Beginner’s Guide to Value Stream Management in SAFe

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What is Value Stream Management in SAFe®?

Value streams denote a combination of steps an organization employs to implement solutions. Organizations do it to offer an ongoing flow of value to customers. When you take the case of a SAFe® portfolio, it will have not only a single value stream, but it can have more value streams as well. Each value stream dedicates to building and supporting a combination of solutions. These solutions can be systems, services, or products delivered to customers irrespective of whether the customers are internal or external to the organization.

Value Stream Management in SAFe® – An Intro:

Shortly called VSM, value stream management in SAFe® is a technical and leadership discipline. It ensures a business's maximum flow of value via the top-to-bottom solution delivery life cycle. In present-day organizations, it can be complex to deliver digitally-enabled solutions. The reason is that organizations have many functional boundaries and a wide range of cross-team dependencies. Due to this, the chances of considerable delays, inadequacy in communication, and clunky handoffs, thereby causing fragmented delivery processes. Here, value stream management can help. The reason is that VSM helps ensure that these issues are brought in order so that the work that produces value can flow continuously and smoothly across the organization. The primary tool to succeed with VSM in SAFe® is to apply Lean Thinking principles to every value stream.

Lean Thinking in SAFe®:

When it comes to SAFe® value stream management, as mentioned earlier, Lean Thinking is its foundation. The reason is that SAFe® believes Lean to be an extensive body of knowledge. Also, Lean practices always aim at enhancing operational efficiency in an organization. These practices help organizations by getting rid of things that lead to delays. Lean is attached to the five principles listed below:

  1. Accurately specify value by particular product identity
  2. Spot the value stream for each product
  3. Ensure flow of value without any interruptions
  4. Allow customers to pull value from the producer
  5. Pursue protection

Learn more about these principles here, and you can also get to know how they help SAFe® value stream management to happen smoothly:

1. Accurately Specify Value by Particular Product Identity:

The first principle of Lean Thinking makes you recognize the importance of understanding the requirements of customers. Also, it specifies the importance of quantifying the value of the services and products delivered to customers. When you take the case of  Scaled Agile Framework, the value derives from enduring solutions. The value of SAFe® does not depend on short-term initiatives or projects. Customers make the overall decision of the value. 

Based on this principle of Lean Thinking, for SAFe® value stream management, you will have to take an economic view. It involves defining an economical technique that is overarching for the value stream. It encompasses the exchange of value in two directions for every solution delivered to customers, as in the image below:

Source: Scaled Agile

Through one or more development value streams, you can deliver digitally-enabled solutions using a SAFe® portfolio. This generally should happen to internal customers. Then, these internal solutions support the delivery of solutions that face the market using operational value streams. Every customer in the A to Z flow of value can bring measurable benefits like an increase in productivity or enjoyment of the solutions they get. In the same way, the return of value happens to the enterprise in the form of reduced cost or income. Indeed, it is possible to apply value stream management to all kinds of value streams. Nevertheless, SAFe® particularly applies it for optimizing the development value streams.

The procedure of specifying value supports by Design Thinking and Customer centricity. As the values are tuned to customers' requirements and obtain ongoing market feedback on solution ideas, it becomes possible to ensure that the services and products deliver constant and mutual value. Identifying accurately how much value solutions deliver needs objective measurement. When you take the case of the Scaled Agile Framework, the key performance indicators are employed for quantifying the value solutions delivered to customers. Even KPIs are used for evaluating the economic benefit that the organization gets.

2. Spot the Value Stream for Each Product:

Once the organization precisely defines the value of its solutions, it must spot the process by which the solutions will develop and deliver value to customers. The value stream is an organization's steps to deliver a solution to the customer. The particular set of steps is taken for each value stream uniquely. Nevertheless, it involves incrementally releasing, validating, building, and defining functionality, as given in the image below:

Source: Scaled Agile

In SAFe portfolios, development value streams are organized. Every value stream brings a single or more solution in the form of services or products to customers. Budget allocation happens to value streams straightly, providing monetary benefits to materials, systems, and people needed to release those solutions fully.

According to the second principle of SAFe®, the system thinking directs the organizations to spot the whole value stream right from requests to delivery, considering it an integrated and sole delivery system. In turn, as against several independently managed portions, the organization's efforts are commonly aligned toward managing a single value stream. After the spotting of the value stream, every person engaged in implementing its steps is brought together around it to ensure smooth execution. According to the tenth principle of SAFe®, organizing value around the needs of people with varied skills to associate as a cross-functional, enduring, and unified Agile Release Train as in the picture below:

Source: Scaled Agile

Large solutions like medical, satellites, automobiles, and aircraft imaging devices need multiple Agile Release Trains and suppliers from other industries to realize the value stream effectively. Solution trains are established to keep an eye on the value streams. 

