What Is A Scaled Agile Framework? (Principles And Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 22 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Large organisations consistently strive to improve product quality, business excellence, collaboration and customer satisfaction. The scaled Agile framework (SAFe) helps these businesses by providing customisable, sustainable and reliable services. It is helpful to learn more about this framework if you plan to implement it within your team. In this article, we discuss the scaled Agile framework, understand its principles and benefits and learn about the different ways organisations can apply this framework.

Related: 37 Common Agile Interview Questions With Example Answers

What is a scaled Agile framework?

The scalable Agile framework, commonly referred to as SAFe, is an agile framework designed for development teams. It includes structured guidance on roles and responsibilities, work planning, management and foundational values for implementation. SAFe comprises well-defined workflows that help enterprises implement the Lean-Agile process. The three main knowledge sets: Agile Software Development, Lean Product Development and Systems Thinking serves as the basis for the SAFe framework. Here is a description of the three knowledge sets:

1. Agile software development

In software development, an Agile framework is an iterative technique where on-the-fly improvements are made in small increments based on the changing demands, plans and client feedback. This improves product quality, increases team collaboration, reduces risk and enhances customer satisfaction. In a software development cycle with rapidly evolving requirements, many companies prefer this framework.

2. Lean product development

The Lean model emphasises creating value for the customer by optimising resources, people and effort while eliminating waste, an action or step that does not add value to the client. It incorporates principles and practices that emphasise continual improvement. It differs from agile development, where the primary purpose is to accomplish the task as quickly as possible.

3. Systems thinking

Systems thinking is an approach that analyses how various system components are interrelated and work with other larger systems. It broadens the range of choices available to solve a problem by considering various angles and perspectives. Systems Thinking also considers the possibility that there is more than one solution and that any choice made may affect other parts of the system.

Related: What Is Software Development? A Complete Guide

Principles of SAFe

SAFe based its framework on ten underlying concepts derived from existing agile-lean principles. They are as follows:

1. Take an economic view

It is important to have an economic view of a project. This involves the assessment of several economic factors, such as time to market, costs and risk parameters, to deliver maximum value to the customer with minimal impact. It is essential that the top management understand the economic impact of choices and make informed decisions.

2. Apply Systems Thinking

The main objective of this principle is to see the complete picture rather than concentrating on smaller components of a problem. In a complex system, there are interconnections between components and fixing one component can bring slight adjustments to the other components. But the overall problem remains unresolved. The idea is not to make isolated decisions but to take into account the interdependencies between the components when making a decision that covers the entire system.

3. Assume variability, preserve options

This principle states that in product development, it is essential to set aside certain options for unprecedented events, such as changing requirements, risks and technical issues. In a complex environment where time to market is critical, it is important to develop alternatives to solve a problem rather than relying on one solution. Later, the team can review the alternatives and drop those that are no longer relevant.

4. Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles

In this principle, the approach consists of working on smaller elements of a problem, gathering feedback from the client, working on changes and gradually adding other elements to it. The team develops the final product by incrementally building on top of smaller components, with continuous enhancement in each step. The Agile framework serves as a guideline for this principle.

5. Base milestones on the objective evaluation of working systems

This principle focuses on the working system, where it is possible to evaluate each step objectively and provide feedback based on the progress. Clients or stakeholders can assess current development using working system demos. Since there is constant communication between the client and the development team, there is scope for improvement in the product's development at each step.

6. Visualise and limit work-in-progress

In this principle, the organisation follows three primary strategies to achieve a state of continuous flow: visualising and limiting work-in-progress, reducing the batch size of the work to facilitate reliable flow and managing the queue length to reduce the wait-time for new functionalities. The lean approach serves as a guideline for implementing these strategies.

7. Apply cadence, synchronise with cross-domain planning

Predictability and rhythm are key factors in product development, where cadence creates the former. Synchronisation makes it possible to understand multiple viewpoints, resolve conflicts and integrate this learning into the development process. With cross-domain planning and synchronisation, the development process is efficient and the team can easily address unparalleled issues.

