SAFe and DevOps: Why They're Important and How To Integrate Them

Mar 8, 2021

Today, we're here to talk about the "SAFe DevOps" duo and why it matters so much for enterprise organizations. We're at a point in history when both SAFe and DevOps are very mature. Enterprise organizations are becoming increasingly interested in integrating both. However, it can be challenging to achieve this integration, mainly due to a missing link that most organizations aren't paying the necessary attention to. That's what this post is about: the benefits of integrating SAFe and DevOps and how to do it.

We open the post with fundamentals, using a what-why structure. You'll learn in more detail what both SAFe and DevOps are and why they exist. Then, we proceed to talk about the SAFe DevOps integration. Finally, we cover the promised missing link. You'll learn about value stream management, what it is, and how it bridges the gap between SAFe and DevOps.

The SAFe/DevOps Duo Fundamentals

As promised, let's start with the basics of both SAFe and DevOps. You'll learn what they are and a brief overview of their histories so you can understand how they rose to prominence. After talking about the what, we'll cover the why by explaining why SAFe and DevOps are important and what problems they solve for organizations.

SAFe: The Scaled Agile Framework

SAFe—which stands for Scaled Agile Framework—is an extension of the ideas from the Agile Manifesto so that they can work at the enterprise scale. Let's learn more about this framework now.

A Brief History of Agile

To understand what SAFe is, you must have some understanding of agile methodologies in general. In the '90s, several experienced developers and consultants started experimenting with novel ways of developing software. The development methodologies they created had many properties in common. They focused on having shorter feedback loops, prioritizing clear communication, and working software over comprehensive formal documentation. They embraced uncertainty rather than try to predict the future.

In 2001, 17 such software consultants met to discuss their development methodologies. By the meeting's end, they had created the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, which states a set of values and principles they believed could lead to better ways of creating software. Since the manifesto's publication, the terms "agile" or "agile methodologies" have been used to refer to the collective of the lightweight methodologies created by its signatories. During the first decade of the 21st century, the agile methodologies gained more and more adepts as developers realized they brought real results. However, large organizations struggled to adopt these methodologies due to conflicts between agile and the belief that the organization needed to exert control and oversight to meet business needs.

Enter SAFe

To address the conflict between the agile way of developing software and the enterprise's need for control and visibility, developers created new frameworks, which targeted large organizations trying to adopt agile methodologies at scale. One of such frameworks is SAFe, or the Scaled Agile Framework. SAFe's effectiveness is built upon its four core values: alignment, transparency, built-in quality, and program execution.

Why Should Organizations Care About SAFe?

Over time, enterprise organizations have faced many challenges when trying to scale agile practices and principles. One main challenge is getting agile teams to handle longer-term planning horizons. Additionally, the freedom of agile teams to self-manage and decide how they're going to work doesn't always play nicely at the enterprise scale.

The SAFe framework can help organizations overcome such obstacles. It does that by enhancing or extending many of the agile practices in ways that cater to the needs of the enterprise reality, which is tremendously different from what you can find in small, self-sufficient teams.

The DevOps Culture

We'll now cover the second half of the SAFe/DevOps duo and talk about the DevOps movement in more detail.

What Is DevOps?

The term DevOps was created by combining the words "development" and "operations." Rather than being a process, DevOps is a movement. Created by the right conjunction of people, processes, technologies, and cultures, DevOps aims to break silos between different areas of a tech organization—particularly between developers and operations—to achieve fast software delivery while keeping stability and quality high.

Why Is DevOps Important?

The traditional model of software development and delivery worked by creating silos between different roles, especially between those who wrote code and those who deployed it and maintained it in production. This was an appalling state of affairs since it created different and opposite incentives for each group. Engineers want to ship code as quickly as possible. Operations staff/system administrators, on the other hand, value stability. They typically don't enjoy shipping code to production frequently. How to solve this dilemma?

DevOps ingeniously solves this problem: let's blur—or outright destroy—the lines between software engineers and operations staff, eliminating the conflict of interest. From now on, everyone involved in the software development process has a single goal: delivering value to the customer as quickly as possible while maintaining high quality and stability. DevOps achieves that by integrating previous disparate actors into a single workflow that makes heavy use of automation and promotes the adoption of a shared set of principles.

The SAFe/DevOps Integration: It's Been a Challenge

Up until now, this post has covered SAFe and DevOps in isolation. You've learned about both concepts, what they mean, and the problems they solve. Now, we're ready to cover the integration of SAFe and DevOps. What's the value of such an integration? Why do organizations struggle with it?

The SAFe DevOps Integration Seems Logical

In current days, agile at scale frameworks have achieved a great level of maturity, with SAFe being hands down the favorite in most large organizations. Additionally, DevOps has also matured, and many organizations have been trying—and struggling—to adopt it at scale.

Due to the success of both approaches, organizations are increasingly interested in integrating SAFe and DevOps. In fact, the paths of the two approaches seem to be converging. For instance, DevOps is featured as a component of the most recent versions of SAFe. Despite this trend, organizations still struggle to make this integration happen. That's due to an intrinsic conflict that exists at the heart of DevOps and SAFe.

SAFe/DevOps: Conflict and Gaps

DevOps encourages decentralizing decision-making power to achieve the speed organizations need. This fundamental structural change exposes the gaps between SAFe and DevOps. Covering those gaps in depth would require a post of its own, but in short, we can divide them into two main groups: gaps between planning and execution and gaps between execution and improvement.

Gaps between planning and execution happen because, though it provides strong planning capabilities, SAFe has fewer mechanisms to manage work in progress, especially when it comes to dependencies across teams.

Gaps between execution and improvement are caused by failures in the observability mechanisms that happen when the organization starts to deliver value way faster than before. Without the help of such telemetry methods, organizations function as though they're blind: they can't measure their progress and thus can't find ways to improve.

Value Stream Management: The Missing Piece of the Puzzle

Value stream management is a new set of practices and tools. VSM's objective is to make the flow of work as visible as possible through the entire software development pipeline. With greater visibility of the whole project from conception to production, organizations can identify and remove bottlenecks.

How can VSM help organizations integrate SAFe and DevOps? In several ways, actually.

A VSM tool like Plutora can help organizations converge their planning and continuous delivery pipelines into a single system. From this single source of truth, teams can achieve full visibility. Value stream management can also help organizations visualize and manage dependencies between teams when coordinating complex releases, and decentralize decisions in a way that's safe. That way, the gap between planning (SAFe) and execution (DevOps) is bridged.

A tool like Plutora is also strong when it comes to telemetry. Its real-time metrics contribute to achieving the continuous learning culture that is an essential part of SAFe. With efficient telemetry and traceability, organizations can measure and improve, closing the gap between execution and improvement.


Today's post was about SAFe and DevOps, and their integration. You've learned the definition and history of each of those concepts and the problems they solve. Then, we talked about their integration. We've shown that organizations struggle when scaling not only agile but also DevOps to the whole enterprise. We finished by talking about VSM (value stream management). You've learned that VSM is the missing link that can bridge the gap between DevOps and SAFe. With this knowledge and with the help of a tool like Plutora, you're now even better equipped to deliver high-quality software in your enterprise with speed and stability.

Thanks for reading.

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