Customer satisfaction is supposed to be the highest priority in Agile software development.

In the reality of many SAFe implementations, the customer is often forgotten.

Why? Implementing SAFe isn’t easy. Teams get caught up in the formation of Agile Release Trains and delivering during Program Increments. But these achievements mean nothing if you are building the wrong product.

You can’t blame the architects of SAFe: They put the customer at the center of the framework. It is up to you to embrace Customer Centricity with Agile Product Management (APM), Lean Portfolio Management (LPM), and the other core competencies of Business Agility.

This webinar will show you how to overcome these challenges and keep your focus where it belongs: the customer.


  1. Challenges with Customer Centricity
  2. How to implement Agile Product Management (APM) the right way
  3. Extending APM into Lean Portfolio Management
  4. Q&A: Ask us anything!

–> Schedule a meeting with the webinar host, Laura Caldie.

Watch the Customer-Centric SAFe Webinar

Customer-Centric SAFe Webinar Q&A

Sometimes the best value is found in the Questions & Answers.  Check out the full transcript with further clarification below!

Question: How do you coach the customer to stop looking for solutions but define the problem?

  • Marc Rix: By showing customers alternatives. Develop rapid prototypes, MPVs, A/B tests, etc., and ask them which ones they like best.
  • Phil Gardiner: This, like many scenarios, requires an understanding of the context. Are your customers the end-users of a product or an internal business/sales organization? The phrasing of the question suggests it is the latter. If so, there are several things you can try:
    1. Introduce the concepts from innovation accounting… Are there leading indicators along the way that can validate that the solution is indeed solving the problem?
    2. How do these solutions get identified and documented? Is there a way to approach things collaboratively with the customers? Can you pick one the design thinking tools to help them better understand the problem? I have also found that simply collaboratively creating an epic hypothesis statement can lead to some ah-ha moments. 

Question: Do you do value stream mapping first or persona and customer journey mapping and OKR first?

  • Phil Gardiner: There are many ways to start a SAFe implementation, with the most common being to follow the SAFe Implementation Roadmap.
    One of the steps in this flow is to understand your organization’s operational and development value streams. If you already have personas and journey maps, they can help you quickly identify your operational value streams. If you do not, the identification of the operational value streams can be used as a starting point to look at customer journeys which can, with research, lead you to understand your customers and personas.

Question: If the individual engineers/developers are not talking directly to the customers, how can we promote customer-centricity on a day-to-day basis? How do we keep them focused on the customer?

  • Phil Gardiner:  Do not underestimate the power of sharing market and user research with developers. They are often so used to hearing that something is what the customer wants that they appreciate being able to see the actual data. This has the added benefit of creating alignment, transparency, and trust.

Question: How do you differentiate between Human-centered design, Design thinking, and alike? The first two have many shared techniques.

  • Marc Rix: Here’s a paper that describes one perspective on human-centered design as applied in SAFe.
  • Phil Gardiner: In my experience, human-centered design is focused on the needs of the actual user while design thinking continues into areas such as viability, and sustainability.

Question: Do either of you have advice for facilitating pivoting to avoid the sunk cost fallacy? We understand the impact of continuing on a poor “big bet,” but nevertheless, I feel resistance to switching directions.

  • Marc Rix: Pivoting can be difficult, especially when sponsors are emotionally attached to their initiatives. Phil has tools that can help an org through these tough decisions.
  • Phil Gardiner: LPM is a journey, and, in my opinion, where you start makes a big difference. The advice I give to SPCs and Portfolio Managers is to identify a problem the stakeholders have and choose a practice that allows it to be solved through a new principle and practice. For sunk costs, I most often look to find ways to get leading indicators into the equation. You can even augment the cost of the work you are doing that is not adding value by quantifying what you are losing by not doing something else. With that said, there can be some complicated challenges, such as executive compensation being tied to a “big bet” or project completion, making the cost of stopping intolerable.

Question: My company is about to adopt Simplify@Scale. My understanding is that it’s not a widely adopted framework. How can I be better at something that has limited information on it available?

  • Phil Gardiner: I am not familiar with Simplify@Scale. A quick internet search leads me to believe that it is a home-grown “Spotify-ish” variant. I have found that these work best when there is a pure generative culture in the entire enterprise; however, I have not had the luxury of working with a client that has hit that point. Instead, I have seen the results of trying to use a model (like the one credited to Spotify) within an organization that had a pathological and/or bureaucratic culture. It was not something I would recommend.

Question: Since the existence of the SAFe Framework, from your experience, what is the main shift that occurred/occurs when the SAFe framework is implemented?

