SAFe vs. SoS

Apparently there’s some confusion out there regarding SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework for the Enterprise) and Scrum of Scrums (SoS).  SAFe is not Scrum of Scrums and Scrum of Scrums is not SAFe.  There’s a difference and, hopefully, this helps clear it up.

Scrum of Scrums (also known as Meta Scrum) is defined by The Agile Alliance as  “A technique to scale Scrum up to large groups (over a dozen people), consisting of dividing the groups into Agile teams of 5-10” – See more at: Agile Alliance.  SAFe, on the other hand, is a complete framework which addresses all the layers of an organization.  Dean Leffingwell has laid out the complete picture at his site: Scaled Agile Framework  and defines it as a framework “for implementing Agile practices at enterprise scale”. Let’s dig in a little deeper.

SAFeScrum of Scrums
  • Based on Agile Principles
  • Leverage Scrum Teams
  • Focus on enabling collaboration and coordination across Teams
  • Provide a means of communication through the Layers of an organization
  • Is designed for the Enterprise
  • Addresses the Portfoilo, Program and Team levels
  • Employs both the Scrum and Kanban Frameworks
  • All teams are working from one Product Backlog and Plan together
  • Teams are aligned to a Value Stream
  • The size of SAFe teams (referred to as a Release Train) are 50 to 100 people
  • The Release Train teams share common cadences and release, together, after a period of 10-12 weeks
  • SAFe leverages SoS to foster communication between the Team and Program Layers
  • Is designed for multiple teams.  (This does mean it cannot scale)
  • Addresses the Team levels
  • Employs the Scrum Framework (hence the name) though Kanban could also leverage the SoS concept
  • Teams each have their own Product Backlog and collaboration is required to deliver
  • Teams are not aligned to one value stream
  • SoS is used for more than 12 but, possibly, less than 50
  • SoS teams may operate on different cadences and will coordinate the release and it may or may not be together

Another key differentiator may be that SAFe describes itself as a means to implement Agile whereas Scrum of Scrums does not.  SoS assumes you have already implemented Agile and are at the point of needing to scale.  To me, it’s all in the approach.  SAFe is the Red Bull of Agile at Scale.  You’re at 0 and want to be at 100.  Scrum of Scrums is a deliberate, natural progression for an organization with several successful teams already needing a tool to help nudge it a little to the next level.  A sip of coffee maybe?


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