The Complete Guide to SAFe vs Agile for Project Managers


As a project manager, you must have heard about different project management methodologies like Scrum, Agile and SAFe. While each of these is designed to better the management process and improve overall performance, it is important to understand the differences between various methodologies.

Once you get familiar with the core values and features of each methodology, you can make more accurate decisions when choosing one to apply to your business. In this article, we aim to highlight the differences between SAFe and Agile for your understanding. However, let us first take a look at what SAFe and Agile mean and their key features.

What Is Agile?

Agile is a high-level project management methodology used by professionals to develop software quickly and efficiently. APM (Association for Project Management) defines Agile project management in the following terms:

Iterative or agile project management focuses on delivering maximum value against business priorities in the time and budget allowed, especially when the drive to deliver is greater than the risk.

Agile adopts an iterative approach to project management wherein each project is divided into smaller chunks, called sprints. The method focuses on successive improvement, making sure that the process moves flawlessly. Every step of the way, changes are implemented to perfect the product as much as possible.

Agile teams work collaboratively, and each member of the team fulfills a specific role. Agile methodology streamlines processes and makes teams more organized. An important aspect of the process is a constant evaluation of the process and analyses of the gaps in the process.

Agile professionals strive to get rid of impediments, their eyes are set on delivering high-quality end products within the scheduled time. The Agile approach creates an environment that encourages growth and learning.

4 Core Values of Agile Project Management:

Agile project management encourages improvement in the management process in order to optimize the process and improve the performance of the team members. In essence, there are four core values of the methodology that Agile professionals adhere to for the best outcomes. These are:

  1. Individuals And Interactions Over Processes and Tools: In Agile methodology, the focus is shifted from strict rules and guidelines to individual and team efforts. Agile teams are more open, engage frequently, and collaborate effectively to bring the best out in their customer. This includes the management as well, who are not there to observe only but partake in the process to serve the purpose of team improvement.
  2. Working Software Over Comprehensive Documentation: Since customer satisfaction is the end goal, teams zero in on developing and delivering a high-quality product. As such, documentation of the process is of secondary importance, finding the solution to the problem is always first.
  3. Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation: Agile puts more emphasis on the satisfaction of its users than the contract. The goal here is to satisfy the demands of the customer which means they are in charge of the design of the product. Customers take up an active role in the process. Their input is critical in creating a product that satisfies their requirements.
  4. Responding To Change Over Following a Plan: It is often perceived that diverting from a plan, sets it on the road to disaster. Agile, contrarily, sees change as an opportunity to improve the process. Agile proves to be more adept at adopting changes in that it welcomes change and prefers it over strictly sticking to the plan.

Roles of An Agile Team:

Agile team members have different roles assigned to them. Each role comes with different responsibilities to be fulfilled by the member. Agile teams have the following three roles:

  • Product Owner: The product owner has the vision of the product and is in charge of planning, organizing, and communicating with the team.
  • Team Lead: The team leader guides the team from start to end. The responsibilities of a team lead include planning, scheduling, gathering resources, and assigning tasks to team members. He also overlooks the process to make sure it progresses smoothly.

  • Team Members: Team members are all the individuals assigned to the project. Their task is to develop high-quality products and deliver them within the specified time.

Agile is an excellent methodology and its overwhelming success in improving business processes and the low failure rate are proof of that. As of now, the methodology is used by 71% of companies worldwide. That said, we cannot overlook SAFe as an efficient methodology for project management.

What is SAFe?

SAFe or Scalable Agile Framework essentially employs the same principles as Agile methodology but is directed toward enterprise-level organizations. For large-scale organizations with complex projects, SAFe is a great method of making project management more organized and manageable. 

SAFe specifically addresses the complexities in a large-scale organization and offers optimal solutions for better working. There are three important parts of SAFe:

  1. Lean product development
  2. Agile software development
  3. Systems thinking

SAFe is essentially a structured approach to scaling Agile in an enterprise-level business. It delivers solutions for teams working across the company and uses the same iterative approach for growth and improvement.