  • Phil Gardiner: I tend to take an outcome-focused approach to implementing SAFe, so things are different for the various customers I have worked with over the years. Some common outcomes are higher quality, happier customers and employees, faster time to market, increased ROI/profitability, and an ability to respond to market events. With that said, I have been able to focus most of my efforts working with customers who have either implemented SAFe as a process and need to reboot it to get the outcomes they desire or, be able to architect an approach that allows them to build in the foundation of principles necessary for them to continue to improve on their own (sustainability).

Question: I have a question for Marc. I’ve posed this one to Phil in the past. But what do you see as the most misunderstood application or potential application of customer-centricity? What do you see either being forgotten about or not necessarily leveraged properly? Or where do you see the most opportunities that people might not be thinking about?

  • Marc Rix:  You know, I think it’s equally to the left and to the right of the traditional product management function. So if we think about where product managers are in the organization and their contribution to the value stream, it’s usually kind of right there in the middle if we think of the product lifecycle; in more traditional organizations that are following more linear processes, we have a lot of planning upfront, right, big ideas are happening, and executives and leaders are placing big bets on things where they’re arranging big bets. And then a decision is made to go forth and build something. And maybe that thing is defined, maybe it’s not, but then that’s usually where product management gets engaged, right? They do their thing. And then there’s a little bit of a handoff to the technical folks who are entrusted to deliver that solution. If we don’t have customer-centricity and alignment to the left and right of that product management function, I think the wheels fall off the bus. So what we’re talking about here is an ecosystem where customer-centricity, not necessarily the design thinking tools. Still, maybe an appreciation for the design thinking process extends left and right throughout the entire product delivery lifecycle and the entire value stream. It’s product management, who really carries the responsibility for ensuring that we have quality built-in and that’s where we have a customer-centric, customer-centric organization. So they’re the shepherds and the champions and the enablers of this, we need to have enough customer-centricity and appreciation for the process upstream and LPM. So thank you, Phil, for pointing out the importance of infusing customer-centric design and thinking into the LPM process. Because that’s where we’re placing the biggest bets, let’s place those bets, those bets based on what we know best about our customers and our markets. And then similarly, to the right of product management, we need to make sure that the technical teams are always kept aware of the latest thinking in regards to where, where the best features are going to be, and where the most value in those solutions is going to be. And this is a never-ending cycle because markets and customers always change.

Question:  As a follow-up question – the skill set that product managers need to have in order to go both right and left of where they traditionally play… Where do you learn how to do that? I mean, I know that was the intention of the APM course. But, you know, otherwise, it seems to me that it’s an awful lot of maybe good mentorship or trial and error. And I don’t know how else product managers get good at that other than the trial and error piece. But do you have any advice for people who know they need to go both right and left? Like, what really should people be doing to do that?

  • Phil Gardner: “I’m smiling because it’s popped into my mind that you can say the same thing about LPM. You can say the same thing about SPC. It’s like you get there’s a class for it. But you know, I would say this: take a class and that starts your journey. And then you know, not everybody’s in a situation where they can bring in a mentor. You know, I’m blessed to be able to do what I love and love what I do. And a lot of that is mentoring internal change agents, whether it be product managers, or SPCs, or Lean Portfolio Managers. And I didn’t know that not everybody has that ability. There is one of the SAFe fellows, Audrey Boylston, she gave a name to what I’ve been using for years. She calls it an informal learning network. And so there are communities of practice out there, there are meetups, there are slack communities, and there are places you can go to learn. You can pair up with people that you meet on a webinar, right? The idea is that you want somebody out there to bounce the ideas off as you’re trying this in the real world. You know, I will say that as I’ve seen the Scaled Agile product evolve over the years moving from a single value stream that sold licenses to classes to one that’s more about building relationships with customers through this community portal. There’s a lot of good stuff on there, Marc, do you know if there are any plans to have an Agile Product Management Practice Guide similar to the great Lean Portfolio Management practice guide that’s out there?”
  • Marc Rix: “I don’t think it’s out of the question. We’re seeing a lot of value in those practice guides so I wouldn’t be surprised if one develops”

Check out the 5-minute video clip of this exchange between host Laura Caldie, Marc, and Phil.

–> Schedule a meeting with the webinar host, Laura Caldie.


Phil GardinerPhil Gardiner
SAFe Practice Leader at Applied Frameworks
Phil Gardiner is a Certified SAFe Program Consultant Trainer® (SPCT), one of less than 100 people who hold this certification globally. Phil has served as a leader, coach, and consultant at some of the world’s largest companies and government organizations, such as the US Department of Defense.

Marc Rix
SAFe Fellow at Scaled Agile, Inc.
Marc helps large organizations leverage the game-changing power of Lean, Agile, and DevOps at scale. He has been practicing Agile for over 20 years and is an internationally recognized thought leader, consultant, trainer, adviser, and speaker. Marc lives in the US and is a member of the Framework team at Scaled Agile.

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