In the Age of Software, every business is a software business.

Agility isn’t an option, or a thing just for teams, it is a business imperative. 

—Dean Leffingwell, Creator of SAFe

SAFe® for Lean Enterprises 5.0

SAFe for Lean Enterprises is a knowledge base of proven, integrated principles, practices, and competencies for Lean, Agile, and DevOps.

The goal of a Lean enterprise is to become a thriving digital age business that delivers competitive systems and solutions to its customers in the shortest sustainable lead time.

The Scaled Agile Framework applies the power of Agile, along with the contemporary knowledge found in systems thinking and Lean product development to help businesses address the significant challenges of developing and delivering enterprise-class technology-based solutions with high quality and fast time-to-market. It is an online knowledge base of proven success patterns for achieving business agility.

The Business Benefits of SAFe

With a proven framework, we can deliver solutions much faster and with less effort. SAFe defines the roles, teams, activities, and artifacts to apply Lean and Agile principles at enterprise scale, and provides outstanding training and coaching materials to increase our chance of success.”

—Peter Vollmer, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Distinguished Technologist

Enterprises must learn how to adapt quickly to changing technology and economic conditions or they will become extinct — no matter their size, strength, or how smart they are. Business agility isn’t an option, it’s imperative. Even businesses that don’t consider themselves Information Technology (IT) or software companies—professional services, financial services, manufacturers, healthcare institutions, defense contractors, government agencies, and more—are now all highly dependent on their ability to rapidly produce new, high-quality, innovative technology-based products and services. It is the mission of Scaled Agile, Inc. (SAI) to assist these enterprises with the growth of their digital business through the development and publication of the SAFe knowledge base, as well as accompanying certification, training, courseware, community resources, and a global network of more than 280 tooling and service partners.

Improves System Development Outcomes

Created from over a decade of field experience, SAFe draws from four primary bodies of knowledge: Agile development, systems thinking, Lean product development, and DevOps. It helps enterprises answer the following types of questions:

  • How do we align technology development to strategic business goals?
  • How do we deliver new value on a predictable schedule so that the rest of the business can plan?
  • How do we improve the quality of our solutions and delight our customers?
  • How do we scale Agile practices from the team to the program and business unit, and across the enterprise, to deliver better results?
  • How do we organize people around value so that our programs deliver effectively and avoid the delays inherent in a traditional, functional structure?
  • How do we create an environment that fosters collaboration, innovation, and relentless improvement for our people?
  • How can we change our culture so that it is safe to fail? How do we encourage people to take risks, to think creatively, and embrace continuous learning? How can we help our teams improve without getting in the way?

By adopting SAFe—and applying its well-described set of values, principles, and practices—the enterprise can address these questions and realize greater business and individual benefits.

SAFe 5.0 enables business agility and improving business outcomes for organizations of all sizes across the world. SAFe has produced dramatic improvements in time to market, employee engagement, higher quality, higher customer satisfaction, and overall improved economic outcomes. It also helps create cultures that are more productive, rewarding, and fun.

Figure 1 highlights these benefits as derived directly from Case Studies written by SAFe customers.

Figure 1. SAFe business benefits derived directly from case studies written by SAFe customers

“We had multiple waterfall efforts, third-party integration, and a hard, regulatory mandate that made coordination and execution exceptionally difficult. SAFe provided the agility, visibility, and transparency needed to ensure we could integrate with the numerous other efforts, get predictable in our delivery, and ensure timelines are met.”

— David McMunn, the Director of Fannie Mae’s Agile Center of Excellence (COE)

Introduction to SAFe 5.0

While the benefits are clear, before an enterprise can gain these substantial business benefits, it must transform itself into a Lean enterprise. This transformation requires developing ‘enterprise competencies’ that enable a new style of leadership, new ways of thinking and working, and a culture focused on value delivery and continuous improvement.

SAFe is an extensive body of knowledge that describes the roles, responsibilities, artifacts, and activities necessary to implement enterprise-scale Lean-Agile development. SAFe synchronizes alignment, collaboration, and delivery for large numbers of business and technical Agile teams. Scalable and configurable, SAFe supports smaller-scale solutions employing 50–125 practitioners, as well as complex systems that require thousands of people.

The SAFe Framework website features an interactive ‘Big Picture’ graphic with configuration selector tabs as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. The SAFe ‘Big Picture’

This graphic is a visual overview of the Framework and is the primary user interface to the knowledgebase. Each icon of the image is clickable and provides an entry to the extensive SAFe guidance which includes: the Seven Core Competencies of the Lean Enterprise, the four configurations that support a full range of development and business environments, and the foundational principles, values, mindset, roles, artifacts and implementation elements that make up the SAFe framework. Components of the SAFe framework are described in more detail in the following paragraphs.


