The new version of SAFe contains several major improvements and redesigns, making the 5.0 version very much in order. What we currently see as the most striking improvements are as follows:
Let’s go over these improvements, one by one.
SAFe has always been about combining teams into Trains, as per the mantra ‘Train everyone; launch Trains’. The now-deprecated, lowest ‘Team’ level didn’t include much that wasn’t already present in the underlying Scrum framework, so it is correct to recognize that limiting SAFe to the level of the single team isn’t really SAFe at all. It only starts to come together… when the first Train launches.
While the two bear very similar-sounding names, with the differences between the two being extremely subtle, they do indicate significantly different concepts. One flows from the other, so to say. The competence of Organizational Agility describes the mindset that should pervade the entire internal organizational structure, focusing on value and thinking beyond departments and silos. Business Agility is then the overall outcome, resulting in a business that breathes with the market and responds to customer behaviors quicker than anyone else.
This new competence enshrines several underlying competences, such as Innovation Culture, Learning Organization, and Relentless Improvement. The exercise to explore, embrace, and implement SAFe itself is, of course, already a tremendous effort. Now, this preparedness to take nothing for granted and to never consider improvements ‘done’ is elevated to a level of principle competence.
The customer has always been central when it comes to the Agile principles. In SAFe, however, this concept didn’t translate with enough conviction. The ‘customer’ construct appeared in different layers of the framework, as one scaled it upwards. In similar fashion, Design Thinking has also been given a prominent place in the framework ‘Big Picture’, though it is already featured in the APSM (Agile Product & Solution Management) certification. Along with several other approaches that thrive on close customer feedback loops, the SAFe organization is now challenged to venture out and ‘Go See’ the world around it like never before.
The newly added principle #10 is ‘Organize around Value’, which invites organizations to complement the conventional, universally familiar functional hierarchies, with the highly contextual concepts known as value streams. We know these well from the Agile Release Trains (ARTs): ideally, each ART should be built around a value stream. Value streams are difficult to identify at first, because one needs to abandon the deeply ingrained organizational notions, and start thinking purely in terms of which results the customer is willing to pay for, and how they can help that result come about.
In our entry-level trainings at Gladwell Academy, we have always had to underline how one of the central tenets of SAFe is the way different roles relate to one another, essentially like the inner layers of a Russian Matryoshka doll. For instance, the SAFe Scrum Master scales up to an RTE, who scales up to an STE. Likewise, the Product Owner scales up to the Epic Owner. The increased calm and order of the new version is probably the improvement that is welcomed most by those just getting introduced to the Scaled Agile Framework.