4 Core Values of SAFe:

Safe core values reflect the behavior and culture of the organization in which it is used. SAFe has the following 4 core values at its center:

  1. Alignment: Aligning team members’ vision and goals is the top priority of SAFe teams. Alignment means each and every individual in the organization has a thorough understanding of the company’s goals and their efforts are synchronized for the accomplishment of the same. 
  2. Built-in Quality: The goal here is to incorporate high quality at every step instead of making it an afterthought. Teams are expected to adhere to quality guidelines and maintain those standards throughout the process. Quality should be imbibed in the process rather than reflected on it after the completion of the process.
  3. Transparency: Transparency sits at the center of a company’s value, especially if it aims to rectify mistakes and improve performance. Transparency throughout the organization reflects its openness to growth and improvement. Visibility into the process established trust and makes collaboration easier.
  4. Program Execution: Program execution is similar to Agile’s “Responding To Change Over Following a Plan” wherein the emphasis is on developing high-quality products rather than documenting the process. Delivering quality software consistently should be the priority of SAFe teams at all times.

Roles of A SAFe Team:

SAFe teams, like Agile teams, have different roles and responsibilities assigned to them. Safe, however, has different levels of execution in an organization, and the roles change depending on the level of execution. The following three are the key roles of a SAFe team:

  1. Agile Team: Agile team includes all individuals responsible for the timely delivery of high-quality products.
  2. Scrum Master: Scrum master oversees the whole process, making sure teams adhere to the standards and are working well.
  3. Product Owner: The product owner is responsible for the team backlog. Defining product backlog and prioritizing the backlog are also the responsibilities of the product owner.

Now that we have developed an understanding of both Agile and SAFe, it is time to address the elephant in the room, SAFe vs Agile. What are the similarities and differences and how do they compare to each other?

SAFe vs Agile – The Similarities:


Agile is essentially the umbrella methodology of which SAFe is a part. Agile defines the way of working while SAFe scales the framework and implements it at the enterprise level.

SAFe and Agile are connected in that both have similar aims and goals. Improving the work process, delivering high-quality products on time, and using an iterative approach is common to both methodologies. The differences between the two lies in the way they operate in the organizational structure.

SAFe vs Agile – The Differences:

Following are some of the key areas where Agile and SAFe differ from one another:

  • Size of Teams: Agile is more suited to teams of smaller sizes with a simpler structure. SAFe, on the other hand, is more suitable for large-scale organizations with larger, more complex organizational structures.  
  • Levels of Execution: Agile has no levels of execution defined while SAFe has four different levels of execution defined: Essential SAFe, Portfolio SAFe, Large Solution SAFe, and Full SAFe.
  • Defined Roles: Agile has three defined roles in a team: Product owner, Team members, and Team lead. SAFe roles differ on the basis of the level of execution and include, Scrum master, Agile team, Product Owner, Business owner, System architect, etc.    
  • Planning: In Agile, planning is done before the start of the first sprint and the start of each sprint. In SAFe, planning is done at Program Increment which is a timebox. During this timebox that lasts 6-8 weeks, Agile Release Train (ART) delivers incremental value in the form of working, tested software and systems.
  • Salary: The salary of an Agile PM ranges from $77,477 to $125,000. On average, Agile project managers make $95,228 in the US. A SAFe Agilist, on the other hand, makes around $76,000 to $89,000 per year. The annual salary of a SAFe Agilist also depends on the work experience they have, the more experience the higher the salary.

SAFe vs Agile – Who’s The Winner?

Even though this article was a comparison, we cannot declare a winner. Why? Because both methodologies function on similar core values. Plus, SAFe is essentially the same methodology scaled up to enterprise-level organizations.

If yours is a company with a complex structure and larger teams then SAFe is the safe way to go. However, if you have a relatively simpler structure and work on less complex projects then Agile is the one for you.

We hope that this article has given you ample information on both methodologies and how they are different. You can now choose the option that works best for your company.

Best of luck!



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