards one software product to achieve consistency and productivity 
  • That requires reduced time-to-market, optimized resource use, and maximum ROI in a product development setting that involves multiple teams.

Ultimately, the main aim of SAFe is to scale Agile principles and practices at the enterprise level and centralize decision-making. 

The SAFe configurations are built across four levels including:

  • Team

This is the most basic configuration of a SAFe and resembles a Scrum. Small cross-functional collaborative teams deliver a functional iteration incrementally every two weeks. Each team consists of five to nine members. 

  • Program

Together with the team, the program is also a basic configuration of the SAFe framework. A Program is made up of a total of five sprints which together make up the delivery value of SAFe known as ART (Agile Release Train). This means that after 10 weeks (5 sprints), a potentially shippable increment (PSI) or a usable value of the product is released. During the release of an ART, a demonstration of its operation should be performed followed by an “inspect and adapt” meeting. 

Five to ten teams work on an ART with all teams following a common roadmap and carrying out their tasks from a common backlog. At this point, the emphasis is laid on the principle of alignment since several teams are involved. 

  • Portfolio 

The Portfolio level is the highest level where the business epics, architectural epics, and the vision are determined and managed using Kanban methodology. The vehicle for portfolio management is known as an investment theme. It is the responsibility of the management to prioritize investment themes based on return and allocate resources accordingly. Every detail of the development product is compiled into a portfolio backlog which will be useful for tracking progress. 

These are then passed down to the programming level for planning. The programming teams plan their architectural runway, organizing and scheduling releases along with the architecture required to execute them. This typically takes place every 2-3 months.

How is SAFe different from other Agile methods

Agile is a culture, it is a way of thinking. Under Agile are several frameworks including Scrum and Kanban. SAFe, on the other hand, is a framework that scales Scrum at an enterprise level. 

Here are the differences between SAFe and other Agile methodologies

SAFe vs Scrum 

Both SAFe and Scrum both operate under Agile principles and practices. While Scrum is implemented to organize small teams, SAFe is implemented to organize the entire enterprise. Below, we discuss other differences between SAFe and Scrum. 

Scrum 

  • The Scrum framework is ideal where a company has a simple organizational structure. 
  • Small self-organizing cross-functional teams implement Scrum in software development. 
  • Implementation is limited to the team members and ScrumMaster.
  • The scrum team is the basic construct and sprint the delivery value. 
  • Simple team structure including the ScrumMaster, Product Owner, and development team. 

SAFe

  • The SAFe framework works best for large companies with multiple teams and operations and a complex structure.
  • The Agile methodology is adopted by an organization at the enterprise level and involves multiple teams across different geographical locations. 
  • Implementation starts at the portfolio (Top management) level and trickles down to the program and team levels. 
  • The basic unit is the Agile Release train which involves several teams releasing several sprints together as a unit known as potentially shippable increment. 
  • The complex structure across the three or four levels depending on the project. Some key roles include Solution architect, Epic owner, program management, and others. 

It is important to note that SAFe embodies three key aspects including Agile Software Development, Lean product development, and Systems thinking. It also supports DevOps, a recent software development trend. 

Benefits of using Scaled Agile

One of the outstanding features of SAFe methodology is its scalability. Its processes are standardized such that no matter the size of the enterprise, SAFe can still be implemented and be scaled on demand. 

  • The fact that SAFe involves the management and the entire organization in implementing Agile and Lean principles is by far the biggest advantage that SAFe boasts of. Owing to this, decision-making becomes centralized which brings about efficiency in workflows. 
  • Secondly, SAFe gives a clear image of the bigger picture from the start. This way, the coordination of all the elements of the methodology to the last detail alongside all the teams involved can be achieved for large complex software development projects.
  • Among the aims of SAFe is aligning product development with business objectives. Its top-down approach where the top management maintains the bigger picture while tracking progress against the business goals frees the team members and professionals in other roles to implement the framework for the final delivery of the project. 
  • SAFe fosters collaboration and productivity across multiple cross-functional teams as well as between the teams and the management. As a result, all the teams including HR, DevOps, Legal, management, and the rest are all aligned to a common strategy, vision, goals, and roadmap. Scrum and SAFe planning, inspection, and other meetings create engagements throughout the development process which then spurs motivation and innovation in the team members. 
  • SAFe as an Agile methodology breeds consistency right from planning through to execution across all levels and activities. Additionally, the iterative approach ensures that a functional feature of the product is released strictly after every two weeks. With every feature or train release, customers give feedback. Development teams use this feedback to improve the feature before developing the next. This has two effects, improvements and changes are made on the product early enough and the ultimate is a high-quality product fully relevant for the applications it is being built for. Secondly, it also fosters a healthy business/client relationship throughout the process. 

Conclusion

SAFe is a prescriptive framework in that it guides the organization step by step through what it is required to do to deliver the required product. It overcomes the challenges often associated with scaling the Agile methodology and focuses greatly on collaboration between teams, management, customers, and other stakeholders. 

For an organization to implement SAFe more effectively, all its employees need to be educated and nurtured into a SAFe culture. Certification training for SAFe is now to equip professionals with relevant practical knowledge of SAFe concepts, principles, and implementation.

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