Jan 24th, 2022

The Complete Guide to Scaling Agile and SAFe® for Business Agility


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What is Scaling in Agile?

Agile is a set of values and principles. Agile is an umbrella term for a group of iterative product development frameworks. The Agile approaches such as Scrum framework, DSDM, Kanban, and Extreme Programming (XP) provide rules, practices, and guidelines to build products and solutions using Agile values and principles. 

Product development evolves through the collaborative effort of self-organizing and cross-functional teams and their customers and end-users with these frameworks. 

It encourages adaptive planning, exploratory development, fast delivery, and continuous improvement. Rapid and flexible response to change is at the heart of the system.  Most organizations started their Agile journey with one of the frameworks mentioned above, and Scrum is the most popular one.

Scrum is lightweight and simple to understand.  Moreover, it provides some immutable principles & guidelines. Therefore, it is suitable for small self-managed teams.  When more and more organizations and teams adopted Agile, it required scaling in a big way.

The entire organization had to be in the process, not just a few self-managed teams.  Initially focusing strictly on empowering teams to develop products and solutions faster and more efficiently, the tremendous success in doing business this way led to large enterprise-level organizations scaling the practice to meet their needs, even extending beyond the product organization. 

And with this, a lot of challenges emerged. As a result, organizations were looking for answers to navigate through the scaling challenges with:

  • Alignment of all the teams toward a common goal
  • Facilitate teams of teams planning
  • Enable enterprise-wide visibility
  • Coordination between teams and working together
  • Cross-Team Dependencies
    • Business
    • Technical
  • Common Architectural Guideline
  • The cadence of development of multiple teams
  • Synchronization of development
  • Multiple sources of requirement

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What is a Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)?

Using an agile scaling framework, enterprises looking to organize multiple teams to work on the same product can sail through the challenges with scaling.

Most of the scaling frameworks share some common patterns: Scrum at the team level with cross-functional, self-organizing teams, many teams sharing a backlog, planning is done collaboratively across teams, and the general principles of pull and self-organization.

The teams vertically slice requirements into the smallest possible increments that get deployed independently. Teams also have to focus on technical excellence, such as continuous integration and automated regression testing. 

At the end of every sprint or iteration, the teams should have a potentially deployable product. These frameworks also encourage you to use Lean principles to optimize your flow.

In 2011, Dean Leffingwell codified SAFe®, the Scaled Agile Framework, to help bring the success that small teams have enjoyed with various agile methodologies such as Scrum or XP but scaled to the enterprise.

Scaled agile methods are not limited to SAFe®, though it is the most widely used framework in most large enterprise organizations.  Other frameworks have been developed and implemented very successfully at scale.

These include Disciplined Agile Development (DAD), LeSS, Scrum@Scale, Spotify, Lean Startup, hybrid combinations, and more.

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What is SAFe®?

Short for Scaled Agile Framework, SAFe® is a foundational platform that allows Agile-based delivery to scale for enterprise systems and software.

It offers the same benefit to companies as Scrum does to Agile teams but at an enterprise level. A primary goal for SAFe® is to align development to further business objectives. As a result, it is the world’s most popular framework for business agility.

SAFe® combines learnings from proven agile methodologies to create a platform that meets the requirements for software development within large enterprise programs.  SAFe® promotes alignment, collaboration, and delivery across large numbers of agile teams.

It was formed around four primary bodies of knowledge: agile software development, lean product development, systems thinking, and DevOps.

Like Scrum, SAFe® offers a flexible, evolving framework that meets incremental milestones to complete a larger project. Its structured and systematic approach drives the popularity of SAFe® to project alignment and completion.

Surviving (let alone thriving) in today's fast-changing world requires more than transforming just IT operations. Becoming a truly lean and agile enterprise is the best bet for any organization aspiring to succeed. 

This calls for a framework that lets enterprises ‘fail fast and succeed even faster’ – and a fundamental shift in work, culture, and behavior. In addition, enterprises need to assess, test, analyze, and act upon new technologies.

As said, agile was a major step toward enabling this shift, as it has a rapid feedback loop. A core benefit of SAFe® is that it provides alignment between teams and all levels of the enterprise that are involved in solution development.

In addition, it aligns strategy and execution through Lean Portfolio Management. SAFe® involves upper management on a portfolio level and combines planning with the enterprise’s strategic themes. 

In the past, the person who shouted the loudest may have got their work done, but they won't have this benefit anymore. In SAFe®, work is prioritized with methods such as WSJF (Weighted Shortest Job First). 

