Achieving Measurable Business Results with SAFe

Our research shows that implementing SAFe can deliver significant, measurable business value.

–Gartner, 10 Essential Practices for Success When Implementing SAFe

Note: This article is part of Extended SAFe Guidance and represents official SAFe content that cannot be accessed directly from the Big Picture.


Everything moves fast in the digital age. Customer desires, competitive threats, technology choices, business expectations, revenue opportunities, and workforce demands now change at lightning speed. Success in this landscape requires a customer-centric approach that allows enterprises to sense and respond quickly to market opportunities and threats. Those who master large-scale software delivery will have the advantage [1], which often requires systemic cultural change and strong partnerships between business and technology leaders. 

Implementing organizational change of this magnitude is a big deal and a significant investment, and achieving business agility is not a trivial effort. Therefore, time must be devoted to defining a transformation strategy that aligns business and technology leaders with clear objectives and an incremental implementation plan.  

This article describes a three-step process for defining desired SAFe outcomes that enable significant, measurable business results to support this goal. These steps should be completed in a workshop format with business and technology stakeholders present.

  • Step 1: Establishing the business context expresses the need to align the transformation directly with the business strategy driving the need for change.
  • Step 2: Defining transformation outcomes positions SAFe outcomes as leading indicators of business results and produces one or more transformation OKRs to guide the SAFe implementation.   
  • Step 3: Tracking transformation progress ensures business results are demonstrated continuously through purposeful communication, frequent measurement, and periodic adjustment.  

Understanding how SAFe outcomes enable business results is essential knowledge that guides business and technology leaders through all three steps.

SAFe Outcomes Enable Business Results

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is a proven approach to helping organizations achieve business agility. Numerous customer stories highlight that it enables faster time-to-market, higher product quality, increased productivity, and enhanced workforce engagement, as shown in Figure 1.  

Figure 1. Typical results reported by enterprises using SAFe

Although each outcome delivers clear value to technology leaders, business leaders have additional concerns. Specifically, they are responsible for such business results as increasing revenue, lowering costs, reducing risk, and increasing customer happiness. Therefore, aligning SAFe outcomes and desired business results is critical to improving overall business performance.

This alignment is achieved by leveraging SAFe outcomes as leading indicators of business results (Figure 2). For example, accelerating the time-to-market of innovation helps business leaders capture revenue sooner, and increasing product quality helps increase customer loyalty.

Figure 2. SAFe outcomes enable measurable business results
Figure 2. SAFe outcomes enable measurable business results

The following steps describe the process of identifying the specific SAFe outcomes desired by technology leaders that also enable the specific business results desired by business leaders. This strategic alignment allows business and technology to partner more closely, transform faster, and win in the market together.   

It is recommended that the steps outlined in this article are initiated during the Create an Implementation Plan step of the implementation roadmap, as the business-technology alignment that results informs all subsequent activities.

Step 1: Establish the Business Context

Establishing a clear understanding of how the business operates and how it needs to improve is crucial for maximizing the benefits of SAFe. This foundational step gives a strategic, market-driven purpose to the SAFe transformation, ensuring that all those involved focus on improving overall business performance. Establishing the business context requires business leaders to clarify the overarching business strategy, identify the strategic themes driving the transformation, and define the desired results needed to improve business performance.    

Clarify the Business Strategy

Business strategy represents the priorities and initiatives focused on creating value for customers, partners, employees, and stakeholders. Senior executives shape it and address major internal and external forces that influence business performance, such as the enterprise vision, product portfolio performance, distinctive competence, financial goals, and competitive environment.

Business leaders understand this context implicitly; however, technology leaders who support but do not participate directly in market-facing activities may not. Clarifying the business strategy, especially the parts driving the need for change, provides the “why” behind the transformation and a shared purpose that keeps business and technology leaders closely aligned.  

Identify Strategic Themes

Strategic themes are business objectives that, when achieved, provide competitive differentiation and strategic advantage. They are short, memorable expressions of “how” major aspects of the business strategy will be achieved, along with the measurable business results required to achieve them. They link business strategy and execution and are crafted jointly by business and technology leaders.   

