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Essential SAFe: Scaling Agile in the Workplace

In the fast-paced world of project management, use Essential SAFe or the Scaled Agile Framework to optimize team collaboration and ensure successful product delivery. 

Essential SAFe is a methodology for scaling agile practices across an organization. It is a lighter-weight version of the complete SAFe framework, designed for smaller organizations or teams that don’t need the full suite of features.

So what exactly does Essential SAFe include? Let’s break it down.

Agile Release Trains (ARTs)

At the heart of SAFe is the concept of the Agile Release Train, or ART, a cross-functional team that plans, executes, and delivers value through a series of sprints or iterations over a long period. 

Each ART has a dedicated Product Owner responsible for prioritizing the team’s backlog and ensuring the group works on the most valuable items first. The ART’s Scrum Master facilitates the team’s agile ceremonies helping them continuously improve. 

For example, imagine you work for a leading software development company tasked with designing a new mobile app. Each ART is responsible for a specific feature, like the login screen, user profile page, or messaging functionality in this scenario.

The Scrum Master would ensure scrum practices like sprint planning, daily stand-ups, reviews, and retrospectives run smoothly, and the Product Owner would remove roadblocks to meeting deliverables while prioritizing tasks in the product backlog based on user needs.

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This division of labor allows teams to focus on their expertise while fostering cross-team collaboration. Regarding business value, Essential SAFe helps implement Agile practices across large-scale projects, continuously aligning them with the overall company objectives, which reflect consumer needs.

One way to ensure that all ARTS are aligned and working towards the same goals is through scheduling regular Program Increment (PI) Planning events.

Here is how it works: 

Program Increment (PI) Planning

This typically two-day event is a critical component of the SAFe framework. It is an opportunity for all ARTs to meet and plan out the next 8-12 weeks of work.

During PI Planning, the teams break down high-level objectives into smaller, actionable items that can be completed in a single sprint. They also identify dependencies between teams and plan for any potential risks or impediments.

Suppose you are employed by an e-commerce firm preparing for a major holiday sale.  

To guarantee a smooth and successful launch, your PI Planning event would break down critical features like inventory management, shipping logistics, and check-out processes into actionable items with tasks delegated to each ART.

These iterations ensure teams are on the same page and help to avoid last-minute surprises, maximizing the effectiveness of the e-commerce platform.

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Let us take a deeper look at what goes into the planning and execution of an iteration.

How Iterations Work

Teams across each ART work in short iterations that generally last two weeks. This period starts with an Iteration Planning event similar to a PI: teams strategize the work they will complete during the iteration.

During the iteration, the team holds daily stand-up meetings to ensure everyone is on the same page; they also troubleshoot roadblocks. At the end of the iteration, the team holds a retrospective to reflect on what went well and what could be improved in the next session.

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Picture working for a marketing agency running a social media campaign for a client. As part of the SAFe framework, each iteration within the Program Increment (PI) Planning meeting deliverables is related to key aspects of the campaign. This could be content creation, post-scheduling, and engagement metric analysis.

These iterative cycles allow the team to adapt to campaign requirements and engagement metrics. This iterative approach fosters continuous delivery thus, sustained improvement, which is a crucial aspect of SAFe. 

Continuous Delivery Pipeline

The Continuous Delivery Pipeline helps teams stay ready – they are prepared to release working software anytime. 

The Continuous Delivery Pipeline supports this capacity by applying the iterative framework of Agile throughout the development process. Changes are tested and validated in four stages before being released: Continuous Exploration, Continuous Integration, Continuous Deployment, and Release on Demand. 

Let’s say you work for a financial services company developing a new online banking platform. Within the Continuous Delivery Pipeline of SAFe, each stage would optimize the software development and deployment process:


  • Continuous Exploration

testing new features


  • Continuous Integration

– this would support the seamless implementation of changes in the existing system.
  • Continuous Deployment


– Where updates are deployed to a staging environment. 
  • Release on Demand


– This facilitates the smooth release of changes to the production environment.

The Continuous Delivery Pipeline ensures efficient software delivery and empowers the financial services company to provide its customers a cutting-edge online banking platform.


Emphasis on Lean-Agile Leadership

it is important to remember that SAFe is an integral part of the Lean and Agile approach to project management: leaders at all levels of the organization must embrace agile practices and lead by example. 

Organizations can significantly improve their processes by using iterations and PIs to provide clear leadership that empowers ARTs in sustaining a continuous delivery pipeline. This includes continually enhancing the system based on feedback from users.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to implement Essential SAFe in your business, email us!

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