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Looking at SAFe from a Value Stream Perspective
By ‘value stream‘ we mean Lean’s definition, not SAFe’s repurposing of it. Lean defines the value stream to be the flow of work that takes place from concept to realization of value. While there are people involved in the value stream, and while we want to have some stability of the people within a value stream, it is more effective to look at the flow of work, not the people. This is especially important when an item to be built requires more than one ART. See the Instructor Notes below for more. If you are not clear what Lean’s perspective on the value stream is, read Understanding Our Inherent Problem
SAFe’s big picture focuses on roles, practices and artifacts. Many have difficulty seeing the workflow SAFe is espousing. Although it is possible to see the value stream in SAFe, it takes a trained eye to do so. Figure 1 illustrates how work flows in SAFe from the customer through the organization and back to SAFe. Note, that I am using value stream here to mean Lean’s definition of a value stream. SAFe’s redefinition of a value stream obscures the insights they can provide (see instructor notes below).
Figure 1: The value stream in SAFe
Figure 2 depicts SAFe as a value stream. It highlights the flow of work to make it easier to see how the different SAFe levels interact.
Most people find it is easier to see the interactions of the roles, artifacts and practices in SAFe when it is viewed from this value stream perspective. The value stream perspective also provides a holistic view that Essential SAFe does not. This can often be used to improve the value stream. This shift from levels to the value stream will be used to provide a simpler set of practices for SAFe, particularly in portfolio and product management, that are also more effective.
Besides being easier to see the flow of work in the picture on the right, the relationship between the different people doing the work is much easier to see. This is important because if one role doesn’t want to get engaged it’s easier to show the adverse impact them not being involved creates.
The Value Stream In SAFe, Partly Correct
SAFe’s definition of the value stream is “Value Streams represent the series of steps that an organization uses to build Solutions that provide a continuous flow of value to a Customer.” Up to this point SAFe is abiding by the long standing meaning of a value stream. However, it goes off course by stating “SAFe value streams are used to define and realize Portfolio-level business objectives and organize Agile Release Trains (ARTs) to deliver value more rapidly.” At this point SAFe is referring to the people doing the work in the value stream. In any event, value streams aren’t defined, they represent the reality of what’s happening. In other words, value streams are about our current state and not what we want it to be. We don’t define a value stream as much as we refine one. Value stream mapping is a way to see what is working and what isn’t. It focuses on the delays in delivering value.
Looking at value streams is important as illustrated by Alan Ward’s observation that “projects and practices fail when they optimize one part of the value stream at the expense of others or when the parts just don’t fit.”
How SAFe’s redefinition of a value stream obscures the insights they can provide
There is a difference between the flow of work (value stream) & the people through which it flows (ARTs). SAFe obscures this distinction by referring to value streams as “long-lived” when they really mean the grouping of people who work on them.
What we want is groups of people focused on the different value streams of a product. FLEX calls these groups dedicated product groups (DPGs). For very large products a DPG may be composed of sub-teams that work on separate product enhancements. Ideally the value streams within a DPG only interact to ensure high quality (e.g., architecture issues). Other interactions often result in constraints, delays and extra work.
When new work is undertaken in SAFe that requires multiple ARTs, it is important to recognize that this new work has its own value stream and that some people are now involved in multiple value streams. Thinking about this new stream as a combination of two separate value streams (as SAFe does) obscures the need to look at the new value stream directly in order to eliminate constraints and delays in it.
The techniques for improving value streams are related, but distinct from the techniques used to lower dependencies between them.
See Value Streams and Why They Are So Important for more.
The DA FLEX Playbook for SAFe includes a video on why viewing SAFe from a value stream perspective is so useful.
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.