3. Ensure Flow of Value Without Any Interruptions:

Based on this Lean Principle, the value stream should be removed from unwanted activities that can take a long time to deliver the solution. The initial step to enhancing the flow of value is to spot the factors contributing to these obstructions. The value stream mapping achieves this by designing the A to Z, arranging activities, and evaluating performance at every step. This should be done even between every step. As you can understand from the picture below, value stream plots aid with foreseeing the value stream and spotting key occurrences of delay:

Source: Scaled Agile

The step for quickening the flow is to spot the essential factors that contribute to these obstructions and apply Lean-Agile techniques to rectify them. For example, the techniques listed below are part of Lean Thinking, and they are used commonly all through the SAFe® for improving flow:

  • Foresee work in progress and restrict them
  • Rectify hindrances
  • Reduce dependencies and handoffs
  • Get feedback quickly
  • Work in smaller groups
  • Manage the length of queues
  • Bring down distractions
  • Evaluate flow

In Scaled Agile Framework, these are proven techniques for rectifying issues with the flow in the value stream. How they are applied relies on the type of hindrances and how the flow should be enhanced. The good thing about Scaled Agile Framework is that it provides plenty of directions on how to benefit from these approaches throughout the value stream to ensure a continuous value flow without any hindrances.

4. Allow Customers to Get worth from the Producer:

Value streams must release the appropriate value at the right time to the right customers. This Lean Thinking principle directs organizations with the delivery of solutions that clients bring into the market based on their actual requirements. This should be done against forcing solutions into the market based on what they feel customers require. From the picture below, you can understand the difference between push-based and pull-based flow:

Source: Scaled Agile

When you take the case of conventional delivery systems that follow the push approach, the releases will happen without any regular timeframe, and also, they happen in large lots. In turn, customers get very little worth that, too very late. This is why SAFe® and Lean principles suggest pull-based flow. In this flow, priority is given to tiny groups of work. In turn, it becomes possible for the development team to deliver quickly to customers. In turn, faster feedback generation also becomes possible. When you intend to follow a pull-based delivery system, the best approach to follow is Kanban System.

When it comes to the Kanban system, it is naturally pull-based. The system enforces tiny batches by restricting work in progress at every step. The Scaled Agile Framework motivates the employment of Solution Train, Agile Release Train, and Kanban Systems. Above all, SAFe® also wants the solution to be structured to support on-demand deliveries and flow based on the pulling mechanism. They must be urged loosely. Only then will it be possible for each sub-system and element to be deployed, tested and changed without any dependency on others. When this is done, it will be possible to prevent the delays and high transaction costs towards the efforts made for changes. It will be possible to achieve it by designing for continuous delivery and DevOps with the help of cloud-first, containerization, and domain-driven design techniques.

5. Pursue Protection:

Value Stream Management is a continuous practice. The reason is that it does ongoing optimization of the value stream. It does it in pursuit of the utmost quality and flow. Of course, achieving a perfectly efficient value stream might not be possible. But, with a continuous drive towards perfection, a popular approach of Lean thinking, it will be possible to establish a practice of innovating an ongoing value stream throughout the organization.

Source: Scaled Agile

When you take the case of a business that works towards perfection, the business should evaluate its value stream regularly. The business should do this evaluation compared to performance targets that were decided upon earlier. Appropriate metrics include qualitative and quantitative metrics that offer a base for worthy decision-making. It replaces ideas with facts. Flow metrics, as given in the picture below, will provide a complete outline of the work that moves via the value stream together with the of the workflow’s efficiency, predictability, and swiftness. These objective measurements aid with the spotting of near-accurate locations of release hindrances.

Apart from keeping an eye on flow metrics and improving them, perfection is sought through relentless, radical, incremental improvement.

  • Companies must spot inefficiencies in an ongoing fashion in the value stream. They must make radical and incremental improvements when the need arises to rectify them. The continuous quest for perfection and bias for action makes relentless improvement. This is an essential element of the Lean-Agile mindset.
  • Radical improvement, otherwise called Kaikaku, encompasses a considerable reconfiguration of the value stream itself. It is crucial when the people or activities in the value stream are presently organized and need solutions. Here, redefining the value stream must happen, and people should reorganize around the fresh value flow. Companies will have to spot value streams and Agile Release Trains when this happens. Also, when doing this, they will have to replace the present activities and should re-configure Agile Release Trains as required.
  • Kaizen or incremental improvement helps systematically address particular hindrances in the value stream in short bursts. With these efforts, it will be possible to address particular pieces of value stream at a time in an ongoing stream of targeted improvements informed by regular value stream mapping sessions, Inspect and Adapt Events, and Iteration reviews. But, at times, system-wide and more dynamic changes might be needed.
Value Stream Leadership in SAFe®:

