All it takes to play baseball is a strong arm, good speed and the coordination to hit the ball. That’s it.
Value Stream Coordination
Value Stream Coordination provides guidance to manage dependencies and exploit the opportunities in a portfolio.
Value Streams are a fundamental organizational construct in SAFe. They establish the focus that allows a Lean Enterprise to comprehend the flow of value from concept to delivery. As a business understands its work streams better, it can organize attention and resources around them, optimizing them by reducing waste, unnecessary steps, and delays. In this way, it can achieve and continuously reduce the lead time for value delivery.
Although it’s sensible for value streams to be organized to be as independent as possible, some coordination of dependencies among value streams is necessary. More importantly, thoughtful coordination can create a differentiated and unmatchable Solution offering. To this end, Lean-Agile Leaders understand the challenge and opportunity their value streams provide. They make them as independent as possible, while simultaneously interconnecting and coordinating them with the enterprise’s larger purpose.
Decentralized and mainly independent value streams result in fast and free-flowing value delivery, substantially enhanced by exploiting opportunities that exist only in the interconnections.
By their very nature, value streams are long-lived and further independent of each other. For example, a systems or software company may sell many products and services, largely decoupled from each other in technology. More likely, however, is that they have dependencies between them. Although we typically think of dependencies in a negative sense, systems thinking informs us that value flows through these dependencies. Yes, there are challenges to be addressed, but there are also valuable opportunities to exploit.
Most importantly, this additional value is often unique and differentiated. Indeed, an enterprise may offer a set of solutions via those very dependencies that cannot be matched by companies that do not provide an equivalent set. Or perhaps the competitor has not developed mastery in surfacing the unique and emerging capabilities that these coordinated value streams can provide.
Achieving this additional value requires the ability to coordinate value streams within a portfolio, as illustrated in Figure 1 and described in the sections below.
Smart observers of the SAFe are probably aware that each level is anchored by people in three primary roles, each with a parallel and consistent set of responsibilities, each a repeating pattern of the one below it:
- Responsibility for what gets built – Product Owner > Product Management > Solution Management
- Responsibility for how it gets built – Agile Team > System Architect/Engineering > Solution Architect/Engineering
- Responsibility for servant leadership-based operation and execution – Scrum Master > Release Train Engineer (RTE) > Solution Train Engineer (STE)
So, whenever a significant degree of coordination is required, it isn’t surprising to see the similar roles and responsibilities appear in large portfolios. As seen in Figure 1, these roles are filled by:
- Solution Portfolio Management – Has the overall responsibility for guiding a portfolio to a set of integrated solutions.
- Enterprise Architect – Provides technical guidance for the long-term evolution of the technologies and platforms and the larger Nonfunctional Requirements (security, Compliance, performance, and more) for the portfolio solution set.
- Agile Program Management Office (APMO) – The APMO—along with the STEs and RTEs—is typically responsible for supporting decentralized, but efficient, program execution. The APMO provides support for standard reporting patterns, shared best practices, and growth and dissemination of institutional knowledge.
Cadence and Synchronization
Figure 1 also illustrates how the principles of cadence and synchronization apply as well to the Portfolio Level as they do to large solutions. The merits are the same:
- Making routine things routine, thus lowering the transaction costs associated with change
- Synchronizing the various aspects of multi-value stream solution development
Shared cadence also provides the opportunity and the mandate for the portfolio level solution (via business Epics) to move forward in sync with defined planning and integration points. Each creates the occasion to evaluate the solution set under development objectively.
These points are the only accurate measure of portfolio velocity. The more frequent the points, the faster we learn.
Starting New Portfolio Level Work
Figure 1 illustrates another vital concept: the portfolio cadence determines the rate and timing at which new portfolio level work can be added into the system. During each Program Increment (PI), the Agile Release Trains (ARTs) and Solution Trains are focused on the committed PI Objectives. If new work is added to the system in the interim, it causes substantial interruptions, task switching, realignment, and movement of people to new objectives. The portfolio cadence provides a reliable rhythm for introducing new portfolio work since teams sometimes cannot meet prior commitments and mix in significant unplanned work. It helps the programs achieve the predictability the enterprise depends on.
Through the Portfolio Kanban system, this cadence also establishes conventional mechanisms for Epic Owners, Enterprise Architects, and others managing epics. Any epic that’s not ready for PI Planning must wait for the next PI, even though resources may have been available. Timeboxing the cadence also limits Work in Process (WIP) for the new and substantial work that will be introduced into the system.
Clearly, at this level of the portfolio, a plan of intent must be evident. As Figure 1 illustrates, a portfolio Roadmap is a useful artifact that highlights how new content, primarily in the form of epics, contributes to the plan of intent. This higher-level view also provides the opportunity to integrate aspects of the lower-level roadmaps, and their associated Milestones, into a more comprehensive view, communicating the larger picture to the enterprise stakeholders.
Deployment and Release
Due to the nature of the value streams and dependencies, deploying integrated value may also depend on effective DevOps capabilities. In some cases, ARTs provide all the DevOps capability that’s needed. In others, there are additional considerations. These may even require dedicated or Shared Services and System Teams that help integrate the solution into a portfolio level release.
Last update: 5 October 2018