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What Is SAFe®?

The Scaled Agile Framework®, also known as SAFe®, is a methodology and set of practices for implementing agile practices at an enterprise scale. SAFe® enables a structured approach for scaling agile as companies grow.

There are four configurations in SAFe®, one of which will be the proper fit depending on the size and complexity of the organization:

  • Essential SAFe®
  • Large Solution SAFe®
  • Portfolio SAFe®
  • Full SAFe®


The first iteration of the Scaled Agile Framework®, or SAFe® was released in 2011. Its creators, Dean Leffingwell and Drew Jemilo worked to develop a methodology that differed from the project management practices of the day.

The speed of change in market conditions and competition across many industries had far outpaced the capacity of those existing practices to adapt. 

The need to become “lean” was critical to an organization’s existence.

Lean...refers to a production principle stating that any component of a business enterprise that fails to directly benefit a final product is superfluous. Lean enterprise focuses on value creation while eliminating waste and non-essential processes.1


Communication is key

First, developing and maintaining a “team-centric environment” is the core of SAFe®. Communication and a high level of transparency throughout the organization encourages collaborative efforts which drive productivity, decrease time-to-market, and helps ensure a quality solution.

Agile practices

Second, SAFe® uses well-documented, specific, and repeatable processes. Agile and lean practices ensure all teams are focused on a common set of goals. Every individual understands what the deliverables are to be and as a result, the client has a clear set of expectations to be returned.

Overall improvements

Additionally, Enterprises transitioning to SAFe® have collectively reported some astonishing results. Take a look!


The present-day version of SAFe®, version 5, was released in January 2020, and is built around the Seven Core Competencies;

Enterprise Solution Delivery

Agile Product Delivery

Team And Technical Agility

Lean Portfolio Management

Organizational Agility

Continuous Learning Culture

Lean-Agile Leadership

Properly planned, SAFe® allows each organization its own unique implementation and configuration of the combined benefits of Agile, Lean, and DevOps frameworks. An organization-wide development process known as the Agile Release Train, or ART, sets and keeps the wheels in motion throughout the process; define, build, validate, release - repeated as needed.

Agile Release Train (ART)


There are four configurations available depending on the size and scope of your organization. Within these configurations there are four levels typically associated with a SAFe® implementation and each one has specific roles. We won’t dive deep into the details here, but to give you an overview:


Basic, necessary foundation and starting point for a SAFe® implementation. Includes the Team Level and the Program Level. The roles for these levels are:

Team Level: Agile Teams, Scrum Master, Product Owner

Program Level: Product Manager, System Architect/Engineer, Release Train Engineer (RTE), Business Owners

Large Solution

The large-solution level between the program and portfolio level is only relevant in organizations that develop, or are involved in developing, extensive solutions. It's often used in aerospace, government, and automative applications. If value flows are so comprehensive that they cannot be realized by a single ART, several ARTs are combined into solution trains analogously to the system. Any external suppliers that may be necessary can also be taken into account at this level. It usually has the following roles: Solution Manager, Solution Architect/Engineer and Solution Train Engineer.


At the portfolio level - the minimum configuration needed to enable business agility - value stream mapping is used to define the value streams. This forms the basis for target-oriented release trains that operate as independently as possible. In large organizations, there are sometimes several portfolios. Portfolio elements are also developed as lean-agile as possible and are managed on a Kanban basis to ensure that resources are value-focused. It typically entails these roles: Epic Owner, Enterprise Architect.


The most comprehensive solution, with all seven competencies required to achieve business agility. Full SAFe® entails all configurations and levels, with all their tasks and functions, and is used by the largest enterprises with the most complex solutions.

Of course, no one likes to make the journey alone with an organization-wide culture shift such as a migration to SAFe®. To that end, you’ll be happy to know there are a myriad of companies, large and small, all over the globe and across almost all industries, that have made SAFe® their standard. Perhaps you’ve heard of a few; FedEx, Chevron, Nokia Software, American Express, Allianz, TV Globo, MetLife, Lockheed Martin, Bosch.

For more information about the roles, the SAFe® terminology, and further explanations you can take a look at the SAFe® glossary.


With such a deep level of sophistication, detail, and simultaneous moving teams and respective activities, one would be reasonable to assume venturing into SAFe® to be a substantial endeavor. While the level of complexity is indeed high, there are partners and solutions available to not only make the transition to SAFe® possible, but rather wholly successful and profitable. 

A well-written series of 12 articles have been published on the Scaled Agile Framework website detailing the SAFe® Implementation Roadmap:

“Achieving business agility and the benefits of Lean-Agile development at scale is not a trivial effort, so SAFe is not a trivial framework. Before realizing SAFe’s rewards, organizations must embrace a Lean-Agile Mindset as well as understand and apply Lean-Agile principles. They must identify Value Streams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs), implement a Lean-Agile portfolio, build quality in, and establish the mechanisms for continuous value delivery and DevOps. And, of course, the culture must evolve as well.” - © Scaled Agile, Inc.

Beyond the Roadmap, the folks at Scaled Agile have made taking the first step a bit easier by not only providing extensive SAFe® resources and documentation but provided a searchable and filterable list of partner organizations. 

Find a SAFe® Partner  

The Implementation Roadmap

(The SAFe® Implementation Roadmap - Click For More Information)

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This content was last updated on 10/20/2022.

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