SAFe Lean-Agile Principles

Cadence and synchronization limit the accumulation of variance.

—Don Reinertsen, Principles of Product Development Flow

Principle #7 – Apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain planning

Solution development is an inherently uncertain process. If it weren’t, then the solutions would already exist and there would be no room for the next generation of innovations. This inherent uncertainty conflicts with the business need to manage investment, track progress, and have sufficient certainty of future outcomes to be able to plan and commit to a reasonable course of action. Solution development lives at the intersection; it is its own conundrum—the conflict of uncertainty of outcomes and the needed certainty of the business. Perhaps that is why it’s so fun.

The Lean systems builder operates in the safety zone where sufficient uncertainty provides the freedom for innovation, while sufficient certainty allows the business to operate. The primary means to achieve this is to maintain true knowledge of the current state. Cadence, synchronization, and cross-domain planning help provide this.


Cadence provides a rhythmic pattern, the dependable heartbeat of the process. Cadence makes routine that which can be routine, so the intellectual capacity of the system builders can be devoted to managing the variable parameters. Cadence transforms unpredictable events into predictable ones, and has many additional benefits:

  • Makes waiting times predictable; if the work you are waiting on isn’t in this timebox, it can likely be in the next
  • Facilitates planning and provides for more efficient use of resources
  • Provides a forcing function and lowers the transaction costs of key events, including planning, integration, demonstrations, feedback, and retrospectives


Synchronization causes multiple perspectives to be understood, resolved and integrated at the same time. Synchronization is used to:

  • Pull the disparate assets of a system together to assess solution-level viability
  • Align the development teams and business to a common mission
  • Integrate the customers into the development process
SAFe cadence and synchronization harmonics
SAFe cadence and synchronization harmonics

Taken together, cadence and synchronization—and most importantly, the associated activities—help the systems builder operate reliably within the uncertainty safety zone.

Synchronize with cross-domain planning

Of all the events that occur, one is the most critical: periodically, all stakeholders gather for cross-domain planning and synchronization. This event (the Release (PI) Planning event in SAFe) serves as the fulcrum around which all other events operate. It also serves as the plenary exhibition of true knowledge of the current state. The event serves three primary purposes:

Assessment of the current state of the solution. Objective knowledge of the current state is determined by an integrated, solution-level demonstration and assessment, which typically occurs immediately prior to the planning event.

Realign all stakeholders to a common technical and business vision. Based on the current state, business and technology leaders reset the mission, with minimum possible constraints (Principles 8 & 9). This aligns all stakeholders to a common vision, both near- and longer-term.

Plan and commit to the next program increment. Based on new knowledge, the teams plan for what can be accomplished in the upcoming time-box. The distribution of planning and control empowers teams to create the best possible plans to achieve the best possible solution within the given constraints.

The development of large-scale systems is fundamentally a social activity and this planning event provides a continuous opportunity to build and improve the social network.

There is no cure for the inherent uncertainty of solution development. If there were, it would surely be worse than the disease. However, applying cadence and synchronization, and periodic cross-domain planning, provides Lean systems builders with the tools they need to operate in the safety zone.

Learn More

[1] Reinertsen, Donald. The Principles of Product Development Flow: Second Generation Lean Product Development. Celeritas Publishing, 2009.

[2] Kennedy, Michael. Product Development for the Lean Enterprise. Oaklea Press, 2003.

Last update: 11 May 2015