5 Disadvantages of Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

5 Disadvantages of Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

5 Disadvantages of Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

The boom of the technological era of business paved the way for companies to evolve in the digital world. With that, large businesses turn to extensive project management methods such as Scaled Agile Framework for Enterprise (SAFe).

SAFe strengthens the alignment among cross-functional teams and all the other levels of the organisation.

However, as appealing as SAFe sounds, it is not meant to be one-size-fits-all. It has drawbacks that could affect one business more than the other. One main disadvantage of SAFe is its complexity.

As the system take effect on one team up to the entire organisation, it requires extensive levels of keeping track and following through the progress of solution development.

If you’re thinking about utilising SAFe for your lean enterprise, take a closer look not just at its pros but, more importantly, at its cons.

Read on and learn more about the potential disadvantages of SAFe.

What Is Scaled Agile Framework, a.k.a. SAFe

What Is Scaled Agile Framework, a.k.a. SAFe?

SAFe has been a popular customer-centric framework that started with software development teams. It provides a bigger picture of software development and extends agility from the frontline developers to the software leaders. 

Likewise, it encapsulates principles, practices, core competencies, and business culture required to attain business agility and leverage, especially in an overly competitive digital atmosphere.

SAFe became available for business use in 2011. Since then, it has released five core updates introducing new systems and enhanced software development strategies. Its latest update, SAFe 5, was released last January 2020.

Although the SAFe framework appeals to software development companies, the surge of digital demands in almost all businesses made it crucial for other industries.

Large enterprises in healthcare, retail, supply chain, construction, telecommunication, energy, electronics, and more utilise SAFe to ensure agile development and delivery of innovative solutions.

What Are the 7 Core Competencies of SAFe?

SAFe five was developed around the seven competencies of lean enterprise. The overall approach of the latest version tackles methodologies that respond to these competencies.

Lean-Agile Leadership

1. Lean-Agile Leadership

With this competency, leaders are equipped with the right mindset, skills, values, and practices to help them bring out the best and highest potentials of their teams.

The focus is on training executives, managers, and other top-rank officers to become lean-agile leaders by emphasising the role of leaders as the frontline in executing the necessary transformation towards operational excellence.

2. Team and Technical Agility

Teams require specific skills to ensure high performance in developing and delivering solutions out in the market. For that to happen, team and technical agility are necessary.

This competency can be honed by spotlighting three dimensions of business agility: agile teams, a team of agile teams, and built-in quality. In addition, particular behaviours and mindsets need to be cultivated along with some technical practices.

Agile Product Delivery

3. Agile Product Delivery

When it comes to releasing the product in the market, timing is a crucial element. If the business can secure an agile product delivery approach, it increases efficiency for other areas of operation.

SAFe ensures that the three dimensions of agile product delivery are met swiftly. These dimensions are (1) customer centricity and design thinking, (2) development on cadence, release on demand, and DevOps and the continuous delivery pipeline.

4. Enterprise Solution Delivery

The digital business realm requires more than just the establishment of an online presence. Every business, let alone a lean enterprise, needs to evolve based on the market’s demands.

In this sense, to achieve business agility, teams should acquire skills and get updated on efficient software applications and cyber-physical systems.

Lean Portfolio Management

5. Lean Portfolio Management

The SAFe framework highlights the relevance of the bigger picture. 

To strengthen lean portfolio management, leaders must acquire the necessary abilities to materialise the enterprise’s vision by aligning it to the identified goals and strategies. An essential process for this competency is the development of value streams (DVS).

6. Organisational Agility

Achieving organisational agility includes successfully optimising business processes. In addition, spotting and aligning business objectives to potential investment opportunities can help the organisation thrive for a long time.

Inside the digital realm, speed is a crucial element as the competition is fiercer. Delivering value in the shortest lead time possible can ensure that the enterprise is operating competently.

7. Continuous Learning Culture

A functional business is a continuous learning machine. Therefore, teams should always take the opportunities to acquire new trends, updates, and information on areas that can affect the entire organisation. 

On the other hand, leaders should design programs that prevent stagnation at work.

How Does SAFe Work

How Does SAFe Work?

You can think of SAFe as a guide for project management implementation within a lean enterprise. It contains principles, values, and agile practices for all levels that focus more on your customers’ needs, demands, and behavioural tendencies.

SAFe provides a structured approach that ensures proper alignment, delivery of products and services, agile leadership, transparency, and project execution.

