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How is Kanban used in Scaled Agile Framework? What is the difference between Kanban and SAFe?

Updated: Apr 11

“Enterprise agility is not about being nimble for the sake of being nimble. It's about having the ability to quickly pivot and make decisions based on customer needs and market conditions." - Scott Ambler, Agile consultant, and coach.


Enterprise agility is the ability of an organization to quickly adapt to changing market conditions and customer demands. This capability is becoming very important in today's competitive and fast-paced business environment. To achieve enterprise agility, organizations are focusing on agile methodologies such as Kanban and SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework).

"Kanban is a method to optimize the flow of work, and to keep work flowing, by balancing demand with available capacity." - Mike Burrows, author of "Kanban from the Inside."


Kanban is a visual management system. It was first developed in the manufacturing industry. The word "Kanban" means "signboard" in Japanese and refers to the visual signals used to manage the flow of work. In software development, Kanban is often used as a method to visualize and manage work items on a board.

The primary goal of Kanban is to visualize the flow of work, it improves collaboration and flow and limits work in progress. Kanban is an Agile framework, but unlike other Agile frameworks, it guides limited specific set of practices or ceremonies and instead focuses on adapting to the needs of the team and the work being done with a motive to stop starting and start finishing.

SAFe uses Kanban for Teams, Agile Release Train (ART) also known as a Program, Large Solution and Portfolios. While Kanban is for teams SAFe is an agile framework for team or teams or for the entire organization to achieve business agility.

Kanban in SAFe has its own unique approach to managing work. It focuses on managing work, providing a visual representation of the flow of work for a specific team, train, large solution, or a portfolio. It helps teams prioritize, coordinate, and deliver work more efficiently, and can be used in conjunction with SAFe to provide greater visibility into the flow of work.

Kanban is also used for SAFe implementation to manage the implementation roadmap at enterprise level. It provides a visual representation of trainer being launched and sustained.

"SAFe provides a well-defined, scalable framework for organizations to manage their software development processes and achieve enterprise agility." - Dean Leffingwell, Creator of Scaled Agile Framework

Portfolio Kanban

The Portfolio Kanban system helps lean portfolio management to visualize, track and manage the flow of Epics, from the funnel stage through review, analysis, backlog, implementation, and done. The portfolio Kanban is helps to align strategy and execution by identifying, visualizing, and governing the selection of strategic initiatives (Epics) for a SAFe portfolio.

Program and Solution Kanban

The Program (ART Kanban) and Solution Kanban systems are helpful to visualize, track and managing the flow of Features (ART Kanban) and Capabilities (Solution Kanban) from funnel to analyzing, backlog, implementation, Validating on staging, Deployment t Production and release through the Continuous Delivery Pipeline. The Kanban helps Agile Release Trains (ARTs) and Solution Trains match capacity and demand based on Work in Process limits. Product Management, Release Train Engineers, and all others too are able to visualize bottlenecks in each Kanban state and help identify items for improvement. The Kanban system also includes policies that may be thought of as the definition of done, governing the entry and exit of work items in each state. Here is a sample of the ART Kanban system recommended by the Scaled Agile Framework

SAFe Team Kanban

Team Kanban is a method used by agile teams to manage and track value by visualizing workflow, establishing Work In Process limits and measuring throughput for tracking and improving work items such as user stories, enabler stories, task and improvement items.

Most Agile Teams use SAFe Scrum with Extreme Programming practices as their primary framework to deliver value. However, few teams might have a continuous and ad-hoc arrival of work and frequently changing priorities which lower the value of detailed planning.  These teams often choose Team Kanban as their preferred framework. For example, System Teams, operations, support, hardware, and various business teams (e.g., Marketing, Sales, and People Operations), often find SAFe Team Kanban a better choice for their context. Like all SAFe Agile Teams, Kanban teams determine how they will manage their work. The agile teams will create and refine backlog items with acceptance criteria and will have PI Objective for the PI as other teams following Scrum might be doing.


Both Kanban and SAFe have their own advantages and can be used to improve the efficiency of software development projects. However, it is important for organizations to assess their needs and goals in order to determine which framework would be the most effective for their specific situation. Whether it be a flexible and visual approach with Kanban or a structured framework for large-scale projects with SAFe, each framework offers unique benefits and can help organizations improve the overall success of their software development projects.

About Advance Agility

We, at Advance Agility, are the new-age Agile Coaching, Consulting, and IT services company. We enable end-to-end Digital Transformation. Agile execution is integral to our being. We are doing SAFe implementation with small, medium, and large organizations across the globe.

Our vision is to be the leading Agile execution player globally. To keep adding value at every process stage. We are on a mission to empower our clients and move from concept to cash in the shortest sustainable lead time by adopting the human-centric approach to business agility. Embracing change is in our DNA.

Things that keep us apart are Quicker and Seamless execution with End to end gamut of services. Our Global presence and Stellar Track Record give us an edge over our competitors.

Connect with us at to learn about SAFe and SAFe implementation. Write to us at for any agile training or consulting needs. We are always looking for competent agile trainers as well. So, if you are the one or want to become one, do get in touch with us to that we can learn, grow and achieve together.

About the Author:

Amogh is a seasoned professional with 15 years of experience in delivering solutions required in materializing customers' business strategies. He has a diverse background, having worked in multicultural environments across various geographical locations including the UAE, India, UK, Australia, Singapore, and Ireland.

Currently, he is working as Program Management for banking clients, where he is utilizing his expertise to develop cutting-edge solutions such as machine learning, payments (open banking), and mobile, using Agile, DevOps, Infrastructure, and Cloud technologies. He is able to effectively manage complex projects and provide efficient solutions that align with the customer's business strategies.



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