Which Agile Scaling Framework is Right For You? SAFe® vs. LeSS

By: Agile Velocity | Jan 29, 2020 |  Agile Transformation,  Article

Agile transformations can do wonders for organizations across the board. Agile helps teams to continuously improve while focusing on attainable goals and timely delivery. However, implementing Agile across a large organization comes with its own challenges. Businesses that want to scale Agile across multiple departments have a range of Agile frameworks to consider to help them combat these challenges, and some might work better for their organizations than others.

We’ve highlighted two of the most popular Agile scaling frameworks (SAFe vs LeSS) to help leaders determine which framework best meets their needs.

SAFe vs LeSS: Which is right for you?

SAFe®: Scaled Agile Framework®

SAFe® is the most popular framework for enterprise-wide scaled Agile implementation. Its popularity stems from its roots in proven Lean Systems Thinking and core Agile development principles.

SAFe® works best in organizations with anywhere from five to several hundred teams. Therefore, it’s a great framework for large companies. SAFe® provides these businesses with a highly dependable method for planning, execution, and delivery through Agile Release Trains (ART’s). 

ARTs bring all teams together on a regular cadence of Program Increments lasting eight to 12 weeks. Each Program Increment begins with a multi-team planning session to identify what they’ll deliver, which helps teams identify and address cross-team dependencies and potential obstacles.

Pros of SAFe®

  • Touches upon business aspects other Agile frameworks fail to address
  • Based on Lean Economics – teams deliver the greatest value in the shortest amount of time 
  • Synchronization across multiple teams reduces scaling issues
  • Support via excellent training courses and role-based certifications
  • SAFe® decomposes business strategies into initiatives, then features, then stories of work at the team level–no other scaling framework maps this pathway out as clearly.

Cons of SAFe®

  • The implementation strategy may need to be tweaked to fit the needs of your organization
  • Alignment with economic-driven Lean development may prove challenging from a cultural perspective

SAFe® is a comprehensive and complete solution that addresses not only team agility but also portfolio and business agility. Therefore, SAFe® is an excellent choice for companies that desire full enterprise agility with a highly disciplined approach to deliverables. 

LeSS: Large Scale Scrum

LeSS is the large-scale implementation of key principles and elements of Scrum across multiple teams. A key aspect of LeSS involves redirecting team attention onto the whole organization rather than each team’s individual silo. However, implementing this holistic approach also can be a primary barrier to scaling.

There are two frameworks within LeSS:

  1. LeSS: Up to eight teams
  2. LeSS Huge: Scaled for more than eight teams

While both frameworks rely upon a single Product Owner, LeSS Huge includes additional Area Product Owners that work among their smaller areas. For leaders who are fans of Lean Economics, LeSS can be advantageous due to its emphasis on systems thinking, doing more with less, and queuing theory.

Pros of LeSS:

  • Comfortable and familiar due to its Scrum roots
  • Emphasizes system-wide thinking
  • Focused on a product rather than project
  • Single Product Owner and backlog

Cons of LeSS:

  • Scaling only works for companies with a solid Scrum foundation
  • Since it’s built around Scrum, it’s not a natural extension of other methodologies
  • The single Product Owner may struggle to handle multiple teams

LeSS works best with companies that are successful with Scrum and want to scale it across multiple departments since they will find the concepts of LeSS quite familiar. 

Choosing the Right Agile framework – or Tweaking Them to Fit Your Needs

There are many different Agile frameworks to consider for businesses that have multiple teams working on the same product. But oftentimes, the best solution is one that blends best practices from multiple scaling frameworks. The truth is, organizational leaders have to approach Agile as a method they tailor to fit their needs, rather than a stagnant solution. Hopefully, this SAFe vs LeSS comparison makes your decision-making process a little easier. 

To learn more about how Agile Velocity can help you scale Agile across your organization, visit our Transformation Services page or our SAFe Transformation page.

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