Anchor new approaches in the culture.
—John Kotter

This article is part of the SAFe® Implementation Roadmap series which outlines and discusses the primary ‘critical moves’ that are common to successful SAFe transformations. To view the Roadmap and find links to the entire set of supporting articles, click here.

Extend to the Portfolio

In the previous articles in the SAFe Implementation Roadmap series, we described the first ten ‘critical moves’ of the roadmap:

It’s quite an accomplishment for an organization to have implemented SAFe across a set of Value Streams. The new way of working is well on its way to becoming second nature to everyone who has a role in the implementation. Most importantly, the measurable benefits of time to market, quality, productivity, and employee engagement are now tangible and demonstrating real progress. As a result, the effectiveness of the entire enterprise starts to improve, and the larger goal is coming into sharper focus: a truly Lean-Agile enterprise with a fully implemented set of SAFe value streams. This is a telling phase in the rollout, as it tests the authenticity of the organization’s commitment to transforming the business at all levels. Now is the time to expand across the entire Portfolio, and anchor the new approach in the culture.


In the last article, Launch More ARTs and Value Streams, we described how enterprise leaders drive and facilitate wider implementation of SAFe. The success of these ARTs and value streams creates a buzz in the organization about the new and better way of working.  This tends to stimulate greater scrutiny on some of the higher-level practices in the business, which often reveals legacy, stage-gated processes and procedures that impede performance. Inevitably, that starts to put pressure on the Portfolio and triggers the need for the additional changes that will be necessary to further improve the strategic flow across the portfolio.

These issues typically include:

  • Perpetual overload of demand vs. capacity, which jeopardizes throughput and undermines strategy
  • Project-based funding (bringing the people to the work), cost accounting friction, and overhead
  • No understanding of how to apply capitalization in Agile
  • Overly detailed business cases based on speculative, lagging ROI projections
  • Strangulation by the iron triangle (fixed scope, cost and date projects)
  • Traditional Supplier management and coordination—focus on lowest cost, rather than highest lifecycle value
  • Stage gate approval processes that don’t mitigate risk and actually discourage incremental delivery

Nowhere is Lean-Agile Leadership more important than when addressing some of these remaining legacy challenges. If these approaches are not modernized, the enterprise will be unable to escape the inertia of tradition, causing the organization to revert to the old way of doing things. This inevitably leads to attempting Agile development with a non-Agile mindset, what is often referred to as “Agile in name only.” The results can be seriously compromised. But help is at hand. Figure 1 illustrates how these mindsets evolve with training and engagement in the process of implementing SAFe.

Figure 1. Evolving traditional mindsets to Lean-Agile thinking

Leading the Transformation

Many of these traditional mindsets exist throughout the organization, and left unchanged can sabotage a fully-realized implementation. To help the SAFe workforce embrace the new way of working, we’ve described how SAFe Program Consultants (SPCs) and Lean-Agile Leaders lead the transformation by providing the new knowledge needed to inspire an attitude that will embrace the new mindset. But since ‘it is better to lead than follow,’ increasingly we see an emerging Lean-Agile Program Management Office (PMO) taking an active, leadership role in the transformation. In so doing, they establish exemplary Lean-Agile Principles, behaviors and practices, including:

  • Lead the change and foster relentless improvement
  • Align value streams to enterprise strategy
  • Establish enterprise value flow
  • Implement Lean financial management and budgeting
  • Align portfolio demand to implementation capacity and Agile forecasting
  • Evolve leaner and more objective governance practices
  • Foster a leaner approach to contracts and supplier relationships

Each is described in the following sections.

Lead the Change and Foster Relentless Improvement

For many enterprises, the need for change and the knowledge of the new way of working is led by portfolio and PMO personnel. In so doing, they sponsor and participate in the LACE, become SPCs, and support or encourage the development of specialty Communities of Practice (COPs) that focus on and advance the new roles, responsibilities, and behaviors.

