4 min read

Scaled Agile Framework: what is and how it works

In this article, in addition to understanding in depth what this framework is, you’ll see how it works in practice.

SAFe is an agile framework for development that has been gaining a lot of prominence among developers and managers of software projects. Check it out!

What is SAFe?

Acronym of Scaled Agile Framework, SAFe is an agile development framework that provides a simple and lightweight experience for the team as it is divided into three segments: Time, Program, and Portfolio.

Among other things, it:

  • enables the implementation of Lean-Agile software at the corporate level;
  • is based on Lean and Agile principles;
  • provides detailed guidance for working on the Portfolio, Value Stream, Program and Team;
  • was designed to meet the needs of all stakeholders within an organization.

SAFe was developed in 2011 to help software development teams put better products on the market faster. Based on a combination of agile and lean principles, it calls for close collaboration and alignment between teams and aims to centralize decision-making. Provides various configuration options depending on the size of the developer team.

Ultimately, SAFe allows organizations to visualize the “big picture,” mapping roles, responsibilities, and activities required for software development. By doing so, it helps answer questions about aligning a development initiative with business objectives and/or their predictability. It also makes it easier to measure success and identify opportunities to improve workflows.

The impetus behind SAFe is to make agile principles scalable to large enterprises, the framework’s ability to centralize decision-making, and bring a top-down mindset to a typically bottom-up process accomplishes that goal.

When SAFe is most needed and how it works

One of the most difficult elements of agile philosophy is scaling. When a single team needs to adopt agile practices, it makes sense to use a backlog refinement, estimation, implementation, and retrospective system to continually enhance and model design, test, and evaluate the value that software can add and manage customer expectations on the delivery time and on the work required.

The theory is perfect, but all developers will say that in practice it can vary greatly in their success.

Generally, Agile principles work well in software development because they allow teams to be fluid and flexible, adapting to unforeseen problems and more complicated difficulties in the requirements set by the product owner.

However, once project managers try to scale the Agile philosophy, to include multiple (dependent) teams, for example, they can end up with a lot of trouble and difficulty maintaining the fluidity and flexibility that make it useful.

SAFe tries to gain a broader view of the product (s) and deadlines, allowing – in an ideal world – some flexibility, with an approximate roadmap of the next 8-12 weeks.

This long period of time is known as a product increment (PI), and usually, a PI has a large multi-team planning session in the beginning. In this PI planning session, the dependencies between teams are identified and minimized, allowing teams to work independently as much as possible.

This is usually done through some restructuring of the PI roadmap and may include:

  • refinement of requirements for PI: Can some requirements be postponed until a later date? Is dependence essential or is it another technique to achieve the possible outcome?
  • prioritization: How quickly can dependencies be solved in the PI so that the blockers/problems are released early?
  • Reallocation of tasks.

Each team does the backlog refinement for the next 2 to 3 weeks, but the approximate PI roadmap is there as a guide. In theory, this may work very well, but it depends on some non-trivial assumptions:

  • each development team is competent with agile practice and able to successfully estimate their speed.
  • the product owner of each team has a clear view of the requirements for the duration of the roadmap. This is not to suggest that the product owner needs to have all the detailed information, but understands the general requirements for the next 8-12 working weeks.
  • any interruption is easily managed, and the general requirements of the PI are flexible enough to absorb it.

During the PI, blockers can occur, problems can be left stagnant – this happens if two teams are responsible for one story and both have the impression that the other team is working on the solution, for example – the teams may not know the changes in the delivery of your dependencies (which can affect your own speed and delivery).

To mitigate this in the best possible way, different teams will have representatives who will participate in regular Scrum sessions to report what is being done, how dependencies are being solved, and whether there are any problems or blocks that need to be addressed.

Typically, this “Scrum of Scrums” occurs with less granularity than, for example, a daily Stand Up, but with enough regularity so that the problems can be raised in a timely manner.

The agile SAFe framework for software development is useful for companies that produce or release products precisely because of this long-term vision of the projects. It allows, for example, sales and marketing to calculate launch dates, fund the budget and make funds available, which facilitates the ability to see stakeholders and customers in the future or in a short time.

The benefits of SAFe

The largest and most innovative organizations in the world have already discovered the benefits of SAFe:

  • faster launch time;
  • significant increases in productivity and quality;
  • motivated and engaged employees.

See below for a breakdown of these and other advantages.

Lightweight structure, efficiency and centralization of decisions

Adopting SAFe is the opportunity to explore a relatively lightweight framework that creates efficiency in software development while maintaining centralized decision making at the corporate level.

Essentially, SAFe extends the idea of agility beyond the front lines of software development, reaching out to leaders who need to respond to higher-level strategic issues.

Project overview – including highly complex projects

Specifically, because SAFe is designed to maintain an overview of software development, it can easily handle a coordinated strategy for complex, large projects with teams that reach the hundreds. However, because it is based on lean and agile principles, it remains more efficient than traditional approaches to software delivery.

Coordination of different teams working on the same project

SAFe is particularly beneficial for organizations that need to work on projects that bring together different teams, since centralization is facilitated. In this scenario, it allows for standardized processes between teams and helps avoid obstacles and delays that can arise when different teams need to work together.

Ensuring alignment with business goals

Another notable benefit of SAFe is its ability to help teams maintain alignment with business goals. This alignment can often be lost in agile environments that take a bottom-up approach, as developers and testers can sometimes lose sight of macros.

In contrast, bottom-up alignment and centralized SAFe decision-making help to ensure that strategic objectives stay in the forefront and that all decisions are made in support of them.

Want to understand more about agile practices? The Agile Good Practices e-book can help a lot, just download below.

Ebook - Design Thinking + Agile