8. Unlock the intrinsic motivation of the team

People play an important role in the development process. The primary focus of this principle is to create an environment that provides intrinsic motivation. Providing transparency at every stage of the process, highlighting the purpose and use cases of a product and encouraging people to think creatively is a few ways to instil motivation.

9. Decentralise decision-making

This principle is intended to give teams and individuals autonomy in the product development process. In a decentralised approach, project teams make decisions. This allows a faster development process, rapid problem solving and quicker deliveries. Some decisions are global and centralised that the upper management can take based on the overall feedback and review of the working system.

10. Organise around value

With the rapid evolution of customer demands, it is vital for an organisation to deliver the product on time and to deliver value. The idea is to create cross-functional teams with unique competencies that can work together to develop a product. This can avoid hand-offs, dependencies, waste and delays which are commonly associated with the traditional approach.

Related: What Is SDLC? Definition, Stages And Examples

Implementing SAFe

It is important to understand some steps before implementing SAFe. They are as follows:

  • Evaluate why the organisation needs this framework. Implementation can be time-consuming and it is vital that the organisation understands the pros and cons of this framework before making a decision.

  • Teams, managers, executives and leaders require proper training. This ensures that they understand the workflow and practices of the SAFe framework.

  • Identify value flows and Agile Release Trains (ART). Certain organisational structure changes are necessary while remaining aligned with a company's values.

  • Identify value streams and ART. The teams, managers and executives need to do this to apply their training knowledge to create strategies.

  • Prepare the ART for launch. This step defines certain strategies specific to a team and project.

  • Organise specific training sessions. This will help those who find it difficult to adapt to the new framework.

Since this is an iterative process, there is an improvement with each learning. The teams apply their training insights to use in smaller use-cases by following all the guidelines and best practices. If successful, the organisation extends the SAFe framework to more use-cases at an enterprise level.

Benefits of SAFe

The SAFe framework helps teams deliver quality products on time while aligning with business requirements and goals. The various advantages of the framework for companies are:

  • SAFe creates an integrated workflow and a set of well-defined practices. This ensures high-quality product delivery.

  • Brings about organisation-level alignment. It not only ensures the alignment between the teams but with all levels of the enterprise involved in the development process.

  • Get a clear view of the process from start to finish. This framework allows cross-functional teams to plan, develop and deliver the product in phases with consistent communication and collaboration.

  • SAFe uses an agile-lean framework. This ensures timely delivery of the product with minimal waste. Team commitment, faster decisions and effective communication make it possible to achieve the goal of a high-quality product in less time.

  • The framework ensures greater productivity. It eliminates unnecessary tasks and guarantees continual improvement within the team.

Related: 37 Common Agile Interview Questions With Example Answers

Drawbacks of SAFe

Understanding the drawbacks of this framework can help you decide if this is the right fit for your organisation. These are stated as below:

  • The SAFe framework has complex terminology and jargon. This makes it overly complicated to follow.

  • Challenging to monitor and document. Considering the size of the product and the team, it can be difficult to keep track of the processes.

  • It can be time-consuming. Planning and implementing the SAFe framework is not easy to implement and may take considerable time before product development can begin.

  • Overplaying catch-up with the team. Keeping a track of multiple deliverables and their dependencies can lead to excessive meetings and follow-ups.

  • Requires prior analysis of the organisation's requirements and planning. Without adequate planning and requirement analysis, it can be challenging to tailor the framework for a specific product.

Related: 19 Essential Project Management Skills To Master

Alternate frameworks

There are alternate agile scaling frameworks that serve similar purposes: quality product delivery, faster time-to-market, constant improvements and customer satisfaction. Some of the alternate frameworks are:

  • Large Scale Scrum (LeSS)

  • Disciplined Agile Delivery (DaD)

  • LeadingAgile

  • Scrum Lean in Motion (Slim)

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