SAFe 5.0 and what you need to know about it - part 2, Customer Centricity and Design Thinking

Dec 12, 2019, 11:56 AM

It’s been four years since the last major release of SAFe®, Scaled Agile Framework, but in January the framework is updated to 5.0, and with it comes a number of important changes. In a series of articles, we will go through the key changes and additions. This is part two, where we look closer into Customer Centricity and Design Thinking.


In the first article, we looked into the new ability Business Agility and how the framework now expands to the whole Enterprise. Now, let’s look into the second major change, which also is closely related to the first – putting the Customer left, right, and center of everything an Organization does.

SAFe defines the goal with Lean thinking in the SAFe House of Lean as follows:

“The goal of Lean is to deliver the maximum customer value in the shortest sustainable lead-time while providing the highest possible quality to customers and society as a whole”

In order to maximize something, you have to understand what it is. Understanding value has become paramount for organizations providing direct Value to consumers (Business to Consumer products & services). The phrase “customer is king” has never been more true digitalization has driven personalization, which makes it more important than ever to appeal to individual Customers of your business. The Customers have multiple options to choose from only one smartphone away for almost any product or service; why would they choose yours?

The key lies in understanding your Customers.

Customer Centricity & Design Thinking – balancing Doing the Thing Right with Doing the Right Thing

A common question when looking at the SAFe Big Picture has been “Where’s the Customer?” and until now, the Customer has been represented by a small icon far up to the right. Not anymore. Also, over the last ten years, there’s been a lot of development in the Design community when it comes to methods, tools & practices to better understand and empathize with the Customer. But how to apply those in a SAFe context?

In the Big Picture, the Customer has moved from the Solution level into Essential to emphasize that the Customer isn’t optional. Two new elements have also been added to provide guidance for thinking and tools related to improved Customer understanding.


The first one, Customer Centricity, describes the mindset where the Customer is at the center of every decision taken. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, famously said this back in 1997:

You've got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can't start with the technology and try to figure out where you're going to sell it”
– Steve Jobs

Customer Centricity also introduces a number of concepts that are new in SAFe.

Examples are:

  • Market and User Research to explore both problem and solution space
  • Empathy in the design process
  • Degree of Customer Engagement as depending on the nature of our solution
  • Understanding Market Rhythms for timing a release

Design Thinking is the second element introduced with the new release, and it focuses on tools and practices for implementing a customer-centric development process. For those of you who are working as Designers; you will not be surprised by the tools and practices themselves. In fact, some might even feel a little outdated. Remember that nothing enters the framework without it being proven somewhere, so you won’t find very novel approaches in it if you work at the forefront of Design. However, for most companies, this provides a good guidance.

These are some of the tools and practices introduced as part of Design Thinking:

  1. The Double-Diamond design process model where one uses divergent and convergent thinking first to understand the problem to be solved and then to come up with a viable, feasible, and desirable solution to be implemented.
  2. Use of Empathy Maps to helps teams develop a deepened, shared understanding of their Customer.
  3. Customer Journey Maps to visualize the steps a Customer goes through to achieve a goal, including emotions the Customer might have, touchpoints with the Enterprise and Systems & People involved in serving the Customer during the journey. Customer Journey Mapping is a powerful tool for identifying the Operational Value Stream and associated Development Value Streams in a service-oriented organization.
  4. Story mapping to understand which parts of Features are necessary for a release of valuable end-to-end functionality to a customer or user, taking into account that Features usually address only a slice of it. Taking slices of Features and combining them into a release might have a bigger impact than releasing individual Features.

The 10th principle – Organize around Value

SAFe 5.0 adds a 10th principle, which really has been there all along – Organize Around Value. It just hasn’t been clear to everyone since up until now it has only been implicit. The Customers decide what is valuable to them, so in order to be a successful Business, focus has to be on maximizing Value while minimizing the effort to provide it. Organizations also need to have the ability to reorganize around the changed value flow when customer or market conditions change. Continuously. Relentlessly.

In the third and final article, we highlight some of the more subtle but important changes to SAFe and make an overall conclusion about the upcoming release. Stay tuned!

As of January, all public SAFe courses provided by Nitor will be based on SAFe 5. Go to our Training website for more information about planned courses and sign up to a course near you.



Andreas Tjernsten is on a quest for more effective, efficient, and happy organizations where people thrive. He has worked with product and service development in large organizations for over 20 years and learned from many mistakes while changing the way work is done. Andreas is a SPC, appreciated coach and trainer of Lean & Agile thinking, tools and practices.

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