The 7 Core Competencies of SAFe

The 7 Core Competencies of SAFe

Scaled Agile Framework or SAFe is a set of principles and practices for implementing Lean-Agile software development at enterprise scale. SAFe enables organizations to achieve the benefits of Agile development—including faster time to market, improved quality, and increased employee engagement—at scale by addressing the structural dependencies that exist in typical enterprise organizations.

The most recent of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe 5.0) is built around the seven core competencies of the Lean Enterprise. Organizations that master these competencies can effectively respond to changing market conditions, customer demands, and emerging technologies. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at each of the seven core competencies and how they can help your organization achieve success.

The Lean Enterprise

The Lean Enterprise is an organization that has a strong focus on value creation for the end customer with minimal waste and processes. The application of SAFe has prove to increase:

  • Engagement: SAFe helps create an environment where employees are actively engaged in the work they are doing and feel a sense of ownership in the outcome.
  • Productivity: SAFe helps eliminate waste and unnecessary work, freeing up resources that can be used to create value for the customer.
  • Quality: SAFe helps teams deliver higher quality products and services by identifying and addressing problems early in the development process.
  • Time-to-market: SAFe helps organizations get new products and services to market faster by reducing the time it takes to complete each step in the development process.

In order to reap the benefits of SAFe, an organization must first undergo a Lean transformation. This requires completely new ways of thinking and working, with a focus on continuous improvement and value delivery. Additionally, the organization must develop enterprise competencies that enable a new style of leadership.

The 7 Core Competencies

SAFe 5.0 is designed to encompass the seven core competencies of the Lean Enterprise. These include significant re-writes to the original five competencies that were introduced in SAFe 4.6, along with two brand new competencies: Continuous Learning Culture and Organizational Agility

Each of the seven core competencies of SAFe is essential for the success of a Lean Enterprise. The seven core competencies are:

  1. Lean-Agile Leadership
  2. Team and Technical Agility
  3. Agile Product Delivery
  4. Enterprise Solution Delivery
  5. Lean Portfolio Management
  6. Organizational Agility
  7. Continuous Learning Culture

1. Lean-Agile Leadership

One of the most important aspects of a successful Lean-Agile transformation is leadership. Leaders play a critical role in setting the tone and culture for an organization, as well as establishing the conditions that allow teams to be successful. Mastery of the following seven core competencies SAFe and of the Lean Enterprise will help leaders drive the transformation and ensure its success.

There are three key areas that leaders need to focus on in order to enable a successful Lean-Agile transformation: Leading by Example, Mindset and Principles, and Leading Change.

Leading by Example

The most important thing that leaders can do is lead by example. This means modeling the desired behaviors and mindset for others to follow. Leaders need to be role models for the organization, demonstrating the principles of Lean and Agile in their own work.

This can be a challenge for leaders, who may be used to working in a traditional, hierarchical way. But it’s important to remember that Lean and Agile are about empowering individuals and teams to do their best work. Leaders need to trust their team members and allow them the autonomy to do their jobs.

Leading by example also means being open to change and continuous improvement. Leaders need to be willing to experiment and learn from their mistakes. They should also encourage team members to do the same.

Mindset and Principles

Another important aspect of leadership is embedding the Lean-Agile mindset and principles in their own beliefs, decisions, and actions. Leaders need to truly believe in the power of Lean and Agile to transform their organizations. They also need to be willing to make changes to the way they work in order to adopt these principles.

Leading Change

The third area that leaders need to focus on is driving change. This means creating the conditions that allow teams to be successful. Leaders need to provide the resources and support that teams need to execute desired outcomes. They also need to be prepared to deal with resistance from team members and other stakeholders.

These three factors – Leading by Example, Mindset and Principles, and Leading Change – work together to create the conditions that allow a Lean-Agile transformation to be successful.

2. Team and Technical Agility

The Team and Technical Agility competency covers the essential components and Lean-Agile concepts that high-performing Agile teams and Teams of Agile teams employ to deliver high-quality solutions for their clients. This is critical for the enterprise because it helps to ensure that value is delivered quickly and efficiently. There are three parts of this competency: Agile Teams, Teams of Agile Teams and Built-in Quality.

