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SAFe Agile vs Agile: A Detailed Comparison

SAFe vs Agile. A detailed comparision
When businesses grow and scale, they often need a more structured approach than traditional Agile practices can provide. This is where the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) steps in. By emphasizing core values and principles, SAFe offers a more nuanced and holistic take on Agile.

Before we dive deeper, check the table below for SAFe Agile vs Agile Value comparison

Parameter SAFe Core Values Traditional Agile Values
Alignment A holistic alignment from leaders to teams ensures that everyone moves in the same direction. Typically focuses on team alignment around a sprint goal.
Transparency Promotes openness throughout the organization, fostering trust and a willingness to address and learn from mistakes. Emphasizes transparency within teams, primarily through daily standups and retrospectives.
Respect for People Places an emphasis on building individuals, valuing diversity, and promoting long-term relationships. Encourages team respect and collaboration but may lack a broader organizational focus.
Relentless Improvement Encourages an organization-wide culture of continuous improvement, innovation, and problem-solving. Focuses on sprint retrospectives for improvement at a team level.


Let’s Dive Deeper:


    • SAFe: SAFe sees alignment as a vehicle, with every part working in tandem. From communicating the vision, mission, and strategy to connecting strategies with execution, alignment in SAFe permeates through every layer. It’s not just about ensuring that Agile Release Trains (ARTs) are on track but ensuring that the entire enterprise is headed in the same direction.
    • Traditional Agile: Emphasizes team alignment around sprint goals and product backlogs. While effective at the team level, it might not address the bigger organizational picture.


    • SAFe: Transparency in SAFe goes beyond just making work visible. It’s about fostering a culture where trust is paramount. With transparency, facts come to light, helping decision-makers avoid speculative assumptions. This transparency is pivotal in building high-performing teams and trains.
    • Traditional Agile: While daily stand-ups and retrospectives ensure transparency within teams, it might not always permeate through the larger organization.

Respect for People:

    • SAFe: SAFe aligns with the famous quote by Fujio Cho, the former Chairman of Toyota who said “First we build people, then we build cars.”
    • Respecting people is about fostering a culture that enhances creativity, values teamwork, and promotes mutual trust. It emphasizes listening to diverse perspectives and growing people through mentoring and coaching.
    • Traditional Agile: Encourages respect within the team. The team members value each other’s input, but the broader organization’s focus might sometimes be lacking.

Relentless Improvement:

    • SAFe: Relentless improvement in SAFe is a continuous journey towards perfection. By creating a sense of urgency and building a problem-solving culture, SAFe ensures that the entire organization is committed to bettering itself every day.
    • Traditional Agile: Uses sprint retrospectives as a mechanism for improvement, focusing on team-level enhancements.

SAFe Principles vs. Traditional Agile Principles

As the demand for Agile practices has evolved, especially in large enterprises, SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) has emerged as a preferred choice. One of the key differentiators between SAFe and Traditional Agile is the foundational principles upon which each is built.

To better understand the differences, see the table below to check SAFe Agile vs Traditional Agile Principles

Parameter SAFe Principles Traditional Agile Principles
Vision & Strategy Emphasizes a Lean-Agile mindset and leadership commitment across the entire organization. Focuses primarily on delivery and customer collaboration.
Economic Prioritization Prioritize economic value, emphasizing the Cost of Delay (CoD) and WSJF (Weighted Shortest Job First). Prioritize based on immediate product owner/customer needs.
Decentralized Decision-making Encourages decentralized decision-making for faster results. Decisions are often made at the team level with product owner input.
Flow Focuses on building an uninterrupted flow of value using Value Streams. Emphasizes working in sprints with iterative value delivery.
Release on Demand Delivers value as per market needs, rather than adhering strictly to sprint boundaries. Prioritizes regular release cycles, e.g., at the end of sprints.
Innovation & Exploration Explicitly encourages innovation, exploration, and design thinking. Implicit emphasis on responding to change and continuous improvement.
System-Wide Perspective Views solutions as part of a larger system, ensuring holistic quality and optimization. Focuses on individual product increments.


Vision & Strategy:

    • SAFe: Understands that for large organizations to achieve true agility, a Lean-Agile mindset is paramount. This ensures alignment from portfolio to teams, driven by a unified strategy and vision.
    • Traditional Agile: Puts significant weight on customer collaboration and delivering working software, often without a broad organizational strategy.

Economic Prioritization:

    • SAFe: Prioritizes features and capabilities based on their economic value. By focusing on the Cost of Delay and WSJF, it ensures that the most economically critical items are addressed first.
    • Traditional Agile: Prioritization is often driven by immediate customer needs and feedback without always considering the broader economic impact.

Decentralized Decision-making:

    • SAFe: Trusts that the people closest to the work have the best knowledge to make decisions. This decentralization speeds up delivery and fosters ownership.
    • Traditional Agile: Decisions often rest with the team, influenced by the product owner, which might sometimes delay certain organizational-level initiatives.


    • SAFe: By visualizing and optimizing Value Streams, SAFe ensures a constant and smooth flow of value to the customer.
    • Traditional Agile: Functions in iterations or sprints, delivering value at the end of each sprint.

Release on Demand:

    • SAFe: Recognizes market dynamics and allows for releasing value as and when the market demands, offering flexibility.
    • Traditional Agile: Works best with fixed release cycles, typically at the end of each sprint.

Innovation & Exploration:

    • SAFe: Explicitly builds in time for innovation, exploration, and design thinking, recognizing that breakthroughs often come from dedicated exploration.
    • Traditional Agile: While adaptive to change, there’s an implicit emphasis on continuous improvement without dedicated exploration times.

System-Wide Perspective:

    • SAFe: Always considers the bigger picture, looking at how individual solutions fit and work within the larger ecosystem.
    • Traditional Agile: Works incrementally, often focusing on individual product increments without always viewing the entire system.

In Conclusion:

While both SAFe and Traditional Agile values have their merits, SAFe’s emphasis on a broader organizational perspective makes it more suitable for larger enterprises looking to scale Agile. The four core values of SAFe – alignment, transparency, respect for people, and relentless improvement – serve as pillars that ensure the framework’s effectiveness and sustainability.
For organizations looking to go for SAFe, embracing these core values and integrating them into their practices is crucial. And as always, leadership plays a pivotal role in this transformation, exemplifying these values in their actions and decisions.
Both SAFe and Traditional Agile offer frameworks that can drive agility in organizations. However, SAFe’s principles are more encompassing, especially for larger enterprises aiming to achieve agility at scale.
SAFe’s emphasis on economic value, system-wide perspectives, and built-in innovation ensures that organizations are not just Agile but are delivering optimal value at scale.
For businesses embarking on their Agile journey or those looking to scale their current Agile practices, understanding and embracing SAFe’s principles can be the key to unlocking greater value, efficiency, and market responsiveness.

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