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Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is helping IT departments to standardize Agile across teams and align the organization’s software services efforts with their mission and goals.

An increasing number of education agencies are turning to Agile software development as a preferred approach for delivering software services to their business users. This approach helps to lower project risk and align IT resources around a shared set of goals.

While Agile offers high value at a project level, the reality is that it can be challenging for large and complex organizations to adopt. To achieve full-scale Agile adoption, the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) offers a number of benefits that we’ll discuss in this article.

Value of Agile

Before Agile, traditional ‘Waterfall’ project management was used to manage software development projects. A Waterfall approach to project management generally means that each step in the methodology is followed by the next, eventually resulting in a final product. Some common problems documented with this traditional approach include managing changes in requirements late in the project, cost/time overrun, lower-quality software, and lower stakeholder engagement throughout the project lifecycle.

By contrast, Agile software development emphasizes development of software in short, incremental cycles. Business users continuously provide feedback on the software's functionality and quality. By engaging business users early and iterating often, agencies that adopt Agile can mitigate the challenges of Waterfall—greatly reducing project risk and increasing software outcomes.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has been a strong proponent of adopting Agile practices. According to the GAO: “Agile has the potential to save the government billions of dollars by delivering services more efficiently and effectively.” However, they also acknowledge: “[The] transition to Agile can be costly and time consuming.”

SEA Adoption of Agile Practices

Agile implementations in education agencies are frequently driven by the need to improve IT services that support students, educators, and communities. They aim to strengthen those services by improving communication between software teams and business areas, creating greater transparency in project governance, or increasing alignment of IT resources with the agency’s strategic goals.

As a former IT Director of Technology for a SEA, I had the opportunity to meet many times with peers from other education agencies around the nation. In many cases, SEAs considered themselves to be “somewhat Agile.” In other words, they practiced both traditional project management and Agile. While moving from traditional project management practices to Agile is desirable, the reality is that making the transition to full Agile across all project teams and the business areas they support is especially challenging.

Without a prioritized project portfolio and a standardized approach to managing projects, managers are often placed in a position of assigning staff to projects without a full view of the agency’s priorities. These practices can lead to competition for IT resources between departments that may not be aligned with the most important work to the agency.

If this sounds like your workplace and the status quo no longer fits the needs of the agency, consider a full adoption of Agile using SAFe.

Introducing Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

Today, Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is helping IT departments to standardize Agile across teams and align the organization’s software services efforts with their mission and goals. SAFe provides a framework to apply Agile at scale to ensure that all software teams are practicing Agile, business areas are engaged in the software development process, and work is aligned with the needs of the agency.

Some common goals for education agencies looking to grow their Agile implementation using SAFe are:

  • standardize project management across software development teams,
  • track progress of projects in a unified project portfolio,
  • improve IT staff resource allocation,
  • ensure teams are always working on the most important priorities,
  • raise productivity while increasing project outcomes, and
  • create more collaboration between teams and business areas.

SAFe promotes alignment and collaboration of software services across large numbers of Agile teams. The framework is designed to engage business areas and executive leadership so that software teams are always working on what is most important first.

Common SAFe Steps

While each SAFe implementation is unique, there are four common activities we tend to see in successful Agile journeys.

Step 1 – Form teams and standardize project management across teams

Identify and onboard groups of teams that will begin their Agile transformation. The focus in this step is to establish team roles, begin to standardize agile practices, develop a process to prioritize team backlogs of work, and establish team velocity.

Step 2 – Create a one-stop shop for project tracking data

Consolidate project tracking data into a single tool (such as Jira or Team Foundation Server) and establish a set of reports to represent a unified project portfolio. Consolidating project tracking data enables the alignment of small batches of work into organizational value streams.

Step 3 – Set data standards for your project tracking data

Perform cleanup on project tracking data. At first, project tracking data will likely have data quality issues due to inconsistencies between how teams are entering project data into the consolidated project tracking tool. Decide on what data is the most important to your SAFe implementation, set some initial project tracking data standards, and start to clean up your data.

Step 4 – Refactor legacy processes

Develop data-driven project governance strategies to adapt existing organizational processes into the Agile implementation. With a consolidated project portfolio and team priorities aligned to organizational value streams, it’s time to identify and refactor legacy processes to fit into your new Agile mindset. Examples of legacy processes that may benefit from refactoring are consolidating one-off data collections into a single cloud solution, expanding software testing automation, or streamlining your software deployment pipeline.


Implementing Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) can reduce the number of failed projects, reduce project risk, lower software service costs, produce higher quality software, and much more. As a framework, SAFe is not one size fits all but instead should be custom fit into an organization to maximize its benefits. Of course, implementing SAFe can also bring its own challenges, including norming project management practices across teams and creating a unified project portfolio. To increase your chances of success and accelerate your implementation, consult with other professionals that have experience in SAFe.

Grow your Agile maturity using SAFe for education! AEM has staff experience in deploying Agile in education agencies. Learn how to grow your Agile maturity by contacting AEM Education Services.


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