Be on the SAFE Side

Be on the SAFE Side

Written by Luciano Castro

What is the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)?

There are many ways to describe what the SAFe is. Somehow, I like to visualize it as the house for development teams and supported by three pillars: Team, Program, and Portfolio; something of an open concept where many visitors come and go, mending, fixing, upgrading the framework and the pillars, leaving their input for new visitors who would ultimately do the same. It is an on-going and never-ending process. And one of the main reasons why I have this analogy is because the SAFe is designed not so much as a single methodology but as a big knowledge base of proven best practices that teams have used to deliver successful software products. In a nutshell, the knowledge base consists of proven, integrated principles and practices to help enterprise agility.
SAFe is designed by and for practitioners to help businesses continuously, regularly and more efficiently deliver value on a predictable schedule. The idea itself seems quite amazing, providing some sort of ultimate guidebook that is constantly being updated. And, best of all, it’s FREE. Sounds pretty cool, right?

Let’s see how it all started.

The first release was in 2011. It was originally called the “Agile Enterprise Big Picture” by Dean Leffingwell. The Big Picture described how to leverage existing agile frameworks such as Lean, Kanban, Scrum, and XP—and apply them at the Team, Program, and Portfolio. Already five major versions have been released, while the latest edition, version 5.0, was released in January 2020. I think you now get the idea why it is an ongoing process.

SAFe in one image:


The Scaled Agile Framework is based upon ten principles meant to improve the company as a whole by inspiring lean-agile decision making across functional and organizational boundaries. These principles are derived from existing lean and agile ones, and they are intended to influence the decisions of not just leaders and managers, but of everyone in the organization.


1. Take an economic view

Everyday decisions must be made in a proper economic context.  You do need to achieve the shortests sustainable lead time and in order to do that, each member of the team needs to understand the economic implications of delay. Although your team should deliver early, it isn’t always enough if you don’t take economic factors into account. Sequencing jobs for maximum benefit, understanding economic trade-offs, and operating within lean budgets are all responsibilities that need to be shared throughout the organization. And this framework does highlight the trade-offs between risk, Cost of Delay (CoD), manufacturing, operational, and development costs.


2. Apply systems thinking

The SAFe is all about the Big Picture, because Systems thinking highlights this feature. Although the workplace and marketplace consist of many interconnected components, improving a component wouldn’t necessarily improve the whole system. Everybody in the team must understand their part and see how that part fits into the bigger picture.  The organization’s people, management, and processes definitely need to be taken into account. 


3. Assume variability; preserve options

It goes without saying that it is a must to choose a single design-and-requirements option early in the development process. Sadly, if for whatever reason this starting point turns out not to be such a good choice ( or even completely the wrong one), the future adjustments might take too long and wouldn’t be time nor money efficient. That’s why you need to have multiple options for a longer period in the development cycle. The more you learn and the more knowledge you collect, the better you’d be equipped to create a design with optimum economic outcomes because you’d be able to narrow down the focus.


4. Build incrementally with fast integrated learning cycles

The first thing that pops up in my mind when it comes to this principle is that hilarious 90’s cheesy song Step by Step. Don’t pretend you don’t know it, you are probably humming it right now. On a more serious note though, the song’s title really sums up nicely this principle. If you develop solutions incrementally in a series of short iterations, that enables you to get customer feedback faster and mitigate risk. Subsequent increments will build on the previous ones. By getting fast feedback, you know when you need to change the course of action.


5. Base milestones on objective evaluation of working systems

Simply put, if you invest the money in new solutions, you want to see it return, you want to see the economic benefit. You need to have objective milestones so you can evaluate the solution throughout the development life cycle. This regular evaluation provides the financial and technical governance to assure that your investment will provide a return. 


6. Visualize and limit work-in-progress, reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths
Lean companies want to achieve the state of continuous flow, and to achieve that they need this principle, or better said, the three key components of this principle. Limiting work in process helps  stakeholders see exactly how work is playing out.  Small batch sizes provide validation that work is going in the right direction. In addition, managing queue lengths offers guidance on optimizing for the best results.


7.Apply cadence (timing), synchronize with cross-domain planning
Synchronization is the key. When teams become synchronized and apply cadence, together with cross-domain planning, it enables them to operate more effectively regardless of the ever changing conditions.