Each strategic theme should include a concise business objective accompanied by a small set of measurable results that demonstrate the achievement of the objective. For this reason, the OKR (Objective and Key Result) format is often applied, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Example of strategic theme inOKR format

Regardless of their format, strategic themes indicate how the organization will strive to deliver tangible improvements in revenue growth, cost reduction, risk mitigation, customer happiness, and other relevant business performance indicators.

Strategic themes are ambitious. (They must be to produce a compelling impact on business performance.) Thus, their key results tend to be lagging indicators of success that take significant time to achieve. Leading indicators also need to be established to ensure progress. As explained in the next section, the transformation outcomes commonly delivered by SAFe are a valuable source of these leading indicators.  

Step 2: Define Transformation Outcomes

The next step toward achieving measurable business results with SAFe is aligning the SAFe transformation effort to support the established business context directly. This requires a strategy that explicitly connects the measurable transformation outcomes achieved with SAFe to the desired business results defined in Step 1.

This process begins with an understanding of how SAFe outcomes serve as leading indicators of business results.

Connect SAFe Outcomes to Business Results

As shown in Figure 1, SAFe directly enables faster time-to-market, higher product quality, higher productivity, and higher workforce engagement. Although it may not be obvious, these outcomes support and enable business results across the enterprise. In fact, they are early predictors of the achievement of business results.  

Each SAFe outcome can serve as a leading indicator to a wide range of business results. Table 1 below contains a few examples to illustrate this valuable relationship. It is clear that the outcomes on the left contribute materially to the business results on the right. Further, demonstrating incremental improvement in the outcomes on the left provides objective evidence that progress is being made toward the business results on the right.

Table 1. Examples of how SAFe outcomes support desired business results
Table 1. Examples of how SAFe outcomes support desired business results

The information in this table reflects “what” needs to be accomplished through the transformation that will best enable the achievement of desired business results. It also reaffirms the need to anchor the transformation early in the business context and strategic themes.

Once this connection is understood, business and technology leaders should work together to identify the specific transformation outcomes that will best enable the desired business results. Like strategic themes, it is recommended that transformation outcomes be expressed in OKR format.

Understand Transformation OKRs

Desired outcomes for a SAFe transformation are typically described as a set of transformation OKRs—a type of OKR that follows the standard OKR structure but focuses on organizational improvement rather than strategic alignment or product development. Each transformation OKR contains a brief transformation objective and 3 – 5 supporting key results, as shown in the example in Figure 4.  

Figure 4. An example transformation OKR
Figure 4. An example transformation OKR

The transformation OKR aligns the goals of the SAFe implementation directly with one or more strategic themes and addresses essential improvements in people, processes, and technology required to support the needs of the business. The transformation OKR is then used to guide the execution of the SAFe implementation plan.  

Define the Transformation Objective

The transformation objective describes a future state. It is a brief statement, like the business objective, that is bold and aspirational yet achievable. It should imply the need to enhance the organization’s speed of execution, quality of output, productive use of resources, satisfaction of employees, and similar characteristics of modern, high-performing product development organizations.   

The transformation objective should reflect the unique challenges and opportunities of the organization and provide a clear direction for the transformation journey. It also must align specifically with the business objective driving the transformation. It clearly and memorably conveys the strategic relationship between the two and should inspire the organization to want to transform.

Define Transformation Key Results

Transformation key results are the measurable outcomes that objectively determine the achievement of the transformation objective. Each key result contains a critical metric or KPI that serves as a leading indicator of one or more desired business outcomes. For example, the four key results in Figure 4 quantify improvements in time-to-market, workforce engagement, development productivity, and product quality, respectively. Each indicates progress toward business results related to revenue, costs, risk, and/or customer happiness.  

