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Scrum vs. SAFe: Which Agile framework is right for your team?

June 05, 2023

Agile project management has made waves through software development circles. Much of Agile’s appeal lies in its flexibility. Thanks to its range of strategies, you can pick an Agile framework suited to your unique needs or strengths. With this in mind, many organizations choose between the Scrum vs. SAFe approach. 

While both frameworks are popular, they can reshape your organization in different ways. So, when deciding between Scrum vs. SAFe, you have to consider your resources and goals. To help you pick the best framework, we’ll describe both approaches, their similarities and differences, and the kind of teams they’re best suited for.

What is Scrum?

Scrum is an Agile framework in which small, self-organized teams deliver high-quality software quickly. Scrum development values simplicity, creating adaptable teams that make deliveries based on stakeholder input. To make this work, Scrum devs break large projects into small steps. 

By building cross-functional teams, Scrum empowers devs to address multiple issues and project types. Its small team structure also maintains productivity and cost-effectiveness as requirements change. Smaller teams also ensure every dev knows who to talk to about specific issues. This streamlined setup fosters collaboration and lets team members review their work more thoroughly.

Scrum development relies on three key roles:

  • Product Owners align a Scrum team’s goals with customer and stakeholder expectations. They can also provide feedback or insight on product requirements. 
  • Scrum Masters oversee a Scrum team and Scrum processes. They remove dev obstacles, keeping team members productive and on task.
  • Scrum teams work with the above two roles to complete the goals outlined in each sprint planning phase. They’re the boots-on-the-ground employees who build a product.
Image depicting the definition and process involved in the Scrum software development methodology

Pros and cons of Scrum

To better understand Scrum, here are its main advantages and drawbacks.


  • Optimized dev processes

  • Emphasis on the end user’s wants

  • Fast delivery times

  • Easy coordination within small teams



  • Difficult to scale to larger projects

  • Requires teamwide training

  • Dev cycles may not always align with project deadlines

Who is Scrum best for?

Scrum complements small organizations and independent teams. In particular, you should use Scrum if your devs run up against:

  • Frequent input from stakeholders and customers

  • Changing deliverables teams must adapt to

  • Short turnaround times before delivering high-quality products

What is SAFe?

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) helps organizations set objectives and meet customer demands. Whereas Scrum relies on narrow focus and small teams, SAFe is more comprehensive. It coordinates multiple groups and leaders to deliver products too large or complex for Scrum.

SAFe exchanges Scrum’s flexibility for a more rigid structure. While it offers continuous development, SAFe sets objectives that vary by team. However, these different groups complement one another and work toward the same end goals. To manage this organization, SAFe incorporates three core tenets:

  • Lean Product Development reduces waste and optimizes processes. This cost-effective approach maintains productivity during continuous development. 
  • Agile Software Development involves incremental changes made on the fly. This iterative approach accounts for feedback and new demands. While less flexible than Scrum, SAFe still makes room for fast adaptations in development.
  • System Thinking is a dev approach that builds solutions holistically. When designing a product, teams would incorporate all aspects of the system. This approach highlights how all parts of a system relate and fit into larger systems.
Image depicting the definition and process involved in the SAFe software development methodology

Pros and cons of SAFe

Like Scrum, SAFe’s pros and cons lend themselves to some teams more than others.


  • Agility and a competitive edge for businesses

  • Increased cooperation between teams

  • Added barriers to prevent product issues

  • Improved operations at an enterprise level



  • Poor fit for small businesses and startups

  • Teams must learn shared Agile language

  • Relies on a more rigid, top-down framework

Who is SAFe best for?

SAFe works best for organizations that practice Agile at an enterprise scale. Specifically, it suits organizations that:

  • Oversee multiple teams 

  • Follow a top-down approach to leadership

  • Build complex, cross-team solutions

Key differences between SAFe vs. Scrum

Before going over each section at length, here are the major differences between Scrum and SAFe.




Organization structure

Small organizations with independent teams

Enterprises with interconnected teams

Development philosophy 

Fast, continuous development

Goal setting with organizational commitment


Small teams with straightforward goals

Organizations tackling complex projects across teams


Lightweight, flexible, and iterative software delivery

Clear objectives set with a predetermined schedule 

Framework requirements

A whole team must embrace Scrum

An entire organization must embrace SAFe

Team roles

Less than 12 members broken into three roles

Dozens of employees working within several roles


Coordination within teams

Alignment between teams


Sprints last one to four weeks

Sprints last two weeks

How to choose the best framework for your team

The right Agile approach for an organization depends on its goals, structure, and processes. When picking between SAFe vs. Scrum, keep the following factors in mind. 

Organization structure

Scrum and SAFe fit different types of organizations. Scrum suits small companies or ones with independent teams. On the other hand, SAFe applies to larger enterprises with interconnected teams working together. 

Development philosophy

Scrum strives to provide continuous development at a low cost. Self-contained teams can organize themselves to quickly deliver high-quality software and make regular improvements over time. This creates a feeling of project ownership that Scrum teams may fail without.

