On March 15th, version 6.0 of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) was released to the general public. The framework is currently being used by many organizations as a guidance for their agile transformation journeys. The scaled agile community describes itself as “the world’s most trusted system for business agility”. The annual State of Agile reports show that SAFe implementations are on the rise. In 2020, 30% of respondents said they were using SAFe to scale their agile implementations. By 2022, that number had risen to 53%[1].

There is sometimes criticism from agile practitioners about the way SAFe approaches agility. Some critics say the framework is too top-heavy and does not take enough account of the levels of development teams ‘where the magic really happens’. Or as SAFe itself puts it: the development teams are the motor of an organization. One framework that focuses primarily on the team level is Scrum. Therefore, in this blog post, we focus on the changes in the SAFe framework and how they relate to agile values, principles, and ways of working  at the team level in specific.  

What is SAFe?

SAFe as a framework has existed since 2011. One of the reasons why organizations choose SAFe is the fact that the framework provides an organization with a ‘one stop shop’ model on how to (further) scale agility in the organization. SAFe, in its setup, provides a fairly ‘prescriptive’ model for building an operating model that covers all levels of the organization, from the corporate portfolio level  up to the individual development teams. As with almost any framework, SAFe needs to be tailored to the specific context. To that end, SAFe also provides guidance on which elements are least dependent on the size of the implementation.

Scrum as a framework for teams

As noted in the annual State of Agile report, Scrum is the most popular framework still in use. Scrum is primarily aimed at describing the minimum set of arrangements when it comes to ways of working at the team level. Since its birth in 1995, the framework is still one of the key examples of what true agility means. As stated in the Scrum Guide[2], “the Scrum framework is purposefully incomplete, only defining the parts required to implement Scrum theory”, leaving the organization using Scrum much freedom to add what it deems necessary. Compared to SAFe, this is a quite a different perspective on how to achieve agility in an organization.

SAFe version 6 – what’s new?

SAFe frequently introduces updates to the framework. The input for these updates can come either from the practical use of the framework by organizations, or from important market or technology trends that impact an organization.
In this latest version of SAFe, the following six themes have been updated:

  1. Strengthening the foundation for business agility
  2. Empowering teams and clarifying responsibilities
  3. Accelerating value flow
  4. Enhancing business agility with SAFe across the business
  5. Building the future with AI, Big data, and cloud
  6. Delivering better outcomes with measure and grow and Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) 

How SAFe 6.0 impacts the team level

Looking at the latest update from a more holistic point of view, it seems that the latest version includes improvements aimed at greater agility at the team level. These are:

  • The replacement of ScrumXP with SAFe Scrum. ScrumXP was a hybrid practice that made the most of both Scrum and XP. Although SAFe did not fully embrace the Scrum framework and values themselves, improvements were made to bring the process more in line with how ‘plain vanilla’ Scrum was meant to be.
  • More focus on organizing teams around values. SAFe 6.0 stresses that agile teams should be organized around value. They should be able to deliver increments of value with each Iteration. Again, one of the main pillars of the SAFe 6.0 update is the focus on customer value.
  • More focus on empowering teams and clarifying responsibilities for multiple roles. In this new release, the Scrum Master is not only responsible for self-management, helping the team focus on creating increments of value in each Iteration, facilitating the removal of impediments to the team’s progress, and ensuring that all team events take place, are productive, and kept within the timebox. The Scrum Master also has a broader role, including optimizing flow, building high-performing teams, and supporting organizational agility. This requires some new capabilities for your Scrum Masters, such as: empathy, knowledge of flow optimalization, conflict navigation, being a mentorand the ability to coach teams and individuals.
  • More attention to ‘local team concerns’. As in previous versions of SAFe, it can be easily misunderstood that teams don’t really have the freedom to also work on their own Product Backlog items. In the new version of SAFe, it has been emphasized that teams are allowed to do more self-management of the Product Backlog.

Getting there, but more work to do

All in all, the improvements at the team level are a step forward. They improve the focus on team autonomy and value delivery, providing better support for achieving true agility. Because our belief is that teams are the main driver for achieving true agility.  

We also have a few good suggestions for further improvements in a new version of the SAFe framework. They are:

  • Pay more attention to the Iteration Review to allow for empiricism. The Iteration Review is a demonstration to stakeholders of what the team has completed. It is an opportunity to inspect if the Increment is working according to stakeholder expectations and to make adjustments if needed. Scrum’s Sprint Review is more than that. It is also an opportunity to inspect if the product is progressing towards the Product Goal. This means that the Scrum Team and its stakeholders not only inspect the outcome of the Sprint, but also discuss what has changed in their environment and how this impacts what needs to happen next, and adjust the Product Backlog accordingly. By not including this, the important aspect of empiricism that Scrum advocates is not discussed. This delays feedback.
  • Add the Scrum Values of Commitment, Courage, Focus, Openness, and Respect. We believe this is a missed opportunity to ensure empiricism as well.

Want to know more?

Are you curious about what the most important changes in the framework mean for the teams in your organization, or would you like to learn more about our view on the topic? We would be delighted to hear from you, contact Jos van Brummelen or Denise Vos


Jos van Brummelen 
Senior Manager, Digital Enablement
KPMG in the Netherlands

Denise Vos 
Manager, Digital Enablement
KPMG in Netherlands

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