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A Comprehensive Tutorial to Understand the SAFe Scaled Agile Framework

If you are an enterprise level project manager, may have heard of SAFe scaled Agile framework. This write-up details an all you need guide to help you get started on learning.
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    Even If you have been a part of the project management paradigm for a single second or a lifetime, you’d probably be familiar with the Agile methodology. In the past, we have talked about a lot of things Agile and what the benefits of this amazing SAFe Scaled Agile Framework methodology are.


    In this article, we will talk about the Scaled Agile Framework, how it works, why we should use it, what are the different levels of Scaled Agile Framework and how it is different from other Agile Practices. Let’s start at the very beginning.


    What is a Scaled Agile Framework?


    Scaled-Agile-Framework-_Essential Source: 


    Scaled Agile Framework or SAFe is a readily available stream of knowledge that helps the practitioners in achieving their goal to incorporate Agile practices at the enterprise level. What this does is that it provides a seamlessly lightweight experience for the entire software development team.


    The entirety of the framework can be broken into 3 different segments which we will see in detail later on. These segments are:

    • Team
    • Program
    • Portfolio


    Other than that, the SAFe consists of,

    • A Design that fulfills the needs and requirements of every stakeholder related to the project
    • Lean and Agile principles
    • Loads of guidance for work at Value Stream, program, team and the enterprise Portfolio


    History of the SAFe Scaled Agile Framework


    Introduced in 2011, the SAFe Framework was not always known as such. Dean Leffingwell in his book “Agile Software Requirements”, referred to a framework called the ‘Agile Enterprise Big Picture’ which everyone today knows as SAFe.


    Before Dean Leffingwell could debut The Big Picture to the world however, he needed to allow the framework to become more accessible. The framework was lacking in a corporate home, knowledge base that was public, and training solutions.


    Dean Leffingwell, Drew Jemilo, and a few others managed to pull this together, and in 2011Scaled Agile Inc was formed and SAFe become known as it is.


    SAFe is now in its 4th iteration. The software has been adopted by 70% of the Fortune 100. There is a SAFe Summit that is held every year, and due to the popularity of the software, hundreds of aspiring project managers attend this Summit annually.


    Moreover, with 10 different SAFe certifications, more than 600,000 practitioners have been trained and certified, according to the Scaled Agile website.


    Furthermore, the VersionOne’s Annual State of Agile Report, which reports data on the most used Agile methods and tools, ranked SAFe as the number one most popular scaling method.


    Why do we use SAFe?


    Well right off the bat, the Scaled Agile Framework is immensely lighter and simpler in weight than any of its competitors in the market nowadays. And yet, it can take on the heaviest and largest value streams in addition to handling the most complex system development being done in the market today.


    If you have implemented an Agile Framework, the following are the benefits that your team, project, and the company can enjoy.

    • Quality will increase by more than 50%
    • Employee engagement and job satisfaction are immensely increased
    • Time to market gets a boost up to 75%
    • Productivity is increased by more than 50%


    Read this article: 

    The Best Scrum Tools of 2021 for Agile Project Management


    When should we use SAFe Scaled Agile Framework?

    • When a team is interested to implement an agile approach consistently across larger, multi-team programs and portfolios
    • When teams want to work independently
    • When you have attempted to scale the Agile across your organization but struggling in alignment to achieve uniform or consistent strategy across business departments from portfolio to program and team levels
    • When multiple teams are running their way of Agile implementation but regularly facing obstacles, delays, and failures
    • When you want to scale Agile across the organization but not sure what new roles may be needed or what existing roles (i.e., management) need to change and how
    • When an organization needs to improve its product development lead time and want to know how other companies have succeeded in scaling Agile with SAFe


    How different is Scaled Agile Frame from its Competitors in the market?


    Let’s take a look at all of the different factors that sets it apart from every other competitor in the market.

    • It’s lightweight, practically proven results and specific to the level
    • Offers useful extensions to common agile practices
    • Offers a complete picture of software development
    • Continues or regular feedback on quality and improvement
    • Available in a highly approachable and usable form
    • It’s publicly available and free to use
    • It constantly/regularly modifies/maintains most commonly used agile practices
    • Grounds agile practices to an enterprise context
    • Visibility or transparency is more on all the levels


    What are the Foundations on which the SAFe Scaled Agile Framework stands on?


    The following 4 entities described below are the foundations on which the SAFe Scaled Agile Framework stands on. They are:

    • Lean-Agile Principles
    • Lean-Agile Leadership
    • Core Values
    • Lean-Agile Mindset


    1. Lean-Agile Principles


    The following principles and values are the core principles of Agile that must be understood and put into action if you want to achieve your desired results. They are:

    • Take an economic view
    • Assume variability; preserve options
    • Base milestones on an objective evaluation of working systems
    • Apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain planning
    • Decentralize decision-making
    • Apply systems thinking
    • Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles
    • Visualize and limit WIP, reduce batch sizes and manage queue lengths
    • Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers


    2. Lean-Agile Leadership


    These Agile leaders are considered to be the ones who learn and simultaneously teach other practitioners throughout their whole professional career. This continuous stream of guidance helps the teams to understand the framework quickly and successfully exhibiting the SAFe principles.


