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LeSS Agile or SAFe Agile: Which Is Better For Your Organization

March 4, 2021

By Simpliaxis

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Bringing change into an organization using Agile creates a marvelous metamorphosis. Agile helps to achieve continuous improvement while working on the timely implementation of goals. However, transforming a large enterprise by implementing Agile is a demanding process, especially when multiple departments are involved. Different Agile frameworks are available. Some might be better for the organizations than others. The challenge is to find the right one.

Here we are talking about two of the most popular Agile scaling frameworks, SAFe and LeSS
 

What is SAFe®: Scaled Agile Framework®? 
 

Unquestionably the most used framework, SAFe, is used for implementing scaled Agile across large organizations. The framework is based on the principles of two leading management approaches. The first one is Lean Thinking, where waste is avoided, silo thinking is not favored, and decision-making focuses on the “big picture.” The second is the Agile methodology, which values trust, flexibility, empowerment, and collaboration.

SAFe is a framework that works well for sizable companies that can have hundreds of teams working on projects. The concept of Agile Release Trains (ART) provides a reliable system for designing and delivering software products. ARTs align different groups on a cadence of eight to twelve weeks for Program Increments (PI). Before the next PI begins, the teams involved take the time to determine what they will achieve and resolve cross-functional needs and issues.
 

Advantages of SAFe: 
 

  • SAFe addresses business aspects that other frameworks don’t: for example, With Portfolio Management takes a holistic view that benefits the entire organization. Business strategies are mapped into initiatives, then features, then stories of work. From top to bottom, a clear pathway is defined.
     
  • Since its foundation is  Lean Thinking principles, teams can efficiently deliver the most significant value.
     
  • It provides a framework for parallel working across different teams, sometimes in varied global locations.
     

Disadvantages of SAFe
 

The blueprint for implementation and its alignment to Agile and Lean Thinking principles could be challenging if an existing company’s culture is vastly different. 
 

What is LeSS: Large Scale Scrum? 
 

As the name suggests, in LeSS, the fundamental principles of Scrum (transparency, evaluation, self-organization, collaboration, and others) are scaled up for large-scale implementations in multiple teams.  The teams direct attention to the entire organization and don’t work in isolation. There are two frameworks that a company can use: LeSS, which works for a maximum of eight teams, and LeSS Huge is for nine or more teams.
 

Advantages of LeSS: 
 

  • Since it is based on Scrum, most organizations are already familiar with how it works and are quite comfortable during the scaling up.
     
  • LeSS emphasizes thinking of the system as a whole and looks at the linkages and interactions between a large enterprise’s various components.
     
  • It is focused on developing a product and not on the success of a project. It can lead to better customer satisfaction
     
  • In LeSS, there is only one Product Owner and one Backlog
     

Disadvantages of LeSS: 
 

  • Since LeSS is built around the Scrum model, it works best only for companies that have successfully worked with Scrum before. It does not work well with other approaches.
     
  • A single Product Owner concept is challenging, and it could be not easy to manage different teams.
     

SAFe vs. LeSS: 
 

Similarities:
 

  • Both SAFe and LeSS are based on Agile principles and organize multiple teams within large enterprises
     
  • Both frameworks support value delivery, collaboration within teams and accept change as a regular part of software development.
     
  • Lean thinking principles that involve innovation and problem-solving are part of both frameworks.
     
  • Both SAFe and LeSS have excellent technical practices like continuous integration, test-driven development, test automation, etc.
     
  • Systems Thinking models are used to take an integrated approach to the development of solutions, incorporating all elements of a system and its environment into the process of design, development, deployment, and maintenance.
     
  • The synchronization of workflow is a part of both frameworks. Sprints in LeSS or Iterations in SAFe are designed for beginning and ending at the same time.
     
  • Both SAFe and LeSS have extensive community support.

