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Agile Scaling: From Scrum To SAFe And Beyond

Scaling approaches have been the subject of much discussion in the agile community for some time now. The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) was a big deal during the 2014 Agile Alliance conference, which is where I first spotted it. It seems like every vendor booth at the conference mentioned SAFe or boasted about how compatible it was with it.

Since 2014, a growing number of consultants and vendors have embraced SAFe after seeing its potential for financial gain. It’s obvious that this paradigm makes money, which is why major consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG, and Accenture promote using it. In order to continue selling tools, the majority of ALM tool suppliers, including Microsoft, Atlassian, and VersionOne, have included SAFe support.

SAFe remains the most widely used framework for scaling agile in 2020. Even though SAFe’s efficacy and customer satisfaction are debatable, it appears likely that the company will continue to dominate the market.

What about different agile scaling methods? What are people utilizing to scale if they don’t utilize SAFe? Even if it’s challenging to pinpoint exact acceptance rates for scaling frameworks, I’ve searched the internet to paint the most realistic picture of the state of agile scaling techniques in 2020.

I’ve attached the well-liked CollabNet/VersionOne (now Digital.ai) Annual State of Agile Report. To avoid defending too much on one source, though, I wanted to go beyond that and include data from additional surveys. Thank goodness, I located a couple more sources. These surveys frequently don’t always line up, which is not surprising.

A summary of the results arranged according to particular scaling approaches is provided below. I’ll go into more depth about the many polls I used for my research later.

Agile Scaling Approaches Used (beyond SAFe)

As previously said, the most often used scaling approach is SAFe. Alternatives exist. Based on popularity, let’s examine the following agile scaling frameworks and display patterns over time for each.

  1. Disciplined Agile Delivery
  2. Spotify Model
  3. Scrum of Scrums
  4. Enterprise Scrum
  5. Large Scale Scrum (LeSS)
  6. Nexus
  7. Scrum at Scale
  8. Roll Your Own

Let’s start by looking at a few techniques that are not scaling approaches at all.

Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD):

DAD is a fascinating person. Developed by IBM by Scott Ambler and Mark Lines, the framework was introduced in 2012. Ambler and Lines have since described it as a “toolkit” to assist teams in making decisions that are acceptable for the given environment.

 It is possible to think of the DAD toolkit as a superset of all existing frameworks, such as Lean, Scrum, Kanban, and SAFe. Included are methods such as test-driven development and agile modeling. Everything is in there, even the kitchen sink, I promise you.

Therefore, it is unfair to put disciplined agile in a list of scaling methodologies. Many have nevertheless done that. The percentage of respondents that indicated in the various polls that they used either disciplined agile or disciplined agile delivery (DAD) is as follows:

The Spotify Model:

Despite the claims of many that Spotify is a scaling solution, I have written a lot about why it is not. Please give up. If you changed the name of your teams to Squads, wonderful, but quit referring to that as an agile scaling framework. In order to truly emulate Spotify, you should address the culture within your company. A Checklist for Using the Spotify Model has more information.

The chart below illustrates how many individuals who are unaware of my blog still believe that Spotify uses an agile scaling strategy.

Scrum of Scrums:

The technique known as Scrum of Scrums has been in existence since 2001. The Scrum of Scrums is a method for managing several teams that was developed by the Scrum founders, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber. As a method, it consists of nothing more complicated than a gathering of members from the several Scrum teams to plan tasks and establish dependencies.

The Scrum of Scrums technique is widespread and often misused, in my experience. Project managers typically attend what amounts to a glorified status meeting where they report on the various Scrum Teams’ status. It is paradoxical given that project managers are not included in the Scrum Framework.

I believe that the high stated utilization figures for Scrum of Scrums are due to their genuine application of the methodology. While it might be a useful method for managing several teams, it falls well short of the scaling recommendations offered by SAFe. I’m surprised if most agile practitioners think that Scrum of Scrums is a workable scaling strategy because I haven’t seen much advise on the subject.

It’s also likely that some mistake Jeff Sutherland’s Scrum of Scrums for Scrum at Scale. Results for both of these are rarely included in the same report, as far as I can tell.

Therefore, I believe that when respondents are offered the option to select a scaling method on a survey, they respond with a “yes,” even though in practice they do not employ Scrum or Scrums for scaling.

Nonetheless, let’s take a look at survey responses over time from our 8 sources.

Enterprise Scrum:

One of the 17 writers of the Agile Manifesto, the late Mike Beedle, launched Enterprise Scrum in 2001. It has a small but devoted fan base, but Beedle’s untimely death in March 2018 has hampered any potential expansion.

A list of accredited Enterprise Scrum coaches and an Enterprise Scrum website once existed. I’ve heard that some of the other fans of Enterprise Scrum are trying to complete the book that Beedle was working on and intended to release prior to his passing.

The chart below illustrates this: roughly 50% of the surveys show no adoption of Enterprise Scrum, while the other surveys average 4% adoption.

Large Scale Scrum (LeSS):

Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) was co-founded by Craig Larman and Bas Vodde sometime around 2006. Together, they advertise three books about scaling, the LeSS community, and the Less.works website:

LeSS is based on single team Scrum, just like Nexus and Scrum at Scale. LeSS is interesting in that it encourages de-scaling rather than growing.

The results of the LeSS survey have an odd bias. As you can see below, adoption according to Status Quo surveys is significantly higher than that of other research, which put it at about 5% of all techniques. I’m not sure how to explain this, although it could be related to sample sizes or locations.


Nexus was founded in 2015 by Ken Schwaber and Scrum.org. Schwaber co-created Scrum and was one of the 17 authors of the Agile Manifesto. The Nexus guide was published in 2015, along with a book that was issued in 2017. The Nexus Framework for Scaling Scrum: Constantly Providing an Integrated Product with Several Scrum Teams.

Scrum is the foundation of Nexus.

As you can see, according to the surveys, adoption rates range from 0% to 15% of those claiming to use Nexus.

Scrum @ Scale:

Scrum @ Scale was introduced in 2017 by Jeff Sutherland and the Scrum Alliance. Sutherland is a co-creator of Scrum and one of the 17 authors of the Agile Manifesto. I consider Scrum @ Scale to be a latecomer to the agile scaling landscape.

Actually, the only polls that mention Scrum @ Scale are the Status Quo ones. Considering that it was first published in 2017 and that only 8% of participants in the 2017 Status Quo survey said they had used it, it seems a little odd.

My theory is that people were reacting without realizing the distinction between Scrum @ Scale and Scrum of Scrums.

Roll Your Own:

I’m not sure how I feel about this roll your own category. It is referred to by several names in the various surveys, such as “Custom,” “Own Development,” and “Individually Created.” I believe we can estimate that 10% to 15% of people who scale do so by utilizing some of their own approaches, although the results vary widely overall.


Knowledge workers can benefit from scaling agile using the Scaled Agile Framework by achieving autonomy, mastery, and purpose-three essential elements that unlock intrinsic motivation. Employers implementing SAFe have the resources necessary to reduce employee fatigue and raise job satisfaction.

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