SAFe 5.0: a framework made with a user-centric approach at the core

Victor Arfi, Apr 2020

A few months ago SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) released version 5.0 of its famous Framework. It introduces the seven key skills of the Lean enterprise necessary to achieve true business agility. The major innovation expected is the introduction of the user-centricity, which was lacking until then.

What’s new in the SAFE 5.0 framework?

Two new skills! 

SAFe 5.0 introduces two new competencies, Continuous Learning Culture and Organizational Agility.

1. Continuous Learning Culture

The culture of continuous learning encourages individuals to improve in the following four areas:

  • Knowledge
  • Skills
  • Performance
  • Innovation

The state of this culture is achieved by establishing a learning organization, a commitment to continuous improvement, and by promoting a culture of innovation.

2. Organizational Agility

The second competency that emerges in the SAFe Framework is organizational agility. It describes how Lean-thinking people and agile teams optimize business processes, drive strategy with clear and decisive commitment, and finally will evolve organizations to capture new opportunities.

This competence is therefore organized on three axes:

  1. Lean thinking and agile team: All the people involved in the delivery / production process are aware of Lean and Agile methods, and communicate their values, principles and practices.
  2. Lean Business Operations: Teams apply Lean principles in order to understand, map and continuously improve the business processes that support the company’s products and services.
  3. Strategy Agility: The company is agile enough to sense market trends and adapt quickly and strategically if necessary.

3. Five competencies restructured! 


Version 5.0 of the SAFe framework reviews 5 competencies:

  1. Team and Technical Agility
  2. Agile Product Delivery
  3. Lean Portfolio Management
  4. Enterprise Solution Delivery
  5. Lean-Agile Leadership


These different sections, to which modifications have been made, allow the SAFe framework to be modernized and always in line with changing trends. 

It is very interesting to highlight the appearance in the Agile Product Delivery competency of the Design Thinking and Customer Centricity component, which had been missing for a while. And this despite the first principle of agility which is to prioritize customer satisfaction. 

Concept of customer-centricity

The foundations of the user-centric approach in business are market and user research, which allows to generate and validate hypotheses on the problems encountered by the customer, the prerequisites of the solution learned and its context. 

Design Thinking approach

The Design Thinking methodology consists of two axes, which are the phases of divergence and convergence. These stages allow us to first explore the problem encountered by the client, and secondly the ideal solution for the client, without being afraid to explore the unknown and generate ideas. This is the double diamond.

This approach also makes it possible to question the durability of the solutions found, by validating the degrees of:

  • Desirability: Do customers/users want the solution?
  • Feasibility: What means do we have at our disposal to propose this solution?
  • Viability: Are the costs generated by this solution well compensated by the value produced? Is it cost-effective? 

4. How to be user-centric at scale? 

Even if the SAFe framework now focuses on user-centricity, it is not easy to maintain an agile and user-centric approach on a large scale at the same time. Especially when the end-users are (very) numerous, and distributed in different geographical areas (sometimes very far from the product teams).

To do this, it is important to observe a few principles:

  • Continuous User Research: Implement agile design methodologies, with frequent and rapid iterations; to feed the double diamond of Design Thinking continuously. UX Research systems are particularly interesting in their atomic approach. 
  • Having a quantitative and qualitative approach at the same time. Indeed, when the population of end-users is several thousands, it quickly becomes less scalable to do field studies in each area. Some methods and tools allow to collect qualitative insights, and then to validate the share of concerned users.
  • Use digital community tools to bring a large number of users around the table, asynchronously, and adopt a co-construction approach with distributed users.