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Mar 10

Leading Scaled Agile Methodologies – Similarities and Differences

Top scaling agile methodologies

How to select the right Scaling agile methodology for your organization? How do SAFe, DAD, LeSS, and Scrum of Scrums differ from each other? Do some of them fit certain industries or sizes of organizations better than others? How popular are they?

Is plain Scrum not enough? In large organizations, a gap is emerging between the teams doing the work and the finance manager who allocates the funding. To stay aligned, organizations are transforming from Scrum to the Scaling Agile, 2nd generation frameworks.

SAFe, LeSS, DAD, and Nexus are all agile at scale PM frameworks. We see them overtaking the market in the current decade. Implementing a scaling agile framework is an effort for the entire organization.

Scaling agile frameworks do not contradict proven agile methods, such as Scrum, Kanban, XP, or Cristal. The center of gravity only shifts from the product development good practices to the coordination of efforts across the company.

Agile vs Scaling agile

First, let’s look closer at how the scaling frameworks are different from the team-level, agile methods.

Table 1. First vs. second-generation methods

Agile Scaling agile
Scrum, Kanban, XP, DSDM, Crystal SAFe, LeSS, DAD, LeadingAgile
Teams execute a project at a time. Organizations execute programs – combinations of several projects that may overlap.
Funding is allocated to business leaders, product leaders, or specific plans (projects). Funding is allocated to team-of-teams that must use their resources to accomplish the initiatives.
daily coordination weekly, monthly coordination
teams teams of teams,
or teams of teams of teams
one physical location different physical locations

Compare the “Big 4”

When choosing a Scaling methodology for your organization we recommend the following steps:

  1. Begin with the most detailed, formal, and prescriptive methodology (see the 2nd row of table 2).
  2. If, for whatever reason, it doesn’t fit, proceed to less formal methodologies.
  3. The less prescriptive a methodology the bigger the risk it will fail in combat.

Another factor is the number of certified practitioners. Is there a certified consultant available in your city or country? The more of them, the more proven a methodology is. Is there at least one certified person in any country in the world? – is a good question to ask yourself. SAFe shines here, so we marked it ‘Fairly mature’ in the third row of table 2.

Compare Scaling agile frameworks: DAD, LeSS, SAFe, Scrum of Scrums

Source: Google Trends

Table 2. Similarities and differences in leading Scaled Agile methodologies

DAD LeSS SAFe Nexus / SoS
How detailed, formal, and prescriptive a methodology is?

1 – least formal
3- most prescriptive

2 1

A “barely sufficient” framework. Formal LeSS rules fit on the front and back of a page. Version for product teams of up to a thousand people, LeSS Huge, is not much larger.


Very prescriptive, and telling what to do


minimal guidance

SAFe is the market leader at the time of writing. However, its high score recorded by Google Trends might result from SAFe’s extensive documentation available online. It’s hard to point to the second most popular framework – read Beyond SAFe – Trends in Agile Scaling Approaches 2020.

Is there a professional in ~every country in the world?

Disciplined Agile Consortium and PMI  train and certify people to become a Disciplined Agile Scrum Master, Disciplined Agile Senior Scrum Master, Disciplined Agile Coach, and Disciplined Agile Value Stream Consultant. Available certifications include Certified LeSS Practitioner and Certified LeSS for Executives. Mature certification structures. 13 certified roles are available.

SAFe is supported by a large number of agile tools.

Scaled Professional Scrum with Nexus (Scrum.org)
Full name, author, year Disciplined Agile Delivery

Scott Ambler, 2012

IBM, 2009

Large Scale Scrum

Craig Larman, Bas Vodde


Scaled Agile Framework

Dean Leffingwell


Scrum of Scrums

Jeff Sutherland, Ken Schwaber

2001, in Agile Can Scale: Inventing and Reinventing SCRUM in Five Companies article

In a nutshell
In one sense methods such as Scrum, Extreme Programming (XP), Kanban, Agile Modeling (AM), and Unified Process (UP) provide the process bricks and DAD the mortar to fit the bricks together effectively. LeSS scales up the activities in scrum, applying them at the team-of-teams level. Similar to SAFe, but focuses on improving communication between the teams. SAFe provides a way for a large IT group to organize itself as teams of teams of agile teams. Scrum of Scrums adds an “Integration Team” that focuses on dependencies, interoperation, and integration [of code] between Scrum teams.
Large, medium, or small organization?

Industry bias




Has roots in financial and telecommunication industries. Media, too.





Portfolio management guidelines yes no

merely coordination

yes no

merely coordination, no role for project managers

How robust is the set of Roles?

To what extent does a framework make a toolkit for roles and scopes of responsibility?

