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What is a SAFe Value Stream?

Implementing SAFe into your organization involves identifying and optimizing value streams.

As a critical component of the SAFe framework, understanding what value streams are, the different types, and how to map them is key to achieving business agility.

In this article, we’ll provide an overview of SAFe value streams – from identifying them to managing and mapping them. We’ll cover the roles involved with SAFe value streams and walk through examples, and you’ll learn the differences between a SAFe portfolio and a value stream.

With this introduction to SAFe value streams, you’ll be better equipped to organize your teams around delivering maximum value.

What is a Value Stream in SAFe?

A value stream in SAFe represents the steps required to deliver a product or service to the customer. It maps out the entire process from concept to cash – how value flows through an organization to the end customer.

There are two main types of SAFe value streams which are operational value streams and development value streams.

By identifying and understanding these interconnected flows, you can see how value is created and delivered in your organization. Aligning teams around them is critical for optimizing the value flow and identifying where improvements can be made.

Focusing on the value streams enables you to achieve true business agility and deliver maximum value to your customers.

Types of Value Streams in SAFe

As mentioned, there are two main types of value streams in the SAFe framework:

1. Operational Value Stream

The operational value stream represents the steps your organization takes to deliver value to the end customer. It focuses on how your company captures value – from how a customer first engages with you to how they receive the product/service.

Mapping the operational value stream involves outlining the customer journey and all the processes involved with identifying customer needs, developing solutions, selling, fulfilling, and providing ongoing support.

Improving this value stream enhances the way you deliver value and serve your customers.

2. Development Value Stream

The development value stream consists of the systems, solutions, and processes that enable your operational value stream.

This includes the teams involved in designing, building, testing, and maintaining the technology, infrastructure, and services your company relies on to satisfy customers and capture value in the marketplace.

Optimizing the development value stream focuses on improving the flow of delivering changes to the operational value stream. It aims to build better solutions through using practices like continuous integration and delivery.

Enhancing the development value stream directly supports improved value delivery to customers.

SAFe Value Stream Identification

Effectively implementing SAFe requires properly identifying the value streams in your organization. This involves determining the key operational and development flows.

There are a few steps to consider:

1. Examine Operational Value Streams

First, outline your major operational value streams – the essential products, services, and processes that represent how your company captures value from customers.

Leverage resources like your website, marketing materials, and financial reports to see your core offerings.

2. Map Out Supporting Development Value Streams

Next, analyze the critical development value streams that enable those operational flows. Identify the systems, applications, technologies, and teams involved in developing and maintaining your operational value streams.

3. Conduct a Value Stream Mapping Workshop

Bring together stakeholders from business and technology in a value stream mapping workshop to align on optimal value streams.

The goal is to identify flows focused on customer value, even if they cross organizational boundaries. Rethink assumptions to move beyond silos.

Properly identifying SAFe value streams establishes customer-centric flows necessary for business agility. With these mapped, you can organize teams around value delivery.

SAFe Value Stream Management

Once you’ve identified the SAFe value streams in your organization, they need to be actively managed and improved on an ongoing basis. Value stream management establishes roles and processes for optimizing the flows over time.

This involves continuously improving flow by finding and fixing bottlenecks, enhancing quality, and eliminating waste through practices like Lean and Kanban.

At the team level, Scrum Masters play an important part in managing operational processes and improving team execution, while Product Owners manage value stream backlogs and roadmaps.

At the program level, the Value Stream Engineer role helps optimize flow beyond team boundaries through metrics, Value Stream Mapping, and addressing dependencies.

Release Train Engineers (RTEs) support value stream execution by helping synchronize teams, cadence, and DevOps. RTEs play a critical role in continuous delivery.

Strong value stream management accelerates time-to-market, increases productivity, and delivers greater business agility. It provides the governance for teams to build the right solutions and optimize the flow of value to customers.

SAFe Value Stream Roles

As earlier iterated, several integral roles are involved in managing and optimizing SAFe value streams. These include:

Scrum Masters

Scrum Masters act as servant leaders at the team level for the Agile development teams that make up value streams. They focus on helping teams continuously improve their processes and execution to maximize productivity and throughput.

Scrum Masters enable close collaboration and high performance by eliminating impediments that arise and optimizing flow.

Product Owners

Product Owners are responsible for defining, prioritizing, and grooming value stream backlogs and roadmaps. They represent customer needs and ensure the teams are delivering maximum value.

