What are the scaling agile frameworks and how are they different?

What are the scaling agile frameworks?

There are a number of scaling agile frameworks that look to solve the problems associated with agility at scale. While there are others, such as Nexus, Spotify model & Scrum at Scale, the three main frameworks are  Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS), Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and Disciplined Agile (DA). Quite often our clients ask us, how the frameworks differ or which one works best. Here’s a brief comparison of the three main agile frameworks and our solution to using them within large organisations.

LeSS (Large-Scale Scrum)

LeSS is a framework for scaling agile development to multiple teams. It builds on top of the Scrum principles such as empiricism and cross-functional, self-managing teams and provides a framework for applying that at scale. It provides simple structural rules and guidelines on how to adopt Scrum in large product development. LeSS is a good starting point when you already have Scrum in place and are just beginning to scale up with more teams, one at a time. The framework scales up with minimal additional processes compared to single-team Scrum. It also includes principles and practices for organisational design, systems thinking, theory of constraints, queuing theory, lean waste and more.

SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework)

SAFe is described as an interactive knowledge base for implementing agile practices at enterprise scale. SAFe provides a lot of guidance and covers a broad scope including financing and enterprise architecture. SAFe is prescriptive and addresses the enterprise at 3 levels*, team, program and portfolio. At the Team level, SAFe is not that different from Scrum extended with a few XP practices. The Program level aligns the teams around some additional common events to form an Agile Release Train (ART), while the Portfolio level aligns the ART with the strategic goals of the organisation.

*SAFe is now 4 levels, since the introduction of the value stream layer between the ART and Portfolio layers as part of SAFe 4.0. For simplicity, this is initially hidden from newcomers to SAFe.

Both LeSS and SAFe share some common patterns: Scrum at the team level, many teams sharing a backlog, collaborative planning across multiple teams, along with the general principles of pull and self-organization. DA is a little different but is worth exploring for an organisation embarking on an agile transformation.

DA (Disciplined Agile)

DA is not a scaling framework per se. It’s a process decision framework that provides a comprehensive guide to everything you need for an Agile transformation. DA utilises Scrum, and Kanban, along with transformation knowledge in areas like HR and Finance, Governance, DevOps, Portfolio Management and Culture. It’s a one-stop shop, organised around specific goals which allows you to consider your options and learn about your choices. What makes DA especially interesting and useful, is that it is based upon real data, providing you with an insight into what’s going on in other organisations. It’s not theory. It promotes enterprise awareness that’s based on industry successes, and what works and doesn’t work elsewhere. It covers the whole delivery lifecycle and beyond.

Which Framework Does AWA Use?

While there are excellent parts within all of these frameworks (and others not covered here) neither should be seen as the goal of an organisation. This is because every organisation is different; there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach.  Instead, treat each framework as a set of resources from which to create a model that is truly contextual to your organisation.

At AWA we work with our clients using our own successful and sustainable approach for enterprise agility called the “Enterprise Change Pattern” which results in people acquiring the skills they need to continually adapt and improve their work and outcomes. Individuals and teams both gain context for the role of their group in the wider organisation, shifting focus from a narrow focus to a wider product focus. They also learn how to develop trusting relationships and clear communication that allow organisations to succeed.

Companies that have engaged in our coaching programmes see a palpable return on their investment, in the form of:

  • High-performing engaged teams with the mindset and skills to innovate in the face of continual change.
  • Ability to adjust priorities as needed, at lower cost.
  • Alignment across teams and departments, improved communication and a strong sense of shared purpose. 
  • Higher employee retention.
  • Faster delivery of products, with fewer defects.
  • Happier customers.


If you’re ready to learn how your organisation can become more aligned and focused, and deliver value faster, fill out the form below. Tell us about your needs and goals, giving as much information as you can – we’re all ears. You can also feel free to email or give us a call:

UK phone: +44 (0)203 369 1125
US phone: +1 (646) 832-2328

Curious about Agile Ways of Working? We answer your most frequently asked questions here.

Get your free copy of "What is Agile?"

In this free guide Simon Powers explores agile, the agile mindset, why organisations can find agile transitions a painful process, and how agile coaching supports people who are moving to agile ways of working.. Download now and get your free copy.