Large-Scale Agile: SAFe and DAD More Friends Than Competitors

Large-Scale Agile: SAFe and DAD More Friends Than Competitors

One criticism of agile has been that it’s tough to scale. In answer to that, new methodologies and frameworks have cropped up designed to better handle enterprise, large-scale projects, taking into account agile principles.

I recently took a Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) class and earned my SAFe Program Consultant (SPC) certification from Dean Leffingwell himself! It turns out, Mark Lines, co-author with Scott Ambler of the "Disciplined Agile Delivery" (DAD) book was also in the class. What an awesome opportunity it was for the class to learn about these two frameworks from the true experts!

Dean Leffingwell and Mark Lines

Both Dean (on the right in the picture) and Mark (on the left) acknowledged that SAFe and DAD were not competitors. SAFe is more prescriptive and primarily uses Scrum at the team level, and extends the framework to outline roles, ceremonies and artifacts at the program and portfolio levels using a variety of lean and agile concepts.

DAD is described more as a process framework that helps users determine a methodology that might be right for their situation. I reached out to Scott Ambler via email, and he described the difference this way:

“In many ways SAFe is an instance of DA. Where disciplined agile provides choices, SAFe instead makes a collection of choices for you and shows how that subset of DA works together. As long as you’re in a situation where those choices make sense, then SAFe can work for you. If your context is different, then you need to make a different collection of choices. If your organization has adopted SAFe, then it should take a very close look at disciplined agile for tailoring advice to help you to evolve SAFe into something that will fit well in your environment.”

Both SAFe and DA use many techniques that originated from various methodologies. In fact, so many agile methodologies mix and match techniques that most people don’t even know where they originated. I only learned recently that user stories originated with XP. I’ve seen them used so often in Scrum that I assumed they originated there; but, in fact, the Scrum Guide doesn’t even mention user stories.

Though many people act as though the various methodologies are in competition with one another, they actually are quite complementary. Even waterfall and agile can play nicely together!

Scrum has become such a popular agile methodology, that many people use the terms agile and Scrum as synonyms. This happens when one brand seems to have cornered the market. When I worked at IBM, management warned us that we were not to use the term “Xerox” when making a copy because IBM made a copier, too. And I’m sure Microsoft is not crazy that people suggest “Googling” rather than “Binging.”

So while Scrum is not the only agile methodology, its popularity is so prevalent that it’s a good starting ground for those new to agile. Certainly, learning the terminology and concepts associated with Scrum will provide a good basis for any agile training.

True, learning agile can be a bit overwhelming because there are a variety of methodologies and techniques that fall under the agile umbrella. These are not competitors in which an organization must choose one right way of operating, but more a toolkit with choices.

Though Scrum started by addressing the needs of small cross-functional teams, it can be extended, and frameworks such as SAFe and DAD are emerging that help further the agile toolkit for the enterprise.


Yvette Francino has more than 30 years in the software development industry, and is an independent consultant, experienced agile leader, coach, author and trainer in various methodologies including SAFe, Scrum, Kanban and large-scale custom methodologies.

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