What is SAFe?

You’ve probably heard about SAFe®, the Scaled Agile Framework. But what is SAFe? What can it do for your organization? And when and why should you implement it?

Digital transformation and Agile ways of working are key for complex organizations to become – and remain – successful in an extremely volatile and competitive global market. SAFe helps organizations with this agile transformation and enables them to handle all challenges involved with adapting to such markets.

With this article, we help you to understand the basics of SAFe. And find the answer to the question of why you should implement SAFe in your organization.

01 February 2024

Laurens Bonnema

SAFe Trainer

1. What is SAFe?

How do you still apply the principles of Lean Agile in a growing, more complex organizational structure and on a much larger scale? By mastering and internalizing the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)!

SAFe is a framework for organizations in which many teams work on multiple complex products in an ever-changing environment. The SAFe framework enables organizations to respond quickly to change, efficiently recognize customer needs, and increase the quality of fluidly evolving products.

SAFe promotes collaboration and constant value delivery across large(r) numbers of Agile teams. The framework aligns structure, strategy, and execution of software- and systems-developing organizations, in order to increase product value, quality, predictability, and efficiency.

SAFe also ‘safeguards’ competitiveness through speedy innovation (hence the complementing ‘e’) and bolsters instant adaptation to extremely volatile market environments.

2.  What are the core values of SAFe?

SAFe is a scaling method that combines the principles of Scrum, Lean, Kanban, and DevOps, making your organization as Agile as you need it to be.

The following ‘agility tactics’ define the four core values of SAFe:

1.    Alignment
Organizations that are not aligned internally might have difficulties with making decisions and responding to unexpected changes. Aligned organizations are Agile; they can adapt quickly and deal with the unforeseen.

2.    Built-in Quality
Product quality must be built and monitored during all stages of the process, not just added later, after inspection.

3.    Transparency
In SAFe, transparency is vital because without it, facts are just opinions, and decisions will be made based on gut feelings. That won’t do your product any good.

4.    Program Execution
With SAFe, process execution, and actual production is crucial, as value needs to be delivered on a constant basis. With Agile teams and an Agile Release Train (ART) guaranteeing program execution, the work gets done.

Getting to a more flexible, agile way of working requires a fundamental shift in work culture and organizational behavior. That shift is SAFe.

3.  What is an ART?

ART refers to the Agile Release Train and is a critical element of the SAFe Framework.

The Agile Release Train (ART) is a long-lived group of Agile teams, which, along with other stakeholders, incrementally develops, delivers, and – where applicable – operates one or more solutions in a value stream.

Each ART consists of multiple Agile teams. Together, they form a virtual organization (five to 12 teams, five to nine people each) that plans, commits, and executes in an aligned way. An ART consists of at least 50 people but is more likely to contain up to 125 to 150 people (Dunbar’s Number).

A Release Train Engineer, Scrum Masters, Product Management, and Product Owners support each ART. The goal of the ART is to deliver partial products together with other stakeholders in a series of Sprints (so-called Program Increments).

An overview of the ART’s continuous flow of value:

4.  What are the four levels of SAFe?

The SAFe Framework comprises four incremental configurations or ‘levels’ of SAFe, consisting of seven customer-centric Core Competencies of the Lean Enterprise:

Level 1: Essential SAFe

The most basic configuration; the critical elements of SAFe, including:

  • Lean Agile Leadership – the foundation of SAFe for the empowerment of individuals and teams to reach their highest potential.
  • Team and Technical Agility – for increased productivity, better quality, faster time-to-market (TTM), and predictable delivery of value.
  • Agile Product Delivery – DevOps and Release on Demand, a continuous delivery pipeline for batches of high-value functionalities and solutions, lower development costs, and reduced risk while staying competitive.

Level 2: Large Solution SAFe

For coordination and synchronization across multiple programs, with:

  • Enterprise Solution Delivery – a Lean-Agile approach that optimizes the development, deployment, and evolution of large, complex software applications in cyber-physical systems (also called ‘Large Solution SAFe’).

Level 3: Portfolio SAFe

Includes strategy, funding, and lean governance through:

  • Organizational Agility – to optimize business processes, evolve strategy through commitments, and adapt quickly for the capitalization of new market opportunities.
  • Lean Portfolio Management – aligning portfolio strategy, funding, operations, and governance.

Level 4: Full SAFe

All of the above combined, plus:

  • Continuous Learning Culture – for the steady increase in knowledge, competence, performance, and innovation.

Organizations that master these Core Competencies are able to build the essential muscle memory and mindset that thrive future successes.

Full SAFe at a glance:

SAFe 6.0 - Business Agility Overview

For a full overview of the complete Framework and its Core Competencies, have a look here.

5.  Why (be) SAFe?

Organizations have to embrace a more fluid way of working to stay competitive. They are forced to work in an effective manner – one that allows for new technologies to be assessed, tested, analyzed, and acted upon as quickly as possible. Fail fast, succeed faster. Something we practice ourselves too at Xebia.

But getting to a more flexible, agile way of working requires a fundamental shift in work culture and organizational behavior. That shift is SAFe.

So, why SAFe?

  • To align technology development with strategic business goals.
  • To deliver new value on a predictable basis.
  • To improve solution quality and meet customer demand.
  • To scale Agile team practices to ARTs (Agile Release Trains) and across value streams.
  • To create a collaborative, innovative, and continuously improving working environment.
  • To organize people and teams around value creation and reduce delays.
  • To instill a culture that allows failure and encourages people to take risks, think creatively, and embrace continuous learning.

