SAFe’s redefinition of a value stream obscures the insights they can provide

This section of the portal is for supporting the Disciplined Agile Value Stream Consultant Workshop (DAVSC), currently under development. Discussions on the pages here will take place on the Disciplined Agile LinkedIn group.


A value stream is a Lean term now being adopted by many in the Agile community – some incorrectly. A value stream is the sequence of steps from concept to consumption of value. SAFe has redefined the term to include the people doing the work. Sometimes they use the term value stream correctly (referring to the flow of work), but just as often they refer to value streams as meaning the people doing the work.

In many places on their website (see bottom of this page)  value streams are referred to as the people in the value stream instead of the value stream itself. While this makes value streams easier to talk about, doing this makes it harder to see how to improve value streams.

It is a good idea to have people be in one workflow. This avoids people multi-tasking and delays in the workflow. The people in the workflow don’t define the workflow. It is, what it is. When SAFe suggests value streams should be “long-lived”, they mean that the people in a value stream should be stable. This does make sense, but is not quite accurate either. The people in value streams have to change to some extent for a variety of reasons:

  • different skills are needed to implement different items of value
  • sometimes people in one value stream are needed in another
  • growing companies often need to add new people to an existing value stream

Determining how to allocate people to workflows requires looking at the flow of work, not the people involved. When new work requires multiple ARTs, it is important to recognize that this new work has its own workflow & that some people are now involved in multiple flows. To say there is an item of work being done by two value streams has us attend to the groups of people working each of the original workflows instead of this new workflow. Attending to this new workflow can  provide insights into how to best allocate the people to the (now three) workflows.  We want to attend to what makes value streams effective. To do this we have to look at the flow of work, not the people doing them.

See Factors for Effective Value Streams for information on how to improve value streams.

References: Where SAFe Gets the Value Stream Wrong

Value Streams.  Incorrect statement: “A SAFe portfolio contains one or more value streams, each of which is dedicated to build and support a set of solutions, which are the products, services, or systems delivered to the Customer, whether internal or external to the Enterprise.”  Value streams are the flow of work for one item of delivery. They are not dedicated. What is meant here is that the people doing value streams for a set of solutions are dedicated.

Value stream coordination. Incorrect statement: “Value Stream Coordination defines how to manage dependencies and exploit the opportunities that exist only in the interconnections between value streams.?” You don’t coordinate value streams.  The both are needed to create something then you have one bigger value stream. You often have to coordinate the people in the two different value streams.


See Value Streams Main page for more.

This chapter was an excerpt from FLEX for the Disciplined Agilist: FLow for Enterprise Transformation (online book). It has been edited to fit into the Disciplined Agile Value Stream Consultant workshop. The Table of Contents for the book is here.