Scaled Agile Approaches – SAFe vs SoS vs DAD vs Less

Dovile Miseviciute ·

Passionate content marketer looking to bring better solutions to the project management space. 2020 - Present Marketing specialist at Teamhood. 2014 - 2020 Marketing manager for Eylean.

agile for marketing agencies

Scaled Agile approaches are a way of adopting Agile practices to large companies. They offer a way to expand applications from small teams of up to 10 people to medium and large organizations without losing the values and benefits.

With Agile gaining popularity across various business fields, the usage of scaled Agile approaches has grown steadily in the past few years. More and more organizations are looking for ways to turn their small team Agile successes into something that is company-wide. And as tensions between how teams are run and how the rest of the company operates rise, most go for scaled Agile methods. Often comparing SAFe vs SoS vs DAD vs LeSS.

How to pick

However, choosing the right one can prove to be difficult. When deciding on your way of scaling Agile methods, it is important to look at various factors. Company size, what sort of enterprise Agile frameworks you need, and how experienced of an Agile user are you – are all very important to consider. Keeping this in mind, let’s take a look at the 4 most popular choices today.

According to the 14th Annual State of Agile report, Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Scrum of Scrums (SoS), Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) and Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) are the most popular choices among the various Agile methodology approaches. Together their applications made up 59% of the overall scaled Agile usage last year. I am not saying you should also choose one of the four. However, it is worth exploring how they operate and what makes them so popular among practitioners.

SAFe vs SoS vs DAD vs LeSS – which would be your choice?

safe framework

Scaled Agile SAFE

Most popular and the most complicated scaled Agile approach of the four is the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). With 35% of respondents, it takes the largest part of the pie and there is a good reason why. From the four applications I am discussing today, SAFe is the only true scaled method that can handle delivering Agile on the full enterprise level. This also means that it is not easy to implement, needs dedication, and a company that is experienced in Agile.

I am not saying it cannot work if your organization is completely new to Agile. But it will in most cases be a lot harder to accomplish compared to the other scaled Agile approaches. On that note, this is how SAFe works.

SAFe explained

Starting from the production level, teams of up 11 people work in a traditional Scrum or Kanban manner. They plan iterations, hold meetings and deliver value, while the product owner and Scrum master guide the process. Since one team is rarely enough to finish a product, several teams working on the same goal are grouped together and called Release Trains (ART).

The train works similarly to an iteration. However, it takes longer (usually around 5 iterations of a single team) and the process is facilitated by a dedicated release train engineer. All teams take part in the planning, testing, and retrospectives, while product management provides the vision and the backlog.

If one release train is not sufficient to cover the whole organization, multiple trains are grouped together into something called a solution train. Solution management is in charge of what gets build and solution train engineer monitors the solution train events. Strategic themes and portfolio vision are used to align solution development with enterprise strategy. Which allows to organize and release products that bring the most value. Find more details on how a SAFe organization runs, watch this:

Choose the Scaled Agile Framework if you already have experience in Agile and are determined to achieve a full organizational change. It will undoubtedly take some time to implement, but the result will be worth the wait. Compared to other items on this list, SAFe vs Agile is a more complicated yet more thorough approach to reach full change throughout your organization.

Scrum of Scrums

Next up is the second most popular scaled Agile application – Scrum of Scrums (SoS). A significantly simpler way of expanding beyond one Scrum team, but just as effective when used in the right setting. SoS focuses on a much smaller organization with the main goal of providing an effective way to coordinate the work of several Scrum teams.

The way it works is quite simple – instead of changing the operations of a small Scrum team, it adds something to make it work when there are more teams working on the same goal. In this scaled Agile approach the company teams practice traditional Scrum. To make sure all the operations are coordinated a Scrum of Scrums is held. During the daily standup, each team delegates an ambassador to attend the Scrum of Scrums. Here, each ambassador reports on the accomplishments and plans of their respective team. This meeting works just like a regular daily standup where each ambassador reports on their team’s progress. Scrum of scrums has a separate backlog to track all of the changes and is aimed at solving coordination challenges between teams.

scrum of scrums

Scrum of Scrums is a simple, yet effective approach that is best for small companies wanting to coordinate several teams. It will work great if your company is on a smaller scale or has just outgrown one team numbers. If you are from a larger organization, Scrum of Scrums is more likely to be used on a department level or as a transitional device only.

LeSS overview diagram

Disciplined Agile Delivery

The third way of scaling Agile I am discussing today is Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD). Contrary to the previous two scaled Agile methods it does not focus on fitting the approach to all the organizational levels. But instead looks at scaling Agile to fit the whole delivery cycle of a product. DAD does not only work in the construction and development phases but includes enterprise architecture, portfolio and release management, operations, and support.

