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

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

—Dean Leffingwell, Creator of SAFe

SAFe 6.0

SAFe is the world’s leading framework for Business Agility. SAFe integrates the power of Lean, Agile, and DevOps into a comprehensive operating system that helps enterprises thrive in the digital age by delivering innovative products and services faster, more predictably, and with higher quality.

SAFe provides guidance on how businesses and employees can grow and respond to change. It started with the SAFe knowledge base and a training and certification program. Today, SAFe is in its sixth major iteration and has been adopted by more than 20,000 enterprises across the globe. More than 1,000,000 practitioners have been trained through a role-based curriculum and use SAFe Studio, supported by more than 500 world-class transformation and platform companies.

Configurable and scalable, SAFe allows each organization to adapt the Framework to its business needs. With four out-of-the-box configurations, SAFe supports the full spectrum of solutions, from those requiring a small number of teams to those complex systems that require hundreds—and even thousands—of people to build and deliver.

Business Benefits of SAFe

Surviving in the age of digital is not guaranteed. 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, digitally-enabled products and services.

Improves Business 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 the business can plan?
  • How do we improve the quality of our solutions and delight our customers?
  • How do we scale Agile practices from teams to ARTs across value streams and the enterprise to deliver better results?
  • How do we organize people around value to deliver value 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, 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 more significant business and individual benefits.

SAFe 6.0 enables business agility and improves 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 improved economic outcomes. It also helps create more productive, rewarding, and fun cultures.

Figure 1 highlights these benefits derived directly from Customer Stories authored by SAFe customers.

Figure 1. SAFe business benefits as derived from SAFe customer stories
Figure 1. SAFe business benefits as derived from SAFe customer stories

SAFe Evolves Continuously

A hallmark of SAFe is that it stays current with new and evolving business and technology trends. Our incremental delivery model enables enterprises to adapt quickly and stay ahead of the competition by leveraging the latest knowledge in SAFe. For example, COVID-19 forced many organizations to change how Agile teams and ARTs collaborate. As a result, PI Planning, Organizational Agility, and Agile Teams’ guidance were updated quickly.

Most updates to SAFe require changes to various articles and new advanced topics. However, Big Picture (BP) updates are sometimes needed to emphasize and provide ready access to the latest content. Minor releases of the BP occur under a ‘dot release’ like SAFe 5.1. Such minor releases are incremental and do not require upgrades to training and certification.

Over time, the incremental advances and significant new knowledge drive the release of a new version, as was the case with SAFe 6.0. In these cases, SAFe practitioners and SPCs must keep pace with upgraded knowledge, training, and certification.

To help our community keep current with the latest guidance, we’ve introduced a new feature that provides a log of meaningful incremental changes on the home page under the heading, ‘What’s New in SAFe.’ When you click on a change item, it will open a blog post and guidance article to inform our readers of the ‘why’ and ‘what’ was changed.

Introduction to the SAFe 6.0 Big Picture

The SAFe website features an interactive Big Picture graphic. It provides a visual model of the Framework and is the primary user interface to the knowledgebase. Each icon of the image is clickable and offers access to extensive SAFe guidance. The configurations support a full range of development and business environments and the foundational principles, values, mindset, roles, artifacts, and implementation elements that comprise SAFe.

The main components of SAFe are described in the following sections.

Figure 2. Full SAFe with configuration tabs
Figure 2. Full SAFe with configuration tabs

Overview – Seven Core Competencies

SAFe 6.0 features an Overview tab that illustrates the Seven Core Competencies (Figure 3) and their twenty-one dimensions that enable business agility. They are the primary lens for understanding and implementing SAFe. The focal point for all the competencies is the customer. Lean-Agile Leadership is the Foundation. This overview is valuable for providing an initial orientation to SAFe, introducing the business agility assessment, and framing executive briefings.

Figure 3. The SAFe Overview
Figure 3. The SAFe Overview

The following competencies offer the knowledge, skills, and behaviors which enable enterprises to achieve business agility:

Team and Technical Agility

It all starts with Agile development, the cornerstone of Business Agility. 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. It consists of three dimensions, as illustrated in Figure 4:

Figure 4. The three dimensions of Team and Technical Agility
Figure 4. The three dimensions of Team and Technical Agility
  • Agile Teams – High-performing, cross-functional teams anchor the competency by applying effective Agile principles and practices.
  • Built-in Quality – All Agile teams share the goals and principles of Built-in Quality. These Agile practices help create high-quality, well-designed solutions that support current and future business needs.
  • Team of Agile Teams – Agile teams operate within the context of a SAFe Agile Release Train (ART), a long-lived team of Agile teams that provides a shared vision and direction and is ultimately responsible for delivering solutions.

