Classical painting of a black bloody-mouthed devil holding two children. Animated to shake violently.

Beware SAFe (the Scaled Agile Framework for Enterprise), an Unholy Incarnation of Darkness

Sean Dexter
14 min readJan 1, 2020

“And, in the next place, since evil is specially characterized by its diffusion, and attains its greatest height when it simulates the appearance of the good, for that reason are signs, and marvels, and lying miracles found to accompany evil, through the cooperation of its father the devil.”

— The Theologian Origen (185–254) on recognizing the Antichrist

If you’ve never heard of it before, the Scaled Agile Framework for Enterprise is a collection of principles and practices assembled with the goal of offering a way to “scale up” an Agile working model for large companies.

If you need it, I have a refresher on what Agile is and isn’t here.

Since its inception in 2011, SAFe has experienced enormous growth. Almost half a million people worldwide have become certified SAFe practitioners. If you expect to work in product, design, or engineering at a large company — or even a growing startup — there’s a chance you’ll encounter SAFe at some point in your career.

A graph that shows a trend that increases upwards almost linearly.
Google search term interest for “SAFe agile” since 2011

Spoiler alert: I’m not a fan.

In fact, as you may have guessed from the title of this article, I actually think SAFe is very bad. It proclaims values that seem sensible and then turns around and imposes processes and structure that stifle real agility. There are a number of “scaling frameworks” out there of varying quality, but it’s SAFe in particular that exemplifies the worst of misunderstood and poorly applied Agile thinking. It’s worth paying attention to — even just as an example of what to avoid.

You should treat this stance for what it is: one Product Designer’s individual perspective. I can’t conclusively prove that SAFe is the wrong choice for all situations. What I can do is raise awareness about the commonly expressed criticisms that corroborate with what I’ve learned myself and heard from others in my network.

I also hope to draw a clear connection between the high level criticisms and the low level structural details of the framework. This will require some…

Sean Dexter

Sr Product Designer @ Meta. Prev: HubSpot & Cigna. I write about UX, agile, & product. Not speaking for any employer/s.