Can You Really Play Agile SAFE?

Some have touted agile SAFe as being a good solution for the implementation of agile in larger organizations.

However, it caused controversy and disagreement in the agile community since the idea was first started. It is helpful to assess whether organizations can play agile SAFe, considering its benefits and challenges. It is also useful to think about practical factors associated with its implementation. To try and make any use of agile SAFe as beneficial as possible for organizations.

What is Agile SAFe?

Before progressing, it is crucial to understand what is meant by agile SAFe. SAFe is an approach put forward in 2011. To aid software development teams to market improved products faster. SAFe stands for Scaled Agile Framework. Since its conception, organizations have been working to build tools that can help implement larger organizations. SAFe is a framework that aims to help in situations where scale is a factor. Working within SAFe, there is thought to be an improvement in collaboration, especially across different teams, and the making of decisions is centralized. SAFe generally works with a Scrum central to the process. Still, there is a larger sprint that operates across several teams. Each of these teams uses smaller sprints.

Benefits of SAFe

Advocates of the SAFe approach argue that this framework allows its users to use agile at scale. It is suggests that SAFe offers an increased level of agility and a more thorough agile implementation. Proponents of the approach argue that while SAFe may not be as effective as putting a pure agile system in place, it does at least offer a starting point for bigger organizations to put more of an agile system. Therefore, suggesting that SAFe is not an absolute target. Instead, they may use it to get organizations moving in a direction towards real agility. It provides an opportunity for large organizations to gain some benefits of agile, when they otherwise might not. Considering this as a benefit by some organizations.

Challenges with SAFe

While SAFe appeared to offer an excellent solution as a scaled approach, evidence suggests that it has not delivered the hoped-for benefits. One problem with it has been unrealistic expectations within organizations. It is tempting to believe that SAFe can deliver magical results with little energy spent to achieve this.

This is not the case. SAFe requires a transformation of mindsets, not just a few days of training. In fact, in 2017, the Association for Project Management found that change in mindset is more important than changing methods. SAFe requires a fundamental shift to organizational activities and behavior to make it a success. This takes years rather than months to bring about, so it requires significant commitment and effort. It is not a wonder drug that can suddenly deliver tremendous results. In my experience, business leaders do not appreciate this. Those who believe SAFe is not helpful also argue that no organization has ever said that it has been hugely beneficial for them. This is problematic.

Thoughts on Adopting Agile SAFe

Many agile experts argue SAFe should not be adopted, as it is not bona fide agile. Further, dubbing SAFe as “unSAFe” by some of these same individuals. Feeling that SAFe works against one of the fundamental principles of an agile approach focus on people and their interactions rather than tools and processes. While on paper, it might seem that this framework will offer flexibility. It goes against this when it aims to implement it from a practical perspective.

We cannot ignore that agile SAFe may offer some benefits for organizations that want to start along the journey to true agility. This framework provides an important opportunity for larger organizations that might otherwise not be able to make agile work. While SAFe may be an imperfect solution, it helps with addressing some challenges of project management within larger organizations.

However, agile SAFe is likely to only work in some organizations, and even then, only some time. Each organization will need to consider its circumstances and the extent to which it can transform towards an agile mindset as an end goal for this to be of benefit.

Recommending those who want to play agile SAFe to monitor and measure specific goals. After all, any change ought to deliver benefits, including some return on investment. It is worth considering metrics that measure customer satisfaction, productivity, quality (fewer defects), cycle time and release time, stabilization, and employee satisfaction. To identify if any of these have improved because of putting in place agile SAFe. If not, then the program is not worthwhile.


Agile SAFe has created much controversy in the agile community. While SAFe has the potential to change in working towards a scaled agile approach in larger organizations. There are serious concerns that it may be seen as a “wonder drug.” Many organizations do not put the time or effort required into delivering the transformation of mindsets needed to be truly agile. This can lead to considering SAFe, “unSAFe.” Those large organizations that want to implement SAFe should view it as an essential starting point along the road. To eventually becoming genuinely agile, realizing that the journey will take years rather than months. Having in place a system of measurements ensures the return on investment is achieved and highly recommends such program for those organizations that want to play agile SAFe.

Until next time, you are up to date.

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