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Scaled Agile Framework: Understand Safe and Its Core Values

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Last updated on
17th Mar, 2021
25th Feb, 2021
Scaled Agile Framework: Understand Safe and Its Core Values

According to the Agile Alliance, Agile is the “ability to create and respond to change. It is a way of dealing with, and ultimately succeeding in, an uncertain and turbulent environment. Ultimately, Agile is a mindset informed by the Agile Manifesto’s values and principles.” We can think of it as a way of getting work done.

However, Agile was initially developed for small teams. As Agile – or its most popular variant Scrum - grew to the enterprise, companies began to adopt Scrum of Scrums which is a technique to scale Scrum consisting of dividing the groups into Agile teams of 5-10 people.

But over time, more formalized methods of scaling Agile began to develop. In 2011, Scaled Agile Framework, Inc. was co-founded by entrepreneur and software development methodologist Dean Leffingwell. Starting at its first release in 2011, five major versions have been released, the latest edition, version 5.0, being released in January 2020. According to SA Inc., no major releases are planned as of this writing.

This article will attempt to explain what the Scaled Agile Framework is, why it is important and what its core values are.

What Is the Scaled Agile Framework® 

SAFe® for Lean Enterprises is a knowledge base of proven, integrated principles, practices, and competencies for achieving business agility using Lean, Agile, and DevOps.

We’ve discussed Agile above. According to the Lean Enterprise Institute, a lean organization understands customer value and focuses its key processes to continuously increase it. The ultimate goal is to provide value to the customer through a value creation process that has zero waste.*

And DevOps is a set of practices that combines software development (Dev) and IT operations (Ops). It aims to shorten the systems development life cycle and provide continuous delivery with high software quality. 

Scaled Agile Framework

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SAFe® Foundation

The SAFe® Foundation refers to the supporting principles, values, mindset, implementation guidance, and leadership roles needed to deliver value successfully at scale.  

What is the Importance of Scaled Agile Framework®?

It allows organizations to scale Agile to the enterprise and enables Business Agility. Business Agility is the ability to compete and thrive in the digital age by quickly responding to market changes and emerging opportunities with innovative, digitally enabled business solutions. 

Key terms in SAFe® 

The first is Value Stream. Value Streams represent the series of steps that an organization uses to implement Solutions that provide a continuous flow of value to a customer. They can be measured using Key Performance Indicators. 

The next term is the Agile Release Train (ART). The ART is a long-lived team of Agile teams, which, along with other stakeholders, incrementally develops, delivers, and where applicable operates, one or more solutions in a value stream. 

Program Increment (PI) is a timebox during which an Agile Release Train (ART) delivers incremental value in the form of working, tested software and systems. PIs are typically 8 – 12 weeks long. The most common pattern for a PI is four development Iterations, followed by one Innovation and Planning (IP) Iteration. 

Lastly is Program Increment Planning (PI). It is a cadence-based, face-to-face event that serves as the heartbeat of the Agile Release Train (ART), aligning all the teams on the ART to a shared mission and vision. Typically, this is a two-day event bringing together all the Agile teams. 

Note that that there are four possible SAFe® configurations depending on the increasing complexity of the environment.  

SAFe® configurations

  • Essential SAFe®- contains the minimal set of roles, events, and artifacts required to continuously deliver business solutions via an Agile Release Train (ART) as a Team of Agile Teams. It is the simplest starting point for implementation. 
  • Large Solution SAFe® - for developing the largest and most complex solutions that typically require multiple Agile release trains and suppliers but not necessarily portfolio considerations. 
  • Portfolio SAFe® - helps align portfolio execution to enterprise strategy by organizing Agile development around the flow of value, through one or more value streams.  
  • Full SAFe® - supports enterprises that build and maintain large integrated solutions which require hundreds of people or more. Multiple instances of various SAFe® configurations may be required.  

The SAFe® Core Values

There are four core values of SAFe®. They are alignment, built-in quality, transparency, and program executionIt is crucial to understand these.

