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A deep dive in SAFe Configuration and Customization

safe configuration & CustomizationThe realm of agile methodologies has expanded rapidly over the last decade, with many frameworks emerging to address the needs of diverse organizations. Among them, the Scaled Agile Framework, or SAFe, has secured a formidable position. At the heart of SAFe’s success lies its inherent flexibility, embodied in its configurability and potential for customization. In this discourse, we will undertake a detailed exploration of SAFe’s configuration and the myriad ways in which organizations are tailoring it to their unique circumstances, providing industry-specific examples to illustrate the concept.

Decoding SAFe Configuration

The Scaled Agile Framework was not constructed as a rigid structure. It is a dynamic scaffold, designed to provide guidance, rather than strict dictates. To serve a vast array of organizations, SAFe presents four key configurations:

Essential SAFe: This foundational configuration encapsulates the pivotal roles, responsibilities, and activities crucial for value delivery via an agile release train (ART). Many startups or smaller enterprises find this level adequate.

Large Solution SAFe: Organisations, handling very complex product development having multiple agile release trains and third-party suppliers, but not requiring portfolio governance, adopt this level. For instance, large-sized software development houses managing product that has the complexity of Hardware, Software, etc., and that require multiple ARTs might lean on this configuration.

Portfolio SAFe: Adding a layer of portfolio management to the Essential SAFe, this level provides the governance tools necessary for organizations overseeing multiple ARTs. Large corporations, such as financial institutions, may find this particularly useful to streamline their diverse initiatives.

Full SAFe: The most expansive configuration, Full SAFe embraces all SAFe levels and is tailored for organizations with intricate structures and requirements. Global IT service companies, managing vast projects and numerous stakeholders, often gravitate towards this configuration.

The Art of Customizing SAFe

Simply choosing a SAFe configuration isn’t enough. True organizational alignment demands a deeper level of engagement, manifested in customization. This process isn’t a mere alteration but a nuanced understanding and modification of SAFe, ensuring it fits like a glove.

Assessing the Organizational Landscape: Successful customization begins with introspection. For instance, a pharmaceutical company diving into agile methodologies needs to understand its research and development cycles, regulatory requirements, and stakeholder expectations before moulding SAFe to its environment.

Sifting through SAFe Practices: Not all SAFe elements will resonate with every organization. A manufacturing firm might find immense value in certain SAFe ceremonies that facilitate synchronization across units but might forgo others focused on software-centric practices.

Blending with Current Protocols: For a long-standing automotive company with deep-rooted processes, bulldozing established systems isn’t pragmatic. Instead, SAFe should be intertwined with these processes, creating a hybrid model. This could mean integrating traditional production timelines with SAFe’s iterative cycles.

Tailoring to Industry Niches: SAFe demands tweaks based on industry specifications. A digital marketing agency, with rapid project turnovers and client feedback loops, will customize SAFe differently than a construction firm with multi-year projects and physical deliverables.

Iterative Feedback Loops: SAFe’s agile roots advocate for iteration, and customization is no exception. Regular retrospectives ensure that the framework evolves in tandem with the organization. This ensures that as the organization grows, like an e-commerce platform expanding its services, SAFe scales and modifies with it.

Glimpses from the Industry

To truly comprehend SAFe’s customization potential, real-world examples are illuminating:


Hospitals and healthcare providers, amidst the digital transformation wave, are adopting agile methodologies. Here, SAFe’s customization might focus on patient data security, regulatory compliance, and integration with existing health record systems.

Johns Hopkins, a renowned institution, could look into SAFe to improve its software systems while ensuring the highest standards of patient care.

Siemens Healthineers implemented SAFe across the Hardware, Firmware, and Software groups while building their next-generation products like CT Scan, PET Scan, etc.

Banking: Traditional banking institutions, like Barclays or HSBC, facing the fintech revolution, are venturing into agile terrains. For them, SAFe can be implemented to address strict regulatory requirements, multi-tiered stakeholder communication, and seamless integration with legacy banking systems.


Global retail giants, such as Tesco or Marks & Spencer, balancing online and offline realms, might turn to SAFe to streamline supply chain management, e-commerce platform development, and in-store technology enhancements. Customizing SAFe for these giants would demand a blend of rapid software development cycles and traditional retail operational practices.

Navigating Customization Pitfalls

Customization, while immensely beneficial, presents its own set of challenges.

Over-modification: An organization can inadvertently dilute SAFe’s essence. For instance, a telecom company might excessively tailor SAFe to its legacy systems, losing out on the agile advantages the framework offers.

Change Resistance: Any transformative move, like introducing SAFe to a traditional publishing house, might face resistance from employees accustomed to long-standing practices.

Expertise Gaps: Customising SAFe isn’t elementary. Without profound knowledge of the framework, there’s a risk of creating a fragmented system that hinders, rather than aids, progress.


While SAFe offers a robust and structured approach to scaling agile, its true strength lies in its adaptability.

To start with, implement SAFe as defined for the first time. Start small with the ART launch after the Value Stream workshop. Later, scale up to multiple release trains based on development value streams and then scale to Portfolio level later.

Organizations, whether they are nascent startups, century-old institutions, or industry-specific giants, have the tools to mould SAFe into their narrative. However, the journey requires introspection, expertise, and a keen understanding of both SAFe and the organization’s unique challenges and aspirations. Done rightly, customized SAFe can be a formidable catalyst for agile transformation and unparalleled success.