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Why is SAFe DevOps Becoming Increasingly Popular?


Why is SAFe DevOps Becoming Increasingly Popular?

Software development is probably one of the biggest industries presently. Being a vast industry, there are several approaches to accomplish the task and one of them is Agile. This software development method provides several practices that aid in deploying software in small augmentations. Akin to other methods, Agile also has several tools that assist in providing the best experience to the users. Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is among the most widely used tools and this article explains all about SAFe and how it can be used to implement DevOps to enhance the overall efficiency regarding software development.

What is Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)?

SAFe is a widely used system to implement Lean and DevOps practices at large-scale enterprise levels. This system is excellent to build collaboration, effective operations, and responsiveness in an organization. The entire system is developed and used to transform the organizational culture into a more adaptive and collaborative one. SAFe is all about having collaboration, alignment, and delivery in agile teams at a large scale which provides a structured approach to ascending agile. The roots of this system lie in 2011 when there was a dire need for better systems that could deliver software as per the changing needs of the clients.

During that time, the teams only had the option to go for the traditional approach for project management. However, the change in the industry and the emergence of new frameworks led to the creation of SAFe.

Pros of Using SAFe for DevOps

Using SAFe for implementing Agile and DevOps practices provides several benefits to the enterprise. Since its inception, there have been different versions of SAFe and the latest version is SAFe 5.0. Let us explore the pros of using SAFe for DevOps implementation.

  • Program Increment Planning:
  • Having clarity of the vision on the needs of the program helps in determining the future steps that should be taken while creating it and program increment planning is the method of SAFe to achieve clarity. The cross-functional teams work collaboratively on the program increment plans for delivery, allowing the teams to reach milestones with ease.

  • Help Enterprises in Scaling Agile Practices:
  • SAFe comes with several levels of configurations that could be used by large-scale organizations which intend to scale the agile practices. This framework widens the scope to management, and customers, allowing other than just delivery teams to make the most of these practices. As the practices are not just limited to just the delivery team, the risks can be managed and the right decisions can be made accordingly.

  • Transparency with the Teams:
  • Without a doubt, transparency within the teams is essential to keep everyone updated about any action and to remain on the same page as others. SAFe enhances the overall transparency within the teams and individuals in an enterprise, which ultimately results in reducing the delivery time and improving the production quality.

Cons of Using SAFe DevOps

SAFe surely offers some of the best benefits to a large-scale organization looking to adopt DevOps or agile into their culture. However, the same cannot be applicable in the case of a small organization or a start-up. The entire design of this tool is done specifically for large enterprises. However, that is not the only con about it. Here are some of the biggest cons that you may face while using SAFe for DevOps.

  • Time-Consuming Planning Cycle:
  • For an organization, time is the most valuable asset. Undeniably, strategizing plans and roadmaps is essential for an enterprise in the long run. When compared with other frameworks, SAFe may consume some additional time for the planning which some people might find tedious. As the planning takes more time, the feedback loop delays and may also reduce the team’s adaptability.

  • Complex to Understand for a New User:
  • No matter what the technology a professional is working on, if it is new to them, it will be a bit complex for them initially. The same applies in the case of SAFe for DevOps, but there are legions of terminologies in SAFe that make it too complicated for the professional to get a hang of it. As there are plenty of terminologies to understand, the professional may have to spend more than regular time to attain efficiency while working on it.

  • Too Much Admin Surveillance:
  • The strategies used with SAFe are organization-friendly and ensure that they make the process simpler and smoother. Though it may be excellent for some enterprises, but not many. The majority of the organizations prefer an open culture without having much surveillance from the top residents of the hierarchy, enhancing their overall creativity while working. SAFe promotes admins to keep an eye on several projects, leading to a lot of admin surveillance that ends up reducing the creative expression of the team.

Principles of SAFe:

SAFe is not a result of any random experiments. Rather, it is based on several principles that help professionals in software delivery. While using SAFe for DevOps, understanding these principles could influence the decision-making of everyone and make them think like lean-agile.

  • Take an Economic View:
  • There is no surprise that the foremost principle is related to the economics of an organization as the primary goal of every technology is to eradicate unnecessary expenses. This principle aims towards letting everyone know about the economic impact of any delay on the organization. Even though the tool will aid in delivering software quickly, it is not always adequate. Operating with a tighter budget, alignment of tasks as per priorities, and getting a good grip on economic trade-offs to play an equal role and should be understood by the enterprise.

  • Apply Systems Thinking:
  • The next principle of SAFe is to apply systems thinking to the solution, value streams, and enterprise building the system. Here the system means the product or the services delivered to the clients. The value streams should be defined by the organization and ensure the maximum flow of value on organizational and functional boundaries. The last is an enterprise building system that includes optimization of working methods, creating new work agreements, eradicating silos, and enabling cross-functionality.

  • Assume Variability; Preserve Options:
  • In this principle, the existence of uncertainty in designing the software is addressed. This uncertainty could lead to the retaining of several requirements and design options for a long time in the SDLC. Moreover, the set-based design helps in decision-making when uncertainty occurs. This design identifies the options and outcomes and allows the team to determine the best results.

  • Build Incrementally with Fast, Integrated Learning Cycles:
  • Much like the previous principle, this one also focuses on the learning of the team members and tackling uncertainty. However, that approach comes with the limitation that it is insufficient for every part of the system. With that in mind, this principle addresses that the entire system should be preferred to assess the accessibility of the design choice. In addition, faster learning cycles can be achieved by planning integration points frequently.