After knowing about SAFe® value stream management using Lean principles, it is better to learn about value stream leadership in Scaled Agile Framework:

It is not easy to manage the value stream. It entails correctly applying the five principles of Lean Thinking discussed above through the value stream. It needs dedication, expertise, and, most importantly, time. For value stream management, most organizations hire a manager. This happens particularly in manufacturing contexts. An efficient value stream manager will have the skills listed below:

  • Tactical Influence: This skill requires spotting the improvement, measuring outcomes in an ongoing fashion,  leading change, and mobilizing teams.
  • Strategic Influence: Value stream managers will engage in SAFe® funding and support value stream improvements.
  • Process Knowledge: They should be aware of the orders of activities to be done throughout the organization. In turn, they can ensure the conversion of ideas into valuable solutions.
  • Technical Knowhow: Value Stream Managers should be aware of the services, products, and supporting tools for producing the solutions with the utmost value to the business.
  • Business Knowledge: Value Stream Managers should be in a position to understand the requirement of customers, compliance factors, and market forces that shape the product strategy and define value metrics that take the team towards product delivery.
  • Lean Mindset: This is one of the critical skills to be possessed by a value stream manager. He should be aware of the principles of Lean Thinking and how to apply them to improve the flow of the value stream.

When it comes to independent and small value streams, it might be enough to have a single value stream manager. It's hard to believe that an individual will possess all the above qualities. So, in Scaled Agile Framework, people will be jointly responsible for value stream management for some key roles. Accordingly, the business owners will take care of the outcome-oriented and strategic aspects of the value stream. In contrast, the Solution and Agile Release Trains triads take care of the output-oriented and tactical aspects of the value stream. Jointly, they act as a team for offering multi-faceted leadership needed for taking care of the evolution and execution of value streams when scaling the enterprise happens. Here is a picture for you to better understand this concept:

Source: Scaled Agile

Know About Triad Responsibilities: 

Triads take care of aligning influential individuals possessing SAFe® technical and business expertise to a shared purpose of efficiently delivering execution management. The ART execution is done with the guidance of the Release Train Engineer, System Architect, and Product Management. On the other hand, the Solution Train Engineer, Solution Architect, and Solution Management pioneer the solution train execution. In other words, every role entrusts with particular responsibilities within its knowledge of expertise. However, they add the joint duty of tactically managing the value stream's execution. 

Every triad applies the Lean Thinking principles for improving its value stream for the maximum desirable results as evaluated by the flow metrics of SAFe®. Members of the triad jointly work, bringing together their spheres of influence and strength for architect and define solutions, processes, and technology stacks for an ongoing flow of value. They enable the spotting of hindrances in the flow and forerun the organization via changes that quicken the value delivery.

Responsibilities of Business Owners:

In the end, the owners of businesses are responsible for the results of the value stream. So, they offer the leadership, governance, strategy, and vision alignment needed for operating and changing value streams based on the improving needs of businesses. Also, the owners of businesses apply the Lean Thinking principles to improve their value streams for the most business outcomes they wish to achieve. They explain the KPIs that motivate the solution design towards realizing economic benefits that are possible to feel and touch. Even after that, the business owners support and guide Solution and Agile Release Trains via delivery in line with the key performance indicators.

For relentless underwriting improvement, business owners also support significant value stream improvement opportunities that the Solution Train and ART triads spot. In this process, they need significant changes in the value stream when they identify that the hindrances are severe. Business owners take care of offering the strategic influence required for implementing, prioritizing, and defining systemic and disruptive improvements that produce the best value to customers.


To be precise, SAFe® value stream management is a technical and leadership discipline that ensures the maximum flow of business value. It does it through a top-to-bottom solution delivery life cycle. The Scaled Agile Frameworks make Value Stream Management possible using the five Lean thinking principles. Even, it does it using a wide range of practices that improve the efficiency of delivery throughout the organization. Value Stream Management always needs constant effort from leaders in a company with expertise in process, techniques, business practices, and tactical and strategic influence. 

Regarding Scale Agile Framework, value stream managers are the key people responsible for managing the value stream. However, they share their responsibilities with business owners, solutions, and Agile Release train triads to ensure effective value stream management.




Is a passionate learner and blogger on Agile, Scrum and Scaling areas. She has been following and practicing these areas for several years and now converting those experiences into useful articles for your continuous learning.