Agile Teams

An Agile Team is a self-organizing, cross-functional team that is responsible for delivering value to its customers. Agile teams are empowered to make decisions about how best to achieve their objectives. They are also responsible for ensuring that the work they do meets the quality standards of the organization.

Teams of Agile Teams

Teams of Agile teams are responsible for delivering value to the enterprise. These teams are composed of multiple Agile teams that work together to achieve a common goal. Teams of Agile teams need to be able to coordinate their work effectively in order to deliver the best possible results.

Built-in Quality

Built-in quality is the practice of ensuring that the work of an Agile team meets the quality standards of the organization. This includes using techniques such as test-driven development and continuous integration.

These three factors, when combined, provide higher quality, more productivity, more predictability in the delivery of value, and a faster time to market.

3. Agile Product Delivery

Agile Product Delivery is a customer-centric method for planning, developing, and delivering a continuous stream of valuable items and services to customers and consumers. The Enterprise must be able to rapidly increase their ability to delivery innovative products and services. This entails putting in place the best solutions for the right customers at the appropriate moment while maintaining a focus on execution and client service. There are three primary aspects of this competency: Customer Centricity and Design Thinking, Developing on a Cadence, DevOps and Continuous Delivery.

Customer Centricity and Design Thinking

The goal of customer centricity is to ensure that the products and services delivered by the enterprise are designed with the customer in mind. This requires a deep understanding of the customer’s needs and wants. Design thinking is a process that can be used to generate creative solutions to problems. It is a user-centered approach that begins with understanding the needs of the customer.

Developing on a Cadence

Developing on a cadence means that the enterprise releases new versions of their products and services at regular intervals. This helps to ensure that customer feedback is incorporated into the product development process and that new features are delivered in a timely manner. Customers can get what they need when they need it by separating the release of value from that cadence. In other words, value can be delivered to customers as soon as it is ready, without waiting for a scheduled release.

DevOps and Continuous Delivery

DevOps is a set of practices that automates the software development process and enables the rapid delivery of high-quality software. Continuous delivery is a process that automates the deployment of software to production environments. These two practices work together to help enterprises deliver value to their customers quickly and efficiently.

Together, these three aspects of agile product delivery help to ensure that the products and services delivered by the enterprise are of high quality and meet the needs of the customer.

4.  Enterprise Solution Delivery

The Enterprise Solution Delivery competency describes how to apply Lean-Agile principles and practices to large, enterprise software applications, networks, and cyber-physical systems. With the rate of change and technological advances increasing, enterprises need solutions that are faster, cheaper, and more flexible. The Enterprise Solution Delivery competency provides the framework for building and evolving these solutions. There are three parts to this competency: Lean System and Solution Engineering, Coordinating Trains and Suppliers, and Continually Evolve Live Systems. 

Lean System and Solution Engineering

The Lean System and Solution Engineering approach is used to integrate and align all activities required to develop, architect, design, implement, test, deploy, evolve and finally decommission systems. This allows for greater efficiency and productivity when creating new systems while also ensuring that existing ones can be effectively maintained or decommissioned as needed.

Coordinating Trains and Suppliers

Coordinating Trains and Suppliers focuses on unifying an organization’s various value streams around a shared business or technological objective. This is done by using coordinated tools like Vision, Backlogs, and Roadmaps that include common Program Increments (PI) and synchronization points.

Continually Evolve Live Systems

Continually Evolve Live Systems refers to the capability of both the development pipeline and actual systems to deliver value over time, even after they’ve gone into production. This includes having the capability to easily make changes or upgrades as needed, while also being able to rapidly roll back changes if necessary.

The outcomes of the Enterprise Solution Delivery competency are systems that are Lean, integrated, aligned, and able to evolve over time.

5.  Lean Portfolio Management

Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) is a framework that helps organizations align strategy and execution by applying lean and systems thinking. Furthermore, LPM supports the new lean-agile way of working and helps organizations deliver innovative solutions faster under a higher degree of uncertainty. LPM consists of three factors: Strategy and Investment Funding, Agile Portfolio Operations, and Lean Governance.