Agile Product Delivery

Business Agility demands that enterprises rapidly increase their ability to deliver innovative products and services. To ensure that the enterprise creates the right solutions for the right customers at the right time, it must balance its execution focus with a customer focus. These mutually supportive capabilities make opportunities for sustained market and service leadership. Agile Product Delivery is a customer-centric approach to defining, building, and releasing a continuous flow of valuable products and services to customers and users.

There are three dimensions to Agile Product Delivery, as illustrated in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Three Dimensions of Agile Product Delivery
Figure 5: Three Dimensions of Agile Product Delivery
  • Customer Centricity and Design Thinking – Puts the customer at the center of every decision. Applies design thinking to ensure the solution is desirable, feasible, viable, and sustainable.
  • Develop on Cadence, Release on Demand – Developing on cadence helps manage the variability inherent in product development. Decoupling the release of value from that cadence ensures customers can get what they need when they need it.
  • DevOps and the Continuous Delivery Pipeline – DevOps and the Continuous Delivery Pipeline create the foundation that enables enterprises to release value, in whole or in part, at any time it’s needed.

Enterprise Solution Delivery

Building and evolving large enterprise solutions is a monumental effort. Many such systems require hundreds or thousands of engineers. They demand sophisticated, rigorous practices for engineering, operations, and support. Moreover, over the decades that these systems have been operational, their purpose and mission have evolved. That calls for new capabilities, technology upgrades, security patches, and other enhancements. As ‘living systems,’ the activities above are never really ‘done.’ Instead, they are released earlier and further developed over time.

The Enterprise Solution Delivery competency describes applying 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. It consists of three dimensions. (Figure 6).

Figure 6. Three dimensions of Enterprise Solution Delivery
Figure 6. Three dimensions of Enterprise Solution Delivery
  • Lean Systems Engineering applies Lean-Agile practices to align and coordinate all the activities necessary to specify, architect, design, implement, test, deploy, evolve, and ultimately decommission these systems.
  • Coordinating Trains and Suppliers coordinates and aligns the extended set of value streams to a shared business and technology mission. It uses the coordinated Vision, Backlogs, and Roadmaps with shared PIs and synchronization points.
  • Continually Evolve Live Systems ensures that both the development pipeline and the large systems support continuous value delivery during and after release into the field.

Lean Portfolio Management

The three competencies above provide the technical practices needed to build and deploy meaningful business solutions. But none directly addresses the more significant issue of why those solutions are required, how they are funded and governed, and what other solutions are necessary to deliver total enterprise value. For that, we need to address portfolio concerns. However, traditional approaches to portfolio management were not designed for the impact of digital disruption. These factors pressure enterprises to work under a higher degree of uncertainty and deliver innovative solutions much faster. Portfolio Management approaches must be modernized to support the new Lean-Agile way of working. The Lean Portfolio Management competency aligns strategy and execution by applying Lean and systems thinking. As Figure 7 illustrates, it accomplishes this through three collaborations for strategy and investment funding, Agile portfolio operations, and Lean Governance.

Figure 7. Lean Portfolio Management responsibilities
Figure 7. Lean Portfolio Management responsibilities
  • Strategy and Investment Funding ensures that the entire portfolio is aligned and funded to create and maintain the solutions needed to meet business targets. It requires the cooperation of Business Owners, portfolio stakeholders, technologists, and Enterprise Architects.
  • Agile Portfolio Operations coordinates and supports decentralized execution, enabling operational excellence. It requires the cooperation of the Value Management Office/Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (VMO/LACE) and Communities of Practice (CoPs) for Release Train Engineers (RTEs) and Scrum Masters/Team Coaches.
  • Lean Governance manages spending, audit and compliance, forecasting expenses, and measurement. It requires the engagement of the VMO/LACE, Business Owners, and Enterprise Architects.

Organizational Agility

Even with the competencies above, enterprises must be able to change quickly to respond to the challenges and opportunities that today’s rapidly evolving markets present. This reality requires more flexibility and adaptability than the hierarchical operating system is likely to be able to muster. Again, we turn to the second operating system for help. SAFe helps businesses address these challenges with Organizational Agility, which is expressed in three dimensions (Figure 8):

Figure 8. Three dimensions of Organizational Agility
Figure 8. Three dimensions of Organizational Agility
  • Lean-Thinking People and Agile Teams – This state occurs when everyone involved in solution delivery is trained in Lean and Agile methods and embraces and embodies the values, principles, and practices.
  • Strategy Agility occurs when an organization demonstrates the ability and adaptability needed to sense the market and continuously change strategy when necessary.
  • Lean Business Operations – Teams apply Lean principles to understand, map, and continuously improve the business processes that support the business’s products and services.

