Ten Essential Scaling Patterns with Dean Leffingwell

I recently sat down to listen to our latest podcast with Scaled Agile Framework creator Dean Leffingwell and, wow, was I excited by what I heard!

There is so much information packed into this episode of Agile Amped, you won’t want to miss it and you’ll likely want to listen to it twice! In this interview, Dean hints at the next iteration of the learning and success patterns from the folks at Scaled Agile and the ever-growing SAFe practitioners contributing their experiences, likes and dislikes, to improve IT delivery agility. But first Dean gives us the deal on the “10 Essential Scaling Patterns We Can (Probably) All Agree On.”


10 Essential Scaling Patterns

This is not the first time we’ve heard about a distillation of ‘Essential SAFe elements’ without which you are not truly leveraging SAFe as a scaling strategy. Think of the ten elements less as an MVP and more as fundamental keystone habits: if you manage to establish a true organizational change mindset, your delivery agility is more likely to succeed and sooner. The 10 Essential Scaling Patterns are:

  1. SAFe Lean-Agile Principles
  2. Agile teams and release trains
  3. Cadence and synchronization
  4. Essential team and program roles
  5. PI Planning
  6. System Demo
  7. Inspect and Adapt
  8. IP Iteration
  9. Architectural Runway
  10. Lean-Agile leadership

In his talk at the Mile High Agile conference, Dean also used this self-assessment tool to energize the crowd. You can read this article at Scaled Agile to learn more. Even if you are not using SAFe as a part of your strategy to achieve Business Agility, there is much goodness in the 10 Essential Scaling Patterns that can help all enterprises start and drive their own transformation.

SAFe Next.0

What’s most exciting about this podcast is the discussion about the future of SAFe. Although the date and version for the next iteration of SAFe has not yet been announced, Dean shares three areas of growth for the Scaled Agile Framework: Configurability, DevOps and Innovation.


One of the most interesting new areas of SAFe thinking is Scaled Agile’s response to those who criticize the Big Picture as too prescriptive or too complex. What if there were some additional flexibility – Dean called this “configurability”– in the way we view the framework as well as use it? Some organizations require the complete Big Picture implementation and while others can start with a smaller SAFe implementation as a transformation starter strategy with well documented case studies to get an organization moving, iterating in a Lean-Agile way and adopting further elements beyond the essentials. Dean provides several examples of different types of organizations customizing SAFe to suit their needs as well as how the next iteration of SAFe will be able to support more configurability.

DevOps and Continuous Delivery

Increasing the guidance and focus of DevOPS is top of mind. If you consider the goals of DevOps is to decrease the delays in the deployment pipeline processes while increasing quality and speed to market with automation, then it’s easy to see that DevOPS becomes a forcing function to smaller batches of releases. To deliver smaller batch releases, other upstream development pipeline and design thinking also needs to “think small” and take a more experimental approach. Dean talked about the underlying principle of P-D-C-A (Plan Do Check Act) as another keystone habit that can provide plenty of continuous improvement thinking at any level or layer it is applied.


In Lean Startup, you ask yourself “What’s the smallest thing I can do to prove the hypothesis?” This thinking has been incorporated into SAFe at the portfolio level, for which Dean gives several examples: the Epic Value Statement is now the Epic Hypothesis Statement and its accompanying business case looks very much like a Lean Canvas. Dean emphasizes that Lean Startup, Agile development, DevOps and Continuous Delivery all enable the business to get feedback quickly from the market and thus reduce risk.

There’s so much more in this podcast, so give it a listen or two! Let us know in the comments what you’re excited about in the new SAFe!