8.Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers
In terms of ideation, innovation, encouragement  and team spirit, this is definitely the best principle,and the one that best resonates with me. Unfortunately, most traditional companies have a very command-and-control mind set. This usually creates a lot of fear in individuals when it comes to expressing their ideas and creativity. In Agile, it is different, teams collaborate, freely express their thoughts and they are complementing their leaders by providing additional ideas. Healthy working environment is created with the emphasis on mutual influence.


9.Decentralize decision-making
This principle seems to logically follow from the previous one. Although some decisions definitely need to be centralized and some don’t. It gives teams autonomy in making decisions and getting the work done more efficiently and in a more innovative way.


10.Organize around value
This one is quite self-explanatory. The company needs to be organized around  value so they can deliver more quickly. And since everything is changing, the company needs to quickly adapt to the new value flow and reorganize things.

Core principles aren’t the only cores of the SAFe. It also has a set of core values. Same as values in everyday life refer to the things we need to have or work on, the values in the SAFe imply the same. They are improving the work culture while pointing out hope people should behave within that culture and be more efficient. And naturally, these cores values are intertwined with the principles.


  • Alignment
    The focus is on planning and cadences at all levels of the organization. When these are in place, it becomes clearer what the current state of business or goals is, and how the team should work together to achieve the goals. Simply put, you need synchronization to stay in alignment. 


  • Built-in Quality
    The starting premise is that agility should never come at the cost of quality. Quality isn’t  something that is added later, it is built in. It is a prerequisite of Lean and it ensures that every incremental delivery reflects the quality standards.


  • Transparency
    Transparency boosts trust because it enables a company to achieve it at all levels. Everybody can check the portfolio, program or team backlog.  It gives insight into the real time visibility  into backlog progress across levels, so potential problems can be spotted the moment they pop up.     


  • Program Execution
    Not much use of the SAFe if teams can’t execute the program and deliver value and quality on a regular basis.

As already mentioned above, the SAFe is one of the most popular and common approaches nowadays. And the statistics definitely looks favourable

However, it is far from perfect and has its disadvantages, rather than weaknesses. There are always two sides of a coin. 

Some believe the framework is not pure agile, because it requires too much upfront planning and process definition. Furthermore, it has more of a top-down approach  to decision making rather than a team-based approach which can undermine some of the core agile principles—such as collective ownership, adaptiveness, and less fixed roles. This disadvantage led to the SAF-e being criticized as hierarchical and inflexible in a way.


Same as with PM tools that we already wrote about, there is no definite answer if your company should use the SAFe. It is definitely suited for companies with a great number of teams, it makes  projects more transparent, it helps cross-functional teams communicate better and it enables the people involved to see the big picture.The SAFe can be challenging when implementing because it will take a lot of practice, skill, trial and error, and good communication to feel comfortable about it. You need to see if it meets your company’s needs and requirements.


If this year 2020 proved anything, then it is that nothing stands still and that changes are not only inevitable but happening at a very quick pace that sometimes feels hard to keep up. Naturally, it results in lots of stress and pressure. That’s why it is so important to be flexible and agile. It is really the only way to stay afloat and keep swimming in the sea of changes. And there’s nothing wrong to ask for a safety belt if you need one. Otherwise, the pressure and stress might mount up and you end up losing the game, set and the match. Personally, I think that investing some money in a good and experienced PM team will help you along the way and take the pressure off so you can focus on things in your business that you do best. In other words, it would be an investment that would pay off in the long run.



Let’s start with Luciano Castro, founder of the company. Luciano is a business-driven manager with over 15 years of experience as a CTO and CEO in multinational companies and startups. He has a strong technical background in IT and excellent management skills and is in love with Agile and Lean methodologies:

15 Years of experience

8 Certifications

11 Books published

But, there is no I in the word Team, so Luciano isn’t the only person you get when you choose us. 

You will get a team of seasoned Project and Product Managers specialized in Scrum, Waterfall, Design Thinking, and Lean. We have more than 2000 projects under our belt both with small and big teams. We also possess multiple certifications in PMP, Agile, Scrum, ITSQB, ITIL, and Microsoft. These numbers are impressive but we wouldn’t have been able to do it successfully without being dedicated, passionate and working hard to provide the methodology and approach that suit you best. We will manage every stage of your product’s journey and organize your tasks and projects by phases and priorities. 


Our team will be there to continually track every step of the process and help your business grow even more. 

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Contact information


Castro & Partners - P. IVA: 02325360515
Via Mannini 19, 52100, Arezzo - Italy

Phone: +39 0692949345
Contact: [email protected]



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