Comparison between Scrum vs. SAFe — is it ok to compare?

Scrum or SAFe

Are you someone who is a beginner in agile project management? If you answer affirmatively, then the chances are that you want to know the difference between Scrum and SAFe. Why do we say that? Because the majority of the students attending our Scrum Master and Scrum Product Owner training has been asking for a long. I advise you to read this article from start to finish to understand what is what.

Let’s explore Scrum first.

Scrum is a framework within which organizations can address complex adaptive issues while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.

Scrum is a framework predominantly focused on product development as product development is considered complex work, and we need adaptive solutions.

Scrum has three roles with specific accountability essential for planning, organizing, and optimizing product development.

  • Product Owner- According to the Scrum Guide, the Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the product’s value resulting from the Scrum Team’s work.
  • Scrum Master — The Scrum Master is accountable for upholding Scrum and scrum team’s effectiveness. They also see to it that the team follows agreed processes and practices.
  • Developers — As per the Scrum guide, scrum developers are members dedicated to creating any feature of a usable increment for each Sprint.

Scrum has three artifacts to enable transparency at work.

  • Product Backlog: It helps to understand what’s needed to develop or enhance the product.
  • Sprint Backlog: Real-time picture of the work that the Developers plan to accomplish during the Sprint.
  • Increment: Sum of all the work done so far available in usable condition.

Scrum Provides five formal opportunities to inspect and adapt our work where Sprint works as a container event that consists of four other events:

  1. Sprint Planning inspects product backlog and product goal and adapts sprint backlog, consisting of sprint goal, forecast, and plan for the Sprint.
  2. Daily Scrum helps inspect the goal and plan for the Sprint and adapt the plan to meet the goal.
  3. The sprint review is an opportunity to inspect sprint results and adapt future work.
  4. Sprint retrospective helps inspect people, processes, and definition of done to improve the way of doing and quality of the product in future Sprints.

Scrum looks so complete in itself, so why do you need a SAFe or more valid question — what is SAFe?

SAFe is primarily a scaling framework.

Essential SAFe

The Scaled Agile Framework is a set of organization and workflow patterns intended to guide enterprises in scaling lean and agile practices.

SAFe is based on three bodies of knowledge to enable agility at large-scale and in big enterprises.

  • Agile Software Development
  • Lean Product Development
  • Systems Thinking

However, at the team level, it still talks about adopt Scrum or choosing Kanban alternatively. Most teams usage the Scrum framework instead of Kanban. Do they talk Scrum the same way as described in Scrum Guide? The answer is NO. SAFe has a bit modified version called ScrumXP. It looks similar to Scrum from the outside, but internally, it has been optimized a lot.

SAFe has two primary designs: one supports business agility and scaling both, but other designs support only scaling.

Full SAFe and Portfolio SAFe includes 6 and 7 core competencies of business agility and meet the need to enable agility in an organization.

The other two constructs, Essential SAFe and Large Solution SAFe, supports only scaled delivery.

Building Blocks of SAFe.

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) usages Value Streams to identify people needed to work together to deliver solutions and generate value. People in the value stream operate through self-managed feature teams and align through Agile Release Train. The Agile Release Train (ART) is a long-lived team of Agile teams, which, along with other stakeholders, incrementally develops, delivers, and, where applicable operates, one or more solutions in a value stream.

Agile teams use similar elements at the team level, identical to a Scrum team. However, the names of events are different because SAFe calls Sprint as Iteration, so you will see Iteration Planning, Iteration Review, and Retrospective. Daily Scrum is also called Daily Stand Up.

A Program Increment (PI) is a timebox during which an Agile Release Train (ART) delivers incremental value in the form of working, tested software and systems. In SAFe, each iteration is fixed for two weeks, whereas PI is timeboxed to 4–6 iterations. Usually, five iterations where the 5th iteration is called IP (Innovation and Planning), and teams don’t plan work for IP iteration.

There are six events at the PI level that create a closed-loop system to keep the tracks. It starts with PI planning and ends with Inspect & Adapt. PI planning is a two-day event where everyone working in ART (Agile Release Train) defines PI objectives and prepares plans to meet objectives. A system demo is a biweekly event that provides feedback from the stakeholders about the effectiveness and usability of the system under development. This demo also helps ensure that integration between teams on the same ART occurs regularly — at least once every iteration.

The PI is done when its timebox expires. Each PI concludes with a final system demo called a PI System Demo. This is a newsworthy event that illustrates all the features that have been accomplished during the PI. This is done as part of the I&A event, which is a regular time to reflect, apply problem-solving techniques, and take on improvement actions needed to increase the velocity, quality, and reliability of the next PI. Finally, agile teams connect to manage dependencies through Scrum of Scrums (SoS) and PO Sync in between iterations.

So, is it ok to compare Scrum with SAFe?

The simple answer is NO. These are two different ways to deliver adaptive solutions to a complex problem. One talks about inside Out, and another looks more like Outside In. Doing Scrum better eliminates the need for having something on top to resolve scaling issues, but doing Scrum better needs passion and patience.

I advise investing time in learning all available frameworks and see you can learn from there? Program Increment concept is not new and has been there with the name of release planning, but SAFe has improved it so, use it for coordination wherever needed. If ScrumXP doesn’t sound good, then don’t use and adopt Scrum as per Scrum Guide. If RTE doesn’t make sense and having a dedicated Product Owner in each agile doesn’t make sense, don’t have them. Be pragmatic!

That’s all for now. Reach out to me if you want to know more about Scrum or SAFe. I will be happy to share my experience.

Agile Coach and Professional Scrum Trainer (PST) @Agilemania, Servant leader @Agile 30 and Developer @GitHub, Ranting @LinkedIn & an Artist @YouTube