Maybe Usefull Differences Between CAO and SAFe To Understand

As a non-expert of SAFe, I got asked the question: “What is the difference between SAFe and CAO?” Well, I understand CAO, and scanned the SAFe website. In this post the differences that I noticed.

The Creating Agile Organizations (CAO) approach is about creating agile organizations that can easily be adapted, it is not about (de)scaling Agile and it is not the same as SAFe. According to the SAFe website: 

“What Is SAFe®? The world’s most trusted system for business agility”

Also the goal of SAFe as described on the SAFe website:

“The goal of SAFe is to synthesize this body of knowledge, along with the lessons learned from hundreds of deployments. This creates a system of integrated, proven practices that have improved employee engagement, time-to-market, solution quality, and team productivity.”

So, I do not doubt that SAFe has more stuff than CAO. What is the difference then? Well, CAO is a systemic approach to Agile organizational design that emphasizes axioms, principles, and guidelines for evolving your framework and guiding its adoption. It is important to note that it does not have specific structures, rules, events, and artefacts to build upon.

Some Differences

Below are some more differences that might be worth recognising and benefiting from.


A systemic approach, that emphasizes the study of the unique organization context and then applying guidelines, axioms and principles for evolving your tailored framework and guiding its adoption.

The focus is on aligning the agile organization design with the strategy.

Comprehensive scaling framework for Lean-Agile development, providing structured guidance at team, program, large solution, and portfolio levels.
Covers Product, Operational and Customer strategic focus for products and/or services.

A perfection vision might include but is not limited to Processes, Practices, Organizational structure, Behaviors, skills, and competencies we value in people

Covers Agile Product Delivery, Lean Portfolio Management, and Organizational Agility.
A systemic approach to Agile organization design on the overall company level, including Products, Services, Shared-Services and Platforms. Focus on organizational agility across multiple levels: Team, Program, Large Solution, and Portfolio.
Product and Service Definition from The Outside In. Consists of users, business model, and required organizational elements to bring/keep product into the hands of the customers and users Emphasizes built-in quality, program execution, alignment, and transparency.
Product Group consists of all organizational elements required to achieve its purpose or function, such as cross-functional teams, shared functions, systems, and roles.

Has a market focus and/or profit and loss responsibility.

Agile Release Train (ART) comprising multiple Agile teams, including roles like Scrum Masters, Product Owners, Release Train Engineers, and more.
Has no artefacts other than 1 or more PBL per Product Group. (Input and/or market units can have separate PBL). Emphasises designing a tailored model that fits the specific needs of the organizations. Artifacts include Program Increment (PI), Program Backlog, Solution Backlog, Portfolio Backlog, etc. Events include PI Planning, System Demos, Inspect and Adapt workshops, and more.
Uses a systemic approach to Agile organizational design that emphasizes axioms, principles, and guidelines for evolving your framework and guiding its adoption Utilizes a step-by-step Implementation Roadmap for adoption, involving training, planning, and execution phases.
Uses Cross-Functional teams with any Iterative-Incremental Process. Defines how to design shared services and platform groups.

Provides criteria for how to decide to include or exclude functions from the teams and Product Group based on the type and intensity of dependencies (reciprocal, sequential, pooled)

Focus on Agile Release Trains (ARTs) for continuous delivery of value, with regular cadences for planning, review, and retrospective.

Differences That Might Make a Difference


  • CAO: Emphasizes the study of the unique organization context and leveraging insights derived from it. Studying to understand context is key to successfully applying the guidelines, axioms and principles.
  • SAFe: Follows a detailed implementation roadmap with predefined steps for training, planning, and execution to ensure smooth adoption.

Approach and Focus:

  • CAO: Emphasizes a systemic approach to adaptable organization design, covering product, operational, and customer strategic focus.
  • SAFe: Focuses on scaling Lean-Agile principles across multiple levels (Team, Program, Portfolio) with an emphasis on Agile product delivery and organizational agility.

More About CAO

Visit the CAO website.

Creating Agile Organizations