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The Scaled Agile Framework (abbreviated as SAFe), is a set of organization and workflow patterns intended to guide enterprises in scaling lean and agile practices. Along with large-scale Scrum (LeSS), disciplined agile delivery (DAD), and Nexus, SAFe is one of a growing number of frameworks that seek to address the problems encountered when scaling beyond a single team. SAFe is made freely available by Scaled Agile, Inc., which retains the copyrights and registered trademarks.
SAFe promotes alignment, collaboration, and delivery across large numbers of agile teams. It was developed by and for practitioners, by leveraging three primary bodies of knowledge: agile software development, lean product development, and systems thinking.
The primary reference for the scaled agile framework was originally the development of a big picture view of how work flowed from product management (or other stakeholders), through governance, program, and development teams, out to customers. With the collaboration of others in the agile community, this was progressively refined and then first formally described in a 2007 book. The framework continues to be developed and shared publicly; with an academy and an accreditation scheme supporting those who seek to implement, support, or train others in the adoption of SAFe. The latest edition, version 4.5, was released in June 2017.
While SAFe has been recognised as the most common approach to scaling agile practices, (being used by up to 45% of large corporations) it also receives criticism for being too top-down and inflexible.
Development teams typically refine their backlog up to two to three iterations ahead, but in larger organizations the product marketing team needs to plan further ahead for their commitments to market and discussions with customers. They will often work with a very high level, 12 to 18-month roadmap, then plan collaboratively with the teams for three months of work. The development teams will still get into detailed refinement 2-3 iterations ahead, only getting into detailed task plans for the next iteration.
While development teams have a number of frameworks that define how they should be agile, there is very little that describes this for management. SAFe delivers many of the same principles, such as cross-functional teams, to the groups that handle the more abstract levels of responsibility and planning (product and portfolio). SAFe has also been criticized for aggregating too many disparate practices.
In Scrum, the product owner is expected to assume responsibility for the full product life-cycle, including the return on investment of development decisions, as well as performance in market. On large-scale developments, the organization needs a view across multiple team backlogs, such as provided by a product manager. Although SAFe assumes the product owner role sits with product management, it has nonetheless been criticized for separating product owners into the development organization.
Agile frameworks are designed to enable the development team to be autonomous and free to design how they work. SAFe acknowledges that, at the scale of many tens or hundreds of development teams, it becomes increasingly chaotic for teams to fully self-organize. It therefore puts some constraints on this, so that where teams are working on the same product, their deliverables can be better synchronized for releasing together, although this has been one area in which SAFe has been criticized.
The SAFe planning cycle recommends including an additional iteration after a release, so that teams can improve their practices and are ready for the next planning increment. Earlier editions of SAFe also designed this to be a hardening iteration, that is to stabilize or harden the product before releasing it. This was predicated on the complications of working with large integration environments where dependencies meant that you could not test everything until the very end. SAFe was criticized for this as it represented an anti-agile or waterfall element. This is not included in recent editions of SAFe.
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According to its authors, SAFe is based upon nine underlying concepts, which are derived from existing lean and agile principles, as well as observation:
In SAFe version 4.5, there are four configurations: essential, portfolio, large solution and full:
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