Difference Between Scrum at Scale and SAFe

The increasing demand for agility and adaptability in a rapidly changing business environment has led organizations to seek effective ways to scale their Agile practices.

Scrum at Scale and the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) have emerged as popular solutions to address this challenge.

As organizations strive to select the best framework for their unique needs, it is essential to understand the key differences and similarities between these two approaches.

This article aims to provide a comprehensive comparison between Scrum at Scale and SAFe, illustrating their respective principles, benefits, and implementation processes.

By doing so, we hope to guide organizations in making informed decisions when scaling their Agile practices.

What is Scrum at Scale?

Scrum at Scale is a lightweight framework designed to help organizations effectively scale the Scrum methodology across multiple teams.

Created by the co-founder of Scrum, Jeff Sutherland, it is based on the core principles and values of Scrum, extending them to larger contexts.

The framework comprises a decentralized approach that enhances collaboration and communication, fueling faster delivery and improved quality of products and services.

Scrum at Scale is structured around the Scrum of Scrums, a meta-Scrum team that coordinates the work of multiple Scrum teams working together.

What is the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)?

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is a comprehensive framework for scaling Agile practices across an enterprise.

It is built on the foundations of Agile, Scrum, Lean, and systems thinking, offering a structured approach to delivering high-quality products and services.

SAFe comprises multiple levels, including Team, Program, Large Solution, and Portfolio, with each level providing specific roles, artifacts, and processes to enable scaling.

Scrum at Scale vs SAFe: Differences

While both of these frameworks are designed to scale Agile practices, they have different methodologies and focus areas.

Here’s a comparison of the two using various aspects:

1. Framework Structure

Scrum at Scale consists of two main components: the Scrum Master Cycle (focused on continuous improvement) and the Product Owner Cycle (focused on product delivery).

These cycles are connected through a shared backlog and their respective cycles are synchronized through scaled events like the Scrum of Scrums and Meta-Scrum.

SAFe on the other hand integrates various Agile and Lean practices at different levels of the organization: Team, Program, Large Solution, and Portfolio.

Each level has specific roles, artifacts, and ceremonies, forming a structured hierarchy.

2. Roles

Scrum at Scale doesn’t introduce many new roles, but rather focuses on scaling the existing Scrum roles (Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Development Team) across multiple teams and levels in the organization.

While SAFe introduces numerous new roles at various levels, such as Release Train Engineer, Solution Architect, System Architect, Product Management, and more.

These roles provide guidance and coordination across different teams and levels in the organization.

3. Flexibility

Scrum at Scale is highly flexible and less prescriptive, allowing organizations to adapt and customize the framework to their specific needs and context providing a set of guiding principles and practices without dictating a rigid structure.

SAFe on the other hand is more rigid and prescriptive, providing detailed guidance on roles, artifacts, and events.

While it can be customized to some extent, it generally requires more significant changes to an organization’s existing processes and structures.

4. Focus

Scrum at Scale primarily focuses on scaling Scrum itself, aiming to create a network of interconnected Scrum teams that can deliver complex, large-scale products.

While SAFe focuses on integrating Agile and Lean practices across the entire organization, from portfolio management and product development to release management and team-level work, aiming to create a comprehensive and unified approach to scaling Agile.

5. Adoption

Scrum at Scale can be adopted incrementally, allowing organizations to start small and scale up as needed.

This makes it a more suitable choice for organizations that are already using Scrum and want to scale it across more teams or departments.

SAFe typically requires a more significant upfront investment in terms of time, resources, and organizational change.

It’s more suitable for larger organizations with complex structures or those seeking a complete transformation to Agile practices.

Scrum at Scale vs SAFe: Similarities

Despite these differences, there happen to be some similarities between these two frameworks including:

  • Agile and Lean principles: Both Scrum at Scale and SAFe are based on Agile and Lean principles, striving to improve flexibility, speed, and customer-centricity.
  • High-quality products and services: Both frameworks focus on delivering high-quality products and services by enhancing collaboration, communication, and continuous improvement.
  • Alignment of teams and organizations: Both Scrum at Scale and SAFe emphasize the importance of aligning teams and organizations around a shared vision and goals.
  • Empowerment of teams: Both Scrum at Scale and SAFe emphasize the importance of empowering cross-functional, self-organizing teams to make decisions and continuously improve.
  • Focus on customer-centricity: Both frameworks prioritize delivering value to the customer and emphasize the need to solicit and incorporate customer feedback throughout the product development process.
  • Adaptability and Continuous Improvement: Scrum at Scale and SAFe both encourage organizations to regularly inspect and adapt their processes, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and learning.
  • Iterative and Incremental Development: Both frameworks promote the use of short, time-boxed iterations (sprints or increments) to deliver small, releasable increments of value, allowing for faster feedback and reduced risk.
  • Scaling ceremonies: Scrum at Scale and SAFe both extend Scrum ceremonies, such as sprint planning, daily stand-ups, and sprint reviews, to accommodate larger groups of teams working together.