Product Owners define user stories, develop acceptance criteria, and guide the Agile teams on the most valuable features to build.

Value Stream Engineer

The Value Stream Engineer role operates at the program level and takes a systems view to identify constraints and dependencies that limit flow beyond team boundaries. They utilize metrics and value stream mapping techniques to visualize bottlenecks.

Value Stream Engineers facilitate key value stream processes and events to help programs align and optimize their entire value flow.

Release Train Engineer

Release Train Engineers (RTEs) support alignment and sustained cadence across value streams through their leadership. They serve as coaches and mentors who enable the continuous delivery of value through DevOps and process improvements.

Release Train Engineers synchronize teams, help identify waste, and act as change agents.

These roles each play an integral part in value stream success and collaborate to provide the critical leadership, guidance, and governance needed for SAFe value streams to improve flow, productivity, and delivery of customer value.

SAFe Value Stream Mapping

Value stream mapping is the process of visually depicting the flow of work in a value stream from end to end. Value stream maps illustrate how value is generated and delivered to the customer.

In SAFe, value stream mapping examines both the operational and development value streams to identify waste and constraints. It helps uncover inefficiencies in the value flow.

Creating a current state map of your value streams involves outlining:

  • All the steps in the end-to-end process
  • How work flows between teams and systems
  • Key metrics like process times and wait times
  • Bottlenecks causing delays

This current state map highlights areas for improvement. You can then design an ideal future state map that optimizes the flow of value.

Regularly conducting value stream mapping workshops fuels continuous improvement. You can visualize and attack waste through concepts like takt time, work in process limits, and pull systems.

Value stream mapping gives you the blueprint to architect value streams that deliver faster time-to-market, improved quality, lower costs, and greatly enhanced business agility.

SAFe Value Stream Examples

To understand SAFe value streams better, let’s walk through some examples:

Imagine an insurance company that sells various insurance policies to consumers and businesses. Their primary operational value stream involves the processes used to sell, underwrite, and service these policies.

It consists of steps like:

  • Marketing and sales to acquire new customers
  • Enabling prospective customers to get quotes online
  • Underwriting and approving applications
  • Issuing policy documents
  • Collecting payments
  • Providing support for claims

The development value stream includes systems like:

  • Customer and policy management systems
  • Online customer portals
  • Mobile apps for customers
  • Claims processing applications
  • Data analytics and pricing systems
  • Core policy administration systems

The development value stream designs, builds, and maintains these systems that support the operational value stream.

For a software company, its operational value stream centers around acquiring users and delivering their SaaS product capabilities.

While its development value stream focuses on developing new features, managing cloud infrastructure, operating production systems, and maintaining platform security and compliance.

Difference Between a SAFe Portfolio and a Value Stream

It’s important to understand the distinction between a SAFe portfolio and a value stream:

A SAFe portfolio represents a group of solutions and services that deliver against a specific business strategy. Portfolios align budgets, governance, and backlogs to business objectives.

A SAFe value stream on the other hand maps the flow of work from concept to customer across the organization. Value streams focus on optimizing the end-to-end delivery of solutions.

At the highest level, portfolios are aligned to business strategy while value streams focus on the steps for delivering solutions. A portfolio will often encompass multiple value streams working to fulfill the portfolio vision.

While portfolios take a business view, value streams represent a more operational perspective for managing solution development. Understanding their unique purposes helps to optimize both.

Conclusion

As we’ve explored in this post, value streams are foundational to SAFe. Identifying the operational and development flows in your organization is key to mapping how value is created and delivered to customers.

Optimizing these interconnected streams drives higher productivity, faster time-to-market, and enhances business agility.

Focusing on your SAFe value streams establishes the customer-centric mindset needed to continuously improve and outpace disruptive change. By understanding value streams, you can architect flows that maximize delivered value.

FAQs

What Triggers the Need for a Value Stream in SAFe Agile?

The need for defining value streams in SAFe is triggered when an organization wants to transition to Agile methodologies and identify how to optimize the end-to-end flow of value from concept to customer.

Value streams map out and improve the steps required to deliver solutions, enabling greater alignment, visibility, and business agility.

David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)
David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)

David Usifo is a certified Project Management professional, professional Scrum Master, and a BCS certified Business Analyst with a background in product development and database management.

He enjoys using his knowledge and skills to share with aspiring and experienced Project Managers and Business Analysts the core concept of value-creation through adaptive solutions.

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