The framework is divided into four configurations with specific strategic themes.

1. Essential SAFe

Essential SAFe is the simplest version of SAFe yet contains all the crucial elements. Essential SAFe comprise the building blocks for the other types of configurations. If you have a single project, this configuration can fit right to your needs.

Large Solution SAFe

2. Large Solution SAFe

If you have multiple ARTs or suppliers but do not need portfolio-level considerations, then this is the configuration for you. It is common in organisations like aerospace and government.

3. Portfolio SAFe

To ultimately enable business agility, you have got to go with Portfolio SAFe. The additional competencies secure the alignment of portfolio execution to the enterprise strategy and more.

4. Full SAFe  

The Full SAFe is the most comprehensive configuration among the four. It is designed for complex solutions with multiple teams inside a huge enterprise.

What Are the Disadvantages of Scaled Agile Framework

What Are the Disadvantages of Scaled Agile Framework?

SAFe sounds promising for lean enterprise. However, the same couldn’t be said for start-ups. Although some principles and practices still apply, SAFe is designed for large business groups invested in software functions.

Nevertheless, its tailored approach is a benefit in itself for lean enterprises. However, SAFe is not exactly flawless.

There are several disadvantages to watch out for. But, unfortunately, once these drawbacks affect your organisation, they can have critical impacts. 

Hence, it is best to scrutinise them and analyse if they could become a significant deal-breaker before they emerge.

1. Adds More Administrative Surveillance in SAFe

SAFe employs strategies that are similar to the Waterfall approach, where everything has to be streamlined.

This might work in some organisations, but many businesses can benefit more from an open and flexible environment without too much oversight from high-ranking officials, which can improve the team’s creative expression.

With SAFe, administrative roles expand to keeping a close eye on multiple projects. Not to mention, there are several layers of administration and cross-functional networks inside the organisation.

The environment is almost contradicting that of the scrum methodology. That’s why some project management experts and business analysts claim that SAFe can have tendencies to be anti-agile.

Requires Intensive Tracking and Documenting in SAFe

2. Requires Intensive Tracking and Documenting in SAFe

Tracking and documenting are critical processes in assessing the progress of the project. However, several factors could influence the true impact of these tasks.

Nonetheless, if done the right way, the evaluation of the project becomes easier, generating productive results.

But when documenting is haphazard or projects have no value, it can take so much time and cause unnecessary conflicts along the way.

3. Longer Planning Cycles in SAFe

Creating strategic plans and roadmaps is a critical step for a project or a business goal. However, in a SAFe Framework, planning tends to go longer, spanning ten to twelve weeks.

Advocates of pure business agility find this schedule too tedious, creating longer feedback loops and diminishing the ability of the team to respond to change appropriately.

In short, the process decreases the adaptability of teams.

Limits the Freedom and Flexibility of Self-Organised Teams in SAFe

4. Limits the Freedom and Flexibility of Self-Organised Teams in SAFe

The multiple layers of the framework designate particular roles, especially among the administrative management officers. This could lead to micromanagement which can be detrimental to the dynamic operations of the self-organised teams.

Also, in terms of decision-making, the framework adopts a top-down approach where the executive officers make decisions. This way, frontline developers are left behind in the decision process.

5. Too Many Jargons or Heavy Terminologies in SAFe

If you’re new to the SAFe framework, you might be overwhelmed with a load of terminologies used in the different layers of the approach.

Terms like DevOps, iteration, lean enterprise, agile release train (ART), development value streams, agile portfolio operations, and more are often repeated in the different levels of SAFe. 

The good news is these terms will become second nature to you as you learn more about the approach.

Conclusion of Disadvantages in SAFe

Much like other project management methodologies, SAFe has its advantages and disadvantages. The four configurations under this framework provide you with choices based on the needs of your enterprise.

Careful analysis will allow you to choose the right approach, ensuring the success of the project management method while avoiding detrimental mistakes. 


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Paulius Petravicius PhotoABOUT ME

I am an experienced ex. Business & Data Analyst and now a Project Manager with multiple years of experience gained in several international companies.

These days, business problems require data crunching and telling stories to make the right decisions. Simply put, business stakeholders need insights into their projects and deliveries.

This is where I come in. I have learned and applied PythonPower BISQL and Excel to analyse and present data. Also, I gained experience in Project Management and Business Analysis. So, I can not only spot insights but execute business decisions. Moreover, I can teach you as well. Read More

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