    3. Core Values


    The SAFe Scaled Agile framework is standing on these four core values. They are as follows:

    • Alignment
    • Built-in Quality
    • Transparency
    • Program Execution




    This alignment starts at various strategic theming schemes in the Portfolio Backlog, moves on to Road-mapping and Vision of Program Backlogs, and finally moves over to Team Backlogs.


    Built-in Quality:

    • It ensures that every incremental delivery reflects the quality standards
    • Built-in quality is a prerequisite of Lean and its mandatory
    • Quality is not “added later” is built-in



    • Transparency is the enabler for trust
    • Everyone can see into the portfolio backlog/Kanban, program backlogs/Kanban, and Team Backlog/Kanban
    • Train Programs have visibility into the team’s backlogs, as well other program backlogs
    • SAFe helps the enterprise to achieve transparency at all levels- Executives, Portfolio Managers, and other stakeholders
    • Each level has a clear understanding of the PI goals
    • Teams and programs have visibility into business and architecture Epics. They can see what might be headed their way


    Program Execution:

    • SAFe is not useful if teams can’t execute and continuously deliver value
    • SAFe places great focus on working systems and resultant business outcomes


    4. Lean-Agile Mind-Set


    The representation of the Lean-Agile Mind-Set is done by the following two things:

    • The House of Lean
    • Agile Manifesto


    The SAFe House of Lean


    The SAFe Scaled Agile Framework is derived from the manufacturing practices and principles based on the Lean-Agile model. The ultimate goal of lean is to deliver the max amount of value to the customer in the shortest time possible.


    This value has to retain the highest possible quality factor to be presented to the customer to bring more value to the company.


    Agile Manifesto


    The Manifesto states that,

    “We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others to do it. Through this work we have come to the below value:

    • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
    • Working software over comprehensive documentation.
    • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
    • Responding to change over following a plan.


    That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”


    Learn the 12 principles of Agile Manifesto: 

    Agile Manifesto: Your Go-To Guide to Understanding the Agile Values and Principles


    What are the different Levels in Scaled Agile Framework?


    The following are two different types of Scaled Agile Framework implementation in use today. They are:

    • SAFe 4.0 implementation
    • SAFe 3.0 implementation


    In this article, we will talk about the SAFe scaled agile framework 4.0 implementation that consists of:

    • Team
    • Program
    • Portfolio
    • Value Stream




    Agile release train Source


    • All SAFe teams are part of one or other Agile Release Train (ART)
    • Each team is equally responsible for defining, building and testing stories from their Team Backlog in a fixed-length Iterations
    • Teams will use ScrumXP/Team Kanban routine to deliver high-quality systems to produce a System Demo on every two weeks
    • They apply Built-in Quality practices
    • SAFe scaled agile framework teams are empowered, self-organizing, self-managing, cross-functional teams
    • Teams plan and execute two-week time-boxed iterations under agreed-to Iteration Goals
    • All different teams in the ART (Agile Release Trains) will create an integrated and tested system. Stakeholders will evaluate and respond with fast feedback
    • Each ScrumXP team will have 5-9 team members, which includes all the roles necessary to build a quality incremental value in each Iteration




    agile program Source


    • In the Program level, the Value of SAFe is delivered by long-lived Agile Release Trains (ART). Iteration is for team and train is for the program
    • The Program Increments (PIs) duration is of 8 to 12 weeks
    • Each PI is a multiple-Iteration time box. During which a significant, valuable increment of the system is developed and delivered
    • ART is of 5 – 12 Agile Teams (~50 – 125+ people) which includes all the roles and infrastructure needed to deliver fully tested, working, system-level software
    • In each PI a “demo” and “Inspect and adapt” sessions will happen, and Planning begins for the next PSI




    lean portfolio management Source


    • The portfolio provides the basic blocks for organizing the Lean-Agile Enterprise flow of value via one or more Value Streams
    • To meet strategic objectives, portfolio level encapsulates these elements. This way it assures that the investment in the value streams provides the returns necessary for the enterprise
    • SAFe Portfolio Level contains people, processes and necessary build systems and solutions that an enterprise needs to meet its strategic objectives
    • The portfolio helps to develop systems and solutions which are described in strategic themes (links a SAFe scaled agile framework portfolio to the changing business strategy of an enterprise)
    • Program Portfolio Management acts as stakeholders, and they are accountable to deliver the business results
    • Value Streams are the primary objectives in Portfolio, with which funding for the people and other resources required to build the Solutions


    Value Stream

    • The Value Stream Level is optional in SAFe
    • It supports cadence and synchronization for multiple ARTs and Suppliers
    • Building this kind of systems often takes hundreds, even thousands of practitioners, external and internal suppliers
    • If the Enterprises can be built with a few hundred practitioners, it may not need the constructs of this level.


    Despite detailing different variables of SAFe scaled Agile Framework variables, there’s a lot of stuff that we have not covered to date. Make sure you bookmark this post for future reference, as we will be updating it with more juicy content.


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