SAFe is designed to enable large businesses or organizations to be nimble and agile while ensuring stability and structure for their teams. SAFe follows a more formalized strategy of setting clear targets based on a client’s needs. From there, teams rigidly pursue those goals within preset guidelines. While it gives room for flexibility and updates, SAFe development involves more oversight and structure. After all, requirement changes make waves through more than one self-contained group.

Implementation strategy

How and why you implement Scrum or SAFe should tie into your overall strategy:

  • Implement Scrum when you need a small team to operate cohesively on projects with straightforward goals. 

  • Implement SAFe to tie your whole organization together. Keep in mind this necessitates cooperation between teams.


Scrum leans on adaptable, lightweight methods that break larger projects into smaller steps. To prevent issues, you have to assess your deliverables regularly. Still, this approach maintains momentum on difficult projects. It also streamlines adjustments after stakeholder feedback.

SAFe employs more clear-cut roles that aren’t dependent on small, flexible teams. SAFe processes ensure quality production and cooperation on a business-wide level. While it takes more planning to organize, it affords greater resources.

Framework requirements

To implement Scrum, you only need one team. Ideally, this team will operate with a lot of independence and self-management. SAFe, on the other hand, takes more organizational commitment. Teams need to open themselves to sharing goals and processes in a more unified approach. 

Team roles and structure

Small teams with a dozen or fewer employees can embrace Scrum. Scrum divides tasks between the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Scrum team. In some cases, Scrum can organize an entire startup or small business.

SAFe encompasses multiple teams across an organization. Entry-level employees, managers, and high-level engineers all work together. It involves roles like:

  • Release train engineers

  • Program managers

  • Value stream engineers

  • Solution architects

  • Epic owners

  • Product owners

Team dependencies

While both frameworks come with team dependencies, the amount varies. With Scrum, teams can self-organize and independently manage their work. In a SAFe context, you need coordination between many teams. As a result, dependencies increase with the need for alignment. 


Both Agile frameworks operate within sprints, a relatively short production cycle. Of all the Agile ceremonies, these sprints stand as one of the most important. 

Cycle length varies by approach:

  • One to four weeks within Scrum teams

  • About two weeks within SAFe teams

Similarities between Scrum vs. SAFe

Chart depicting the similarities between the Scrum and SAFe software development processes

Despite their differences, Scrum and SAFe share a lot in common. As two Agile frameworks, they’re built on a similar foundation. We’ll break down the main ways they overlap below:

  • Team-based development: Both Scrum and SAFe rely on teams more than individual devs. Coordinated efforts within one or more teams move production along.
  • Incremental approaches to high-quality deliveries: Agile methods deliver the best products in smaller increments. While Scrum breaks steps into increments within one team, SAFe does so across more than one. 
  • Cooperation with stakeholders: Agile teams cooperate with stakeholders. Together, they can assess requirements, share feedback, incorporate customer suggestions, and make adjustments before or after deploying a product.
  • Inspect and adapt strategies: Regular inspections and direction adjustments play a role. In Scrum, a review follows each sprint. In SAFe, these checks come throughout the release train. Development priorities may change based on these inspections. 
  • Timeboxing: Both approaches use timeboxing for time management. Timeboxing entails setting aside the maximum amount of time needed to complete an activity. By finishing steps in the timebox, projects stay on track. 
  • Continuous delivery pipelines (CDP): Scrum and SAFe use a continuous delivery pipeline. This approach delivers software updates at frequent, regular intervals. It also leverages automation to quickly move products through testing, staging, and production.

Scrum@Scale: Reaching for the best of both worlds

To work around Scrum’s reliance on small teams, some organizations have used Scrum@Scale. This attempt at scaling Scrum comes with a few changes in line with SAFe. Scrum@Scale loops different groups and devs into a central, interchangeable team. Through this process, employees form networks and ecosystems to collaborate on shared goals.

Scrum@Scale brings many of Scrum’s benefits over to larger organizations. As such, they may have to choose between Scrum@Scale vs. SAFe. While this avoids some complexity and unites employees with common goals, it involves more careful management than Scrum. To mitigate these issues, Scrum@Scale introduces new roles:

  • The Chief Product Owner (CPO) oversees individual Product Owners and teams. The CPO aligns each team within a wider strategic approach. 
  • The Scrum of Scrums Master (SoSM) manages individual Scrum Masters and organizes shared processes.
Image depicting the definition and process involved for the Scrum@Scale software delivery framework

Improve your software delivery process with Pluralsight Flow

Deciding between Scrum vs. SAFe requires careful consideration. Leaders need to weigh their resources and goals against the demands of each framework. While learning about Agile takes time, it can revolutionize your approach to development. With the right approach, you can meet customer needs and turn your organization into a well-oiled machine.

Of course, your work doesn’t end after making a choice. With Pluralsight Flow, you can continue to improve your software delivery process. Flow tracks how your teams perform under any framework to identify strengths and areas of improvement. Try a demo of Flow for free today.

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