Nowadays, various publications frequently compare Enterprise Architecture with SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework). Reasons for such measurement vary - some argue that practicing SAFe decreases the need for the EA. Others suggest that the two disciplines are incompatible, requiring to practice one or the other, but not together.
We are a group of Enterprise and Solution Architects, and this topic is very relevant to what we do, both as practitioners and producers of Archipeg (Digital Architecture software). Hence, we thought it is a good idea to discuss this intriguing topic on this page.
We want to emphasize both the commonalities and differences between EA and SAFe; before that, let us describe each of these disciplines.
Enterprise Architecture is a discipline that can help make effective decisions related to business, data, applications, technology, etc. One might say that the EA is a holistic approach to analyzing the breadth and depth of information about an enterprise (i.e., a company or its subdivision). Only with the outcome of these exercises can we make decisions about the future state. This path often involves digital transformation, cost or operational efficiency optimization, or even action plan for mergers and acquisitions.
For a more in-depth description of the Enterprise Architecture, please refer to our definition of EA.
Purists will say that we compare apples to oranges because Enterprise Architecture is a discipline, while SAFe is a framework. We understand the difference, and we know that when people try to put the two topics side-by-side, they mean either two disciplines or two frameworks. Although SAFe is a framework, it is almost a defacto standard for the Scaled Agile field. Hence, we look at both the SAFe and EA as comparable disciplines that might or might not solve similar problems.
SAFe helps implement Agile processes and principles across an enterprise. This discipline stands on Lean, Agile, and System Thinking techniques. One might think of SAFe as a Scrum or a similar Agile process applied to an entire company so that each Agile team becomes part of a larger Agile spinner.
We have in-depth and hands-on experience in SAFe, which makes us comfortable describing it or comparing it to EA.
We carefully analyzed both EA and SAFe to understand the reasons behind the thinking that the two subjects are mutually exclusive.
Both these disciplines try to solve large-scale, enterprise-wide problems that target to increase efficiency and productivity. If we stop at this level of detail, you might think that EA and SAFe try to do the same thing. However, this is not an accurate statement. We will go into more details below, while for now, we will answer the above question negatively.
No, EA and SAFe are not mutually exclusive!
Definition of SAFe suggests that SAFe is concerned with time-to-market, productivity, quality, and employee engagement. While this framework organizes the process, it leaves the structural and architectural analysis out of the scope. This approach is understandable - after all, even on an engineering team level, Agile always took care of the process. There were still other groups of specialists who took care of the product, technology, and infrastructure's structural decisions. Yes, we are speaking about Application and Solution Architects!
When you look at Agile at Scale (e.g., SAFe), you will realize that the distinction has stayed the same. SAFe cares about the process, and thus, there is a need for structural analysis and decision-making. Instead of eliminating the need for EA, SAFe did the opposite - it emphasized the importance of such discipline on an enterprise level. SAFe did the same for each engineering team earlier, so this is not news to us.
We want to clarify one more confusion while on this topic: some EA frameworks (e.g., TOGAF) might seem like suggesting a Waterfall-like process for architecture development (e.g., TOGAF's ADM). However, nothing stops you from practicing those processes in an agile or iterative fashion. After all, Agile and Waterfall methodologies do not differ by their steps but by how many times they repeat them. Agile is the same Waterfall SDLC but squeezed and repeated in each iteration.
Therefore, there is a need for both the EA and SAFe; they deliver the best value when practiced together.
Archipeg is a Software for Enterprise Architecture and Solution Architecture. We believe that it can help EA and SA practitioners analyze and make decisions about an organization's structural side. Again, those EAs will partner and participate in Agile processes, which SAFe or similar large-scale process frameworks might govern.