     

Differences

SAFe 

LeSS

The methodology of the team framework

Scrum, and also Scrum XP

Scrum

Company Size 

Designed for large organizations

Works best for mid-size companies

Level definitions

Defines communication across all levels of the organization

Defines communication between teams and team management

Clarity 

Sometimes criticized for being overly prescriptive.

Not highly detailed. Organizations have to fill in gaps.

Team integration

Teams work together in an Agile Release Train (ART)

Three teams are put together as one Area (LeSS Huge) 

Configurations

Essential (ART with 5-12 teams)

Large (Several ARTs work together)

Portfolio (Involves the entire organization)

LeSS (between 2 and 8 teams)

LeSS Huge (upwards of 8 teams)

Organization Focus

Yes – with the Portfolio Configuration

No. The focus is on the Product alone.

Iteration

Duration of an iteration in SAFe is recommended at two weeks. It does not necessarily produce a potentially shippable increment.

Sprints can be between one and four weeks long. One potentially shippable product increment is produced at the end of each Sprint

Planning of iterations

All team members, including development, QA, business analysts, other specialists, participate in the Program Increment planning. Prioritizing and goals for the upcoming iterations are discussed in detail. 

Sprint Planning consists of two sessions; Sprint Planning One focuses on what is to be done and involves representatives of all the teams. Sprint Planning Two is an individual team meeting that focuses on creating a work plan to get to ‘done’ for each item in the backlog. 

Cost of implementation

High costs due to restructuring of an entire organization

Lower cost implementation


Some other factors to consider:
 

One of the ways LeSS differs is that it strives to simplify organizational structure by remaining flexible. Fewer people are needed to deliver a product since it does not add roles and overhead aggressively. SAFe, on the other hand, require additional functions. There is a Release Train Engineer (RTE), who is like a full-time Scrum Master, Solution Train Engineer (STE) oversees the smooth running of the ART, and Epic Owners responsible for Portfolio Level Epics. It also includes changes in processes, artifacts, and at organizational levels. Some organizations may not be ready to take on such a high level of evolution. And the LeSS approach to scaling, with a heavy focus on waste reduction across the organization and a goal of continuous improvement, maybe an easier route to take.

LeSS is, therefore, ideal for a midsized company. There is one Product Owner who understands the framework and principles. It is his or her responsibility to bridge the gap between business goals and the technical teams’ work. External coaches, rather than full-time employees, can be hired to coordinate the various groups. SAFe is perfect when there are large corporate structures since it fully defines the organization structure. 

LeSS is more developed than Scrum. There is more clarity of the organization’s structure at higher levels, and it is better at looking towards an overarching vision. It works well if the leadership has a flexible mindset and is willing to restructure and experiment when needed. However, if more explicit definitions are required, it is better to go with SAFe. All levels are clarified so that Agile practices can be implemented from the programmer level to top management.

LeSS keeps all of the original Scrum features. There are meetings, roles, and Sprints. Any additions are made only to get the scaled-up process to work. A Scrum of Scrums meeting is conducted every day after the daily standups to discuss overlap and integration. Additional Product Backlog Refinements and Retrospective meetings are held in multi-team and single team formats to manage the shared backlog (by sharing closely-related items or splitting further) and making plans. SAFe continues the Agile feature of iterations; it drastically changes them for the three higher levels of Program, Value Stream, and Portfolio. For teams used to working with Scrum, LeSS will be a more comfortable framework for scaling up.

If costs are an issue, the organization should be looking at LeSS since they are a natural progression to Scrum. Very little training and restructuring are required, and the scaled-up organization can be up and running very quickly. However, with SAFe, there is a lot to be done in restructuring, redefining roles, adding more layers, re-thinking, and training. It is true even of companies that have been practicing Agile methods. The process of transition to get the scaling done will require commitment from the top levels, a higher budget, and a longer transition time.
 

In conclusion:
 

Both LeSS and SAFe have Agile practices at the core of their frameworks. They are meant to scale up enterprises that want to move into a higher gear of functioning. They have excellent features and have proven track records. Choosing the right one to fit a requirement is a matter of weighing all the options.

 

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