Product Owner
Team member
Team lead
Architecture owner
Product Owner
Development Team
Scrum Master
Area Product Owner – in LeSS Huge
Agile Team
Scrum Master
Product Owner
Product Manager
Release Train Engineer
Business Owner
System Architect / Engineer
Solution Manager
Epic Owner
Solution Architect/Engineer
Solution Train Engineer
Enterprise ArchitectSAFe Programme Consultant (SPC)
Product Owner
Development Team
Scrum Master
LeSS – up to 8-10  teams of 8 (10-50 people)

Less Huge – 50-6000+ people on one product

At the program level, each team’s scrum has between five and 10 SAFe teams as part of an Agile Release Train. An ART should aim at 50-125 members.

To break even, at least a few hundred software practitioners should work cooperatively as a Solution Train (a collection of ARTs) on related products and solutions.

Intended for 3-9 Scrum teams.

4-6 people constitute a team.

If you are already familiar with some team-level frameworks, the following are embedded: Scrum and Kanban Scrum SAFe does not dictate a team-level methodology. All it says is ‘Work iteratively’. Scrum is commonly seen at the team level at SAFe-practicing organizations.

Kanban boards are recommended to visualize the flow of Features, Capabilities, and Epics at the Program, Solution, and Portfolio level respectively.

Proximity to other scaling agile frameworks,

based on Google suggestions

Scrum @ Scale
How adaptable a methodology is? Could it become a path to “roll your own” approach? add a bit more / adapt as you go add a bit more / adapt as you go Four configurations are available – Essential SAFe, Large Solution SAFe, Portfolio SAFe, and Full SAFe – to accommodate organizations of various sizes and needs. add a bit more / adapt as you go
Non-fiction Disciplined Agile Delivery: A Practitioner’s Guide to Agile Software Delivery in the Enterprise, Mark Lines, Scott Ambler Large-Scale Scrum: More with LeSS, Bas Vodde, Craig Larman Scaled Agile Framework, Dean Leffingwell Scrum Guide, Ken Schwaber, Jeff Sutherland, Patricia Kong, Dave West

The Nexus Framework for Scaling Scrum, Kurt Bittner

An effort was made to gather accurate data. Data current at the time of writing. Help improve the table – e-mail marketing (a) softwareplant.com.


Other scaling agile frameworks

Scrum@Scale – Jeff Sutherland and Scrum Alliance, 2017

Spotify model – a culture-centric approach to scaling agile

LeadingAgile – transformation roadmap rather than implementing abstract models and rules, Mike Cottmeyer, 2010

Lesser-known: Agile Portfolio Management, Enterprise Scrum, FAST Agile, Lean Management, Recipes for Agile Governance (RAGE), SCARE, Scrum Lean in Motion (Slim), Team of Teams.

Once we dig past “scale” to the real problem your company is most interested in solving right now, then one of these solutions might make more sense than the others. Note the especially important “How adaptable…” criterion in table 2.


Good practices

Truth-be-told, there’s no right way to scale agile. Nevertheless, let’s try:

  • Scaling agile is there to prevent a senior executive from personally poring over specifications and bug lists. Leaders communicate clear strategic intents, then trust the teams to deliver on that strategy.1
  • Most large organizations commit to a single agile at scale framework.
  • Companies that don’t – that try to pick and choose the best pieces from each – still want to create a single vision.
  • Ground the change in the context of your organization and this moment, instead of relying on someone else’s revealed wisdom.



For this comparison to be complete, we can’t skip those who question scaling agile frameworks altogether.

Leadership is frustrated because through middle management down to teams don’t seem to be getting traction on the goals/KPIs they want (alignment). They typically introduce more controls, more detailed processes and more measures (frameworks) that typically result in the exact opposite – Matt Barcomb

(With a scaling methodology having been implemented) what are some experiments your people will do at different levels in the organization to make a small improvement? Alistair Cockburn

Adding manpower to a late software project often makes it later. Brooks’ Law from The Mythical Man-Month book


I made extensive use of the following sources:

  • Lean Portfolio Management, John May, Atlassian Agile Coach
  • SAFe vs LeSS vs DaD vs LeadingAgile: Comparing scaling agile frameworks, Matt Heusser, CIO, August 2015
  • Scrum of Scrums. How to scale Scrum, Chris Spanner, Atlassian Agile Coach
  • What’s the difference between the Nexus Framework and other Scaled Scrum Frameworks? Quora
  • What Are The Scaling Agile Frameworks and How Are They Different? adventurewithagile.com
  • Smart Scaling (ASK) presentation 2014, Richard Dolman, Steve Spearman
  • AgileScalingKnowledgebase(ASK-5.1), agilescaling.org
  • Beyond SAFe – Trends in Agile Scaling Approaches 2020, Anthony Mersino, June 2020

1 Adam Yuret, a portfolio management and strategy consultant

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About The Author

With his automotive background Marcin goes beyond the 'Jira + software development' standard. He likes simple, up-to-five-sentence answers to complex questions.