  • Alignment 
    • Scaled Agile uses the example of a car not functioning correctly if it is misaligned. Alignment occurs when everyone is working toward a common direction. It enables empowerment, autonomy, and decentralized decision-making, allowing those who implement value to make better local decisions. 
    • Alignment starts with the strategy and investment decisions at the Portfolio level which in turn inform the vision, roadmap, and backlogs. 
  • Built-in Quality  
    • Ensures that every element and every increment of the solution reflects quality standards throughout the development lifecycle. Quality is not added later, it is built-in or planned in. (This is a tenet of modern quality thinking, not just SAFe®.) 
    • SAFe® Built-in Quality organizes quality thinking around five specific aspects—Flow, Architecture and Design Quality, Code Quality, System Quality and Release Quality. 
  • Transparency
    • Transparency – along with inspection and adaptation – is one of the three pillars of Agile. It means that an organization provides open access to the unbiased information and adaptation.  It inspects its work and adjusts it based on empirical evidence.
    • Stakeholders have visibility into the program backlogs, and they have a clear understanding of the PI Objectives for each Agile Release Train. ARTs also have visibility into the team’s backlogs, as well as other Program Backlogs.
  • Program Execution 
    • SAFe® places an intense focus on working systems and business outcomes. With alignment, transparency, and built-in quality on the team’s side, the teams can focus on execution.

Key areas of competency

As of this writing, the current version of SAFe® is 5.0. It is comprised of seven areas of competency, all under the heading of Business Agility

  • Enterprise Solution Delivery 
    • Describes how to apply Lean-Agile principles and practices to the specification, development, deployment, operation, and evolution of the world’s largest and most sophisticated software applications, networks, and cyber-physical systems. 
    • Large enterprise-wide systems require the full understanding of the system from requirements analysis to deployment.
  • Agile Product Delivery 
    • A customer-centric approach to defining, building, and releasing a continuous flow of valuable products and services to customers and users. 
    • The key here is customer-centricity. The organization must have the ability to understand the customer’s needs and release on demand.
  • Team and Technical Agility 
    • The Team and Technical Agility competency describes the critical skills and Lean-Agile principles and practices that high-performing Agile teams and Teams of Agile teams use to create high-quality solutions for their customers. 
  • Lean-Agile Leadership 
    • The Lean-Agile Leadership competency describes how Lean-Agile Leaders drive and sustain organizational change and operational excellence by empowering individuals and teams to reach their highest potential. 
    • Leaders must lead by example, lead change, and embrace the Lean-Agile mindset. 
  • Continuous Learning Culture 
    • The Continuous Learning Culture competency describes a set of values and practices that encourage individuals—and the enterprise as a whole—to continually increase knowledge, competence, performance, and innovation. This is achieved by becoming a learning organization, committing to relentless improvement, and promoting a culture of innovation.
  • Organizational Agility 
    • The Organizational Agility competency describes how Lean-thinking people and Agile teams optimize their business processes, evolve strategy with clear and decisive new commitments, and quickly adapt the organization as needed to capitalize on new opportunities. 
    • Key to this is the ‘dual operating system.’ This is not a computer model but a business model, leveraging the traditional management hierarchy with a Lean/Agile leadership approach.

Areas of competency

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  • Lean Portfolio Management 
    • The Lean Portfolio Management competency aligns strategy and execution by applying Lean and systems thinking approaches to strategy and investment funding, Agile portfolio operations, and governance.

Achieving the Core Values of SAFe® 

Achieving Alignment   

Alignment can be achieved by providing the relevant briefings and participating in PI planning, helping with backlog visibility and value stream organization and coordination. Also, by communicating the mission, vision, and strategy at every opportunity.  

Achieving Transparency 

Transparency can be achieved by openness and visualizing all relevant work, taking ownership for errors, and supporting others who acknowledge and learn from their mistakes. 

Achieving Built-in Quality 

Built-in quality is achieved by refusing to accept or ship low-quality work, by supporting investments in capacity planning and by ensuring that architecture, operations, security, and compliance are part of the flow of work.  

Achieving Program Execution 

Program execution is achieved by participating as an active business owner in PI execution, celebrating high quality and predictably delivered program increments and by aggressively removing impediments.


Business Agility is the ability to compete and thrive in the digital age by quickly responding to market changes and emerging opportunities with innovative, digitally enabled business solutions In today’s world, organizations must be customer-centric and must adopt a Lean-Agile mindset to provide continuous integration and continuous delivery. The Scaled Agile Framework establishes a way not only of doing so, but also the flexibility of scaling up to whatever level of adoption (basic to full, complex solution) is required.

Lean waste types are Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, Unused Talent, Transportation, Inventory, Motion, and Extra Processing. 


Jim Stewart

Blog author

Since 2003, as a principal of JP Stewart Associates, Jim has been engaged in multiple endeavors including consulting, training and mentoring. A PMP since 2001 and Certified Scrum Master since 2013, he provides PMP Prep training both in public and private in-house sessions. In consulting, he frequently contributes by helping organizations increase their project maturity. He recently consulted to a financial services firm to help them set up a project management office. Jim is on the PM advisory board of MindEdge, Inc. and is co-author of the upcoming book, “Facilitating Project Planning Meetings: A Practical Guide to Ensuring Project Success.”