4 SAFe core values and how they promote agile scaling

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 18 July 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.

The agile approach to project management involves iterative work, continuous improvement and team collaboration. Although it typically works best for smaller groups of people, there are methodologies for scaling it. If you're interested in agile project management, understanding the uses of frameworks like SAFe for agile scaling can be very helpful. In this article, we explain what agile scaling means, what SAFe's core values are, how these benefit agile teams and answer some frequently asked questions.

What are the 4 SAFe core values?

SAFe core values are a set of priorities which allow organisations to manage large, complex projects which involve numerous teams of considerable size. SAFe stands for Scaled Agile Framework. Its values can be useful at the portfolio, project or even programme levels and help to maintain and scale agility despite the larger size of teams. One of the key advantages of SAFe is that it leads to a continuous feedback loop, which is crucial for responsiveness, productivity and engagement. The four values of SAFe are:

1. Alignment

Alignment is the existence of a coherent vision which can inform the work of an entire organisation. This is necessary for ensuring that all work is leading to a common goal or outcome, regardless of how many teams there are or their size. Misalignment can lead to teams performing tasks which don't complement or reinforce each other, duplicate work or misunderstandings regarding objectives. Good alignment means that everyone can change their activities simultaneously and effectively, regardless of how many people are involved, how far apart they are and differences in their responsibilities.

Good alignment starts with decision-making at the portfolio level, including its vision, themes, strategy and backlog. This leads to a roadmap and vision, which are both clear and well-known among teams. Key characteristics of good alignment include the vision of being customer-centric and encouraging design thinking. Transparency, visibility, communication and clear separation of duties are all vital for good alignment. It's important to remember that this doesn't simply mean top-down management, as this goes against agile values. Instead, it's about common and decentralised decision making based on a common purpose and direction.

Related: 15 common strategic planning models (with definitions)

2. Built-in quality

Built-in quality means that quality is an integral characteristic of all outputs. This means ensuring high quality from the very earliest stages, rather than seeking to improve it after some of the work is complete. Among the reasons for this are the idea that adding or improving quality at a later date can increase the total amount of work necessary, require more time overall, or both. Another assertion which justifies this principle is that ensuring quality after some of the work is complete is less effective, and results in products which have lower quality than those which have it built-in.

Making sure that quality is a built-in feature of all work also decreases the possibility of large amounts of unfinished and unvalidated work existing, which would also require time to fix or otherwise address. Since an organisation which is scaling agile still works iteratively, built-in quality means that current work is unlikely to adversely affect future work, or that of others. This leads to a mutually reinforcing collection of work activities that don't require constant checking or sending back for improvement.

Related: How to improve quality (and Porter's value chain explained)

3. Transparency

One of the major challenges of agile scaling is that regular communication between all team members becomes more difficult. This becomes almost impossible in large organisations, as there are too many people involved. The absence of regular communication is why SAFe emphasises the value of transparency. Transparency means honesty and clarity regarding work flows, actions and responsibilities. This makes it much easier to identify where a mistake occurred and why it happened. In the absence of transparency, teams may spend excessive time tracking the origins of their problems, thereby slowing down both their own work and that of others.

With transparency, this troubleshooting and identification process is much faster and less disruptive. Significant contributors to this are trust and honesty. If everyone can rely on each other to be honest, this can save a lot of time when identifying the causes of problems. Additionally, mutual trust can positively contribute to morale and, therefore, increase productivity. For agile scaling, this is necessary because most people can't regularly speak to each other. Instead, transparency ensures that they can trust their colleagues to do the work properly without asking.

Related: What is business transparency and how can you promote it?

4. Programme execution

The final priority within SAFe's values is programme execution, to which all the others contribute. This means continuously delivering value to customers in a timely manner. Since agile scaling is quite people-centric and can involve some adaptation, SAFe emphasises the importance of business outcomes to determine the success of the methodology, as agile scaling can lead to many challenges regarding delivery. Alignment, transparency and built-in quality are among the main contributors to this, as they can help guarantee the uninterrupted delivery of quality products.

Related: What is the difference between goals and objectives?

What does agile scaling mean?

Agile scaling is the process of scaling the agile framework up to work for larger groups or even entire organisations. Its greatest use is typically for small teams, so scaling it well requires an effective framework. Agile itself is a methodology which involves cycles of iterative work which culminate in a finished project. These cycles complete particular work tasks, after which the team receives feedback on their work and then incorporates this into iterations. This approach is good for work, which requires continual updating or amending, which is why it's popular for software development.

Agile is also useful if the marketplace for a certain good or service constantly changes, as it allows teams to swiftly adapt. Agile is people-centric, with collaboration and in-person interactions a key element of this methodology. It also emphasises trust and team autonomy. This is partly why scaling agile can be a challenge.

Related: What is agile project management? (Everything you need to know)

Frequently asked questions about SAFe

Here are some frequently asked questions about SAFe and its values, together with their respective answers:

Is SAFe the same as agile?

No. SAFe is an iteration of agile where it's become scaled for larger organisations. There are also other iterations of agile, such as Scrum, which is an even more decentralised iteration of agile and would require different steps to scale for larger organisations. Agile can therefore mean small teams of individuals, whereas SAFe is specifically for large organisations which want agile scaling.

Related: What is the difference between agile vs Scrum? (With tips)

What is the role of leadership in SAFe?

Effective leadership is an important aspect of successful SAFe implementation. Since the majority of personnel can't interact regularly due to the issues of scaling, leaders perform the task of intra-organisational communication. They're also necessary for communicating common goals and vision to the entire organisation, which is an essential aspect of effective alignment. Leaders also encourage a culture of continuous learning.

Related: The importance of leadership (with types and values)

Are there other ways of scaling agile?

Yes. Three other popular options include Disciplined Agile (DA), Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) and Scrum at Scale, which has the alternative spelling of Scrum@Scale. The DA option uses many agile practices as a form of guidance for how to manage an organisation. It typically has fewer formal rules for implementation and instead focuses on encouraging the role of teams and pursuing clear goals. This gives greater room for interpretation and flexibility when scaling.

LeSS is a way of taking the principles of Scrum and scaling it for larger organisations. This can be quite challenging, as Scrum is very decentralised. It still uses teams as the foundational drivers of productivity, focuses less on managers and emphasises the need for simplicity for effective scaling. Scrum at Scale is another way of using Scrum principles for large organisations, which emphasises the necessity of minimising decision-making times and 'bureaucracy'. It stipulates five-person teams and linear scalability, in addition to two cycles for coordinating the workflows of teams across a large organisation.


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