Is SAFe Really Safe? A Critical Look at the Human Aspect and the Agile Manifesto

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) may offer structural solutions but how does it fare in aligning with the human-centric values emphasized in the Agile Manifesto?

Is SAFe Really Safe? A Critical Look at the Human Aspect and the Agile Manifesto
Photo by Bernard Hermant / Unsplash
Audio version of this article.


In today's complex world, the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) has gained traction for its systematic approach to scaling agile methodologies across large organizations. But while SAFe may offer structural solutions, how does it fare in aligning with the human-centric values emphasized in the Agile Manifesto? I take a critical look at the Scaled Agile Framework, especially from a human perspective.

Incompatibility with Agile Manifesto Values?

Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools

The Agile Manifesto strongly values human interaction over processes and tools. SAFe, however, can sometimes put a dampener on this value by introducing layers of processes that can hamper direct interactions. Sure, the framework aims to break down silos across departments, but can we honestly say individuals are prioritized when they have to navigate through complex hierarchies and protocols?

Working Software Over Comprehensive Documentation

In its quest for scaling, SAFe often requires comprehensive documentation. This could make sense in a corporate setting but doesn't this run counter to the Agile principle of prioritizing working software? While we document, we might forget the human labor that goes into actually making things work.

Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation

SAFe does include a focus on customer collaboration, but it is often not as direct as one might experience in smaller agile settings. There is a risk here of diluting the essence of this Agile value, as people in the organization may become more focused on adhering to the framework's structure than directly engaging with the customers.

Responding to Change Over Following a Plan

For a framework that aims to be Agile, SAFe can be surprisingly rigid. With its structured approach, there's less room for quick adaptability. Humans are adaptable creatures, and many find this rigidity stifling. The sheer amount of planning that goes into SAFe could deter the spontaneity required to respond to unexpected changes effectively.

The Human Factor: Are We Ignoring Basic Human Nature?

Complexity vs. Simplicity

Humans generally appreciate simplicity. The more complex a system, the more taxing it is mentally. SAFe, with its multiple layers and roles, can often be overwhelming. This complexity can lead to stress and decrease overall job satisfaction, which is hardly what you would expect from an "Agile" framework.

The Desire for Autonomy

People usually thrive when given more control and autonomy. SAFe, however, relies heavily on coordination and planning, which can strip individuals and even entire teams of the sense of autonomy that more lightweight agile methods offer.

Is Bigger Always Better?

The larger the organization, the more the need for frameworks like SAFe. But what's often not discussed is the human aspect of working in a large, faceless organization. Employees may feel like small cogs in a large machine, which could be dehumanizing. The framework focuses on scaling up but doesn't necessarily scale down to the human level.


In my view, while SAFe may provide a robust structure for scaling agile in large organizations, it may not be as safe a bet when we consider its alignment with the Agile Manifesto and basic human needs. The framework’s complexity, rigidness, and focus on documentation and planning could negate the very agile principles it aims to scale. From a human perspective, its overwhelming structure and lack of focus on individual autonomy are points of concern.

While SAFe has its merits, especially for large-scale projects requiring high levels of coordination, organizations should think long and hard about how the framework's rigidity and complexity align with both agile principles and human psychology. In short, when it comes to being truly Agile and respecting human values, SAFe may not be as safe as it seems.