Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is an organization and process schema for large-scale deployment of Agile and Lean methods. SAFe tries to answer the problem of large organizations (companies or administrations) who wish to work together several Agile teams. SAFe also aims to deploy Agile and Lean culture and practices across all layers of the organization, from management to developers.
Inspired by the success of small organizations (Spotify for example) which have implemented Agile structures and processes, large organizations have launched Agile experiments. These organizations have been confronted on the one hand by the lack of Agile culture of their management, and on the other side with the difficulty of aligning the different teams working in Agile mode.
Principles of Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)
SAFe is an extension of an Agile and Lean approach. In this it defines principles underlying the roles and practices of the framework. SAFe implementations in organizations have shown that their assimilation by the participants in the approach is a key success factor.
A layered model
In version 4.6 SAFe’s roles, processes and practices are divided into 4 layers that can be combined according to the deployment context:
- the Team layer regroups the teams working in Agile and whose iterations are synchronized
- the Program layer organizes the synchronization of Team Layer teams by setting them via a virtual organization used which produces one or more coherent deliverables. At regular intervals, all participants meet to define the common objectives to be achieved
- the Large Solution layer aligns several Agile Release Trains when only one is not enough
- the Portfolio layer makes it possible to embark the strategic planning functions of the company in the SAFe approach (budget, architecture)
A reconfigurable model
Depending on the maturity and size of the organization, the Scaled Agile Framework can be deployed in different configurations :
- Essential is the most basic configuration: it consists only of the Program layer and the Team layer . It is enough to synchronize in an Agile Release Train production teams working in Agile mode
- Portfolio involves the direction in Agile’s approach to scale, particularly through the feeding of the Agile
- Release Train through a backlog of strategic elements. The Portfolio configuration also attempts to align the organization’s budgeting practices with iterative cycles of project development in SAFe
- Large Solution enriches the Essential layer to synchronize different Agile Release Trains that interact with each other
- Full is composed of all layers of the framework
Adoption and limits of Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)
SAFe is one of the proposals for scaling Agile: there are other alternatives such as Scrums Scrums frameworks (en), LESS or Disciplined agile delivery. In 2018, SAFe was the most deployed framework based on a survey conducted by the publisher of a project management software. However, SAFe has been criticized for its top-down approach that takes decision-making power away from achievement teams. Scaled Agile, which holds the rights to the SAFe framework, provides generic or role-specific certification training within the SAFe organization. There are challenges of scaling agile principles and practices, such as :
- Coping with longer planning horizons
- Keeping agile at abstract levels of responsibility
- Dealing with delegated authority
- Synchronizing deliverables
- Allowing time for innovation and planning