SAFe Birds Eye View

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SAFe Birds Eye View

In continuation to blog series on Scaled Agile, let’s review SAFe from a Birds Eye View. What is it all about? What are the four basic configurations that it provides and how does it help organisations to leverage these configurations to their specific needs


The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is a scalable and configurable framework which helps organisations deliver in the shortest lead time with good quality and value. It helps in alignment, collaboration, and delivery for multiple Agile teams. Therefore, It helps organisations align the framework to its business context.

As a recap, SAFe framework leverages contributions from three bodies of knowledge. These bodies are Agile development, systems thinking, and Lean product development.

Four Out Of The Box Configurations:

SAFe provides four out of the box configuration that support all range of development environments. Let us have a high level view on each one of them.

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

Essential SAFe –

This is the starting Point for implementing SAFe. It covers the 10 basic critical elements that forms the heart of the framework. It serves as the foundation for other Configuration up the ladder. Therefore, this is the starting point for any organisation looking forward to implement SAFe

Essential SAFe provides the basic fundamental elements that drive the rest of the framework. Most important of all is ART (Agile Release Train). Cross-functional teams align together known as ART. ART brings Agile teams, management and all other key stakeholders under one umbrella to work together for a common goal through a shared vision and program backlog. You can expect more details on ART in blogs to come.

Roles In Essential SAFe:

FIVE Important Roles play a pivotal role in successful execution of ART.

  • System Architect/Engineer – This is the one role that applies systems thinking. These are the members who define the overall architecture for the system. They help identify new nonfunctional requirements (NFRs) and help determine the critical components and subsystems.
  • Product Management –  Product Management bridges the gap between Customers  and internal stakeholders. They work with Product Owners and Customers to define features. They are the ones responsible for Program level backlog and prioritisation of the same. 
  • Release Train Engineer (RTE) – The RTE is a servant leader and the chief Scrum Master for the ART. The person filling this role helps improve the flow of value in the program.
  • Business Owners –  Business Owners are a group of stakeholders who have the responsibility of ROI. They are key stakeholders who must actively participate in certain ART events.
  • Customer – Customers are the ultimate deciders of value and are an integral part of the Lean-Agile development process and value stream. They have specific responsibilities in SAFe.

There are three major activities that help coordinate the ART. These are PI planning, System demo, and the I&A event. (At a sprint level, think of it as Sprint Planning, Sprint Demo and Sprint Retrospective)

Large Solution SAFe

This configuration is used to develop the large and complex business solutions. This configuration supports multiple Agile Release Trains (ARTs) and suppliers. Large solutions are common in industries such as aerospace and defence, automotive, and government.

Roles in Large SAFe-

  • Solution Architect/Engineer. The Solution Architect/Engineer is an individual or small team that defines the technical and architectural vision for the solution under development.
  • Solution Management – These individuals create the solution vision, backlog, and roadmap. They also help in defining the requirements (capabilities and enablers), and guide the work through the solution Kanban.
  • Solution Train Engineer (STE) –  The STE is a servant leader and coach who facilitates and directs the work of all ARTs and suppliers.

Portfolio SAFe

This configuration applies the Lean Portfolio Management competency to align portfolio execution to the enterprise strategy. It organises development around the flow of value through one or more value streams.

Roles in Portfolio SAFe

  • Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) –  The LPM function has the highest level of decision-making and financial accountability for a SAFe portfolio. It is responsible for three primary areas: strategy and investment funding, Agile portfolio operations, and Lean governance.
  • Epic Owners –  Epic Owners take responsibility for coordinating epics through the portfolio Kanban system.
  • Enterprise Architect – The Enterprise Architect is an individual or a small team that works across value streams and programs to deliver the strategic technical direction. The Enterprise Architect often acts as an Epic Owner for enabler epics.

Full SAFe

This is the most comprehensive version that integrates all five core competencies to support enterprises. It build and maintain a portfolio of large, integrated solutions. This configuration builds on Essential SAFe by adding the portfolio and large solution levels.

Each of these four configurations is supported by a ‘spanning palette’ and ‘foundation’ elements that support the Framework’s flexibility


Spanning Palette

SAFe’s core values define its essential ideals and beliefs. They help people understand what to focus on and how to determine whether their organisation is on the right path to fulfil its business goals. 

To conclude, the type and extent of software and solution development initiatives within the larger enterprise vary widely. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for every context. With the flexible spanning palette, SAFe’s four out-of-the-box configurations, SAFe provide the adaptability needed to address most solution development challenges. This helps SAFe enterprises deliver the world’s most important systems in the shortest sustainable lead time with the best possible quality and value.

References: SAFe Distilled 4.5 and Scaled Agile Framework


Written by 

Neeraj is Masters In Information Technology from Symbiosis Pune and a seasoned PMI certified Project Management Professional (PMP)®, Certified Scrum Master (CSM)® and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO)® with 16+ yrs of exp in Project Management/Agile/Business Analysis and Quality Assurance across diverse organizational domains.