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The Scrum Guide defines a single unit that consists of a Product Owner, a Development Team of 3-9 members, and 1 Scrum Master for somewhere between 5 and 11 members. I've seen instances where the Product Owner may have support staff or the team may not have a dedicated Scrum Master to vary that number slightly, but it seems to cap out at about a dozen people.

The Nexus Guide describes one method of scaling Scrum to handle 3-9 Scrum teams working on a single product. It adds a new Nexus Integration Team which may be dedicated members or it may be composed of people from the various Scrum teams. Based on that guide, it would scale to about 20-120 individuals.

Disciplined Agile can scale up from one team to N teams. A standard individual team size would be about the same as in Scrum - 3-9 members plus supporting roles from various specialists, independent test teams, domain experts, etc. The considerations in this framework aren't simply scaling, but applying the agile methods in large organizations, regulated environments with mandated compliance, outsourcing, globally distributed teams. It seems like the limit is that you would have one instance of DA per product or product line.

To varying degrees, I've been involved in working on or implementing processes using Scrum, Nexus, and DAD, so I have a solid understanding of those. I don't have a working knowledge of LeSS and SAFe, beyond what I'm reading other people saying.

LeSS seems straightforward. It's an alternative to Nexus that has the capability to scale much larger. The rules of LeSS state that LeSS is designed for 2-8 team and LeSS Huge is designed for 8+ teams, which I would estimate the development organization size to be at about 15-80 for LeSS and 80+ for LeSS Huge. Depending on your organization, you would probably be looking at 20-110 people in the product organization for LeSS and 100+ people in LeSS Huge, counting management, independent QA, operations, and so on. Both forms of LeSS appear to be geared toward a single product, or perhaps a closely related set of products (such as a product line or set of microservices). Every product would have its own instance of LeSS (or LeSS Huge).

SAFe seems to be inclusive of the whole organization - operations, user experience, enterprise architects and systems engineers, product managers, QA, developers, and so on. It has two models - a 3 level organization and a 4 level organization. The 3 level organization identifies Team, Program, and Portfolio. The 4 level organization adds a Value Stream level between Program and Portfolio. Based on the number of roles identified, it seems like this is targeting large enterprise organizations with multiple products and concurrent programs. Reading their guidance for implementing, it seems like they expect an implementing organization to train executives and management and then at least 50 members of a development team. Minimum organization size would seem to be a couple of hundred people across all of the identified groups and multiple products to make implementation make sense.

Am I right in my assumption that LeSS is a "competitor" to Nexus with respect to the target audience and SAFe is targeting very large organizations with a large number of products or product lines, far more than the other scaled agile frameworks are?

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As an objective source I think we could use the ASK (Agile scaling knowledge) matrix. It comes with 9 scaled agile frameworks predefined.

Currently they define the following sizes:

  • Small:  < 100 people or 10 teams
  • Med: >100  < 500 people or 50 teams
  • Large Org: >500 people or 100s of teams

Then they range the frameworks you name like this:

  • Nexus: Small but Nexus+ can go over 9
  • LeSS: Med - Large
  • SAFe: Large - Enterprise

From this informations I would say that Less and Nexus could compare on "Medium" level, but LeSS focuses more on the larger side, while the Nexus focus starts on the smaller setups.

SAFe seems to be the only one focusing on larger and even larger (enterprise) organisations. Still I wonder if companies implementing SAFe can ever be really Agile. (Sounds more like an consultant dream come true, but maybe that is a different question ;-)

Personally I have not worked in companies larger than 3 teams. So maybe I am not the right person to validate this information. Maybe you can discuss this on the hands-on-agile-on-slack which contains some coaches who might have worked with companies using these different scaling frameworks.

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I am a Certified LeSS practitioner and a SAFe Program Consultant. Both LeSS and SAFe are designed for any size team from 50 people up to thousands of people. The largest LeSS implementation I'm aware of is at BMW self driving car with 1800 people in the team. SAFe however I know many organisations with 4000+ people in the teams.

I think the size of the organisation should not be your deciding factor for the framework, that is a very simplistic view. each framework has an optimising context.

LeSS works best if your primary concern is agility in product development. However SAFe works best if you would like Agility but your risk appetite is low and you are willing to sacrifice some agility for stability.

SAFe is a big and complex framework, that is a disadvantage but it works well with organisations which are not willing to simplify. I have written and article summarising some key aspects of Scaled Agile Framework. It summarises key roles, artefacts, and ceremonies of SAFe to make it a bit simpler to understand.

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