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Why Identifying Value Streams is Crucial Before Launching Your First Agile Release Train

by Michael Callahan

The first time I tried to help a company adopt the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), it didn’t go very well.

It was 2013…

I had read the Leffingwell book, “Agile Software Requirements”. I understood Epics, Features and Stories. The idea of forming Agile Release Trains made sense (or at least seemed to). I mean, what was so hard, we already used Scrum, this was just scaling Scrum, right?


What I didn’t understand was flow, and it wasn’t until a year later ( May 6-9, 2014) that I began to see the error of my ways. That was the week I attended SAFe Program Consultant Certification Training.

The SAFe that I trained on began to introduce me to the idea of value streams, at the time, the material was minimal but over time, the folks at Scaled Agile incorporated new learning and got to the heart of understanding value streams and the importance of Value Stream Identification in the Implementation Roadmap.

Before you dive in and launch your first Agile Release Train (ART), it's essential to identify your value streams first. This will help to define the flow of value and allow the organization to make a determination on how to organize the work and who needs to be involved.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss why value stream identification is so crucial and how it sets the stage for an effective SAFe implementation.


Understanding Value Streams

What is a Value Stream?

A value stream represents the series of steps an organization takes to deliver a product or service from concept to customer. It includes everything from initial idea generation to the final delivery and customer support. Identifying value streams involves mapping out these steps and understanding how value flows through your organization.


Types of Value Streams

There are two main types of value streams in SAFe:

Operational Value Streams:

These involve the major steps it takes to deliver value to a particular customer. Each step requires people and systems to support the overall delivery of value.

An example would be an insurance company paying a medical claim.

To pay the provider for services rendered (the customer and value received) the organization needs to account for patient eligibility, benefit availability, provider contracting, and an accounts payable solution.

Development Value Streams:

Development value streams provide the systems that enable the operational value stream to deliver value to the customer. These involve the steps needed to create and enhance solutions that support operational value streams. They include activities like requirements, design, coding, testing, deployment, and release.

In the above example, one development value stream might provide an eligibility system, along with any interfaces to external, third party suppliers


The Importance of Identifying Value Streams


1. Clarity and Focus

Identifying value streams provides clarity on how work flows through your organization and where value is created. This understanding helps focus efforts on the most critical areas, ensuring that people are allocated efficiently and effectively.


2. Alignment with Strategic Goals

By mapping value streams, you can ensure that your ARTs are aligned with the organization’s strategic goals. This alignment ensures that the work being done directly supports the overall business objectives, leading to better outcomes and a higher return on investment.


3. Improved Communication and Collaboration

Value stream identification fosters better communication and collaboration across teams. When everyone understands how their work fits into the larger picture, it becomes easier to coordinate efforts, share knowledge, and resolve issues quickly.


4. Enhanced Customer Focus

Understanding value streams helps you see the entire process from the customer’s perspective. This customer-centric view ensures that the solutions developed meet real customer needs and deliver maximum value.


5. Efficient ART Formation

Identifying value streams before launching ARTs ensures that teams are organized around delivering specific value. This alignment reduces dependencies, improves coordination, and accelerates delivery. Teams can focus on delivering end-to-end value without being bogged down by cross-team handoffs and delays.


Setting Yourself Up for Success

It can be tempting to try and short-cut a SAFe implementation, in reality, I feel safe (no pun intended) saying, it is a good way to set yourself up to fail.

Identifying value streams before launching your first Agile Release Train is a critical step in ensuring a successful SAFe implementation. It provides clarity, alignment, and focus, enabling teams to deliver maximum value efficiently and effectively. By understanding and optimizing how value flows through your organization, you can set a solid foundation for continuous improvement and sustained agile success.

Investing the time and effort to map your value streams will pay off in smoother ART launches, better team alignment, and ultimately, more satisfied customers. Remember, in the world of SAFe, understanding the flow of and organizing around value is the key to achieving your strategic goals and driving business success.


To learn more about value streams see these articles on the Scaled Agile Website:

About the Author

Michael Callahan is a SAFe Practice Consultant and Certified Professional Coach.

His career began in Technology in 1995 building personal computers as a hobbyist and later taught himself to write code. In 2001, while working as a software developer, he was first exposed to Extreme Programming and his Agile Career began to take flight.

In 2005, he played the role of scrum master, by 2009, he was director of Design and Architecture for a software company who supplied claim payment systems for US based health insurance carriers.

In 2014, Michael became a SAFe Program Consultant and continued to coach, consult and train SAFe practitioners over the next decade.

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