  • Base Milestones on Objective Evaluation of Working Systems:
  • Trust-building is a pivotal exercise that often gets overlooked. Every decision made should have the trust of every team and individual including the stakeholders. Rather than just providing a document, demonstrating the working of the system can provide an improved foundation of decision making and stakeholder involvement in this process will lead to their trust-building.

  • Visualize and Limit Work in Progress, Reduce Batch Sizes and Manage Queue Length:
  • When the work in progress is limited, the supervisors could see whether the work is headed in the right direction or not with ease. In the case of software development, the overlapping work should be limited, the total amount of work done simultaneously should be limited along with the complication of the work. Progressing the work in small batches ensures that the stakeholders monitor the work with ease and remain confident that work is progressing as desired. Cutting it short, this principle focuses on optimizing the process to achieve the right results.

  • Apply Cadence, Synchronize with Cross-Domain Planning:
  • As per this principle, building a cadence for every issue can create muscle memory, promote collaboration, mention any possible uncertainty, and diminish complexities. Moreover, it also mentions that synchronizing these cadences allows the people to be a part of the organization where their learned information could help in decision planning.

  • Unlock the Intrinsic Motivation of Knowledge Workers:
  • This principle is all about teamwork and how teams can be served. It mentions that it is essential to let the teams perform at their full potential while leaders should act as mentors.

  • Decentralize Decision-Making:
  • The teams should be allowed to make informed choices that are not of strategic importance whereas leaders should take every strategic decision. It allows the decision-making to be decentralized and provides the team with the required independence.

Levels of SAFe:

Now that you have understood about the principles and why SAFe is used for DevOps, it is time to dig deeper into its strategic themes. SAFe comes with four different scale levels that could be used depending on the organization’s size. These four scales are Essential, Large Solution, Portfolio, and Full SAFe. Here are all the details about levels of SAFe.

  • Essential Level:
  • The Essential Level is newly introduced in the latest SAFe 5.0 which is a perfect blend of the previous program and team levels. This level supports Agile product delivery that offers all the minimal elements required for SAFe. At this level, the teams work with Scrumban, Scrum, XP frameworks, and Kanban, and mainly use Agile methodologies for product delivery. The team’s product owner stores and manages the team requirements in the backlog.

  • Large Solution Level:
  • The Large Solution level is the second level of SAFe which is built on the existing essential level. IT enables complex and large solutions on the previously explained level. By using the lean methodologies, it aids in aligning and coordinating the supply chain to deliver the large systems. Moreover, it comes with all the essential level configurations that provide all the functionalities of the enterprise solution delivery to this level.

  • Portfolio Level:
  • The Portfolio Level is among the highest levels of SAFe which is not limited to just Agile product delivery to incorporate investment funding, enterprise agility, and portfolio management that results in delivering the organization’s core capabilities. In addition, it allows the organizations to practice lean budgeting for project funding. Here both architects and owners collaborate to stay on the same page regarding the overall vision and strategic themes. Here the continuous improvement loop is created to track the performance, growth, and improvements through key performance indicators.

  • Full Level:
  • Much like the previous principle, this one also focuses on the learning of the team members and tackling uncertainty. However, that approach comes with the limitation that it is insufficient for every part of the system. With that in mind, this principle addresses that the entire system should be preferred to assess the accessibility of the design choice. In addition, faster learning cycles can be achieved by planning integration points frequently.

Incorporating DevOps in SAFe:

Currently, Organizations prefer adapting to the DevOps culture due to its continuous delivery and integration. SAFe is also a tool that enterprises prefer due to several reasons. With that in mind, DevOps can also be incorporated in SAFe for achieving continuous value delivery. There is a CALMR approach to accomplish this task.

  • Culture:
  • DevOps is all about bringing cultural change to an organization. In order to incorporate DevOps in SAFe, it is essential to adopt the Lean-Agile principles and practices. Every SAFe principle that is explained earlier applies to DevOps as well. Considering that fact, the first step is to adopt the culture by collaboration, sharing the knowledge, understanding and tolerating the risk, and being customer-centric.

  • Automation:
  • One of the key elements of DevOps is automation, and it is the same factor that allows DevOps to be highly effective and fast when it comes to software delivery. Here, it is essential to automate the CD pipeline through an integrated toolchain which ultimately boosts the processing along with reducing the feedback cycle. Value stream management, CI/CD vulnerability detection, IaC, and version control are some of the tool types that should be used to create and operate a CD pipeline.

  • Lean Flow:
  • The principles of SAFe play a crucial role in implementing and optimizing CD pipeline and ultimately DevOps. Visualizing and limiting WIP, reducing batch size, and managing queue lengths are the principles to boost the flow, allowing faster delivery and reducing the transaction cost.

  • Measurement:
  • Optimization of the CD pipeline, systems, and processes is essential for attaining the utmost results from DevOps. Understanding the key factors including the areas to optimize, the process of doing so, and the frequent decisions should be done constantly. And, doing so requires measurements of metrics like pipeline flow, solution value, and solution quality.

  • Recovery:
  • Fast recovery from any failure is a critical step to ensure the best outcome from DevOps. A CD pipeline should be designed in a way that supports fast recovery and lower risk releases. With that in mind, techniques like rollback, rehearsing failures, and a stop-the-line approach are proven to be helpful.


SAFe is surely a vast topic to discuss and these were some of the biggest concepts revolving around SAFe DevOps. The CALMR approach is highly recommended to incorporate DevOps in SAFe, allowing the organization to boost up the SDLC. Even though SAFe could be a bit complex initially, with the regular working on the tool, they are sure to grasp its overall terminologies.