What is Scaled Agile Framework? SAFe Methodology Tutorial

SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework)

SAFe is an open-source knowledge base that enables to apply lean and agile practices at the enterprise level. It offers simple and lightweight features to develop software. SAFe is a set of organizations and workflow patterns that guide enterprises in scaling lean and agile practices. SAFe is divided under three components; team, Program, and Portfolio.

Safe framework helps team in −

  • Implementing lean and agile processes for software and systems at the enterprise level

  • Based on lean-agile principles

  • Guides to work at the enterprise portfolio, value stream, program and team.

  • Designed to meet the requirements of the stakeholders.

It was developed in the field and elaborated by Dean Leffingwell in his books and blogs. Its first version was released in 2011. The latest version, version 4.6, was released in 2018.

Need of Agile Framework

Agile framework is simple and light-weight, and can handle large value streams and complex system development. SAFe agile framework offers the following benefits −

  • It increases productivity by 20 – 50%.

  • It increases the quality by more than 50%.

  • It increases the time to market by 30 – 75%.

  • It increases job satisfaction and employee engagement.

The above image depicts the agile process. An epic is a large body of work, divided into a number of small stories or sub-epics. These sub-epics are assigned as a story to each team, which then works on these stories.

The right time to use Agile framework

  • When the team wants to implement an agile approach across multi-team and larger programs and portfolios.

  • When multiple teams are applying their own methodology of agile process, but are regularly facing challenges, delays and failures.

  • Teams want to work freely and independently.

  • When teams want to apply agile process across the whole organization, but are not sure of the new roles that may be needed, or what changes may be needed to made in the existing roles and how.

  • While the teams are scaling the across the whole organization, but are struggling to achieve a consistent strategy across various business departments to program and team levels.

  • When the team wants to improve the product development lead time and also want to understand how companies have been successful in scaling agile and SAFe.

How Agile practice is different from others

  • Open-source and free to use

  • Available in usable and approachable form

  • Light and specific to level

  • Practically proven results

  • Provides useful extensions

  • Gives a complete picture of the software development lifecycle

  • Complete transparency at all the levels

  • Regular feedback on quality

Foundations of Scaled Agile framework

SAFe stands on the foundation of −

  • Lean-agile principles

  • Core values

  • Lean-agile leadership

  • Lean-agile mindset

  • Communities and Practice

  • Implementing 1-2-3

SAFe Lean-Agile Principles

The following SAFe agile principles have to be understood and implemented for desired results −

  • Take an economic view

  • Apply systems thinking

  • Assume variability

  • Scale with fast, integrated learning cycles

  • Set goals on the basis of objective evaluation of working systems

  • Visualize and limit batch sizes

  • Manage queue lengths

  • Synchronize with cross-domain planning

  • De-concentrate decision making

SAFe Agile Core Values

SAFe agile methodology is based on the following 4 values −


  • SAFe supports alignment which starts at −

    • Strategic Themes in Portfolio Backlo

    • Moves to Vision and Roadmap of Program Backlogs

    • Moves to Vision and Roadmap of Program Backlogs

Built-in Quality

  • Ensures that each incremental delivery meets he quality standards.

  • Quality is built-in, and not added later on.

  • Built-in quality is mandatory for Lean.


  • Trust enabler

  • SAFe helps achieve transparency at Executive, Portfolio, Managers, levels and other stakeholders.

  • You can view the portfolio backlog / Kanban, program backlogs / Kanban, team backlog / Kanban.

  • All the levels clearly understand the PI goals.

  • Train programs can view team backlogs, and other program backlogs.

  • Teams and programs can view business and architecture epics, and where they are headed.

Program Execution

  • SAFe emphasizes working systems and business outcomes.

  • SAFe cannot be of any use unless teams execute and persistently deliver value.

Lean-Agile Leaders

Lean-agile leaders are lifetime learners as well as teachers, who help teams build better systems by understanding, analyzing and exhibiting Lean-agile SAFe principles.

Their ultimate responsibility is adoption, success and improvement of lean-agile developments. Leaders must be well trained for changes and continuous improvement. They must be able to adopt a new style of leadership, that truly empowers and brings together all the individuals to reach their highest possible potential.

Principles of lean-agile leaders −

  • Lead the changes
  • Know and show the way
  • Focus on lifetime learning
  • Help people develop
  • Reduce constraints
  • Spread out the powers for decision making
  • Motivate the workers intrinsically

Lean-agile Mindset

Lean-agile mindset can be represented and understood in the two following things −

  • SAFe House of Lean − SAFe is based upon the principles and practices of Lean manufacturing. On the basis of these, SAFe provides the SAFe House of Lean, which is inspired by the “house” of lean Toyota.

The primary goal of lean is to deliver maximum possible client value in the shortest lead time and with highest possible quality.

  • Agile Manifesto − There are many other ways of developing software by doing it on our own and assisting others do it. Through agile manifesto, we have come to −

Individuals and interactionsoverprocesses and tools
Working softwareovercomprehensive documentation
Customer collaborationovercontract negotiation
Responding to changeoverfollowing a plan

Thus, we value the items on the left more than the items on the right.

  • The primary priority to meet the customer demands by persistent and early delivery of quality software products.

  • Adopt to the changes in needs and requirements, however late it is in the development. Agile SAFe processes use these changes in the favor of client’s benefit.

  • Deliver software continuously; within couple of weeks to couple of months, while simultaneously giving preference to shorter timescale.

  • All the stakeholders including the developers and business people must work collaboratively throughout the project.