WSJF is a prioritization model used to sequence jobs, such as Epics, Features, and Capabilities, to provide maximum economic value the fastest. The SAFe® framework also ensures that everyone from upper management to individual agile teams shares the same vision and goal, thus making the enterprise focus on the most important topics at hand. It answers tough questions like -

  •  “How do we budget?” 
  • “How do we plan?”, 
  • “How do we become cross-functional in architecture and DevOps?” and 
  • “How do we achieve organizational agility?”. 

SAFe® does it by dividing the work into value streams. A value stream consists of the steps that the company continuously repeats to deliver value to customers and users. 

Between 5 and 15 teams are typically involved with a value stream, and this grouping of teams is called an Agile Release Train popularly known as ARTs. An ART can contain up to 125 people and deliver an incremental value called Program Increment” every 8 to 12 weeks. 

The four Core Values of alignment, built-in quality, transparency, and program execution represent the key fundamental beliefs to SAFe®’s effectiveness. These values describe the culture that leadership needs to foster and how people should behave to use the framework effectively.

The 10 Scaled Agile Framework’s Lean-Agile principles are meant to improve the company as a whole by inspiring lean-agile decision-making across functional and organizational boundaries.

The principles are intended to influence the decisions of leaders and managers and everyone in the organization and condition their mindset to shift from traditional waterfall thinking to lean-agile thinking, where practices like Lean Portfolio Management are applied.

SAFe® helps organizations achieve business agility through the seven digital-age Core Competencies of Business Agility.

The core competencies for Business Agility as defined by SAFe® are 

  1. Team and Technical Agility
  2. Agile Product Delivery
  3. Enterprise Solution Delivery
  4. Lean Portfolio Management
  5. Organizational Agility
  6. Continuous Learning Culture
  7. Lean-Agile Leadership

SAFe® suggests that while each competency can deliver value independently, they are also interdependent.

Therefore, true Business Agility can be present only when the enterprise achieves a meaningful state of mastery of all. SAFe® operates at four distinct levels

  • Essential SAFe®: Most SAFe® implementations start from here. 
  • Large Solution SAFe®: to develop large-solution with multiple agile release trains working in parallel. 
  • Portfolio SAFe®: aligns execution with strategy by organizing development around value streams. 
  • Full SAFe®: a complete version of the framework supports enterprises in building and maintaining large integrated solutions.

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Scaling Agile SAFe® Success Stories

Let’s see some case studies where business agility was used to improve operational efficiency and double their performance. 

The credit for helping these organizations achieve business agility goes to scaledagile.com, the pioneer of the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®). 


Intel was reeling under pressure to constantly innovate while controlling costs and maintaining quality.  Using SAFe®, Agile, and Lean, Intel adopted the following best practices- 

  • Selecting the right RTEs: Intel discovered that successful RTEs have an amalgamation of technical background and seasoned Agile mindset and experience. 
  • Train the leaders: Change starts from the top. Business leaders and Train managers should be mandated to attend SAFe® training sessions. It’s paramount that leaders speak about the transformation, act as role models, and envision a direction in the organization.
  • Prioritize Inspect and Adapt: Getting started instead of looking for the perfect strategy. Adapt later and give importance to progress over perfection. 
  • Stick to the basics: Overcomplicating things will only lead to chaos. Always stick to the basics of Agile and Lean


  • MVE produced 65% more products at the same capacity 
  • Better Commit to Accept ratios from 74% to 90+% 
  • There is high visibility
  • Scope change decreased to less than 5 percent 

Air France KLM Group:

Airfrance decided to scale Agile practices throughout the organization. The goal was to improve time to market and efficiency but to adhere to various regulations and contexts in different businesses of the airlines.

The aviation company implemented the following SAFe® practices- 

  • Concentrate on Transversal topics for a sustainable adoption: Include them from day one of the adoptions. These topics influence all domains. 
  • Teams and domains should define objectives: Teams become more committed and empowered if they define their own goals 
  • Train constantly: The main team regularly conducts Agile Booster workshops to help with particular adoption challenges like dealing with conflicting priorities from both airlines and the meaning of developing an Agile mindset. 


  • SAFe® teams made successful releases 17 times in 7 months in comparison to every 6 months previously
  • On average, SAFe® units deploy 20% more successfully compared to waterfall teams. 
  • The aviation firm enjoyed a 20% increase in market share in the small and medium logistics market alone
  • The organization surpassed anticipations by 25% in one of the offerings
  • The aviation company has a more concrete understanding of its customers 
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Wrapping Up

With the above explanation and the success stories, we hope the answer is clear. With its core values of alignment, built-in quality, transparency, and execution, SAFe® is the go-to framework for achieving business agility.

Bookmark this guide for future reference so you can easily scale agile and use SAFe® for business agility.


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