What is an Agile Scaling Framework?

What is an Agile Scaling Framework?

As the development of new products and services becomes more complex, businesses are constantly on the lookout for various frameworks capable of ensuring initial business value, lower delivery risks, and specific time and cost. When coupled with the rapid changes in technology development and other market innovations, the Agile frameworks’ popularity and superiority cannot be overstated.

On average, larger organizations tend to be less nimble than their smaller counterparts. They are also more resistant to change. Many of these issues can be traced back to deeply-rooted corporate culture and various policy- and processed-based barriers, as well as the bureaucracy that is often more complex in large corporations.

Large organizations can benefit from Agile development. The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is one such powerful tool they can adopt to overcome many of the issues that negatively affect project success.

SAFe offers any large organization a framework to become more agile and increase their speed to market. Below is an overview of the Scaled Agile Framework and a few comparisons with other scaled agile frameworks.

What is the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)?

SAFe encompasses a set of values, Lean-Agile principles, processes, and best practices that help organizations adopt Agile methodologies to develop and deliver high-quality products and services more quickly and effectively. SAFe provides larger organizations to better leverage the benefits of Scrum and Kanban in a scalable manner.

It also allows them to more effectively manage their projects and provide quicker feedback to multiple teams and stakeholders. In doing so, higher engagement levels increase both productivity and job satisfaction, leading to an overall improvement in work quality.

This framework was specially designed to tackle complex projects that involve multiple teams at various stages, including project, program, and portfolio levels. The SAFe 5.0 version focuses on seven core competencies as follows:

  1. Organizational Agility – Describes how Agile teams optimize their business process, evolve clear strategy, and quickly adapt to capitalize on new opportunities.
  2. Lean portfolio management – This refers to an organizational strategy that includes portfolio management, financial considerations, and compliance-related aspects. All are essential to a successful Lean-Agile transformation.
  3. Enterprise Solution Delivery – Describes how to apply Lean-Agile principles and practices to the specific, development, deployment, operation, and evolution of the most up to date software applications networks, and systems. 
  4. Agile Product Delivery – A customer-centric approach to defining, building, and releasing  a continuous flow of products and services to customers.
  5. Team and technical agility – Teams must have specific skills and keep to Lean-Agile practices to quickly create well-designed and implemented solutions. Since teams perform the actual work that will ultimately be delivered to customers, they are also the ones that need to have the necessary technical agility.
  6. Continuous Learning Culture – Encourages individuals and enterprises to constantly innovate, grow, and improve.
  7. Lean agile leadership – Leaders should drive and support organizational change and operational effectiveness. The leadership team has the necessary authority to influence groups and individuals to achieve their potential.

SAFe 5.0

The SAFe 5.0 version, released in early 2020, provides a more simplified and streamlined presentation of the Agile method. Its emphasis is business agility by focusing more on customer-centricity and expanding portfolio management. There are four configurations of SAFe 5.0:

  • Essential SAFe – As the most basic configuration, the Essential SAFe configuration describes the most critical elements, providing most of the framework’s benefits, such as the team and program level (agile release train or ART).
  • Portfolio SAFe – Concerns investment funding, lean governance, and strategic direction.
  • Large Solution SAFe – This configuration coordinates and synchronizes across multiple teams and programs, but it does not include any portfolio considerations. In previous SAFe versions, the extensive solution configuration was referred to as the Value Stream.
  • Full SAFe – Combines all of the other three configuration levels.

SAFe vs. Other Agile Scaling Frameworks

Even though the SAFe framework is widely adopted across enterprises with large software development teams, other scaling agile frameworks have gained some notoriety over the years. That said, all frameworks have several components in common, such as synchronization, cadence, Scrum, quality development practices, and inspiration from the 12 Agile Manifesto principles.

By comparing the SAFe framework with other such frameworks, businesses can better understand how SAFe works, and how to choose a framework that best suits their needs.

SAFe vs. Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS)

The Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) framework takes a more minimalistic approach to delivery constructs. Compared to SAFe, which offers four configurations to accommodate greater size teams, LeSS offers only two configurations: LeSS for two to eight teams or LeSS Huge for more than eight teams up to a few thousand on one product.

Another difference between LeSS and SAFe is their stance on content authority and strategic influence. While SAFe encourages more freedom and individual responsibility, LeSS believes that product owners should have complete control and influence. While many factors inform strategy in SAFe, LeSS places more emphasis on customer-centricity and paying customers.

SAFe and LeSS are similar in that both emphasize lean thinking, have similar guiding principles, and employ systems thinking. With the goal of continuous improvement, LeSS places a high emphasis on waste reduction across the organization.

LeSS is most effective when:

  • Scrum teams have already mastered Scrum.
  • Leadership is willing to continuously restructure and experiment.
  • There is alignment on the definition of the product.
  • There is alignment on the definition of “done.”
  • If there are external coaches that are working with organizational, team, and technical groups.

SAFe vs. Scrum@Scale

In a Scrum@Scale (S@S) framework, everyone is part of cross-functional teams. Depending on their exact goals, different networks of Scrum teams come together to form their own ecosystem. Scrum@Scale builds strong organizational culture through the pillars of empirical process control and the Scrum Values. The pillars of empirical process control include transparency, inspection, and adaptation. The Scrum values include Openness, Courage, Focus, Respect, and Commitment.

The S@S framework consists of two cycles, the Product Owner and the Scrum Master Cycle. These two cycles create the structure for coordinating the efforts of multiple teams along a single path. Even though S@S is typically prescriptive, it can still help organizations determine whether they are ready to scale. The S@S framework helps enterprises understand if their performance will increase exponentially or suffer if more people are added to the system.

S@S is most effective when:

  • Teams are self-organizing and cross functional.
  • Teams have a deep understanding of Scrum principles
  • The Scrum teams are implementing the pillars of Scrum Values

SAFe vs. Spotify

The Spotify model represents an autonomous set of practices that can be applied for coordinating agile teams. It is more people-driven and was never intended to be seen as a framework. Nevertheless, many organizations have adopted it as such. The Spotify model focuses on self-organizing, cross-functionality, and co-located teams (squads). These squads are the equivalent of a scrum team.

Squads are organized in larger units (tribes). Dependencies between squads are rare and typically handled through Scrum of Scrums. Sharing knowledge is done through “guilds,” “chapters,” and informal groups that organize based on their interests and skill sets.

Since this is not technically an agile scaling framework, there are no training courses, online resources, or certifications available. That said, the Spotify model can be learned through online-available information developed by the pioneers and other fans.

Spotify is most effective when:

  • The ideas are applied in every business context.
  • The company culture focuses on learning, risk-taking and allows mistakes.
  • Both products and teams are loosely aligned to avoid any dependency conflicts.

SAFe vs. Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD)

Unlike the other frameworks here, Disciplined Agile Delivery addresses topics that aren’t covered in smaller-scale agile frameworks. It utilizes three phases, Inception, Construction, & Transition. These three phases provide teams with guidance and processes early on in the project. However, DAD still provides flexibility in guidance and recommendations. While DAD provides guidance for teams early on, experienced coaches and consultants are more heavily needed. 

DAD is most effective when:

  • Businesses want to define their own scaled agile journey.
  • Organizations want to remain flexible across the entire enterprise.
  • Teams use coaches and consultants to understand the big picture. 

Conclusion

The SAFe journey begins with education and training. The best place to start is The i4 Group – a transformation consulting and training firm. Sign up your leadership stakeholders and core change agents to be trained in SAFe concepts. Once they understand the journey, they will work with experts to design a transformation roadmap for the enterprise.