Essential SAFe

SAFe was designed to help customers solve their most challenging scaling problems by leveraging three bodies of knowledge: Agile development, Lean product development, and systems thinking. Now in its fifth year, SAFe 4.0 has grown to meet the needs of companies building the world’s most important systems—from international bond trading, to medical devices, to fighter jets.

Not surprisingly, the size of the 4.0 Framework is bigger than all of its predecessors, now including an all new Value Stream level intended for those building really large systems. But when it comes to understanding and practicing, bigger isn‘t always better, and the question becomes how much of SAFe does an enterprise have to implement to get the business benefits? In other words, where does one start?

There’s another factor as well. After years of successful implementations in some of the world’s largest enterprises, it has become clear that not every one realizes the full business benefits that others achieve. The root causes most often show that the less successful enterprises have skipped some of the most essential practices.

It’s easy to see how that can happen. After all, it’s a big framework, and the practices aren’t prioritized. How would an enterprise know what’s essential?

To that end, Essential SAFe (figure 1) is a subset of the complete SAFe Big Picture that describes the minimal elements necessary to be successful. If you are incorporating these ten essential elements into your Lean-Agile transformation, you’re well on your way to realizing the full benefits of SAFe.


Figure 1 – Essential SAFe

The ten essential elements are:

#1 – SAFe Lean-Agile Principles
#2 – Agile teams and release trains
#3 – Cadence and synchronization
#4 – Essential team and program roles
#5 – PI Planning
#6 – System Demo
#7 – Inspect and Adapt
#8 – IP iteration
#9 – Architectural Runway
#10 – Lean-Agile leadership

We’re providing four downloadable assets as part of this guidance article:

  1. The Essential SAFe white paper
  2. A downloadable version of the Essential SAFe picture in PPT format
  3. A double-sided placement, with one side being the Essential SAFe picture and the other side the ten elements of Essential SAFe
  4. A short self assessment brochure which you can print to evaluate your implementation of Lean and Agile

SPCs have additional resources in the community platform in the form of Essential SAFe Toolkit which includes a deck and handouts which introduces essential SAFe in an interactive way with a built in self assessment.