Introduction to SAFe: The Leading Framework for Business Agility


The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) has emerged as the most widely used approach for achieving business agility at scale. Since its introduction in 2011, SAFe has continuously evolved to support enterprises in rapidly responding to market changes and opportunities in the digital age. SAFe provides a comprehensive set of guidelines and practises that enable organisations to align their teams, coordinate their work, and continuously deliver customer value. By embracing SAFe, companies can improve collaboration, increase transparency, and optimise resource utilisation, ultimately fostering innovation and driving growth. With its proven track record and global adoption, SAFe has become the go-to framework for businesses looking to navigate the complexities of the modern marketplace and stay ahead of the competition.

The Imperative of Business Agility

The ability to quickly adapt and deliver customer value is imperative for organisations to thrive. However, large bureaucratic hierarchies, complex processes, and siloed systems impede business agility. SAFe integrates Lean, Agile, and DevOps principles to help enterprises become more responsive, innovative, and resilient.

SAFe empowers cross-functional teams to make decentralised decisions and deliver solutions iteratively. It promotes customer collaboration, continuous improvement, and rapid feedback cycles. With SAFe, enterprises can mobilise large groups to act with the skills of startups. This business agility results in faster time-to-market, improved quality, and the continuous alignment of solutions to evolving customer needs. SAFe achieves this by providing a framework that enables organisations to align their strategy, execution, and delivery processes. It encourages a culture of learning and experimentation, allowing teams to adapt and respond quickly to changing market conditions. By fostering collaboration and transparency, SAFe promotes a sense of ownership and accountability among team members, leading to increased productivity and innovation. Ultimately, SAFe helps enterprises stay competitive in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing business landscape.

SAFe Core Competencies Overview

The SAFe framework is built on seven core competencies that enable business agility. These include:

  • Team and technical agility
  • Agile Product Delivery
  • Enterprise Solution Delivery
  • Lean Portfolio Management
  • Organizational Agility
  • Continuous Learning Culture
  • Lean-Agile Leadership

Two foundational competencies are focusing on customer value and adopting lean-agile leadership and mindset. With the customer at the heart of decision-making, leaders can establish an empowering culture that ignites the potential of SAFe across the organisation. By focusing on customer value, organisations can ensure that their products and services meet the needs and expectations of their customers. This requires a shift in mindset towards a lean-agile approach, where leaders prioritise continuous improvement and innovation. By adopting lean-agile leadership and mindset, leaders can create a culture of empowerment and collaboration where teams are encouraged to experiment, learn from failures, and constantly improve. This enhances organisational agility and fosters a continuous learning culture where employees are motivated to acquire new skills and knowledge to stay competitive in a rapidly changing market.

Detailed Exploration of the Seven Core Competencies

Team and technical agility

This competency enables teams to deliver value quickly and sustainably using Scrum, Kanban, and XP practices. Cross-functional teams conduct iterations, swarm issues, and continuously improve. Technical practices like CI/CD, TDD, pairing, and automation foster development agility. Overall, the emphasis on teamwork and technical agility within the learning culture encourages employees to adapt to new methodologies and technologies. By utilising Scrum, Kanban, and XP practices, teams can efficiently deliver customer value. Additionally, implementing technical practices such as CI/CD, TDD, pairing, and automation further enhances development agility, allowing faster and more efficient problem-solving. This emphasis on teamwork and technical agility ultimately contributes to the continuous improvement of the organisation and its ability to stay competitive in the market.

Agile Product Delivery

Product line organisations define, architect, build, and validate solutions that resonate with customers. They use practices like MMFs and PI planning to scale agile release trains and manage dependencies. This competency aligns development with strategy. By aligning development with strategy, product line organisations can ensure that the solutions they build align with the organisation’s goals and objectives. This allows for a more streamlined and efficient product delivery process, as teams clearly understand the desired outcome and can work towards it in a coordinated manner. Additionally, using practices like MMFs and PI planning enables these organisations to prioritise and manage dependencies effectively, ensuring that the most valuable features are delivered to customers promptly. The focus on agile product delivery helps organisations continuously improve and adapt to changing market demands, giving them a competitive edge.

Enterprise Solution Delivery

This competency integrates business and technology capabilities to build and deploy large, complex solutions. ARTs align across value streams using roadmaps and solution Kanban systems. Coordination between development, operations, and suppliers fosters end-to-end agility. This ensures the enterprise can deliver innovative and scalable solutions that meet customer needs. By leveraging the expertise of both business and technology teams, organisations can effectively navigate the challenges of developing and deploying large-scale solutions. Using roadmaps and solution Kanban systems helps streamline the delivery process and ensure all teams are aligned and working towards a common goal. This level of coordination and agility allows organisations to respond quickly to market demands and stay ahead of the competition.

Lean Portfolio Management

This competency connects strategy to execution by funding value streams to build the systems and capabilities that benefit customers and spur growth. Investment funding, agile budgeting, and lean governance optimally align portfolios to business objectives. This approach enables organisations to prioritise and fund the projects and initiatives that will most impact achieving their strategic objectives. By adopting lean portfolio management, organisations can ensure that their resources are allocated efficiently and effectively, resulting in an improved return on investment. Additionally, agile budgeting and poor governance provide transparency and accountability, allowing organisations to make informed decisions and adapt their strategies as needed.

