SAFe From a Value Stream Perspective

The 4 Levels of SAFe

Full SAFe is  fairly complicated and even by the proponents of SAFe significantly more than most companies need. For this reason they provide several levels of SAFe. There are four levels of the Scaled Agile Framework.  Each one builds on the next and is intended for different scales. It is important to understand how different scales are different from each other, how each SAFe level helps adapting SAFe but also creates a new set of challenges.

From the Scaled Agile Framework big picture:

  • Essential SAFe is most basic configuration of the framework and it provides the minimal elements necessary to be successful with SAFe.
  • Large Solution SAFe is for enterprises that are building large and complex solutions, which do not require the constructs of the portfolio level.
  • Portfolio Portfolio SAFe provides portfolio strategy and investment funding, Agile portfolio operations, and Lean governance.
  • Full SAFe represents the most comprehensive configuration. It supports building large, integrated solutions that typically require hundreds of people or more to develop and maintain.

The Implications of Defining SAFe by Levels

SAFe essentially imagines a large organization and suggests starting it at the bottom (with Essential SAFe) and working your way up. This has the advantage of being able to take the knowledge the organization may have at the team level Scrum and/or Kanban. SAFe is defined by its roles and artifacts at the different levels of an organization.  If Full SAFe were always fully implemented this might make sense. But that’s too big a leap for most. This means that some roles and artifacts are not adopted when Essential SAFe is. For small to mid-size organizations, these roles and artifacts are totally missing since they are just trying to use Essential SAFe and will never adopt the higher levels because of their complexity. This will be elaborated on in the next chapter.

However, there is an even greater problem with this. By defining SAFe in levels, SAFe defines itself as a collection of roles, practices and artifacts, somewhat disconnected from themselves. Although these all tie together, it is difficult to see.

Looking at Essential SAFe from the Value Stream Perspective

SAFe’s big picture focuses on roles, practices and artifacts. It is difficult to see how the value stream fits into it. Figure 1 depicts SAFe as a value stream in order to make it easier to see how SAFe indirectly deals with it.

Figure 1: SAFe represented as a value stream.

Figure 2 shows FLEX’s representation as a value stream so we can relate it to SAFe.

Figure 2: SAFe represented as a FLEX value stream

When viewed from a value stream perspective it is easier to see the intention of the roles, artifacts and practices being done. It is also easier to see how different roles, artifacts and practices could be substituted if doing so improved the value stream.  This shift from levels to the value stream enables us to make SAFe  more effective while simplifying it.



Two onlinen FLEX coursees are now being offered – FLEX for SAFe, and Adopting FLEX (the first course in becoming a FLEX trainer).

If you want to learn about how to adopt FLEX in your organization please contact the author, Al Shalloway.