The 4 Levels of Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

21 Sep · 6 min read

The 4 Levels of Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

Every company has experienced the feeling of looking for better, more effective ways to produce their goods or services. In reality, 94% of software-related businesses claim to have used agile development in some capacity.

The agile workflow approach is a relatively new concept. Software developers led the way in agile creation at the turn of the millennium and now look at us. Agile has been widely used in business since its introduction, particularly in the IT industry.

SAFe is one such framework. In basic terms, it is the at-scale implementation framework for Agile in larger businesses, yet it includes many layers that need to be understood. It is sometimes referred to as the Scaled Agile Framework. 

What is the Scaled Agile Framework?

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is meant for managing and organising large-scale software development projects. It is based on the principles of the Agile software development method and is designed to help organisations scale Agile practices across teams and projects.

It is based on the idea that software development is an ongoing process of planning, building, and delivering value to customers through software creation. 

SAFe includes a set of principles, practices, and roles that can be applied to software development projects to help organisations scale Agile practices across teams. It includes guidance on organising teams, planning and prioritising work, and building and delivering software in an iterative and incremental manner. It also includes guidance on measuring and improving the performance of software development teams and organisations.

It is particularly well-suited for organisations looking to adopt Agile practices at scale and want a structured approach.

Let’s examine SAFe levels in this article and delve further into the implementation of each level in an organization.

What are the Technologies in SAFe?

We need to delve into the three tiers of SAFe to become familiar with the terminology to comprehend the idea behind SAFe and the development strategy with which SAFe was built.

Essential SAFe

The first and the most basic tier of SAFe is the essential SAFe. Further divided into two layers, Team and Program, the tier only offers the bare-bones version of SAFe, focusing only on simplicity. 

Essential SAFe comprises ten components that run from planning to Inspection and Innovation. It follows the basics of the Agile Manifesto; everything should be kept simple and simple.

Large Solution SAFe

In addition to the Essential SAFe, in which simplicity is the key, it focuses on a more diverse set of problems, with some leeway for complexities. It feels like a more extensive iteration of the Essential SAFe with some large levels incorporated into it. In companies with larger systems and more complex designs, this level of SAFe is implemented to cater to the complexity and the size. 

Large Solution SAFe builds upon the existing principles of SAFe and collaborates to a large extent to deliver value to the customer. While the essential SAFe can be implemented in any company of a smaller size, Large Solution SAFe focuses on companies of a medium level with around 500 employees.

Portfolio SAFe

Then portfolio SAFe emerges in organizations with over 500 employees working on the product. It incorporates different Portfolios in the large organization, with each portfolio's objective. The Portfolio SAFe allows for a lean budget, more work visibility, Kanban implementation, and effective deliveries. In an organization with a complex structure.

The 4 Levels of Scaled Agile Framework

SAFe is finding a market in a lot of areas. The achievement of corporate goals and delivering value become easier with SAFe, and this can be done on four different levels:

Portfolio Level

The highest level of the SAFe is the Portfolio level, in which the objectives and the goals for the whole organization are developed with the portfolio in connection. At this level, your emphasis is on the organization's priorities, purpose, and values.

To implement all that is to be implemented, a PMO (Portfolio Management Office) is created, which makes sure that the lean techniques outlined in SAFe are being implemented or not. There might be many portfolios for a larger organization, but for a mid-sized organization, the portfolio might be the company. 

Essential characteristics of the portfolio level include:

  • It is the highest level with the objectives, purpose, and strategies defined here. Ethics and business cases are also defined at this level.
  • A product roadmap has been created, with crucial issues being taken care of at the start.
  • There is a mechanism for measuring progress based on lean concepts, and the value provided/ efficiency can be measured objectively.
  • Portfolio-level teams are working and performing activities and creating new products and value.
  • Examining the value provided and calculating the portfolio's efficiency
  • The benefit of the SAFe over the Waterfall technique is that since it is based on actual measurements, iterative feedback, and extensive understanding, each stage in the process becomes skilled.

Program Level

The most crucial level in SAFe is the Program level which is the second layer. The level focuses on the Agile Release Train; ART is a team of 8 to 10 members focused on creating value for the project. 

The ART has a precise aim in mind, providing value to the customer, and they make sure that the product being delivered is in line with what the customer wants, and they make sure that the customer gets that. Their focus is on long-term development. The efforts of ART are synchronized by using SAFe value streams at this level.

The following are fundamental characteristics of the Program level:

  • Priorities are being set, the most important stuff goes at the top, and the priorities get reevaluated regularly. The timelines are also set due to the insights from ART.
  • ART takes on a lot of responsibility, making plans to deliver promptly with the best product.
  • Tasks are assigned based on the Weighted Shortest Job First WSJF model, and the highest WSJF job is given the most importance to make things quick.
  • Program Increments (PI) are held almost every week or every other week in which the whole strategy is reevaluated.

Team Level

Like SCRUM and Kanban, the team level in SAFe becomes truly iterative based on sprints that are generally two weeks longer to get the work done faster. Like in Scrum, the team takes centre stage, and the work gets done in increments. 

There is a sprint planning event, and successive sprints are carried out. All team members come together at this point and work as a team.

The following are fundamental characteristics of the Team level:

  • It focuses on creating value by employing human resources. The teams focus on events and activities. Continuous integration is needed to make the process scalable on a larger level.
  • For quality, different techniques like Test Driver Deployment are used
  • Iterations are necessary, as the backlog creates stories with multiple iterations.
  • Events for planning the sprints are created.

Value Stream Layer

Even though most businesses only adhere to the first three levels, SAFe 4.0 adds a fourth level. This level combines the ART and the program teams from levels two and three to give users high-quality solutions. There are two steps to it.

The first phase is the operations phase, during which the business provides services to the client to generate revenue. The generation of income is the main priority. Development is the second stage, where new systems and products are developed.

Increase Efficiency With SAFe Implementation

Your clients want quick gratification from same-day package delivery to daily self-parking car software updates. They also need more patience to wait for your business to figure it out. Your company has to start using a wiser approach to working right away. SAFe is your method for controlling digital disruption.

Read More: Government Regulations and Agile Software Development

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