As leading indicators, they can be tracked frequently to ensure progress toward both transformation and business objectives. This facilitates ongoing collaboration between business and technology and leverages SAFe’s Lean-Agile practices to accelerate progress. Regular reviews and refinements based on evolving business context and feedback are essential to maintain the relevance and alignment of transformation OKRs with strategic enterprise goals, which is the focus of Step 3.

Step 3: Track Transformation Progress

The final step in achieving measurable business results with SAFe is tracking transformation progress as SAFe is implemented. The goal is to demonstrate a steady stream of progress via the leading indicators defined in Step 2. This provides proof of tangible progress, which keeps business and technology leaders aligned and inspires the organization to remain focused on the broader business mission.

Business and technology leaders must collaborate to make frequent progress toward the transformation objective and translate those achievements into meaningful progress toward the business objective. This involves effectively communicating the transformation objectives, frequently reviewing transformation outcomes, and evolving the transformation OKR.  

Communicate the Transformation Objectives

Effective communication is critical to aligning individuals and teams with the desired transformation outcomes. This includes sharing the data and metrics from the transformation OKRs to provide a rational purpose for the transformation. However, the communication should also include a memorable and inspiring narrative that truly resonates with the organization.

Good storytelling establishes an emotional connection with the people involved, helping them understand why transformation is needed, how leaders will guide them to success, and what is needed from them to achieve the goal. To establish trust and alignment across the organization, leaders should communicate the transformation strategy when crafted (and updated) and frequently reinforce the message during implementation.

Review Transformation Outcomes

Frequent measurement of transformation key results is essential to maintaining momentum and ensuring continuous improvement. With the transformation anchored in SAFe, individuals and teams across the organization will naturally operate in close synchronization on an Agile cadence. This provides many mechanisms for measuring progress periodically, such as quarterly as illustrated in Figure 5.   

Figure 5. Example of transformation key results measured quarterly
Figure 5. Example of transformation key results measured quarterly

As established in Step 2, these key results should be leading indicators of business results, providing crucial feedback to business and technology leaders about progress toward the strategic objective. By regularly tracking these metrics, the organization can identify areas of success and areas that require adjustment, enabling an agile and responsive approach to the transformation.

When incremental improvements are achieved, they should be celebrated. Regardless of the size of the achievement, tangible progress is tangible progress. Business and technology leaders should openly and enthusiastically acknowledge the outcome and encourage the organization to celebrate the victory. Similarly, missed goals should be openly discussed so that the organization can learn and improve together.  

Evolve Transformation Objectives and Key Results

Like the strategic themes they support, transformation OKRs are not static. As the transformation progresses, it is important to reassess and adjust transformation objectives and key results based on measured outcomes, stakeholder feedback, and changes to strategic themes.  

All changes to transformation OKRs should be made specifically to maintain or improve the transformation’s alignment with the business context. For example, a transformation OKR should be adjusted if it is demonstrated not to correlate strongly enough with the achievement of a stated desired business result. Similarly, a transformation OKR should be adjusted if its associated desired business results change materially.  

The iterative process of reviewing and adjusting transformation OKRs ensures that the transformation remains aligned with the evolving needs of the business and drives ongoing, measurable business impact.  


Implementing SAFe helps achieve measurable business results by establishing and maintaining alignment between an organization’s transformation strategy and business strategy. With SAFe, technology leaders benefit from faster time-to-market, higher product quality, higher productivity, higher workforce engagement, and similar product delivery-focused measures of success. In turn, these improvements enable higher revenue, lower costs, lower risk, and happier customers as desired by business leaders. 

To achieve the most significant results, business and technology leaders work together to establish the business context driving the need for change, define transformation outcomes that serve as leading indicators of desired business results, and track transformation progress to ensure ongoing, mutual success. Enterprises of all sizes, in all industries, and all geographies worldwide embrace SAFe in this way to drive continuous improvement, innovate faster, and stay competitive in today’s dynamic business environment.

Learn More

[1] Kersten, Mik. Project to Product: How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Digital Disruption with the Flow Framework. IT Revolution Press, 2018.

Last Update: 8 April 2024