What is SAFe agile? (The benefits and how to improve)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 9 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If your organisation seeks increased stakeholder value and efficient project delivery, then the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) might be ideal for you. SAFe is a system for implementing agile and lean practices at an enterprise level. Understanding what SAFe scaled agile is and how to implement it in your organisation can help you overcome issues that affect project success. In this article, we explain what SAFe agile is, explain the benefits of this type of framework, look at the principles and give you steps you can use to implement this method in your organisation.

What is SAFe agile?

SAFe agile is a flexible and disciplined project management methodology at the enterprise level. Most large organisations tend to be more resistant to change due to deep-rooted cultural and policy-based issues, such as bureaucracy, limiting their growth and efficiency. The SAFe methodology can help these organisations face such issues by implementing more agility allowing deliverables to reach the market faster. The SAFe framework consists of team, portfolio and programme as its three pillars.

What are the benefits of the SAFe?

Here are some of the benefits of using the SAFe in your organisation:

Improved time to market

One of the benefits of agile SAFe is faster time to market. Aligning agile teams around value allows them to work together smoothly, meeting customer needs faster. Leveraging this method allows the team to communicate more effectively, make decisions quickly and focus on the customer, leading to faster delivery.

Increased productivity

By implementing the SAFe methodology, you can eliminate some of the process-based procedures, such as bureaucracy. This allows teams to work continuously without delays and unnecessary work, allowing them to focus on the goals. This leads to increased productivity, which impacts positively on the organisation's growth.

Improved quality

The SAFe Scaled agile framework encourages organisations to integrate quality in every development step. It helps every employee in the organisation focus on quality delivery regardless of their role or contribution in product delivery. This allows the entire organisation to improve quality, attracting more customers, leading to improved sales and revenue.

Improved employee engagement

The SAFe method encourages better communication in the organisation and allows employees to make decisions at different levels. This helps employees achieve purpose, confidence and autonomy. Leveraging the SAFe method increases employee satisfaction and engagement, keeping them motivated to achieve their goals.

Principles of SAFe scaled agile framework

Here are the main principles of the SAFe scale agile framework:

Take an economic view

To achieve the shortest lead time, organisations may require understanding the implications of delays caused by bureaucracy and centralised decision making. SAFe encourages organisations to work within lean budgets, sequence jobs for maximum benefit and understand economic trade-offs. This calls organisations to work within approved budgets and to nurture decentralised decision-making to enjoy financial benefits.

Implement systems thinking

Understanding the marketplace and workplace challenges may require the organisation to understand the systems within which users and employees operate. Some of the designs are complex and consist of many interconnected components. To optimise the way people work, you may require forming new agreements with customers and suppliers and re-define how the system works. When everyone understands how the system works and its importance, it becomes easy to implement the systems thinking in all facets of development.

Assume variability and preserve options

In most cases, life cycle practices encourage choosing single design systems early in the development stages. In the process, you may realise that your system of choice is not optimal, leading to delays in the project. A better approach would be to maintain multiple design options. As the teams gain experience, the better they know which option is best, allowing them to identify the best path to maximise production and economic outcome.

Develop solutions incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles

Like the above principle, this principle addresses uncertainty and risk via learning milestones. Developing solutions incrementally allows the organisation to assess their feasibility, enabling them to identify the best course of action at early stages. This encourages continuous quality improvement.

Base milestones on objective estimation and evaluation of working systems

The decision-makers in an organisation have a shared responsibility to recommend solutions that deliver economic benefit. The agile SAFe method provides objective milestones that you can use to evaluate the solution at all the development stages. This is because basing decisions on an existing working system offers a better chance of making accurate and better decisions.

Related: Decision-making skills: definition and examples

Implement a continuous flow

To achieve a continuous flow where systems work visibly and quickly, consider limiting the work in progress to limit demand to the actual capacity and increase throughput. Decrease the amount of work at a given time to increase the flow of work and speed. You may also manage the queue lengths to decrease wait time for new production.

Apply cadence and synchronise with the cross-domain formation

The SAFe method applies cadence through iterations and sprints. This reduces uncertainty and complexity, enforces quality, builds muscle memory and encourages collaboration. Synchronising this cadence with cross-domain planning enables activities and people to operate efficiently even amid development uncertainty.

Unlock the intrinsic motivation of employees

While extrinsic motivation can help employees increase their productivity, it may also create internal competition. Competition can be positive and can also destroy the cooperation required to achieve the ultimate goal. Intrinsic motivation can help employees unlock their potential since motivation comes from within the individuals. You can unlock intrinsic motivation by encouraging autonomy and purpose, decentralising decision making and minimising constraints.

Related: Extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation

Organise around value

While one solution may work at some point, it may not be the most efficient at another time. SAFe methodology encourages organisations to organise around value to meet the needs of their customers as demand changes. The ability to quickly reorganise around the new demands can enable a company to grow and remain relevant in its industry even amidst competition.

How to implement SAFe scaled agile framework

Here are steps you could use to implement the SAFe scaled agile framework in your organisation:

1. Identify and communicate the need for change

Many factors can prompt an organisation to change, such as the need for growth and a shift in industry legislation. You may identify these factors and communicate the reasons for shifting to SAFe to various stakeholders and employees. This gives everyone a chance and time to realign to the new vision.

Related: Why is communication important? (And how to improve it)

2. Select and train change agents

When the organisation decides to adopt SAFe, the next step can be to select people who can act as change agents and train them on SAFe practices and processes. These change agents can then become Certified SAFe practitioners who can train the rest of the team on these practices. That way, everyone in the organisation can embrace the changes. Consider training even the managers and executives so they can lead by example.

3. Consider creating a lean-agile centre of excellence

To promote the SAFe method, consider creating a lean-agile centre of excellence in the organisation. That way, the entire company can optimise its performance using the SAFe methodology instead of only specific projects. This centre can oversee the whole organisation to make sure each development stage and department adapt this methodology.

4. Identify value streams and invest in agile release trains (ARTs)

As an organisation, identify the value that a business brings its customers and invest in a team that can create valuable solutions. To be productive and deliver quality products and services, you may require improving technology and internal practices. Having the right team can also help you improve efficiency and increase stakeholder value.

5. Provide a roadmap

To implement the SAFe method, you may want to set short-term and long-term goals. Set the first milestones you hope to achieve and select the team to implement them. You can start with one value stream. Create a clear roadmap that your team can use to achieve these goals and repeat the process for every value stream. Consider setting deadlines and performing readiness assessments.

Related: Top 9 leadership skills to develop

6. Implement

After providing a roadmap, implement the agile SAFe. Monitor how the teams implement the changes and if the method or system you use is working effectively. You can alter and refine the strategies to get the most optimum option.

7. Launch more value streams and ARTs

Consider launching more value streams and finding people who can deliver solutions. The more you identify customers' needs and find solutions for them, the more productive the organisation becomes. You can also evaluate the SAFe method to see if it's effective and consider applying all the steps at the portfolio level to improve goal attainment and increase company-wide performance.

8. Continuously improve

To continuously improve as an organisation, consider taking advantage of new opportunities and finding ways to improve performance. Having the right team and leadership can help the organisation improve continuously. Instilling a continuous growth mindset in all levels of the organisation can make the implementation of the SAFe scaled agile framework easier.


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