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Aug 01

Implementing the Scaled Agile Framework® with JIRA and add-ons

We already covered how one can aggregate multiple Sprints and Agile boards on a single screen. The idea might have given some of you small light bulbs above your heads – isn’t this exactly what’s needed to implement the titular Scaled Agile Framework®?

The Scaled Agile Framework is a proven, publicly-accessible knowledge base for implementing agile practices at enterprise scale, consisting of approximately 300 pages of guidance. Its primary interface is the “Big Picture” graphic which highlights the individual roles, teams, activities and artefacts necessary to scale agile from the team, to teams of teams, to the enterprise level. It has been successfully applied in programs ranging from only 50-100 people, to enterprises employing thousands of software developers. For more information on the Scaled Agile Framework, visit:

Looking at the Big Picture (the visual SAFe® map), you will note it has a workflow that in very, very layman’s terms can be summed up as multiple teams contributing to every iteration on the Program level. A bit lower, is the team level, where each team has their own chunk of work (backlog and all else). Let’s see how the whole process can be modeled in JIRA using nothing more than off-the-shelf solutions!

General stuff

SAFe uses some specific terms that may not be obvious at first, or not present in a stock JIRA installation. A great example are task types – Features, Epics and Stories. This means that:

  • You ought to use JIRA Software, as it has Epics and Stories right away
  • In JIRA Core, these task types can be emulated, but you will suffer on the Team level (more below)
  • You should create a new issue type called Feature

Protip: According to SAFE glossary, each Feature should include a statement of benefits and acceptance criteria. These can be made using JIRA custom fields, that one can even set as mandatory for Feature-creating users if needed.

The team level

Surprise: no creative hacks needed here! JIRA Software greatly covers this section on its own, with Scrum and Kanban boards for specific teams – each with their own backlog and iterations (Sprints).  User groups allow for clear division of who is who (Product Owners, Scrum Masters) and permission distribution based on these roles.


JIRA Core users are a bit left behind here – they can install the JIRA Agile add-on to get the board functionality, but this will result in them having a de facto JIRA Software… but with a tiny bit more maintenance and setup required. So fully possible, but kind of pointless if you are starting from scratch, as you can just go with Software and be done.


Program level

The word “program” might sound familiar by now.  To implement the Program level of Scaled Agile Framework, we will use the BigPicture plugin for JIRA. However, to make things more interesting and to fully adopt SAFe, this time we will go with the Enterprise edition.

Logo BigPicture Enterprise

It introduces the following functionality to JIRA Software:

Not bad, huh? Furthermore, the authors of BigPicture are an official partner of Scaled Agile® and strive to make the tool as SAFe-compliant as possible.

By far the biggest benefit of the Enterprise edition is a special mode of operation on the Roadmap module. Named “Large team mode”, it’s a 100% true Scaled Agile Framework variant of this part of the plugin.


Simply select the new mode and go to the Roadmap. At first, nothing new will really happen:


Protip: Notice the Program Increment above. BigPicture is the only plugin directly offering a PI feature, complete with linking each to demo and planning Confluence pages.

Teams, timeline and Cadences as always, only Sprint mapping left, right? Well, let’s proceed:


Now that’s new! As you might remember, the small team mode from the standard edition lets users map 1 Sprint to every Cadence. What the Enterprise edition does, it chops all Cadences into cells formed on their intersections with specific Teams. This means that, in a nutshell, every Cadence is a representation of multiple Sprints at once.

Teams can be common between Programs via the Global Teams feature. There are 2 backlogs: a whole-Program one, as well as separate backlogs for every Cadence.

Protip: For quick granulation adjustments, simply create quick filters representing type=Epic, type=Story and type=Feature.

PI Planning sessions

One of the most important rituals of the Scaled Agile Framework are its planning sessions. The PI planning meetings are all hands on and, as the founder of Scaled Agile notes:

If you are not doing it, you are not doing SAFe.

The Roadmap module of BigPicture has 2 features meant in particular for this area of implementation. First is the live sync mode, which is represented by a green icon in the upper right corner of the screen. As long as everyone has it active, any change somebody makes via drag and drop will be immediately shown on all screens. No refreshing, waiting, stitching HDMI cables to a large TV or being in doubt that someone, somewhere, made a change no one else is aware of.

In a pinch it can be also used to remotely include some people – the meeting sessions are supposed to have everyone in 1 room at the same time and this works by far the best. However, sometimes this is simply not possible and it’s better to have an option of a remote mechanism and not use it, than not have it at all when needed.

The second important feature is the ability to create a dependency board.  These are one of the standard SAFe tools and consist of matrixes illustrating cross-Cadence and cross-team dependencies. Such a visual map is defined as one of the two required outputs of a successful planning session.


If only there was a mechanism that would show this in JIRA right away…


As you can clearly see, there already is. Furthermore, on the link visibility dropdown, users may select showing only valid or invalid links – either to focus exclusively on realistic things, either to check for potential mistakes and bottlenecks. The latter are shown as red and indicate some attention needs to be given there.

Time to ditch post-it notes and strings on walls!

Protip: While no export option is available yet for the Roadmap, once can use the built-in feature of most web browsers to get a PDF file easily.

Portfolio level

We covered this in the past, so just a quick recap:  The Program list will soon be completely redesigned to resemble a Scrum board. All Programs will be shown as cards, each card displaying the health of a Program, indicating any risks or problems, and the exact progress.


And currently, you can create a separate filter-based Program that will pull in everything at once. Its modules (Gantt, Resources, Roadmap, Risks) automatically represent the overview of literally everything our example company is doing. By including what every Program contains, one can create a multi-Program view.

Other stuff

One of BigPicture’s biggest advantages is its flexible feature set. For advanced data aggregates, exporting and a different visual representation the Gantt chart can be used – it can take an Agile form and fully syncs with the Roadmap. Shareholders do not embrace SAFe yet? Just give them a familiar view right away for easier transition.

The resource management section also comes in handy, as you do not have to manually factor in all kinds of holidays and non-working days. Just define them once, and plan away!

Last but definitely not least, BigPicture Enterprise has a dedicated Metrics module. Currently in early beta status, it will allow users to show Program performance, PI burn-downs and predictability along with forecasts.


That’s it! In a few simple steps, the awesome combination of JIRA Software and BigPicture Enterprise can be used to implement the Scaled Agile Framework in JIRA easily and with a tool that’s SAFe-compliant and developed by an official partner of Scaled Agile. The times of physical dependency boards, dirty hacks and kinda-true-implementations are over – just grab the proper tools and you’re good to go.

About The Author

We're SoftwarePlant team. We're striving to make Jira, Trello, Google Calendar and 'you name it' task management software talk to each other, and at the speed of light. We will one day unite them all. When the dream comes true will you still need any 'uber-software', other than BigPicture, to manage projects?