SAFe 5.0 includes an overview tab shown in Figure 3. This graphic provides a simplified view of SAFe’s Seven Core Competencies of the Lean Enterprise and their twenty-one dimensions that enable business agility. It illustrates the competencies that are execution focused on the left side, with the competencies that support strategy development on the right. Lean-Agile Leadership remains at the foundation. The customer is prominently featured at the center as the focal point for all the competencies. Measure and Grow at the top right is a reminder of the importance of periodic self-assessments to track the organization’s progress towards the principles and practices that enable business agility. This overview is a useful tool for providing an initial orientation to SAFe, as an introduction to the business agility assessment, and for framing executive briefings.

Figure 3. The SAFe Overview

Seven Core Competencies of the Lean Enterprise

SAFe 5.0 is built around the Seven Core Competencies of the Lean Enterprise. These competencies include major re-writes to the original five competencies introduced in SAFe 4.6, along with two entirely new competencies (Organizational Agility and Continuous Learning Culture). The competencies are the primary lens for understanding and implementing SAFe, as illustrated in the Overview tab on the Big Picture. Each Lean Enterprise competency is a set of related knowledge, skills, and behaviors, which together enable enterprises to achieve business agility by delivering the best quality and value in shortest sustainable lead time. Each competency is summarized below.

The Lean-Agile Leadership competency describes how Lean-Agile Leaders drive and sustain organizational change by empowering individuals and teams to reach their highest potential. They do this through leading by example, adopting a Lean-Agile mindset, and leading the change to a new way of working. The result is more engaged employees, increased productivity and innovation, and successful organizational change.

The Continuous Learning Culture competency describes a set of values and practices that encourage individuals—and the enterprise as a whole—to continually increase knowledge, competence, performance, and innovation. This is achieved by becoming a learning organization, committing to relentless improvement, and promoting a culture of innovation.

The Team and Technical Agility competency describes the critical skills and Lean-Agile principles and practices that high-performing Agile teams and Teams of Agile teams use to create high-quality solutions for their customers. The result is increased productivity, better quality, faster time-to-market, and predictable delivery of value.

The Agile Product Delivery competency is a customer-centric approach to defining, building and releasing a continuous flow of valuable products and services to customers and users. This enables the organization to provide solutions that delight customers, lower development costs, reduce risk, and outmaneuver the competition.

The Enterprise Solution Delivery competency describes how to apply Lean-Agile principles and practices to the specification, development, deployment, operation, and evolution of the world’s largest and most sophisticated software applications, networks, and cyber-physical systems.

The Lean Portfolio Management competency aligns strategy and execution by applying Lean and systems thinking approaches to strategy and investment funding, Agile portfolio operations, and governance. These collaborations give the enterprise the ability to align strategy to execution, to meet existing commitments reliably, and to better enable innovation.

The Organizational Agility competency describes how Lean-thinking people and Agile teams optimize their business processes, evolve strategy with clear and decisive new commitments, and quickly adapt the organization as needed to capitalize on new opportunities.

SAFe 5.0 continues to expand guidance for Lean-Agile adoption in Government. Based on the foundation and principles of SAFe, the guidance emphasizes:

  • Building on a solid foundation of Lean-Agile values, principles, and practice
  • Creating high performing teams of government teams and contractor personnel
  • Aligning technology investments with agency strategy
  • Transitioning from projects to a Lean flow of epics
  • Adopting Lean budgeting aligned to value streams
  • Applying Lean estimating and forecasting on cadence
  • Modifying acquisition practices to enable Lean-Agile development and operations
  • Building in quality and compliance
  • Adapting governance practices to support agility and Lean flow of value

The government link is unique within the framework in that it not only provides access to a series of articles on SAFe adoption in the public sector, it also provides links to powerful resources, videos, and events specifically related to Agile adoption in government. Many of these resources are hard to find, and some are not available anywhere on the public internet other than through our government portal. This is a small way SAI gives back to the thousands of dedicated civil servants and their industry partners who are working tirelessly to bring agility to government.

SAFe Configurations

SAFe supports the full range of development environments with four out-of-the-box configurations. The configurations can be accessed with the sector tabs shown in Figure 1 (above), and each configuration is described in the sections that follow.

Essential SAFe

The Essential SAFe configuration is the basic building block for all SAFe configurations and is the simplest starting point for implementation. It is built on the principles and practices found in the Lean-Agile Leadership competency, the Team and Technical Agility competency, and the Agile Product Delivery competency.

SAFe is anchored by an organizational structure called the Agile Release Train (ART), where Agile teams, key stakeholders, and other resources are dedicated to an important, ongoing solution mission.

Essential SAFe includes the ART constructs, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Essential SAFe configuration

Large Solution SAFe

The Large Solution SAFe configuration introduces the Enterprise Solution Delivery competency, which supports those building the largest and most complex solutions that require multiple Agile Release Trains and Suppliers, but do not require portfolio level considerations.

Such solution development is common for industries like aerospace and defense, automotive, and government, where the large solution—not portfolio governance—is the primary concern.