Strategy and Investment Funding

The first factor, Strategy and Investment Funding, helps to ensure that an organization’s entire portfolio is aligned and funded to create and maintain the solutions needed to meet business targets. This involves the collaboration of business owners, portfolio stakeholders, software engineers, and Enterprise Architects.

Agile Portfolio Operations

The second factor, Agile Portfolio Operations, coordinates and supports decentralized program execution in order to achieve operational excellence. This necessitates the collaboration of the Agile Program Management Office/Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (APMO/LACE) – which is responsible for the delivery of value to the enterprise – and Communities of Practice (CoPs) made up of Release Train Engineers (RTEs) and Scrum Masters.

Lean Governance

The third factor, Lean Governance, provides the framework for how decisions are made and how value is created and measured. It includes two sub-factors:

  1. a) Decision Rights and Accountabilities – which ensures that the right people have the authority to make decisions at the right level; and
  2. b) Metrics, Objectives, and KPIs – which provides transparency around what is important and how success is determined.

This factor requires the coordinated efforts of Agile PMO/LACE, Business Owners, and Enterprise Architects.

The purpose of the Lean Portfolio Management competency is to ensure that an organization’s portfolio is aligned with strategy, and that it has the agility to execute and deliver value quickly.

6. Organizational Agility

Organizational Agility is the ability of an organization to rapidly respond to changes in the market, technology, or environment. It requires a shift in mindset from “command and control” to “servant leadership” – where the focus is on empowering individuals and teams to self-organize and make decisions. This also necessitates a change in structure from silos to networks of teams that are aligned around common objectives. There are three key elements to organizational agility: Lean-thinking People and Agile Teams, Lean Business Operations and Strategy Agility.

Lean-thinking People and Agile Teams

The first element, Lean-thinking People and Agile Teams, is about creating a culture of continuous learning where people are empowered to experiment and take risks. This necessitates the development of a learning organization – one that is constantly evolving and adapting. Furthermore, it requires the establishment of agile teams that are self-sufficient and cross-functional. These teams must be able to deliver value incrementally and respond quickly to change.

Lean Business Operations

The second element, Lean Business Operations, is about creating a lean enterprise that is able to deliver value faster and with less waste. This necessitates the improvement of processes and the elimination of non-value-added activities. Furthermore, it requires the implementation of agile practices such as continuous delivery and DevOps.

Strategy Agility

The third element, Strategy Agility, is about being able to rapidly respond to changes in the market or environment. This necessitates the development of a strategic vision that can be quickly adapted as circumstances change. Furthermore, it requires the ability to rapidly experiment and learn from failures.

7. Continuous Learning Culture

The final core competency of SAFe is a Continuous Learning Culture. This is an organization-wide commitment to continuous learning, where people are constantly experimenting and trying new things. It necessitates the development of a learning organization –  one that is constantly evolving and adapting. This is imperative in today’s rapidly changing world where the only constant is change. A continuous learning culture consists of the following: Learning Organization, Innovation Culture, Relentless Improvement. 

Learning Organization

All stakeholders, including senior leaders, managers, and employees, must be committed to continuous learning. This enables quick adaptation to change and continuous improvement.

Innovation Culture

Enterprises must foster an innovation culture where people are encouraged to experiment and take risks. This necessitates the development of a safe environment where failures are seen as opportunities to learn, and where pivoting is encouraged.

Relentless Improvement

Organizations must have a culture of relentless improvement, necessitating constant optimization and iteration. This necessitates the establishment of measurable goals and the use of data to drive decision-making.

A continuous learning culture enables organizations to quickly adapt and continuously improve, enabling them to survive and thrive in today’s rapidly changing world.


SAFe enables enterprises to be more agile, lean, and responsive to change. In order to be successful with SAFe, enterprises must develop a deep understanding of the seven core competencies. At Agileseventeen, we offer a SAFe certification course that covers all of the core competencies in depth. This course is perfect for enterprises that are looking to implement SAFe, or for individuals who want to deepen their understanding of SAFe. 

For more information on our SAFe certification course, please visit our website or contact us at