What Is Scaled Agile Framework? [+ SAFe ’10’ Principles]

Scaled Agile Framework

The scaled agile framework is developed to facilitate and aid the needs of the development team of an organization.

It  aims to reduce the risk of traditional scaled agile frameworks by providing the necessary guidance through the establishment of boundaries to ensure that projects are built according to predefined standards.

It is an adaptation of the Agile Manifesto to address the needs of larger scaled organizations. 

The scaled-agile framework has evolved to meet the challenges faced by these scaled organizations when they embark on their agile transformations.

It is not for small teams at the early stages of their agile transformation

The scaled agile framework is about scaling the ideas of Lean, Agile, and DevOps theory to large programs (enterprise-wide) while guiding for establishing scaled boundaries.

SAFe is an adaptation of the principles, practices, and values provided in the scrum framework to address scaling issues such as larger teams, program complexity, and portfolio management. 

SAFe does not provide scaled practices for teams, roles, or engineering practices.

SAFe provides scaled guidance for architecture and technical practices, specifically:

  • Product development flow (value delivery)
  • Architecture and technical design
  • Tooling and automation framework

SAFe is, therefore, a scaled framework that relies on the principles and values of scrum and aims to offer a solution that focuses on building bigger, significantly more complex products and programs.

SAFe has three pillars in its structure which are:

What Is the History of the Scaled Agile Framework?

SAFe was developed in 2011 by the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) Partners LLC and was first defined by Dean Leffingwell at OOBC 2011. 

The acronym SAFe was not coined until 2012.

In 2012, Dean Leffingwell published a book called “The Scaled Agile Framework.” 

This would be considered one of his many publications on Lean/Agile topics. 

The history of the scaled agile frame before this point can be found through the history of agile development Frameworks article, which was some history on other frameworks.

In 2013, the history of the scaled Agile frame began to expand beyond SAFe for teams and programs. 

In October 2013, SAFe was made available as a separate offering from SAFe for programs, and SAFe for SDLC-version 4.0 is still in progress.

What Are the 10 Principles of the Scaled Agile Framework?

Scaled Agile framework is based on 10 underlying and immutable principles:

Take an Economic View

  • According to safe principle #1, Every decision must be made with a keen and proper economic context to ensure the delivery of the best quality and value to society and customers in the shortest time.
  • The principles should be economical in terms of time, money, and resources. These principles help to understand the impact and assess the return on assets (ROA). It is a smart way to measure which principles create value and make suggestions for improvement. The principles should provide complete economic insights into the business process.

Application of System Thinking

  • A thorough understanding of the system the users and the workers operate serves a great purpose. 
  • According to safe principle #2, scaled principles are designed to work in harmony with any type of organization. These principles encourage the process of system thinking for delivering the best possible results. These principles go beyond concerns specific to a team, department, or division and take into account the ‘bigger picture’ situations that may influence your decisions.
  • Systems are complex and consist of various interrelated and intricate factors that cannot be analyzed in isolation. They are bound together by principles that govern how they work.
  • To get better results from the system, it is important to understand these principles and apply them better throughout the process. This helps the business achieve improved outcomes. It can also help a business be more sustainable over a longer period.
  • The actions of employees within an organization must reflect the principles of a system for achieving long-term goals rather than short-term gains. Such principles harness human potential and produce consistent, positive results over time with minimal risk or loss. 

Assume Variability and Preserve Options

  • A smart way to operate in an agile framework is to maintain multiple design options. Act in ways that reduce or avoid the irreversible commitment of system resources.
  • Assign responsibility for the results to individuals who perform the work, not just the person reporting to them. Build quality into processes instead of inspection at endpoints.
  • Create an environment where people are accountable for their actions and hold themselves responsible for achieving expected outcomes.
  • Conduct experiments before implementing new requirements throughout the development process. By experimenting with new ideas before fully implementing them, you can determine whether your new idea is a good one. It also helps you understand what parts of your current approach need improvement and how best to improve them.

Build Incrementally With  Rapid, Integrated Learning Cycles

  • To mitigate risk and provide prompt customer feedback, it’s important to develop effective solutions incrementally in a series of small iterations.
  • Planning is done at an appropriate level of detail. Release planning is a short, just-in-time activity that occurs in small batches. The time horizon should be long enough to deliver something valuable but short enough to have everything needed to estimate the release commitment within a week or so. Planning includes test planning and writing acceptance tests for business value delivered by the release.