Align Value Streams with Enterprise strategy

Value streams exist for one reason: to meet the strategic goals of the portfolio. This can be ensured by implementing a process of establishing and communicating the Strategic Themes. This helps organize the portfolio into an integrated and unified solution offering. Strategic themes also inform value stream budgeting decisions, as described later.

Establish Enterprise Value Flow

Managing the flow of work from portfolio level initiatives is an important step in the maturity cycle. This requires implementing the portfolio backlog and Kanban system, filling the role of Epic Owners by adopting the Epics construct and lightweight business case. In addition, Enterprise Architects establish enabler epics that provide common technological underpinnings, which support the broader use cases across the full portfolio.

Implement Lean Financial Management

Historically, enterprises were built by carefully controlling the definition and cost of development via the ‘project’ construct. In a sense, however, the project model provided ‘temporary work for temporary people,’ and the inevitable cost and schedule overruns caused personnel upheaval and financial churning.

But as we improve our methods, and discover the long-lived nature of most of what we do, we must move to a more persistent flow-based model. The new approach must minimize overhead, give people a stronger sense of purpose, and facilitate the growth of institutional knowledge. This is the larger purpose of the portfolio’s value streams, funded in accordance with SAFe’s Lean-Agile budgeting practices. In addition, to ensure that development costs are appropriately recorded without excessive overhead, a leaner approach to managing capital and expense costs is described in the CapEx-OpEx article.

Align Portfolio Demand to Implementation Capacity; Agile Forecasting

Lean thinking teaches us that any system operating in a constant state of overload will deliver far less than its actual capacity. This is certainly true for any development process in which excess Work in Process (WIP) drives multiplexing (lowering productivity), unpredictability (lowering trust and engagement), and burnout (lowering everything).

By consistently applying the concept of velocity at the team, ART and value stream levels, the emerging SAFe enterprise uses this invaluable knowledge to limit portfolio WIP until demand matches capacity. This increases the throughput and value delivered to the customer. And in place of detailed long-range commitments, the SAFe enterprise applies Agile forecasting to create a portfolio Roadmap, a baseline of expectations that is communicated to internal and external stakeholders.

Evolve Leaner and More Objective Governance Practices

As we noted in Figure 1, traditional governance practices were often implemented based on traditional, Waterfall lifecycle development. These typically included passing various phase gates milestones, along with proxy, paper-based measures of completion. The Lean-Agile model, however, works differently. As explained in SAFe Lean-Agile Principle #5, Base Milestones on Objective Evidence of Working Systems, the focus of governance moves to establishing and measuring the appropriate objective measures at each Program Increment (PI) boundary.

Foster a Leaner Approach to Supplier and Customer Relationships

The Lean-Agile mindset informs another group of business practices: how the enterprise treats its suppliers and customers.

The Lean enterprise takes the long view and enters into long-term partnerships with suppliers, which produces the lowest overall cost of ownership, instead of a series of near-term maneuvers that lower only the cost of a current deliverable. Indeed, the enterprise will engage directly in helping their suppliers adopt Lean-Agile thinking, and may even participate in developing a supplier’s capabilities in that area.

The SAFe enterprise also recognizes the critical importance of customers to the value stream. That realization means they are included in such key events as PI Planning, Systems and Solution Demos, and Inspect and Adapt (I&A).

They take on the responsibilities incumbent on a customer in a Lean-Agile ecosystem. These relationships are fostered by adopting a leaner approach to Agile Contracts.

Additional Resources

SAFe PPM Toolkit – To implement the full SAFe portfolio, Scaled Agile provides SPCs with a Program Portfolio management (PPM) toolkit that can be used as a workshop for stakeholders to learn how to execute the Lean-Agile PPM practices described in this article. They learn how to implement the Portfolio Kanban system to limit WIP and accelerate value flow. Attendees leave with additional steps that can be taken to support Lean-Agile program portfolio management, budgeting, software capitalization, contracts, and lifecycle governance. For more on the workshop, check out this link.






Last update: 3 April, 2017