The Solution Train organizational construct helps enterprises that face the biggest challenges—building large-scale, multidisciplinary software, hardware, cyber-physical, and complex IT systems. Developing these solutions requires additional roles, artifacts, events, and coordination, as Figure 5 illustrates.

Figure 5. Large Solution SAFe configuration

Portfolio SAFe

The Portfolio SAFe configuration is the minimum set of competencies and practices that can fully enable business agility in the Lean enterprise, as indicated by the blue ‘Business Agility’ bar at the top. This bar also includes a link to Measure & Grow for guidance on conducting SAFe business agility assessments. Portfolio SAFe provides three additional competencies beyond the three core competencies of Essential SAFe.  Lean Portfolio Management aligns portfolio execution to enterprise strategy and organizes development around the flow of value through one or more value streams. Organization Agility extends Lean thinking and practice throughout the enterprise and enables strategy agility. Continuous Learning Culture describes how everyone in the organization learns together, relentlessly improves together, and builds innovation into the culture.

In addition to the competencies, Portfolio SAFe provides principles and practices for portfolio strategy and investment funding, Agile portfolio operations, and Lean governance.

In the large Enterprise, there may be multiple SAFe portfolios.

Figure 6. Portfolio SAFe configuration

Full SAFe

Full SAFe is the most comprehensive configuration, including all seven core competencies needed for business agility.

It is used by the world’s largest enterprises to maintain portfolios of large and complex solutions. In some cases, multiple instances of various SAFe configurations may be required. 

Figure 7. Full SAFe configuration

The Spanning Palette

The Spanning Palette contains various roles and artifacts that may apply to a specific team, program, large solution, or portfolio context.

An essential element of SAFe’s flexibility and configurability, the spanning palette permits organizations to apply only the items needed for their configuration. Figure 8 illustrates two versions of the spanning palette.

Figure 8. Spanning Palette

The leftmost figure is used by the Essential SAFe configuration, while the rightmost one serves all other configurations. However, since SAFe is a framework, enterprises can apply any of the elements from the larger spanning palette to Essential SAFe.

Below is a brief description of each spanning palette element:

  • Vision – The vision describes a future view of the solution to be developed, reflecting customer and stakeholder needs, as well as the Features and Capabilities which are proposed to address those needs.
  • Roadmap – The roadmap communicates planned ART and value stream deliverables and milestones over a timeline.
  • Milestones – A milestone is used to track progress toward a specific goal or event. SAFe describes fixed-date, Program Increment (PI) and learning milestones.
  • Shared Services – Represents the specialty roles that are necessary for the success of an ART or Solution Train, but that cannot be dedicated full time to any specific train.
  • Community of Practice (CoP) – A community of practice is an informal group of team members and other experts, acting within the context of a program or enterprise, that has a mission of sharing practical knowledge in one or more relevant domains.
  • System Team – The system team is a special Agile team that provides assistance in building and using the continuous delivery pipeline, and where necessary, validating full end-to-end system performance.
  • Lean User Experience (UX) – Lean UX is the application of Lean principles to user experience design. It uses an iterative, hypothesis-driven approach to product development, through constant measurement and learning loops (build-measure-learn).
  • Metrics – The primary measure in SAFe is the objective measurement of working solutions. Moreover, SAFe defines some additional intermediate and long-term measures as well, metrics that teams, programs, and portfolios can use to measure progress.

The Foundation

The Foundation contains the supporting principles, values, mindset, implementation guidance, and leadership roles needed to deliver value successfully at scale.

Each foundation element, as shown in Figure 9, is briefly described below.

Figure 9. SAFe Foundation
  • Lean-Agile Leaders – Management has the ultimate responsibility for business outcomes. Leaders are trained in SAFe, and in turn become trainers of, these leaner and agiler ways of thinking and operating. To this end, SAFe describes a new style of leadership exhibited by the enterprise’s new ‘lean-thinking manager-teachers’.
  • Core Values – Four core values of Alignment, Built-In Quality, Transparency, and Program Execution define the belief and value system for SAFe.
  • Lean-Agile Mindset – Lean-Agile Leaders are lifelong learners and teachers that understand,  embrace and foster Lean and Agile principles and practices across the enterprise.
  • SAFe Principles – SAFe practices are grounded in ten principles that synthesize Agile methods, Lean product development, DevOps, systems thinking, and decades of field experience.
  • Implementation Roadmap – Implementing the changes necessary to become a Lean-Agile technology enterprise is a substantial change for most companies. SAFe provides an implementation roadmap to help guide organizations on this journey.
  • SAFe Program Consultants (SPCs) – SPCs are change agents who combine their technical knowledge of SAFe with an intrinsic motivation to improve their company’s software and systems development processes.

Learn More

[1] Knaster, Richard and Dean Leffingwell. SAFe 4.0 Distilled: Applying the Scaled Agile Framework for Lean Software and Systems Engineering. Addison-Wesley, Kindle Edition.

Last update: 05 November 2019