Base Milestones of Objective Evaluation on Working Systems: As Late as Possible, as Early as Necessary

  • Product owners, product developers, and designers along with customers have a joint responsibility to make sure that investments in new and innovative solutions deliver economic yields.
  • According to safe principle #5, Make sure that you are working on the highest priority items in each iteration. You can determine this using Kanban boards that facilitate team collaboration and prioritization.
  • Instead of predicting when features will be completed, define criteria by which progress can be evaluated at any time and proceed only when results meet expectations.

Visualize and Reduce WIP,  Limit the Batch Size, and Skillfully Manage Lengths of the Queue

  • Complete one thing at a time instead of many things in parallel.
  • Build quality into every step of your process by verifying early and often through built-in feedback loops.
  • Ensuring that each component or feature is always fully ready to deliver before proceeding to the next.

Synchronize with the Cross-Domain Planning and Apply Cadence

  • According to safe principle #7, establish a regular, repeated cycle of work instead of completing one big push every few months. This helps with proper synchronization and increases efficiency. 

Unravel  the Internal and Intrinsic Motivation of Your Skilled and Knowledgeable Workers

  • Allow individuals to choose their work instead of imposing specific tasks. Allowing individuals to learn, grow, and advance in the way they want will boost the overall team motivation and yield better results. 

Decentralize the Process of Decision Making in the Organization

  • Allow teamwork and promote composite efforts in making all the decisions.
  • Do not promote the autonomy of a manager or single leader.

Introduce, Organize, and Update Around Value

  • According to safe principle #10, the only way to sustain in the digital age is to acclimate and respond to new customer needs through innovation and uniqueness. 
  • Keep the team updated and adapt to the market needs and implement your values accordingly.
  • This will help in introducing constant innovation and also provide ways to gain an edge over competitors.

Why Are Scaled Agile Principles So Important?

One of the biggest challenges the industry faces today is to build cyber-physical systems and enterprise-class software. 

This challenge requires principles to guide how teams should operate. 

We believe the principles for scaled agile are crucial to developing enterprise-grade systems either through cyber-physical or software system development.

These principles are the basis on which the principles of self-organizing teams, design thinking, co-located cross-functional words, continuous flow, and feedback loops work.

Agile principles facilitate ease and help to overcome these challenges.

The goal of scaled agile principles is to properly synthesize this highly effective body of knowledge which in turn helps in creating an integrated system of proven practices that subsequently aids in team productivity, employee engagement, market solutions, and so on.

Agile principles are principles that when followed help in creating efficient, productive, and engaged teams. 

These principles are the basis on which the principles of self-organizing teams, design thinking, co-located cross-functional words, continuous flow, and feedback loops work.

The principles are based on values like team transparency, customer satisfaction,  and employability.

All these agile principles combine to form a system of complete intelligent practices for efficient marketing solutions within the minimum possible time frame.

These principles are not prescriptive but rather guide organizations in continuously improving their business processes.

When is the Scaled Agile Framework right for you?

If your organization is looking forward to trying the agile approach for the first time, Scaled Agile Framework is an excellent way to get started. 

Even if your organization is not using an agile framework and you wish to transit, SAFe enables a smooth transition that may be slightly more rigorous and prescriptive. 

However, please note that the highly planned aspects of SAFe are occasionally criticized for not being in alignment with the core values and principles of agile. Some critics even say that SAFe is not fully an agile framework. 

Despite all of this, SAFe offers a lot of advantages to the huge firms employing multiple teams for their projects. They can truly benefit from this framework in a holistic way.

What Is the Scaled Agile Framework in Project Management? 

Project management in the companies using the scaled agile framework essentially occurs at four hierarchical levels.

Portfolio Management 

The portfolio management level of SAFe focuses on managing the flow of projects (Epics and features), their priorities, resources, and release plans. It guides how to deal with dependencies between projects in the context of multiple portfolios at once.

Program Increments

At this level, SAFe defines a management structure for portfolio increments at the level of programs. A program is defined as a collection of features that are intensively integrated towards achieving an objective or business case, collaborating across portfolios and facilitating coordination with customers, reducing risk through iterative planning, development, and delivery.

Feature Teams 

The feature teams in the scaled agile framework are responsible for the end-to-end delivery of a feature.