  • Develop software around motivated people. Support them and provide them with the environment they require.

  • The most effective form of communication in any field is a face-to-face conversation.

  • The best way of measuring progress is working software.

  • Agile methodology process encourages sustainable development. All the stakeholders (sponsors, developers, and users) must maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

  • Give regular attention and focus to technical expertise.

  • A good design improves agility.

  • All the best architectures, designs and needs originate from self-organizing teams.

  • The team regularly reflects how to become more efficient and accordingly adjusts its behavior.

Different Levels of SAFe

  • SAFe 4.0 implementation − : It has four levels; portfolio, value stream, program, and team.

  • SAFe 3.0 implementation − : It has three levels; portfolio, program, and team.

3-level SAFe is used for small implementations involving hundred or fewer people, and the programs do not need any significant collaboration. 4-level SAFe is meant for such solutions that need hundreds of practitioners to develop, deploy and maintain the software product.

Team Level

Agile teamSprint planningTeam backlog
Product ownerBacklog groomingNon-functional needs
Scrum masterDaily standupTeam PI objectives


Sprint demoStories (Working Software)

Sprint retrospectiveSprint goals

IP sprintsBuilt-in quality


Team Kanban
  • SAFe teams are a part of ART (Agile Release Train).

  • SAFe teams self-organized, self-managed, cross-functional and accredited teams.

  • They are responsible for defining, building and testing stories from team backlog.

  • They plan and perform two-week time-boxed iterations as per the specified iteration goals.

  • They use ScrumXP/Kanban for delivering quality software or systems to create a System Demo every two weeks.

  • All the teams in ART build an integrated and tested system. The stakeholders evaluate the results and provide feedback.

  • They implement built-in quality practices or processes.

  • Each ScrumXP comprises of 5 – 10 members, who build a quality incremental value in each iteration.

  • The roles of ScrumXP are: 1) team (Dev + QA); 2) Scrum Master; 3) Product owner.

  • SAFe breaks up the development time into a set of iterations within a PI.

  • PI takes 8 – 12 weeks.

  • Teams use stories to deliver value. The Product Owner has complete authority over the creation and acceptance of the stories.

  • The stories consist of customer’s demands.

  • Team backlog consists of user and enabler stories, which can be identified during PI planning.

  • To identify, explain, prioritize, schedule, implement, test and accept stories, which are the main needs of management work in team level.

  • An iteration provides −

    • Increment of new functionality

    • Accomplishments through constant repeatable pattern

    • Iteration plan

    • Commitment to some functionality

    • Iteration execution by building and testing stories

    • Demonstration of new functionalities

    • Retrospective

    • Repeat the next iteration

  • At the end of each iteration, teams support the system demo, which is an essential integration point for the ART.

  • PI integrations provide the teams with an opportunity to innovate and explore.

Program Level

DevOpsPI planningVision
System teamSystem demonstrationsRoadmap
Release managementInspect and Adopt workshopMetrics
Product managementArchitectural runwayMilestones
UEX architectRelease anytimeReleases
Release Train engineerAgile release trainProgram epics
System engineerReleaseKanban
Business owner
Program backlog
Lean-agile leaders
Non-functional needs
Communities of practice
Weighted Shortest Job First
Shared devices
Program PI Objectives



Value Stream Coordination
  • Value of SAFe is delivered by lifetime ART. Iteration is for team level, while train is for program level.

  • At the program level, ART is essential for value delivery. It imparts a value stream to the organization.

  • PI takes 8 – 12 weeks.

  • ART consists of 5 – 12 agile teams, who are responsible for all the roles and infrastructure needed to deliver fully tested, quality software.

  • PI is a multiple-iteration time box, in which a valuable increment of the system is developed and delivered.

  • In each PI, demo and inspect & adapt sessions are started, and planning for next PSI is also started.

  • At the program level, SAFe focuses on the alignment principle, because multiple agile teams are combined to create customer value.

  • Features are disintegrated to user stories.

  • Product Manager / Release Train Engineer is handled by the Program Manager / Senior Project Manager.

  • System Architect is responsible to collaborate day to day work with the teams, to meet the non-functional requirements.

  • UX designers provide interface, user experience guidelines and design elements.

  • Different teams, like marketing, development, quality, operations, and deployment, constitute Release Management Team, which is responsible for approving routine releases of quality solutions to clients.

  • DevOps team is responsible for deployment and successful delivery of software.

Portfolio Level

Enterprise architectStrategic Investment PlanningStrategic themes
Program Portfolio MgmtKanban Portfolio PlanningEnterprise
Epic owners
Portfolio backlog

Portfolio Kanban

Non-functional requirements

Epic and Enabler

Value stream

  • SAFe Portfolio has the highest interest or involvement in SAFe.

  • Portfolio provides the basics for organizing lean-agile enterprise flow of value through value stream(s).

  • Portfolio helps develop systems and solutions, described in strategic themes.

  • To meet the strategic objectives, portfolio includes these elements. It gives basic budgeting and other useful mechanisms, to assure that the investment in the value streams gives good returns to the enterprise.

  • Portfolio is connected to business bi-directionally to guide it to the changing business demands, to provide strategic themes, to indicate constant flow of portfolio values.

  • Program Portfolio Management poses as stakeholders, and are responsible to deliver business results.

  • SAFe Portfolio level comprises of people, processes and necessary build systems and solutions that an enterprise requires to fulfill its objectives.

  • Value streams are the main goals in a portfolio.

  • Some of the important concepts involved in this are − connection to the enterprise, program portfolio management, managing the flow of portfolio epics, etc.