Benefits of Using Scrum at Scale

Implementing Scrum at Scale provides organizations with several benefits. Some of these include:

  • Increased collaboration and communication: By fostering a culture of teamwork and shared responsibility, Scrum at Scale enables teams to work more effectively together, breaking down silos and promoting knowledge sharing.
  • Faster delivery and improved quality: By streamlining processes and removing impediments, Scrum at Scale helps teams deliver high-quality products at a faster pace, enabling organizations to respond more quickly to market demands.
  • Scalability and applicability: The flexibility of the Scrum at Scale framework allows it to be applied across various industries and organizational sizes, making it a suitable choice for a wide range of companies.

Key Roles and Responsibilities in Scrum at Scale

Scrum at Scale introduces these key roles that work together to drive the scaling process:

  • Scrum Master: Facilitates Scrum events and ensures that the Scrum framework is adhered to while coaching teams on Scrum principles.
  • Product Owner: Defines and prioritizes the Product Backlog, ensuring that the team is working on the highest-value items.
  • Development Team: Cross-functional group responsible for delivering high-quality, potentially shippable increments at the end of each sprint.
  • Executive Action Team: A group of senior leaders responsible for removing organizational impediments and driving the Agile transformation.
  • Scrum of Scrums: A coordinating body that comprises representatives from multiple Scrum teams, responsible for synchronizing efforts and ensuring smooth collaboration.

Implementation Process of Scrum at Scale

Implementing Scrum at Scale involves the following steps:

  • Assessing organizational readiness: Determine the current level of Agile maturity within the organization and identify areas for improvement.
  • Creating a transformation roadmap: Develop a strategic plan for scaling Scrum, including goals, timelines, and necessary resources.
  • Building cross-functional teams: Form self-organizing, cross-functional teams that can work autonomously towards shared objectives.
  • Implementing Scrum at Scale practices and ceremonies: Train teams on Scrum at Scale principles and facilitate the adoption of its practices, ceremonies, and roles.

Benefits of Using SAFe

Organizations that adopt SAFe can expect the following benefits:

  • Accelerated product delivery: SAFe’s structured approach helps organizations deliver products and services faster by synchronizing and aligning teams across the enterprise.
  • Improved alignment between business and IT: SAFe fosters collaboration between business and technology teams through shared planning and execution, leading to better alignment and shared understanding of business goals.
  • Enhanced visibility and transparency: With its focus on metrics, reporting, and continuous improvement, SAFe provides increased visibility into the progress and performance of teams and projects across the organization.

Key Roles and Responsibilities of SAFe

SAFe introduces several key roles that are critical to its successful implementation:

  • Release Train Engineer (RTE): Acts as the chief Scrum Master for an Agile Release Train (ART), responsible for coordinating and facilitating activities across teams.
  • Product Manager: Works with Product Owners to define and prioritize features for an ART, ensuring alignment with business objectives and customer needs.
  • System Architect: Provides technical leadership and guidance to teams on architectural and design decisions, ensuring consistency and quality.
  • Agile Team: A cross-functional group of individuals responsible for delivering high-quality, customer-centric solutions.
  • Business Owners: Stakeholders who provide guidance, input, and decision-making on product strategy, investment, and prioritization.

SAFe Implementation Process

The SAFe implementation process typically involves the following steps:

  • Assessing organizational maturity and readiness: Evaluate the current state of Agile adoption within the organization and identify areas for growth and improvement.
  • Identifying Value Streams: Map out the flow of value through the organization, identifying key value streams and the teams responsible for delivering them.
  • Implementing Agile Release Trains (ARTs): Form ARTs by organizing teams around value streams, ensuringthey have the necessary skills and resources to deliver value incrementally and continuously.
  • Establishing Lean-Agile Leadership: Cultivate a culture of Lean-Agile leadership within the organization, with leaders demonstrating and promoting the principles and practices of SAFe.

Choosing the Right Framework for Your Organization

When selecting the appropriate framework for scaling Agile, organizations should consider the following factors:

  • Organizational culture and readiness: Determine the extent to which Agile values and principles are embedded within the organization and the willingness to embrace change.
  • Size and complexity of the organization: Larger, more complex organizations may benefit from the more structured approach of SAFe, while smaller or less complex organizations might find the flexibility of Scrum at Scale more appealing.
  • Existing processes and tools: Evaluate the compatibility of the chosen framework with the organization’s current processes, tools, and infrastructure.
  • Goals and objectives of scaling Agile: Clearly define the desired outcomes of Agile scaling efforts and select the framework that best aligns with these goals.


In conclusion, both Scrum at Scale and SAFe offer valuable approaches to scaling Agile practices within organizations.

By understanding the key differences and similarities between these two frameworks, organizations can make an informed decision about which framework best aligns with their needs, culture, and goals.

Ultimately, the successful transformation and scaling of Agile practices rely on the organization’s commitment to continuous improvement, collaboration, and adaptability.

David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)
David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)

David Usifo is a certified project manager professional, professional Scrum Master, and a BCS certified Business Analyst with a background in product development and database management.

He enjoys using his knowledge and skills to share with aspiring and experienced project managers and product developers the core concept of value-creation through adaptive solutions.

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