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What are the three different levels of scaled agile framework (SAFe)?

  • The SAFe model consists of four configurations that consolidate the strategic pieces of an organization and adapt various levels of scale, namely Essential SAFe, Large Solution SAFe, Portfolio SAFe, and Full SAFe

Put simply, your company is planning to transform into Agile. You plan to scale agile across the teams - or might have already done it. Everyone talks about the different levels and configuration options in the context of, for example, scaled agile such as SAFe. We understand if these terms are not easy to understand right now.

Now there are a lot of improvements that need to be made to effectively implement Agile in a corporate environment. That is when scaling Agile became very influential. In the year 2011,  Scaled Agile company introduced the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) to the community. Since then it has been gaining the attention of development projects and the latest version 5.1, was released in February 2021. People are constantly looking for SAFe training courses across businesses to learn and enforce in their projects. With the help of this article, we intend to help you understand scaled agile framework levels and configurations easily.

Understanding SAFe

We will start by breaking down this framework in simpler terms. Then we will get deep into its layers and levels. The need to create larger and more complicated systems without compromising the quality and time made us look at SAFe training. So to understand and implement this framework in an organization, SAFe certification training becomes compulsory. 

SAFe is an industry-proven method that essentially comes with 3 levels of Scaled Agile Framework. Agile development at the team level is the best option for the people who are looking for a strategy to help them to deliver fully tested as well as good quality products to their customers effectively. SAFe, which is short for Scaled Agile Framework, is one of the methods that bring value for scaling agile to an enterprise-level as it grows in size. The lean-agile transformation requires a perspective as well as a more in-depth understanding, both of which are involved in the SAFe agile certification program. Scaling up of a team is the priority of this framework, which is very similar to that of other widespread frameworks including LeSS, Nexus, and DAD.

In this framework, the adoption of Lean-Agile occurs with the four layers are  TEAM, PROGRAM, VALUE STREAM, and PORTFOLIO. We are going to discuss all three SAFe levels and understand their importance and how this framework is useful in building both smaller and complex systems.

What are the three levels of the scaled agile framework?

To scale agile methods, the SAFe has different so-called levels. To cut it short, the three levels of the scaled agile framework are team level, program level, and portfolio level. We should also add that since the version of SAFe 5.0, the three levels of the scaled agile framework are not enough anymore, and adding the fourth level is required.  So the better question would be, what are the four levels of the scaled agile framework? Now let's get into more details.

Levels of the scaled agile framework

The SAFe model consists of four configurations that consolidate the strategic pieces of an organization and adapt various levels of scale, namely Essential SAFe, Large Solution SAFe, Portfolio SAFe, and Full SAFe. This centralized strategy combined with decentralized Agile development execution can be an effective way of attaining enterprise-scale Agile. 

Essential SAFe

Essential SAFe brings together the program and team levels from the previous version to support  Agile product delivery, providing the minimal elements required to be successful at implementing SAFe. This is the level that brings the team together for Agile product delivery with the help of Agile methodology and design thinking. Teams usually go with one of these frameworks- Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, or XP. They are cross-functional and generally have a scrum master,  product owner, developers, testers, business owners, and any dedicated role that may be needed. 

The team requirements are stored in a team's backlog, which falls under the subdivision of the program backlog and is managed by the team's product owner. The Sprint lengths of the team are set based on the ART’s cadence. The Agile Release Train is core to Essential SAFe. ARTs act as the virtual organizations set up to transit functional boundaries, eradicate any kind of unnecessary handoffs and measures, and fast-track value delivery by implementing SAFe Lean-Agile principles and techniques. 

Three core features of SAFe essential : 


  • Team and Technical Abilities: Defines the critical skills and Lean-Agile principles and practices that high-performing Agile teams utilize to create high-quality solutions for their clients. 
  • Lean-Agile Leadership: Defines how Lean-Agile leaders drive and undergo organizational changes and operational superiority by entrusting individuals and teams to attain their potential. 
  • Agile Product Delivery: This is a customer-focused feature or approach for defining, creating, and releasing a continuous flow of useful products and services to clients and users. 


