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SAFe - a framework for complex solutions

Frédéric Aubry
SAFe - a framework for complex solutions

SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) was created to help companies deliver complex solutions that involve multiple teams: software, platforms, information systems, etc. These teams have joint objectives: to be agile in delivery, budget and decision making, to maximize value delivery and reduce time to market. These teams have joint objectives: to be agile in delivery, budget and decision making, to maximize value delivery and reduce time to market.

Since its arrival in 2011, SAFe has continued to grow in popularity. As a set of best practices, it constitutes an empirical knowledge base, applied to the delivery of complex solutions requiring timing and synchronization. As a result, it allows organizations to keep an overview, despite the complexity. To achieve this, SAFe relies on values and principles and maps out in detail an approach defined by events, roles and responsibilities, designed to improve processes and ensure consistency with business objectives.

In its simplest form, SAFe proposes the following organization:

Safe for lean Enterprises

(copyright Scaled Agile Framework)

Other configurations exist in order to go even further in the model

SAFe - business agility

(copyright Scaled Agile Framework)

What is an ART (Agile Release Train)?

An ART is an Agile Release Train. In other words, it is a team that is composed of several agile teams. For SAFe, this concept is fundamental because it is the locomotive that allows companies to deliver value.





(copyright Scaled Agile Framework)

These trains align teams around common business and technology goals. Each train is a mini-company in itself, usually consisting of 50 to 125 people, who plan, engage, develop and deploy together.

This kind of work organization aims to break down silos (business, hardware, software, QA, Operations...) to create more horizontal synergies, and thus avoid the usual pitfalls (communication difficulties, internal policy issues that get in the way of collaboration, reduced value delivery due to delays, etc.).

The agile delivery train route is punctuated by several stations represented by events that bring together different stakeholders. One of the key events is the PI planning (PI = Program Increment). This is a planning meeting that occurs every 8 to 12 weeks and allows agile teams to plan in a cadenced manner, synchronize, identify potential risks and manage dependencies.

There are many roles that support the framework, in particular:

  • The RTE (Release Train Engineer), the train driver (sort of Scrum Master in chief),whose role is to ensure the performance of the teams.
  • The PM (Product Manager), whose primary responsibility is to maximize the value produced by the agile delivery train by prioritizing the elements with the greatest added value.
  • The SAE (System Architect Engineer), who guides the teams in the architecture and technical elements.
  • The Business Owner, who is directly responsible for what the train will deliver, in terms of governance, compliance and return on investment.

And the Scrum Master in all this?

For SAFe, this is a necessary and essential role.

As a reminder, the role of the Scrum Master as applied in Scrum is to:

  • Facilitate team events,
  • Coaching the team to improve its processes,
  • Remove blockers,
  • Protect the team by keeping them focused on the goal,
  • Being a leader for the organization, the team and the individuals.

And in SAFe?

All of the above plus the following:

  • Work with the RTE (and SAE) to make sure the train meets its objectives,
  • Coordinate with other Scrum Masters involved in the ART,
  • Facilitate self-managed team estimates to meet their deliverables,
  • Educate teams in Scrum, Extrem Programming, Kanban, etc. to ensure that the agreed upon method is followed,
  • Helping teams operate in a large organization.


A company cannot adopt a SAFe approach overnight. It is a complex framework that must be implemented in a structured way to benefit from it. This is why an organization must already have a Lean-Agile mindset and apply its principles.

In broad terms, the ideal roadmap for a SAFe implementation includes 12 steps:

SAFe scrum master

(copyright Scaled Agile Framework)

  1. Reaching the breaking point (either because the company is no longer able to compete with its current tools, or because of a visionary approach from the very top that advocates proactive change management).
  2. Train change agents in the Lean-Agile approach (whether these agents come from inside or outside the company, they will need to be certified).
  3. Train the leaders (they must be concretely involved sponsors (especially in the center of excellence), with the means to make things happen).
  4. Create a Lean-Agile center of excellence (this is a small team dedicated to putting the Lean-Agile approach into practice).
  5. Identify value streams and ARTs (translate business assumptions into business solutions).
  6. Write the implementation plan (this starts by choosing a value stream and an ART as the vehicle to make the journey).
  7. Prepare the launch of the train (specify the date, the pace, the stakeholders, train the teams, the PMs, the POs, the SMs on the main principles of SAFe, establish the backlog...).
  8. Train the teams and get them started (clearly specify in detail the role of each one, especially since the members may come from different parts of the organization).
  9. Coaching the implementation of ART (for teams to make the transition from agile knowledge to practice, this will require coaching).
  10. Launch more trains and value streams (this is where large companies will appreciate all the benefits of the SAFe approach and progress in their transformation process).
  11. Apply to the entire portfolio (the new corporate culture and the new skills acquired must be applied to other areas of the company to become truly and completely agile).
  12. Accelerate (this is the beginning of a new era. Just because a company has followed the previous 11 points does not mean it has reached a plateau. It is now that it must accelerate its transformation towards the agile enterprise).

It is mentioned above, but it is good to remember that the members of the Lean-Agile teams must have an agile mindset. This is validated with rigorous certification and training, which can only be given by duly accredited experts.

The goal of a Scrum Master training is to:

  • Provide tools,
  • Explain the Scrum and SAFe framework
  • Explain the responsibilities
  • To simulate the PI planning

To pass the exam that leads to the certification, you must first follow the official training. No training, no exam. The main advantage of this certification, recognized in the industry, is to facilitate recruitment in a SAFe organization.


The SAFe framework is a very interesting option for organizations that want to achieve success in the digital age. Although its implementation requires significant coaching, its extensive body of knowledge and its offer of certification training, gives depth and credibility to the SAFe path.

To go further:

Safe: Scrum Master Certification


Safe: POPM Certification


Safe: Leading SAFe® Certification

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