Over the years, development methodologies have undergone a sea change. It was spiral earlier, then came waterfall, and now Agile has gained immense popularity. As the methodologies have changed, so have the team roles, events, planning, and delivery activities. If we look at its history, Agile methodology has delivered successfully at the team level. But when organizations want to adopt it for multiple teams at the enterprise level, they are required to scale it up. And this need has brought the Agile scaling frameworks into the picture. So, the challenge for the companies is to shift from Agile as a working methodology for a single team to a framework of working for an entire organization. Many frameworks have come up offering solutions to this challenge, but there are two which are more popular. These are Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and Large Scale Scrum (LeSS). Now the question arises, which of these two frameworks should you choose for your organization? Which one will be more suitable and what are the differences between the two? Before dwelling on LeSS Agile vs. SAFe comparison, we will first understand what scaling means and the history of these two frameworks.

What is scaling?

Scaling in Agile means a cultural transformation in an organization wherein the businesses, people, practices, and tools commit to improving collaboration and the ability of the organization to execute projects against its strategy. Generally, companies start implementing Agile at the team level. But then they feel the need to spread it across the entire organization. This is what called scaling. Large Scale Scrum defines scaling as multiple teams working on a standard product or project. If there are only a few teams, LeSS is used, but if there are many teams, then LeSS Huge is used.

On the other hand, the Scaled Agile Framework defines a particular organization’s scale or how work is carried out across the organization. SAFe does not focus much on scaling specific functions. It instead focuses on the elements that make the development stage in the organization.

SAFe vs. LeSS

The difference in application:

If you have implemented Scrum in your organization, the Large Scale Scrum becomes easier and lightweight. All you need to do is aligning all the Scrum teams whose work needs to synchronize. Individual Scrum teams are the parts you need to connect. LeSS is a succulent method in which you start with something small and expand.

But with SAFe, it is an entirely different matter. The first thing is that it is doubtful that you will be able to design a Scaled Agile Framework program by just reading or referring to a book. SAFe is a complicated method that has four similar and yet different configurations. To implement SAFe, you need a certain level of coaching and training which must be tailored to the needs of your line of business. It is better to get hands-on experience through training for SAFe.

Organizational setup:

As far as organizational setup, LeSS does not demand any complex structure. It instead favors simplifying things. LeSS advocates the realignment of a complete structure to work within a simplified model that supports the Agile work method. LeSS recommends three teams to support up to eight teams. It favors minimum additional roles. So, there are just three supporting teams: the Product Owner team, the Undone department, and the head of the Product group. The additional roles prescribed in LeSS are the Product Owner, Scrum Master, User, and Stakeholders.

But in SAFe, there are many departments, people, and teams. Still, it allows for the status quo on the organization’s existing structure. This is one of the main reasons why many companies adopt SAFe: it does not disturb the middle management and the traditional design of the organization. SAFe does not push for changes in organizational structure so it can fit into its model. Since it does not interfere much with the existing organizational structure, there are many traditional levels within the organization in SAFe, like program and portfolio, and roles like solution architects and many managers. The working environment in SAFe is congenial for managers to succeed. The bigger picture in SAFe includes multiple levels of top management.

Role of management:

From the above, we can see that SAFe stresses the role of management as the driver of change and innovation in the organization. The Scaled Agile Framework uses well-known practices such as plans, roadmaps, and milestones. But Large Scale Scrum, on the other hand, encourages an empirical approach usually called the Go See approach. This approach emphasizes examining the actual product rather than closely reading the reports. So, it favors more physical verification than following the traditional way of reporting.

Team roles:

The LeSS framework favors simplicity. So, it goes by the traditional Scrum roles of Product Owner, Scrum Master, and the team. SAFe, on the other hand, recommends more roles, and each is given a different responsibility compared to LeSS. There are many types of teams in SAFe, like Agile, XP, Kanban, DevOps, and architectural teams. In effect, these teams are the teams with specialties in a particular function as they are inherited from the traditional organizational design. So, extra coordination, management of dependency, and integration of work are needed among these teams. And this requires different roles. So, SAFe uses Release Managers or Release Train Engineers, Solution Architects, and other managers who can coordinate and bring everyone and everything together.

In LeSS, every team is a cross-functional team, so it is the teams’ responsibility to coordinate among themselves, and even Scrum Masters are not involved in it. In LeSS, each team can deliver product-centric features from beginning to end. Teams are themselves responsible for integration also. LeSS views dependencies as unwanted and internal contracts where people are unwilling to work together closely. This needs to be more conducive to the close coordination that the framework demands. LeSS emphasizes mentorship and community learning.


The frameworks of SAFe and LeSS differ in their complexity. Before discussing their complexities, just visit their websites; they will reveal something about it through their presentation. If you look at the style and attitude of each website, you can understand more than what words could describe. While SAFe uses technical engineering drawings to describe how it works, LeSS uses colorful free-form drawings to explain how it works. SAFe is more about structure and processes than LeSS. The acronym LeSS for Large Scale Scrum is a symbol of striving for simplicity and ease of understanding. According to LeSS, small teams situated in a single location that build products together are more successful than huge products that require numerous resources.

The Scaled Agile Framework is less spunky in comparison as it tries to explain an all-inclusive solution to scaling Agile. Although SAFe has a multi-level approach, only certain levels of this approach can be implemented depending on the organization’s size. For most organizations, team and program levels are good points to make a beginning. There is a clear difference between SAFe and LeSS frameworks at the program level. While SAFe has inherent program management processes and roles, LeSS does not have such in-built processes or roles.

Product Ownership:

In the Scaled Agile Framework, the Product Owner is responsible for describing the team backlog items and setting priorities for them and is just a team member. The Product Owner in SAFe has to spend a lot of time on detailing and tactical implementation to handle just one or two teams. In SAFe, most teams are technical, so the Product Manager is usually a former Project Manager or a former business analyst. It works fine this way in organizations using the SAFe framework.

The concept of the Product Owner in the Large Scale Scrum is similar to the one used in the one-team Scrum. But in LeSS, the Product Owner is responsible for the product’s overall strategy and for ensuring that the product gives maximum Return On Investment (ROI). The Product Owner’s focus in LeSS is prioritization, while maximum clarifications come from users and stakeholders. The Product Owner for external product development in LeSS is generally a Product Manager or head of some organizational function like marketing. For internal product development, the Product Owner is usually someone from one of the user departments who are interested in taking up the role and has hands-on experience.

All these two frameworks are equal. Each has its utility depending on the organization’s size and requirements. To choose the framework for your organization, you need to know your organization’s strategic goals and see which framework better aligns with them. The aim should not be to implement the framework; the aim should be to change how you deliver the products or projects.

SAFe will be good for you if your organization already has a lot of processes in place. You will get a top-down structure and control over the existing structure without much changing the traditional roles and responsibilities. But if you like simplicity and promote direct approaches, you can start with LeSS for scaling Agile in your organization. It is a good framework for small businesses that want to scale Agile and are growing because it is based on empirical process control. So, take your pick and enjoy the fruits of scaling Agile.

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