How to improve business agility with SAFe

In the age of startups, larger businesses are finding it challenging to keep up with their much smaller competitors. Due to the fast-paced nature of more agile companies, the Scaled Agile Framework is becoming more appealing to larger enterprises. This is because SAFe helps businesses enable their agile practices at scale. Today we will discuss how to improve business agility with SAFe. However, first, we must briefly cover SAFe and Business Agility before we bring the two together.

SAFe Big Picture



The Scaled Agile Framework, commonly referred to as SAFe, is an agile framework for teams within medium to large organizations based on four pillars: Agile Teams, Program, Large Solutions, and Portfolio. The understanding and best practices that agile teams use to provide the basis for the SAFe framework. It is more of a framework rather than a strict set of rules for teams to follow. When properly implemented, SAFe helps enterprise organizations link strategy and execution. From business to product development, each team understands how their current work applies to the organization’s core mission. Hundreds of companies around the world are actively using SAFe.

Business Agility

Business Agility can come in many forms. Originally, software teams used Agile to deliver more valuable work faster. This involves timeboxing the team’s work, often referred to as iterating, to deliver the most valuable features to the customer first. 

Some of the popular Agile Methodologies include but are not limited to:

  • Scrum
  • Kanban
  • Lean Software Development (LSD)
  • Feature Driven Development (FDD)
  • eXtreme Programming (XP)
  • Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

In recent years, Agile has expanded to other teams across organizations. In the digital age, we can define Business Agility as the ability for businesses to quickly and innovatively respond to dynamic market conditions. With more and more teams adopting agile. The need for a way to keep all those teams in sync leads to the development of SAFe.

How do you improve business agility with SAFe?

Now that we know a little about SAFe and have an overview of Business Agility, we can link the two to discuss how you can improve business agility with SAFe. SAFe does this through the seven core competencies of the Lean Enterprise. Let’s examine each one individually.

Business Agility


Lean-Agile Leadership

This competency falls on the executive and management team in an organization. First and foremost, they must understand SAFe’s lean, agile mindset. This requires the leadership team to learn the principles and practices of SAFe then apply those principles and practices to their everyday work. Doing this can help empower individuals to use the same principles and practices and lead their organization by example.

Leading by example is one of the most important aspects of Lean-Agile Leadership. After gaining a thorough understanding of SAFe, leaders can demonstrate their knowledge in everyday practice. Then leaders begin to lead by example, and they can take this mindset and make it the norm for the whole organization. They do this by leading the switch to SAFe. Through leading the switch to SAFe, they empower people and provide the resources to achieve their desired outcome. By establishing a Lean-Agile mindset throughout the organization, the business is more agile.

Team and Technical Agility

It might seem obvious, but Team Agility and Technical Agility are imperative to achieving business agility through SAFe. At the end of the day, the teams within your organization create and deliver solutions to their customers. The customers are the ones providing feedback on your products or services. Even at the lowest level of the business, it is here that teams need to be agile. By reducing lead time, responding to feedback faster, and actively adjusting strategy, they can improve Business Agility.

Agile Product Delivery

Teams need to be agile to achieve business agility; how they deliver solutions needs to be agile.  This starts by taking a customer-centric approach to develop and extend new and existing products and services. It finishes the product life cycle with agile support and continuous delivery. Similar to the previous competency, developing agile product delivery and all its facets will improve Business Agility.

Enterprise Solution Delivery

The following competency describes how large organizations develop, deploy, operate, and evolve enterprise-level software. This consists of three dimensions and nine aspects:

  • Lean Systems and Solutions Engineering
    • Continually refine the fixed/variable Solution Intent
    • Apply multiple planning horizons
    • Architect for scale, modularity, release-readiness, and serviceability 
    • Continually address compliance concerns
  • Coordinating Trains and Suppliers
    • Build and integrate solution components and capabilities with Agile Release Trains (ARTs) and Solution Trains
    • Apply ‘continuous’ integration
    • Manage the supply chain with systems of systems thinking
  • Continually Evolve Live Systems
    • Build a continuous delivery pipeline
    • Evolve deployed systems

Enterprise solution delivery uses these three dimensions and nine aspects to help large organizations scale agile practices to pre-existing, complex, and sophisticated systems. If you would like to learn more, we encourage you to read on here. 

Lean Portfolio Management

The previous three competencies describe the technical practices of how to build and deploy your organization’s products or services. The competency missing now is how to manage the portfolio of products or services. This comes with Lean Portfolio Management.

In this competency, SAFe takes traditional portfolio management practices and adjusts them to fit the Lean-Agile model. Strategy and investment funding become smarter to fund the entire portfolio to meet the business goals. Agile Portfolio operations allow us to decentralize the strategy execution, which empowers Agile Release Trains to deliver solutions. Finally, Lean Governance enables the teams to be involved. They can manage spending, audit, have an overview of compliance and cost forecasts - all of this dynamically. We encourage you to read on in the linked section of the SAFe website.

Organizational Agility

A cornerstone of any agile business’s culture is its ability to respond to feedback quickly. The feedback could come from customers or even internal staff. No matter the source, the organization must adapt and respond to changing conditions.

Classic waterfall organizations build pillars of culture for stability and control, and this was desirable 50-100 years ago. In today’s world, where we’re constantly communicating, fixed structures and processes hinder rather than help. Much like the individual teams, the whole organization needs to be agile, helping achieve Business Agility.

Continuous Learning Culture

Last but not least, we have another cornerstone of your company culture, continuous learning. All people involved in your organization should constantly be learning. 

This cornerstone is not limited at all. If the organization sees a good fit, the members need to learn. This could mean a new technology or a new working process. It is not just limited to SAFe. 

The best and most pertinent example is how the SAFe agile team continues to roll out new versions of the framework. As new organizations from various industries and backgrounds continue to adopt SAFe, the Scaled Agile team needs to adapt to keep the product fresh and pertinent to potential users. 

An organization that adopts SAFe should always be learning. There is always something that their organization could be doing better, more efficiently, or faster. If you don’t already have a continuous learning culture, SAFe will help you establish it. 

Even if the latest version of SAFe doesn’t help improve your organization’s deficiencies, there will be another solution that will require you and your team to learn to improve. Encouraging continuous learning fosters a culture of innovation and constant improvement, which will improve your business’s agility.

Increase Agility by Learning

At the end of the day, organizations require significant expertise in the seven core competencies of SAFe to improve Business Agility. Through learning and mastering these competencies, an individual, team, and overall organization become more agile. It’s important to note that something like this takes time and will not happen overnight. When your organization reaches the tipping point, review our SAFe Implementation 101 Guide and check out the Implementation Roadmap. This will help you to determine your next steps for achieving Business Agility. 

Get to know SAFe in Jira: Agile Hive!

Would you like to know more about Agile Hive and the software-supported implementation of SAFe®? We would be happy to discuss your requirements for enterprise-wide agile product development and product management with you. Take a look at our Implementation Project documentation to see an overview of what an implementation would entail.

Get in touch with us today and let us demonstrate how it works in a personal session.

Further Reading

Agile Hive Implementation Project
Scaled Agile: SAFe 5.0 changes and how Agile Hive maps them
SAFe with Atlassian tools: Agile Hive is a Scaled Agile Platform Partner
Agile Hive: What is SAFe®?
SAFe resources to get you started right

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