SAFe as a Framework

May 15, 2016 — Posted by Al Shalloway

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a framework as "the basic structure of something: a set of ideas or facts that provide support for something." Clearly, SAFe is more than a framework; it also offers a set of practices and patterns to fill in the framework and this is how it is taught in the standard SAFe course. The advantage of this is that people understand the essence of SAFe faster.  However, it also makes it hard for many to see the framework distinct from the practices.  Furthermore, while this approach is intended to provide a good starting point for Agile at scale people often forget that it is just a starting point.

There are also many parts to SAFe that serve more as guides rather than detailed prescriptive instructions.  This is partly due to the fact that each organization has different contexts and constraints that can't be handled in a one-size-fits all manner.  A great question then is: what should guide my decisions for transitioning to SAFe within my context?

Anyone who is a transition agent trying to introduce SAFe into a company, must be able to discern what is the framework and what are the practices that are needed.  Otherwise, there is a risk of making SAFe a one-size-fits-all approach.  Recently, I explored this in a webinar, Using SAFe as a Framework and not a Solution. The main points of the webinar were:

  • SAFe provides both a framework and a default set of practices. This default set greatly increases the ability for people to align with each other.
  • The target outcome is to realize business value faster, not simply to go faster (nor to simply execute practices).
  • Our execution should be focused on intention instead of merely executing practices - this provides us with searching for alternative practices to meet the same intention.
  • More value is created from overall alignment than from local excellence. This is a quote from Don Reinertsen.
  • To achieve alignment, one must understand what's most important, dedicate the needed capacity to it and attend to the eco-system (structure) and workflow to achieve it.
  • When we have difficulty implementing a practice, attend to the intention of practices and see if there is an alternative practice better suited to your situation; for example, the intention of a sprint is: cadence, discipline, small stories, developer and tester synchronization and built-in reality checkpoint. Kanban's flow is a better practice in some situations.
  • We must realize that we are transitioning how our organization works and not trust we can just implement a new set of practices to achieve that.
  • Although we must start with a set of practices that everyone agrees to, we must also learn how to adjust them as we move forward

SAFe is based on Lean principles framing a solid set of Lean-Agile practices and Lean-Agile Leader patterns.Lean, in a nutshell is:

  • Take a systems thinking approach and understand that most of your waste is due to the system, not the people caught in it
  • Management and those doing the work must work together to improve the system within which the work takes place
  • Remove delays in feedback, workflow and realization of business value
  • Build quality in


It is precisely because SAFe is so well designed that it is easy to forget that it is both a framework and a set of default practices. It provides a required starting point for understanding it. Although companies can use it almost entirely as designed, almost everyone has to tailor it to some extent. By looking at the intent of the integrated practices, one can see how to fill in any gaps using Lean-Thinking. Varying from the framework, especially at the beginning, has the additional cost of increasing the difficulty of everyone being aligned and bought in. But when such a variation is necessary, thinking of SAFe as a framework with a prescribed (default) set of solutions, one can often tailor SAFe to their organization.


See our upcoming webinar Answering Questions on How to Implement SAFe May 24th (if you read this past the date, look for a recording). 

If this blog resonates with you, feel free to send an email to see how we can help you. We are always happy to provide free one-hour consultations to interested parties. For more information on the Net Objectives' approach to SAFe, click here.

Al Shalloway, CEO, Net Objectives

Special thanks to Andy Czuchry for inspiring this blog

See our SAFe page for more on SAFe. 

Subscribe to our blog Net Objectives Thoughts Blog

Share this:

About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With 45 years of experience, Al is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, Scrum and agile design. He helps companies transition to Lean and Agile methods enterprise-wide as well teaches courses in these areas.


Blog Authors

Al Shalloway
Business, Operations, Process, Sales, Agile Design and Patterns, Personal Development, Agile, Lean, SAFe, Kanban, Kanban Method, Scrum, Scrumban, XP
Cory Foy
Change Management, Innovation Games, Team Agility, Transitioning to Agile
Guy Beaver
Business and Strategy Development, Executive Management, Management, Operations, DevOps, Planning/Estimation, Change Management, Lean Implementation, Transitioning to Agile, Lean-Agile, Lean, SAFe, Kanban, Scrum
Israel Gat
Business and Strategy Development, DevOps, Lean Implementation, Agile, Lean, Kanban, Scrum
Jim Trott
Business and Strategy Development, Analysis and Design Methods, Change Management, Knowledge Management, Lean Implementation, Team Agility, Transitioning to Agile, Workflow, Technical Writing, Certifications, Coaching, Mentoring, Online Training, Professional Development, Agile, Lean-Agile, SAFe, Kanban
Ken Pugh
Agile Design and Patterns, Software Design, Design Patterns, C++, C#, Java, Technical Writing, TDD, ATDD, Certifications, Coaching, Mentoring, Professional Development, Agile, Lean-Agile, Lean, SAFe, Kanban, Kanban Method, Scrum, Scrumban, XP
Marc Danziger
Business and Strategy Development, Change Management, Team Agility, Online Communities, Promotional Initiatives, Sales and Marketing Collateral
Max Guernsey
Analysis and Design Methods, Planning/Estimation, Database Agility, Design Patterns, TDD, TDD Databases, ATDD, Lean-Agile, Scrum
Scott Bain
Analysis and Design Methods, Agile Design and Patterns, Software Design, Design Patterns, Technical Writing, TDD, Coaching, Mentoring, Online Training, Professional Development, Agile
Steve Thomas
Business and Strategy Development, Change Management, Lean Implementation, Team Agility, Transitioning to Agile
Tom Grant
Business and Strategy Development, Executive Management, Management, DevOps, Analyst, Analysis and Design Methods, Planning/Estimation, Innovation Games, Lean Implementation, Agile, Lean-Agile, Lean, Kanban