DAD covers everything from project conception to delivery to clients. Thus scaling for the process more than for the organizational levels. It is also worth mentioning, that DAD is not based on just one Agile method, but formed out of a collection of them. Among which there are Scrum, Kanban, XP, Agile Modeling, Unified Process, and many others.

DAD process works in three stages – Inception, Construction, and Transition. To make this regular process more Agile, the method also weaves in four different life cycles that describe how to complete the work at hand. Teams can choose which life cycle works best for them and an Agile coach helps them in understanding when to use the chosen cycle.

Agile DAD lifecycles

  1. Agile delivery lifecycle is based on Scrum. It helps to turn goals into a work item list and then into short milestones. No product backlog is used and the cycle continues throughout the project.
  2. Lean lifecycle creates a continuous stream of workflow throughout the project. It ensures the processes are optimized and there are little to no bottlenecks.
  3. Continuous Lean and Agile delivery lifecycle ensures that teams use iterations to work and deliver fast and often. It focuses mainly on the construction and transition phases.
  4. Exploratory lifecycle aims to brainstorm new solutions based on the gathered feedback. Done before inception and transition phases.
LifeCycleAgile DAD

As a scaled Agile approach, DAD does not change the organizational structure or the layout of the company but guides it in completing all the processes in an Agile manner. This approach is best used for medium-sized projects, as it scales to oversee the whole delivery cycle, instead of scaling for the organization. A company that already has a good understanding of Agile will benefit most from DAD while specialized DAD software can help the transition.

Large Scale Scrum

Lastly, the fourth of the scaled Agile approaches – Large Scale Scrum (LeSS). As it is clear from the name, LeSS Agile method is based on Scrum and aims to create a way for multiple teams to work like one.

To keep the idea of one team, it defines a way to use a single backlog, product owner, and only one shippable increment for all the teams working together. This is great when there is a need for better coordination between teams without including the executive level.

To achieve this scaled Agile approach, all teams plan, refine and attend retrospectives together while the work is completed separately by each team. For planning and backlog refinement usually, two meetings are held. First is attended by all team representatives and is sets the overall goal for the sprint. The second is held within each team separately and details the work each team is about to complete. The same definition of done is applicable to all teams. Daily Scrums are held by each team individually as well but are open to any other team members. While the Scrum of Scrums, Sprint Review, and Retrospective are attended by representatives from all teams.

scaled agile LeSS

This scaled Agile approach is great for multiple teams working on the same project or product. As it allows to keep the focus on what is important while still working in smaller and more effective groups. LeSS can work for small to mid-sized companies as long as the teams and product backlog are coordinated. But just like SoS and DAD it will most likely fail to handle adding in a large organizational structure.

Final thoughts

As we have seen from these examples, there are a few ways to scaling Agile. You can scale to include the whole product, process, or the organization itself. To make sure you choose the right scaled Agile approach, it is important to not only know what your goals are but also evaluate your capabilities. If you just started with one Scrum team and want to expand, something like SoS or LeSS is great. While for mature Agile users, a full-on organizational change like SAFe may prove to be a natural progression.

Agile is about delivering value through incremental change – your scaled Agile journey should be no different.

Below you will find a summarized comparison of the four scaled Agile methods. Review them all and pick one that is closest to your capabilities and needs.

safe vs sos vs dad vs less

Think a simple transition into Agile project management would do for now? Check out our Kanban board examples to get ideas on structuring your task board or review Teamhood Kanban templates and start working more effectively today!

Scaled Agile frameworks – FAQ

  • Are Scaled Agile frameworks as effective as other Agile frameworks?

    Yes, they can be. Just like with the smaller scale Agile applications like Scrum or Kanban, the success of SAFe or LeSS depends on your teams commitment and willingness to take the new approach on. Scaled Agile frameworks are built to work for large organizations and they do for those that fully embrace the mindset change.

  • Are Scaled Agile approaches better than regular Agile applications?

    It all depends on your team/company size. All Agile frameworks are built with a specific team and project in mind. It will be up to you to define what your team needs and find the one that fits those needs best.

  • From what team size should i consider a scaled Agile approach?

    Most Agile frameworks recommend a team size of up to 10 people. However, there is no rule saying that you cannot exceed this number if that works for your process. Consider implementing some sort of a scaled approach when you see productivity and effectiveness of Agile start to go down. In some cases just splitting your one team into 2 and adding a Scrum of Scrums will be enough, while others will have to take on a larger change.

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