Continuous Learning Culture

And even with mastery of the above, there can be no final state. Startup companies will continue to challenge the status quo. Companies like Amazon and Google are entering new markets like banking and healthcare. Expectations from new generations of workers, customers, and society as a whole, challenge companies to think and act beyond balance sheets and quarterly earnings reports.

The Continuous Learning Culture competency describes a set of values and practices that encourage individuals—and the enterprise—to continually increase knowledge, competence, performance, and innovation. It is expressed in three dimensions, as shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9. The three dimensions of a continuous learning culture
Figure 9. The three dimensions of a continuous learning culture

The three dimensions are:

  • Learning Organization – Employees at every level are learning and growing so that the organization can transform and adapt to an ever-changing world.
  • Relentless Improvement – Every part of the enterprise focuses on continuously improving its solutions, products, and processes.
  • Innovation Culture – Employees are encouraged and empowered to explore and implement creative ideas that enable future value delivery.

Lean-Agile Leadership

Finally, we recognize that an organization’s managers, executives, and other leaders provide the foundation ultimately responsible for the adoption and success of Lean-Agile development and mastery of the competencies that lead to Business Agility. Only they have the authority to change and continuously improve the systems that govern how work is performed. Only they can create an environment that encourages high-performing Agile teams to flourish and produce value. Leaders, therefore, must internalize and model leaner ways of thinking and operating so that team members will learn from their example, coaching, and encouragement.

By helping leaders develop along three dimensions, as illustrated in Figure 10, organizations can establish the core competency of Lean-Agile Leadership.

Figure 10. Three dimensions of Lean-Agile Leadership
Figure 10. Three dimensions of Lean-Agile Leadership
  • Mindset, Values, and Principles – By embedding the Lean-Agile way of working in their beliefs, decisions, responses, and actions, leaders model the expected norm throughout the organization.
  • Leading by Example – Leaders gain earned authority by modeling the desired behaviors for others to follow, inspiring them to incorporate the leader’s example into their development journey.
  • Leading Change – Leaders lead (rather than support) the transformation by creating the environment, preparing the people, and providing the necessary resources to realize the desired outcomes.

SAFe for Government

SAFe 6.0 continues to expand guidance for Lean-Agile adoption in Government. Based on the Foundation and principles of SAFe, the guidance emphasizes:

The SAFe for Government article is a unique element within the Framework. It’s a portal to several articles on SAFe adoption in the public sector, providing links to Agile government resources, videos, and events. Many are hard to find, and some are available only through our government portal. Our portal is a small way SAI gives back to the thousands of dedicated civil servants and their industry partners working tirelessly to bring agility to the Government.

SAFe Configurations

SAFe supports the full range of development environments with four out-of-the-box configurations. The configurations can be accessed using the tabs shown in Figure 2. Each is described in the following sections and contains a guidance article on flow.

Essential SAFe

Essential SAFe (Figure 11) is the basic building block for all SAFe configurations and is the most straightforward starting point for implementation. It builds on the principles and practices of Lean-Agile Leadership, Team and Technical Agility, Agile Product Delivery, and Continuous Learning Culture competencies. SAFe is anchored by an organizational structure called the Agile Release Train (ART), where Agile teams and critical stakeholders are dedicated to a meaningful, ongoing solution mission.

Essential SAFe includes both the Agile team and ART constructs, as shown in Figure 11. The Team Flow article describes how Agile Teams deliver a continuous flow of value to the customer. The ART Flow article explains how a team of Agile Teams, working with their extended stakeholders, can get closer to their customers and build Continuous Delivery Pipelines(CDPs) to accelerate the delivery of valuable products and services.

Figure 11. Essential SAFe configuration
Figure 11. The Essential SAFe configuration

Large Solution SAFe

The Large Solution SAFe configuration (Figure 12)  introduces the Enterprise Solution Delivery competency, which supports those building the largest and most complex solutions that require multiple ARTs and Suppliers but do not require portfolio-level considerations. Such solution development is typical for aerospace and defense, automotive, and government industries, where the large solution—not portfolio governance—is the primary concern. The Solution Train organizational construct helps enterprises with the most significant challenges—building large-scale, multidisciplinary software, hardware, cyber-physical, and complex IT systems.

The Solution Train Flow article describes how multiple ARTs can work together with an aligned mission to build some of the world’s largest and most important systems under a lightweight and cooperative governance model. Developing these solutions requires additional roles, artifacts, events, and coordination, as Figure 12 illustrates and described in the Large Solution level article.

