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Differences between Agile vs. Scrum vs. SAFe


Nowadays, it is no secret that "Agile Working" has a positive connotation and prestige is close at hand if you say you plan your workflow accordingly. But how does Agile Project Management differ from classic project management? And what does Agile have to do with Scrum and SAFe?

In this article, we tell you what the advantages of Agile are and how Scrum and SAFe are linked. Read on, and you will be able to participate without compromise when the differences and similarities of the methods and frameworks are discussed.

What is Agile Working?

Agile working primarily means greater flexibility, faster adaptability to changes and closer teamwork than with classic working methods. In addition, the customer’s opinion is the most important asset: customers are already involved during the project process. They get a transparent and continuous insight into all processes, this way, a constant feedback loop is possible. This enables the team to respond dynamically to potential changes during the project and to fulfil all wishes to their full satisfaction.

In order to achieve initial project results as quickly as possible, the work is structured in sprints. These are short, iterative development cycles that can last from about a week to a month.

The Agile Manifesto: principles of Agile Project Management

In 2001, software development professionals described in the Agile Manifesto what they see as the framework of an agile way of working. 17 people who are highly respected in the Agile community signed their manifesto, which still forms the basis for Agile Project Management today.

To better understand Agile working, it is worth taking a look at the Agile values described below.

The Agile Core Values

  • Teamwork: Individuals and interactions are valued more than tools or processes.

    • Appreciation and encouragement of an individual facilitate daily work, increase self-responsibility and self-organisation of the team.

  • Pragmatism: Functioning software is more important than comprehensive documentation.

    • This does not mean that no value is placed on transparent documentation. However, the focus shifts to the functionality of a solution with documentation that meets the needs.

  • Communication: Cooperation based on trust is more valuable than intensive contract negotiations.

    • Working with customers is more important than talking about long contracts.

  • Flexibility: Reacting quickly to changes instead of following a strict plan.

    • It is no use stick to a plan that no longer fits the current developments. Dynamic changes and adaptations are essential in an agile way of working.

Advantages of Agile Working

After taking a closer look at the Agile concept, let us once again present the advantages at a glance:

  • Better results through dynamic organisation

  • Great flexibility in the face of complex and rapid changes

  • Independent work promotes the development of the employees and their loyalty to the company

  • Orientation towards the customer ensures trustful cooperation and product solutions that inspire

  • Frequent feedback loops promote an open and pleasant corporate culture

How does Scrum work?

Scrum is an agile method that originated in software development but offers advantages for many results-oriented projects. The framework works ideally for companies with simple organisational structures.

The word “Scrum” is, contrary to many expectations, not an acronym, but comes from rugby. It describes the situation when several players gather around the ball. This image fits the vision that individuals on their own cannot achieve excellent results in the modern, dynamic software world. Only as a team – when the ball is often passed back and forth – can we react dynamically to what is happening.

According to a study from 2020, which included the Koblenz University of Applied Sciences, it was found that 85% of all participants in the survey use Scrum as an agile method. This clearly shows the popularity of the Scrum framework, which is used to perfect productivity and flexibility in smaller teams.

In line with the agile approach, Scrum teams work completely self-organised in sprints. In these, partial solutions are developed with close customer involvement.

The Scrum Roles

Flat hierarchies help to simplify the project process, yet there are three Scrum roles that help immensely in organising the Scrum team.

  • Product Owner (What?)

    • The product owner is the client or the customer itself. In the example of a product, the Product Owner would be the product manager who represents the interests of the customer. He or she manages the backlog and is responsible for planning and organisation with the company.

  • Scrum Team (How?)

    • The Scrum Team consists of about two to nine members and organises itself. It is responsible for ensuring that customers receive a functional product at the end of the sprint. Analysis, drafts, development, tests and documentation are all part of the Scrum Team’s range of tasks.

  • Scrum Master (Process)

    • During the development process, the Scrum Master acts as a moderator. He or she monitors the progress of the sprint and communicates changes in the backlog and the wishes of the product owner to the Scrum team. The Scrum Master is fundamentally responsible for ensuring that the rules of the Scrum method are adhered to.

Advantages of Scrum Challenges for Scrum

Few, easy to understand rules

Difficulty in communication for complex and large projects
Ideal framework for smaller companies No overall view of the entire project
Short communication paths Lack of responsibilities and hierarchies in big companies
Little documentation required Incompatibility with some existing company structures

What is SAFe?

SAFe is an acronym for Scaled Agile Framework and a tool to bring agility to larger organisations with multiple teams. SAFe scales the benefits of Scrum to more complex structures while maintaining centralised decision-making processes.

The framework was introduced in 2011 by Dean Leffingwell and Drew Jemilo to help companies develop better systems more efficiently. It is based primarily on systematic thinking, lean product development and agile software development. Of all the scaled frameworks used, SAFe is very popular.

SAFe roles

At the team level, SAFe has the same roles as Scrum. However, at the program level, roles such as Stakeholders, System Architects and Release Train Engineers are added. Epic Owners and Enterprise Architects are SAFe roles at the portfolio level, while other roles take on responsibilities at the solution level.

SAFe principles

SAFe also has some basic principles that make the concept behind the framework more understandable.

  • Economic perspective

    • Everyone involved in the project should be able to understand the economic decisions.

  • Apply systems thinking

    • Complex solutions have many interconnected components: Stakeholders should have an overview of the whole picture.

  • Assumption of variability

    • A set of possible solution outcomes encourages the development process.

  • Develop incrementally with fast learning cycles

    • Continuous quality improvement can only be achieved through rapid learning cycles.

  • Base milestones on an objective assessment of functioning systems

    • Early stakeholder involvement in development helps the process better than documentation of requirements.

  • Apply clock frequency

    • Synchronising the individual iterations helps with faster decision-making.

  • Visualise current work processes

    • A constant overview of current tasks and processes is of a great advantage for transparency and further development.

  • The intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers

    • Everybody is aware of her possibility to develop her personal full potential.

  • Decentralisation of decision-making

    • Managers can empower teams to make their own decisions in certain areas.

Interested in more details about SAFe? Then read our article Core Principles and Benefits of the Scaled Agile Framework.

Advantages of SAFe Challenges for SAFe

Alignment of all processes with strategic business goals, not just project goals

Long forward planning and strict process definitions are not in line with the basic principles of agile working
Effective collaboration for cross-functional teams are possible Top-down approach is not conducive to agile workflow
Helps even larger companies to be more transparent and dynamic Large teams with demographic differences, time zones and language skills can cause big problems
Different teams can be aligned towards a common goal


This article has described what Agile working is and what the differences are to Scrum and SAFe. Below is an overview of the most important information:

Agile working

  • Overarching concept that focuses on flexibility, teamwork, and customer orientation.

Scrum SAFe

Framework for the use of agile methods with smaller teams

Scaling Scrum for larger companies (over 100 employees)
Middle management is not important Program and portfolio management are essential

If you want to work agile and in a large organisation, it is recommended to use the SAFe framework. Scaling Agile can do more in complex structures than Scrum alone – but it also poses a threat to the basic principles of Agile.

When deciding on the methodology, however, the context and goals of the company, as well as the internal structure and stakeholder requirements, should not be neglected.

Are you currently facing the decision: Scrum vs. SAFe? Just contact us and we will be happy to help you find the perfect Agile Framework for your company’s growth!

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