6. What makes SAFe so popular?

SAFe maximizes the ability of complex organizations to deliver the best solution value in the shortest sustainable time.

SAFe organizations…

  • Are transparent.
  • Learn continuously.
  • Predict and plan better.
  • Update and iterate quickly.
  • Release often.
  • Minimize waste of time and effort.
  • Make smart decisions on what to develop next.

SAFe focuses on scaled Agile team-working systems and business outcomes, making enterprises more reliable and efficient in a transparent, structured way.  

THAT is why SAFe is so popular. But even more important, it’s motivating your personnel!

Over 70% of the Fortune 100 already practice SAFe.

7. What are the biggest advantages of the SAFe approach?

The top five advantages of SAFe are:

  1. Better business results and increase in productivity (25-75%).
  2. Quality improvement (20-50%).
  3. Faster time-to-market (30-75%).
  4. Increased predictability and planning.
  5. Higher employee engagement and job satisfaction.

All these advantages are top business requirements in a volatile market environment that’s subject to non-stop technological acceleration and constantly changing customer demands and needs.

08.  How do I implement SAFe?

SAFe is based upon ten basic concepts derived from the Lean & Agile principles of the Agile Manifesto. Translated, these principles lead the way.

The organizational adoption of SAFe requires the following steps.

  • Take an economic view.
  • Apply systems thinking.
  • Assume variability; preserve options.
  • Build incrementally with fast integrated learning cycles.
  • Base milestones on an objective evaluation of working systems.
  • Visualize and limit work-in-progress, reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths.
  • Apply cadence (timing), synchronize with cross-domain planning.
  • Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers.
  • Decentralize decision-making.
  • Organize around value.

To reach this adoptive mindset, Scaled Agile has developed a roadmap for implementation with 12 steps:

  1. Reaching the Tipping Point.
  2. Train Lean-Agile Change Agents.
  3. Train Executives, Managers, and Leaders.
  4. Create a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence.
  5. Identify Value Streams and ARTs.
  6. Create the Implementation Plan.
  7. Prepare for ART Launch.
  8. Train Teams and Launch the ART Coach.
  9. ART Execution.
  10. Launch More ARTs and Value Streams.
  11. Extend to the Portfolio.
  12. Accelerate.

09.  Is SAFe suitable for my organization?

Small organizations with, for example, only one product (group) are perfectly fine with working Agile by implementing one or a small number of Scrum teams and Product Owners.

But as soon as your organization reaches a stage where complexity causes…

  • More abstract responsibilities and delegated authority.
  • Longer planning horizons.
  • A growing need for the synchronization of deliverables.
  • More time-consuming innovation and planning.

…then you’ll definitely have to scale beyond a single team and resort to better-scaled ways of Agile working, such as the SAFe Framework.

So, better ask the opposite question. Is your organization in need of scaling Agile processes? Then yes, SAFe is definitely suitable for you!

10.  Which SAFe training courses and certifications does Scaled Agile offer?

As a certified SAFe Professional, you have many advantages, as mentioned in the video below.

Over half a million individuals worldwide – such as Agile Coaches, Business Analysts, System & Solution Architects, Portfolio Managers, Product Owners, and CEOs – have already engaged in Scaled Agile training to help their organizations and teams transition to the new way of working.

Which certification course should you take? That depends on your current role and the reason why you wish to enhance that role. Whether you are a Scrum Master wishing to become a SAFe Scrum Master (SSM), or a Product Owner aiming at becoming a Certified SAFe Product Owner/Product Manager (SAFe PO/PM), we have all the right courses in the house.

As a Gold Partner of Scaled Agile, you can find tailored, professional, world-class SAFe certification training courses. For individuals and in-company learning for teams or your entire organization – across the globe.

For a complete overview of all SAFe courses offered by Scaled Agile, click here

A selection of our SAFe courses

View all training courses
Certified Leading SAFe

Learn how to apply Agile on a larger scale with Certified Leading SAFe training. Align structure, strategy, and teams to deliver exceptional products.

Agile Scaling
2 days
In Person


15 – 16 Jul, 2024



View training
Certified SAFe for Architects

Elevate your career as a SAFe Certified Architect. Become an expert on Agile architecture, scaling strategies, and remote collaboration for seamless Agile Release Trains.

Laurens Bonnema

Agile Scaling
3 days
In Person


16 Jul, 2024



View training
Certified SAFe Product Owner/Product Manager (SAFe POPM)

Boost your SAFe skills and gain a valuable certificate with our Certified SAFe Product Owner/Product Manager (SAFe POPM) training.

Laurens Bonnema

Agile Scaling
Product Management
Product Owner
2 days
In Person


1 – 2 Aug, 2024



View training
Certified SAFe Lean Portfolio Management

Become a SAFe Certified Lean Portfolio Manager. Learn to optimize value delivery and shape your organization’s portfolio.

Laurens Bonnema

Agile Scaling
2 days
In Person


9 – 10 Sep, 2024



View training
Certified SAFe Scrum Master (SSM)

Take your Scrum Master skills to the next level with our certified SAFe Scrum Master (SSM) training. Become an expert in servant leadership and Agile delivery.

Agile Scaling
2 days
In Person


12 – 13 Sep, 2024



View training

Check out all our SAFe courses.