Figure 12. Large Solution SAFe configuration
Figure 12. The Large Solution SAFe configuration

Portfolio SAFe

The Portfolio SAFe configuration is the minimum set of competencies and practices that can fully enable business agility. Portfolio SAFe provides two additional competencies, Organizational Agility and Lean Portfolio Management, beyond those included in Essential SAFe.

The LPM competency aligns portfolio execution to enterprise strategy and organizes development around the flow of value through one or more value streams. The Organizational Agility competency extends Lean thinking and practice throughout the enterprise and enables strategy agility.

In addition to the competencies, Portfolio SAFe provides principles and practices for portfolio strategy and investment funding, Agile portfolio operations, and Lean Governance. The Portfolio Flow article how to further accelerate the flow of the significant initiatives (epics) needed to accomplish the portfolio vision and advance the enterprise strategy. Figure 13 illustrates the additional portfolio-level roles, artifacts, and events. These elements are further described in the Portfolio level article.

Figure 13. Portfolio SAFe configuration
Figure 13. The Portfolio SAFe configuration

Full SAFe

The Full SAFe configuration (Figure 14) is the most comprehensive configuration, including all seven core competencies for Business Agility. The world’s largest enterprises typically use it to maintain portfolios of large and complex solutions. In some cases, multiple instances of various SAFe configurations may be required. 

Figure 14. Full SAFe configuration
Figure 14. The Full SAFe configuration

Spanning Palette

The Spanning Palette contains various roles and artifacts that may apply to a specific Agile Team, ART, Large Solution, or Portfolio context. An essential element of SAFe’s flexibility and adaptability, the spanning palette contains additional guidance elements for specific contexts. Figure 15 illustrates two versions of the spanning palette. The leftmost figure is used by Essential SAFe, while the rightmost one serves all other configurations. However, since SAFe is a framework, enterprises can apply any item from the more extensive spanning palette to Essential SAFe.

Below is a brief description of each spanning palette element:

Figure 15. Spanning Palette
Figure 15. Spanning Palette
  • Vision – The vision describes a future view of the solution to be developed, reflecting customer and stakeholder needs and the Features and Capabilities proposed to address those needs.
  • OKRs – When used within SAFe, OKRs can help to support the Core Values of transparency and alignment between the Enterprise and Portfolio strategy and the work of the Agile Release Trains and Agile Teams to deliver on this strategy. Additionally, OKRs can be applied to measure organizational improvement activities, including the desired outcomes for a SAFe transformation.
  • Roadmap – The roadmap communicates planned ART and value stream deliverables and milestones over a timeline.
  • AI – Artificial Intelligence (AI) describes a wide range of intelligent machines capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. SAFe offers a foundational context for applying AI in the enterprise and explains how SAFe can accelerate the successful adoption of this advanced technology.
  • Shared Services – This represents the specialty roles necessary for an ART or Solution Train’s success but 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 an ART or enterprise with a mission to share practical knowledge in one or more relevant domains.
  • System Team – The system team is a unique Agile team that assists in building and using the continuous delivery pipeline and, where necessary, validating full end-to-end system performance.
  • Measure & GrowMeasure and Grow is how portfolios evaluate their progress towards business agility and determine their next improvement steps. This evaluation is achieved through SAFe’s three measurement domains, Outcomes, Flow, and Competency, providing a comprehensive yet simple model for measuring progress toward business agility.

Foundation

Anchored by the Lean-Agile leadership and continuous learning culture competencies, the SAFe foundation contains the mindset, values, principles, and implementation guidance needed to implement SAFe practices and achieve business agility.

Each foundation element shown in Figure 16 is briefly described below.

Figure 16. SAFe Foundation
Figure 16. The SAFe Foundation
  • Lean-Agile Mindset – The Lean-Agile Mindset combines the beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, and actions of SAFe leaders and practitioners who embrace the concepts of the Agile Manifesto and Lean thinking. It’s the personal, intellectual, and leadership foundation for adopting and applying SAFe principles and practices.
  • Core Values – Four core values of Alignment, Transparency, Relentless Improvement, and Respect for People define the belief and value system for SAFe.
  • SAFe Principles – SAFe practices are grounded in ten principles that synthesize Agile methods, Lean product development, DevOps, and systems thinking, coupled with decades of practical 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.
  • SPC – A SAFe Practice Consultant (SPC) is a change agent who combines their technical knowledge of SAFe with an intrinsic motivation to improve their company’s software and systems development processes.

Last update: 13 March 2022