Why do SAFe and Jira go together so well?

SAFe and Jira - a synergy that makes sense

As long as projects have existed, teams have looked for the tools and methodologies that help them accomplish the goals of those projects. For a long time, completing the goals was enough. As markets have grown and competition has gotten stronger, organizations are now looking for the best tools and methodologies for delivering the most value to the customer in the shortest amount of time. 

How do we determine which tools and methodologies are best? It depends on the organization, and each organization must evaluate the tools and frameworks themself.

If you’ve found your way to this post, maybe you and your organization are using Jira, and you’re not sure if your methodologies are working. Perhaps you are practicing SAFe, but you are still looking for the perfect tool to fit the framework. If you are considering Jira or SAFe for either of these scenarios, read on to evaluate how their synergy can work for your needs.


Atlassian’s Jira is the leading software for project and issue tracking. Jira helps teams plan, track, and release their work. It is also a completely customizable solution and fits a wide range of use cases. With the Atlassian ecosystem, teams can extend the functionality of Jira to fit their manner of working. In this way, Jira is modular, and businesses will only pay for what they use.

Since its inception in the early 2000s, Jira has been a tool design for agile teams. These teams are typically working within scrum, kanban, Lean, or LESS methodologies.

Scrum Framework

Scrum Framework courtesy of scrum.org: What is scrum? https://www.scrum.org/resources/what-is-scrum

With that said, Jira is adaptive and will allow you and your team to work with almost any methodology or framework. Jira adequately demonstrates this customizability in its workflow functionality, shown below:

SAFe and Jira - Jira Workflow

On the other side of this equation, we have SAFe or the Scaled Agile Framework. The team at Scaled Agile created SAFe in 2011 and since then have released five different versions of it.

As you can probably guess from the name, SAFe focuses on scaling agile practices to the enterprise level. While there is something in the framework for organizations of all sizes, the primary beneficiaries of SAFe are larger companies. SAFe focuses on Agile Release Trains or ARTs for short. According to the Scaled Agile website, an ART is “a long-lived agile team of teams, which, along with other stakeholders, incrementally develops, delivers, and where applicable, operates, one or more solutions in a value stream.” Value streams are how we add value to the customer through our products or services.

SAFe for lean enterprises

Image courtesy of https://www.scaledagileframework.com/

So do SAFe and Jira go well together? Are they the best combination since peanut butter and jelly? Let’s take a deep dive and find out.

Why they work well together

Ok, maybe they aren’t the best combination since peanut butter and jelly. That would be difficult, but there is still a bevy of core benefits where Jira and SAFe work well.


First, let’s start with the obvious. Jira is an agile tool. SAFe is an agile framework. Since Jira is the leading project management and issue tracking tool for agile teams, they fit together perfectly. Jira, as it stands, is available in two primary deployment methods, on-premise and cloud. While Atlassian is still investing in Cloud to make it feasible for enterprise organizations, this deployment is perfect for smaller teams. The on-premise version starts at 500 users and is much more suitable for enterprise organizations. Either way, scaling from startup to enterprise is possible within Jira. In the same way, SAFe can help teams of all sizes scale their agile practices.  


The second main benefit of combining Jira and SAFe comes with Jira’s customizability. SAFe encourages you to follow their processes and procedures, which can at times feel strenuous. If you are searching for a tool to map out these processes correctly, then Jira could be a great fit for you. As mentioned above and shown in the screenshot, the workflow customization in Jira will help you to work in the SAFe way. On top of the workflow customization, the custom fields and linkage with Atlassian’s other flagship product, Confluence, will allow you to collect the most valuable data to help your organization scale agile. 


With Jira’s reporting and dashboard functionality, it’s simple for agile teams to pull the necessary reports to reflect on their processes and work. This allows teams to empirically make decisions about how they are working and find ways to improve. Inspecting, adapting, and continuously learning are significant aspects of SAFe. Therefore, if you are using SAFe, combining the framework with a tool that gives you the information you need is imperative.

Where you need more

There are two sides to every coin. Let’s look at some of the shortcomings in a Jira and SAFe combination. As you will soon find out, there is a constant theme in this section: the desire for more.

Issue hierarchies

Jira is great for agile teams; we’ve already covered that. SAFe is an excellent framework for scaling agile. The problem then happens when organizations want to extend past the typical Epic, Story, Task, sub-task hierarchy which Jira handles.

SAFe calls for the team to track larger pieces of work, called Program Initiatives, or PIs for short. Out of the box, Jira is not able to do this for you. You will need to purchase an app or other product entirely. Some of our favorites for this are Agile Hive, Jira Align, Structure for Jira, and BigPicture - Project Management and PPM.


SAFe calls for fairly extensive road mapping. This is a best practice for almost any agile team. It’s vital for the team and its customers to know what is coming for a solution.

In recent years, Jira has started to explore more around this feature. Historically, this hasn’t been something that the team at Atlassian has focused on. There was always a Roadmap Gadget for dashboards, but its practical use in planning was minimal. Atlassian has recently developed their new Roadmaps feature available at the portfolio level for Jira Premium customers. This, of course, comes at double the price of Jira Software Standard. Therefore, if you are looking for an extensive roadmap capability and have less than 500 users, you might need to consider Jira Premium or one of the apps we mentioned above.

Visual dependencies

Another major aspect of SAFe is finding your teams’ dependencies and ensuring the proper communication channels are open for addressing those dependencies. In Jira Software, we can do this by linking issues together so that their dependency is clear. If you want to visualize this in a roadmap across projects, you will need one of the apps mentioned earlier.

Tools and frameworks

It’s a complicated time in the agile world. Enterprise organizations are trying to keep up with their much more nimble startup competitors. Stakeholders and executives value agility now more than ever. Finding the right combination of tools and practices could be the difference-maker that launches you and your organization to that next level of success.

Maybe you are a startup that is scaling faster than expected, and you find that Jira just isn’t cutting it anymore. Or perhaps you are an organization that has been using SAFe but hasn’t quite found the right insights to improve. Either way, you will likely need more than just Jira Software or SAFe to complete your journey. Jira provides the basis for your agile transformation, but it requires an app or premium plan to accomplish full SAFe.

Take a look at our SAFe Implementation Roadmap series!

Part 1: Getting started and reaching the tipping point
Part 2: Train lean-agile change agents
Part 3: Identify Value Streams and Agile Release Trains
Part 4: Create the implementation plan

Learn more about SAFe and Agile Hive: SAFe in Jira

If you are curious about learning more about SAFe or the software-supported implementation of SAFe, ask us about Agile Hive!  We would be happy to discuss your requirements for enterprise-wide agile product development and product management with you. Take a look at our Implementation Project documentation to see an overview of what an implementation would entail.

Get in touch with us today, and let us demonstrate how it works in a personal session.

Further Reading

Agile Hive Implementation Project
Scaled Agile: SAFe 5.0 changes and how Agile Hive maps them
SAFe with Atlassian tools: Agile Hive is a Scaled Agile Platform Partner
SAFe resources to get you started right
Agile Hive: What is SAFe®?

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