Large solution SAFe 

The large solution level forms on an essential level by allowing the delivery of large and complex solutions. It lets you coordinate and line up the full supply chain to deliver large systems with the help of lean methodologies and constantly develop those systems. It contains the Essential SAFe configuration and includes the capabilities of Enterprise Solution delivery. 

It is applied in the world’s most comprehensive and sophisticated networks, software applications, and intelligent systems. In this level, two or more Agile Release Trains are required. You need a “Teams-of-teams-of-teams” to organize it. All the Agile trains combined are called  Solution Trains. For synchronizing multiple ARTs (Agile Release Trains), extra events, roles, and required objects this introduced a Large Solution Level on top of Essential SAFe. At this level, the Agile manifesto of simplicity is a little modified. Simplicity is needed for a simple system and when the system asks for complexity, in that case, you don’t need to build a simpler one. Therefore, in addition to team and program level, the large solution level.

Large Solution SAFe uses three key moves to help coordinate multiple ARTs and suppliers:

Pre- and Post-PI Planning: Pre- and post-PI Planning are used to get ready for, and follow up after Program Increment (PI) Planning for ARTs in a Solution Train. 

Solution Demo: The solution demo displays the outcome of all the development efforts from multiple ARTs including contributions from suppliers are integrated, assessed, and made visible to consumers and other stakeholders involved.

Inspect & Adapt: I&A is an important event where the current form of the integrated solution across all ARTs is presented and evaluated.  Solution Train stakeholders then reflect and identify progress backlog items with an organized problem-solving workshop.

Portfolio SAFe

The portfolio level of SAFe raises the standard again when it comes to delivering on the enterprise’s key competencies. It moves past Agile Product Delivery to integrate lean portfolio management, lean governance, organizational agility, and investment funding.  This is the level where the company’s strategic themes are given life, value, and priority as part of the development process. 

It aligns the enterprise strategy with portfolio execution. Roles,  principles, and practices are present at this level that control and start the development set for every value stream. Small and medium-level enterprises make the best use of the portfolio SAFe to control the complete solution set technically. But for the larger enterprises that have more than 500 practitioners, multiple SAFe portfolios will be used per business requirement. The Epic owners that are responsible for coordinating portfolio epics and enterprise architects join the team to secure alignment with strategic themes and the overall portfolio vision.


The portfolio function and associated roles offer the top level of accountability and governance, with the addition of coordination between multiple value stream

Lean Portfolio Management(LPM): This function represents the members with the top level of decision-making and financial responsibility for a SAFe portfolio.

Epic owners: They take all the responsibility for coordinating portfolio Epics through the portfolio Kanban system

Enterprise Architect: They are responsible for working across the value streams and ARTs, this helps them provide strategic technical direction that can enhance portfolio outcomes. 

Full SAFe 

Full SAFe depicts the most comprehensive configuration of SAFe. It supports creating large, integrating solutions that usually need hundreds of team members to develop and sustain. 

It includes all three levels of the scaled agile framework to develop enterprise solutions but on a much larger scale. Full SAFe lets teams from all the other levels deliver the promise of business agility across the company. It involves Agile product and enterprise solution delivery to organizational agility, continuous learning,  lean portfolio management,  and Lean-Agile leadership.

Why choose SAFe? 

After looking at the three levels of the scaled agile framework and the growth phases of SAFe versions, let us now look at why this framework is a good choice for your organization and why it is catching attention recently. Quality will always be more important than quantity. With that being said, the customer expects both quantity and timely delivery.  This framework provides increased solution quality and helps in such scenarios to handle complexity in the system as well as the technology. When a business grows, the need to incorporate more complex and complicated systems arises. But this has to be accomplished without any dent in the quality. So if you are looking for a method to answer the question such as “ how to perform budgeting?” “how to implement cross-functioning in DevOps and architecture?” - SAFe is your best bet.

In conclusion, the framework including three levels of the scaled agile framework is going to add more value to the agile methodology which can be implemented throughout the organization. This is not only going to work in favor of the growth of the Agile framework but can be integrated well within the system. Evon Technologies is an offshore software consulting company that will assist you in adding the SAFe framework to your Agile landscape to allow rapid deployment of Agile in your organization. Get in touch with us or drop an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to align the technical and business goals of your company, and we will get back to you.

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