Organisational Agility

A truly agile organisation requires reinventing processes, mindsets, and behaviours beyond software teams. This competency entails lean process improvement, decentralised decision-making, knowledge sharing, and leveraging communities of practice. Organisational agility also involves embracing a culture of continuous learning and experimentation. It requires fostering an environment where employees feel empowered to take risks and learn from failures. By encouraging collaboration and cross-functional teams, organisations can break down silos and promote innovation. Ultimately, achieving organisational agility leads to better adaptability in an ever-changing business landscape. This adaptability allows organisations to quickly respond to market trends, customer demands, and new technologies. It also enables them to seize new opportunities and stay ahead of their competition. Furthermore, organisational agility fosters a culture of agility and resilience, where employees are encouraged to think creatively and adapt quickly to new challenges. This increases employee engagement and satisfaction and drives overall organisational performance and success.

Continuous Learning Culture

A culture focused on experimentation, reflection, and growth is critical for a thriving Agile enterprise. This competency develops people’s skills and mindsets through mentorship, training, and motivation systems based on purpose, mastery, and autonomy. Employees are constantly encouraged to seek new knowledge and skills by fostering a continuous learning culture, allowing them to adapt and innovate in an agile environment. This culture promotes experimentation and reflection, allowing employees to learn from their mistakes and continuously improve. With mentorship, training, and motivation systems based on purpose, mastery, and autonomy, employees are empowered to take ownership of their development, leading to increased engagement and overall organisational success.

Lean-Agile Leadership

Leaders serve teams, remove barriers, challenge assumptions, and encourage small failures to promote innovation. They sponsor transformation, cultivate lean-agile skills in people, and become coaches that empower and develop others. By adopting a lean-agile leadership approach, leaders create an environment that fosters collaboration and continuous improvement. They encourage teams to experiment, learn from their mistakes, and iterate on their processes. This drives innovation and empowers employees to take risks and think outside the box. As coaches, leaders provide guidance and support, helping individuals develop their skills and reach their full potential. This type of leadership ultimately leads to a more agile and resilient organisation, capable of adapting to changing market conditions and staying ahead of the competition.

SAFe Configurations for Different Environments

SAFe allows for contextual implementation and provides four configurations:

  • The Essential SAFe helps new agile teams start with foundational practices for building business agility.
  • The Large Solution SAFe integrates Essential SAFe with practices to coordinate multiple ARTs and suppliers to deliver large, complex solutions.
  • The Portfolio SAFe adds Lean portfolio management to align technology investment and Agile execution to business strategy.
  • The Full SAFe integrates all levels for maximum business agility.

The Spanning Palette provides flexibility to apply SAFe creatively based on organisational context.

Adapting SAFe for Government Environments

SAFe for Government guides on implementing SAFe in the context of government bodies. It addresses funding flows, acquisition regulations, and public value creation. Government-specific values, structures, and practices are incorporated while retaining core SAFe principles. SAFe for Government recognises government organisations’ unique challenges and requirements, such as transparency, accountability, and regulation compliance. By incorporating government-specific values, structures, and practices, SAFe for Government ensures that the implementation of SAFe is tailored to meet the specific needs of government bodies. Furthermore, by addressing aspects like funding flows, acquisition regulations, and public value creation, SAFe for Government enables government organisations to achieve maximum business agility while adhering to government guidelines.

Implementing SAFe: The Foundation

Successful SAFe adoption requires leadership commitment, training, and implementing foundational elements like the Lean-Agile Centre of Excellence, Launching Teams, Agile Teams, Product Managers, Release Train Engineers, and Scrum Masters. Change management and maintaining momentum for transformation are also critical. These foundational elements provide the structure and support government organisations need to implement SAF effectively. The Lean-Agile Centre of Excellence is a hub for knowledge sharing and continuous improvement, while the Launching Team ensures a smooth transition to the SAFe framework. Agile teams, product managers, release train engineers, and scrum masters work together to drive collaboration, innovation, and quick value delivery. Additionally, change management strategies help to address any resistance or challenges that may arise during the transformation process, ensuring that the momentum for change is maintained.

SAFe Case Studies and Success Stories

Many organisations have successfully adopted SAFe to achieve their business objectives:

  • Adobe transformed from rigid cycles to continuous delivery, increasing productivity by 30%.
  • Citigroup accelerated time-to-market for priority projects by 2x after moving 150 teams to Agile.
  • John Deere developed an integrated operating model with SAFe and gained leadership in the farming industry.
  • Microsoft migrated 6,000 employees to Agile, reduced time-to-market by 62%, and saw 150% more features developed.

Conclusion: The Future of SAFe

As the global leader in frameworks for enterprise agility, SAFe will continue evolving and improving. Its growth demonstrates that organisations must achieve strategic alignment, customer centricity, innovation, and flexibility. With SAFe, they can confidently navigate the disruptive digital landscape and succeed. While Microsoft’s success with Agile is impressive, it does not necessarily guarantee that SAFe will continue to be the future of enterprise agility, as other frameworks may emerge and prove equally effective or even more so. The ever-changing nature of the business landscape means that organisations must remain adaptable and open to new approaches. While SAFe has proven to be a valuable framework for achieving agility, organisations must stay vigilant and explore other emerging frameworks that may offer even greater effectiveness. Ultimately, the future of enterprise agility lies in the ability to continuously evolve and embrace innovative strategies that align with the dynamic needs of the market. As technology advances and customer expectations increase, organisations must constantly evaluate and update their agility practices. This may involve incorporating concepts from other frameworks such as Lean, DevOps, or Design Thinking to enhance their agility. Organisations can remain competitive and thrive in the ever-changing business landscape by staying open to new approaches and continuously experimenting with innovative strategies. Embracing a culture of continuous learning and improvement will be crucial for organisations to navigate the complexities of the future and remain adaptable to market demands.

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