How to implement SAFe on your own.

How to implement SAFe on your own.

The Author:
Alyona Lubchak
Alyona Lubchak,
SAFe program consultant

Let’s start with defining: what is SAFe?

SAFe — is a knowledge base of integrated and proven patterns for scaling a company using Lean, Agile, DevOps, and System Thinking. SAFe is a free knowledge base. Each icon on the website opens an additional article with detailed explanations and reference to additional books.

Configuration of SAFe

This framework should be perceived as a construction set – there are four configurations of it, and you can easily choose the one that is optimal for you:

Essential SAFe is the basic configuration with a limited set of tools that are sufficient for working on a single product with a team of up to 125 people. It consists of two levels – team and program. The program level is added to to enhance communication and maximize the efficient synchronization of teams. At the team level, any Agile methodology can be used – Scrum, Kanban, XP, or any other.

1. Portfolio SAFeThis configuration adds a third level -portfolio – to the previous two levels (team and program). It addresses additional questions such as: How to validate business ideas? How to allocate budgets? How to understand where to invest funds and where not to?

2. Large Solution SAFe In this configuration, an additional level called Large Solution is added to the essential SAFe variant. Within this level, an unlimited number of Agile Release Trains (ARTs) can be launched. The number of people involved in this case is unlimited – there is a known case where 20,000 individuals were engaged. This level introduces additional roles for synchronization and coordination, as well as additional pre- and post-planning meetings for each ART.

3. Full SAFe This is the largest configuration that includes all the aforementioned levels, from the team level to the portfolio level, and provides detailed guidance on their operation. With this framework, even 20,000 people can work together (the largest known SAFe case).

Choosing the right configuration is the first question that arises at the beginning of SAFe implementation. Here you need to base your decision on the size of the team. If the team has fewer than 50 people, using this framework is not recommended due to the high cost of supporting the process. If there are up to 125 people, then we consider the version Essential SAFe or Portfolio SAFe.

Advantages of SAFe

According to the official statistics provided by the authors of the framework, the application of SAFe leads to improvement in four directions:

  • Engagement – employees are 10-50% more motivated and satisfied.
  •  Time to market – accelerated by 30-75%.
  •  Team productivity – increased by 20-50%.
  •  Product quality – the number of defects is reduced by 25-75%.

Among the companies with a global name that use SAFe are Cisco, Hewlett Packard, Fitbit, Porsche and others.
Now we will provide some more statistical data that testify to the popularity of this framework:

  • In the “13th Annual State of Agile Report” it is stated that 30% of companies that have a need for scaling use SAFe.
  •  In the “Scaling Agile Report” this indicator is higher – we are talking about 45% of companies that prefer SAFe.
  •  49% of respondents to the “Scrum Master Trends” survey, conducted by, do not use any framework at all, and 23% of those who still use, choose SAFe.

In the report “State of Scrum” from Scrum Alliance, the first place with the same result of 33% is shared by 2 frameworks – Scrum of Scrum and SAFe.
As we can see, SAFe is the most popular agile framework that can help solve problems with scaling, insufficient communication, dependencies between teams, and a lack of clear vision of the direction of development.

When to implement SAFe?

So when do they start working with SAFe? Conventionally, companies can be divided into two categories: those who already have a very critical situation and are forced to transform, and those who are doing well but are looking for ways to improve.

80-90% of companies belong to the first type. They face a situation that has an abstract name “Platform on Fire”. That is, the company realizes that the current model of work does not meet its needs, and it is necessary to quickly take certain measures. The rest of the companies go the way of cognition – they have initiative leaders who realize the need for change and, as a result, promote their leaders to prevent the situation of “Platform on Fire” from happening.

SAFe Implementation Roadmap

SAFe implementation is a fairly large-scale process that consists of several steps:

1. Go decision. This is a certain moment when the company realized that it needs to transform and chose SAFe as the framework for scaling.
2. Creating LACE (lean-agile center of excellence) – a team of leaders who will be actively involved in the implementation and later transform your company. These are your Change Agents. This team forms the plan for implementing SAFe in your company.
3. Training staff. You need to understand what SAFe is, highlight the main points, and find out how the team’s work will change after implementing the framework.
4. Defining value streams. That is, a certain list of steps that need to be taken to provide value to the end consumer.
5. Creating Agile Release Trains (ART) – cross-functional units that will work on implementing the framework and operating it. It is important to find out who is responsible for each step in the value stream, as all these employees must work in the appropriate ART.
6. Preparing for the launch of the first ART. This includes preparing backlogs, training teams, and organizing planning.
7. Launching the first ART, conducting the first PI planning. The PI Planning itself lasts 2 days. Everything happens quite intensively; it may even seem that the process is uncontrollable. But this is not the case – everything is facilitated at a sufficient level by RTE (Release Train Engineer).
8. Execution of planned plans (PI execution). This is actually the execution of PI, summarizing at Inspect&Adapt Workshop.
9. Launching the next ARTs and reviewing the value streams, if you think you made mistakes at step
10. Expanding to the Portfolio level. Note – we start with the Essential configuration.
11. Supporting changes and improving them.

All these steps are quite logical and necessary for a successful implementation of the transition to a new framework.

Challenges on the way of implementing SAFe

Based on the already familiar “13th Annual State of Agile Report”, let’s highlight the TOP 3 challenges that most companies face that have decided to work with SAFe.

1. Organizational culture that contradicts Agile values. It is important to consider the values of the company, how they contradict Agile, and decide what to do about it.

2. General resistance of the team. Employees usually cling to stability. Hence, any changes disrupt this stability. You need to work with people’s fears and explain the benefits of innovations.

3. Insufficient support from C-level management. And it’s not even about financial issues – it is from the top managers that the confidence should come from that the company needs this.

Let’s sum up

To make SAFe implementation seem less complicated, it is worth summarizing everything said above. All you need is 3 simple steps:

  • Understand with your team what SAFe is.
  •  Conduct an audit that will allow you to assess how ready you are to launch the first ART.
  •  Do not give up on implementing SAFe after the first imperfect PI planning. You need at least three PIs to understand how it all works in practice.

And to avoid mistakes when implementing it yourself, we recommend that you contact the consultants of E5. Book free consultation time: