Two captains sink the ship.

– Turkish Proverb

Value Stream Coordination Abstract

Value Streams are the most fundamental construct in SAFe. They provide a focus that helps the Lean-Agile Enterprise better understand the flow of value, from concept to delivery. As an enterprise better understands the various flows, they can focus their attention on organizing around them and further optimizing them by reducing waste, unnecessary steps, and delays. In this way the sustainably shortest lead time can be achieved and continuously reduced.

Therefore, it is sensible that value streams are organized to be largely independent. However, the fact is that coordination of dependencies among value streams is typically necessary. Even more important, effective Value Stream Coordination can create a differentiated and unmatchable Solution offering. To this end, managers and executives understand the challenge and opportunity that their value streams provide; they make them as independent as possible where appropriate, and simultaneously interconnect and coordinate them to the larger enterprise purpose.

When this is done well, the enterprise provides decentralization and autonomy of the value streams themselves—resulting in fast, independent, and unhindered value delivery. And this value is substantially enhanced by the effective exploitation of opportunities that exist only in the interconnections.


The SAFe Portfolio Level is where Value Streams are represented, funded, and guided to the larger purpose. It provides the general mechanisms for reasoning about the flows of value through the Enterprise. The primary constructs are the value streams themselves; Business and Enabler Epics, which serve as containers for the business initiatives that are cross-cutting in nature; and the Program Portfolio Management function, which allocates Budgets to each value stream.

Often the value streams are largely independent. For example, a hardware or software concern may sell a number of products and services, largely decoupled in technology from each other. More likely, however, they have dependencies between them, and while we typically think of dependencies in a negative sense, Systems Thinking informs us that value flows through these dependencies.

Even more important, it is often the case that this additional value is unique and differentiated. Indeed, in part via those dependencies, an enterprise can offer a set of Solutions that cannot be matched by anyone who does not provide an equivalent set, as well as the mastery surfacing the unique and emerging capabilities that only coordinated value streams can provide. Achieving this requires a deeper look at coordinating value streams within a portfolio, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Cross-value stream coordination details
Figure 1. Cross-value stream coordination details

The primary aspects of value stream coordination are described in the sections below.

Cadence and Synchronization

To start, Figure 1 describes how the principles of cadence and synchronization apply equally well to the portfolio level as to the value streams and programs. The merits are the same, making routine things routine—thereby lowering the transaction costs associated with change—and synchronizing the various aspects of multi-value stream solution development. Common cadence also provides the opportunity and mandate that the portfolio level solution (via business epics) moves forward in time with assured planning and integration points, each of which provides the opportunity for objective evaluation of the solution set under development. These points are the only true measure of portfolio velocity. The more frequent the points, the faster the learning and the shorter the time to market.

Injection of New Portfolio Level Work

Figure 1 illustrates another key point: The portfolio cadence determines the rate and timing by which new portfolio level work can be injected into the system. During the course of each Program Increment, the value streams and Agile Release Trains are necessarily “heads down,” focusing on achieving the committed Objectives for that PI. Clearly, if new work is injected into the system in the interim, it causes substantive interruptions, task switching, realignment, and movement of people and other resources to the newly revised objectives. Since teams obviously can’t meet their prior commitments and mix in new and unplanned work, this portfolio cadence provides the metronome for introducing new portfolio work and helps the programs achieve the predictability that the enterprise depends on.

This portfolio cadence also provides regular mechanisms for Epic Owners and others managing epics through the Portfolio Kanban system. Any epic that is not ready at the boundary must wait for future service, even though resources may otherwise have been available. This  timeboxing that the cadence provides also tends to limit work in process for the new, and substantial, work that is going to be injected into the system.

Program Management, Content Management, and Enterprise Architecture

In support of the need to coordinate at this highest SAFe level, Figure 2 illustrates a set of three primary roles, each of which  parallels comparable roles at the Program and Value Stream Levels.

Figure 2. Program Management, Content Management, and Architecture troika
Figure 2. Program Management, content management, and architecture troika

This “troika” provides three primary functions necessary to help ensure successful execution of portfolio initiatives:

  • Program Management. The PPM function has the highest-level governance function within the framework, so it is logical that a program manager, or someone with skill and experience in helping teams-of-teams-of-teams, reliably executes the strategic intent. This role directly parallels the Value Stream Engineer and Release Train Engineer roles that appear at the value stream and program levels, respectively.
  • Solution Portfolio Management. Someone must also steer the integrated portfolio solution set to the larger content intent. These responsibilities are ascribed to a solution portfolio manager role. This role also directly parallels the Solution Management and Product Management roles, which occur at the value stream and program levels.
  • Enterprise Architect. The Enterprise Architect may also play a role similar to those at the value stream and program levels, in this case helping to ensure common technical underpinnings, defining cross-value stream use cases, and helping to avoid unnecessary duplication of assets and effort.

In support of cadence and synchronization and decentralized planning, these roles—along with other portfolio stakeholders—may also participate in Pre- and Post- PI Planning.

Portfolio Roadmap

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. In addition, this higher-level roadmap provides the opportunity to integrate various aspects of the lower-level roadmaps and their associated Milestones, into a more comprehensive view, one suitable to communicate the larger picture to the enterprise stakeholders.

Deployment and Release

Depending on the nature of the value streams and dependencies, deployment of integrated value may depend on effective DevOps capabilities at this portfolio level as well. While the DevOps function is primarily illustrated at the program and value stream levels, in many cases those capabilities may be all that is needed. In other cases, however, additional portfolio considerations require special treatment, and there may be dedicated or Shared Services and Systems Teams that help integrate the solution into a portfolio level Release.

Last update: 30 March 2016