Each feature team is divided into multiple smaller self-organized teams called “crews.” A crew represents a scaled agile team and consists of developers, testers, designers, and other domain experts. Each of these scaled agile teams (crew) is further scaled down to the collection of people who will be doing the work of this particular project

Team Development Cycles

In a scaled agile framework, a cross-functional group consists of 5-11 individuals who help in maintaining a continuous team development cycle.

Feasibility of Scaled Agile Framework by Building a Layer of Management

The scaled agile framework helps in empowerment by promoting ownership and accountability. It eases flexibility through continuous learning and improvement,

Collaboration as a whole company (not just teams) that is scaled across geographical boundaries or time zones. 

The scaled agile framework can be scaled down to fit each situation of an organization – for each product development, for each program, even to the workstream.

The scaled agile framework is scaled at the team level to adapt to market changes or organizational needs. 

A scaled agile framework can be scaled up when looking at the portfolio level of an organization where multiple teams are working together on projects with dependencies between them.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)?

Pros of Scaled Agile Framework SAFe

  • SAFe provides scalability at various levels in an enterprise: various levels (line of business, program, portfolio, and initiative) can scale SAFe up or down as they see fit.
  • It can deliver on big ideas: It can provide an integrated approach that is future-focused and helps capture opportunities in a rapidly changing landscape and build upon them. It helps agile teams deliver incremental releases of greater value, sooner.
  • SAFe addresses the challenges of collaboration: SAFe is designed to address collaboration issues at all levels of an enterprise and provides a framework for building on common goals. 
  • It promotes end user-driven ideology: SAFe provides a foundation for ensuring that the end-user is embedded in the product delivery process, to ensure that their needs and wants are reflected in a product backlog.
  • SAFe helps harness emerging technologies: SAF helps take advantage of the latest advances being made in technology by making it easier to plug new technological capabilities into an enterprise.
  • SAFe helps immensely in the alignment of the IT and business strategies: The end-to-end agile development and the delivery pipeline built around SAFe and DevOps enables a clear separation of concerns (business, functional, and technical) to help guarantee the successful alignment of IT and business strategies.

Cons of Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

  • SAFe is more of a push rather than a pull approach or a top-down approach instead of a team-based approach: SAF mandates that the business leaders (product owner) define requirements in advance, and then these requirements are expected to be handed over to the development team which works on the same. The team doesn’t get an opportunity to identify any new requirement based on its view of projects – this means projects often land up with a predefined roadmap, this can sometimes be a little too rigid. SAF majorly focuses on the “iron triangle” which means – less emphasis is given to cost, scope, and time.
  • There are too many terminologies and jargons to remember: SAFe requires you to learn many new concepts and terminologies around product owner, scrum master, delivery team, and so on. SAFe doesn’t allow any role which is designated to help the “role” or “function” of another person – everything is defined in advance. Considered as to its biggest advantage, it can also be sometimes problematic. There is no room for flexibility, this can impact team cooperation too. 
  • The innovation sprint phase in SAF can be hardening: Considered as a negative effect of the Innovation sprint phase in SAF, it can sometimes prevent teams from resolving technical problems which forces them to use traditional scrum instead. Considered as another disadvantage, innovation sprints are not being followed up so teams don’t have time for continuous improvement activities, and the transparency decreases.
  • Difficult to incorporate in startups and small enterprises: The main aim of SAFe is to provide the tools that are required to productively scale lean and agile practices across complex, distributed organizations. Hence, it is not suitable for small teams, startups, or companies that are at the early stages of implementing an agile framework

What Do SAFe Certification and Training Look Like?

Depending on the project, the SAF training program can last for 4 to 5 days. 

The best SAF training is determined based on a SAFe assessment, which is conducted to evaluate the training quality. 

SAFe certification is a self-paced and modular training program that can be completed via e-learning or instructor-led classes.

This training gives you the skills and knowledge to be certified. 

You can find SAFe certifications on Agile Team Leads, Project Managers, Scrum Masters, or Product Owners.


Having understood the functions of the scaled agile framework, you can implement it by looking at the nature of your team and the kind of work that needs to be accomplished. 

With appropriate training, adopting the SAFe framework is relatively easy. 

We hope this comprehensive guide helps you make a wise choice. 

Crafting great product requires great tools. Try Chisel today, it's free forever.