Last Updated May 14, 2019 — Enterprise Agile Planning expert
Enterprise Agile Planning

How VSM is a key component to a successful SAFe® implementation strategy

One of the key tenets of modern development strategies is putting additional value into the hands of your customers faster. Practices and concepts such as Agile, DevOps, CD/CI, as well as frameworks such as SAFe play an important role in that. How can you, as an organization,  truly focus on meeting or even exceeding customer expectations? How can IT teams innovate, move more quickly, scale with greater velocity, and release new features that actually matter? It’s all about the v-word — value.

In this blog, let’s unpack Value Stream Mapping and how it is key to successfully scaling Agile across the enterprise with the Scaled Agile Framework® (or SAFe).

Defining Value Stream Mapping

Let’s start by better defining and understanding Value Stream Mapping using a real-world example. A Value Stream Map is very much what it sounds like — an outline of the sequence of steps that are represent the various people, processes and tools within a business that are required to get something of value out the door and into the hands of the customer. The Value Stream starts with some trigger —should often be a customer need or could also be led by the product management department coming up with a new feature or service.

There are also two sides to the Value Stream Mapping coin — on one side are the operational value streams, which are more focused on how value gets into the hands of your customers and what it really means to them. On the other hand, the development value stream is focused on creating an understanding of your organizational IT structure and how a product or service moves from concepting, to development, and ultimately to production.

Value Stream Map Use Cases

Take for instance the scenario at a hospital. A hospital isn’t directly in the business of delivering software to its customers — rather it delivers medical services and treatment. In this sense the operational Value Stream is all about creating better medical care for patients, while the development Value Stream focuses on delivering IT support for the hospital. It is easy to see, however, how these two interlap. Delivering outstanding customer/patient experiences without having a supporting development plan is exceedingly difficult.

If your business isn’t in the service industry, like a hospital, but is a product development company, your operational Value Streams are support activities that facilitate product development activities. They are things like legal, sales, marketing, and licensing. Then your development Value Streams in your product development company are the actual developers that are building a product that the company then sells and licenses to its customers. In all organizations, we can classify the sequence of steps into two different types, either operational or development.

Defining SAFe

So with all of that in mind, let’s see how the idea of a Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and Value Stream Mapping go hand-in-hand.

First off, SAFe is an extremely popular model for organizations that want to reliably scale their Agile development processes as their businesses change and grow. It is the most popular set of workflows and organizational structures that helps businesses apply lean-agile concepts to their software delivery pipelines.

In the SAFe construct, the entire structure is built around the idea of organization and value. In order to provide faster time-to-market, provide more usable and functional products, and deliver the best product possible, having customer value at the center of your development strategy is key.

Once you have these Value Streams properly mapped, SAFe relies on Agile Release Trains (ARTs) in order to fulfill delivery. The Agile Release Trains are essentially focused on taking the most important value streams and then moving your organization away from working in a projectized way such that you can deliver on what your company’s core competencies are and how you deliver value as an organization.

Practicing Value Stream Mapping within SAFe

One can easily see how these cascading concepts relate and rely upon one another. At its heart, Agile is about delivering maximum value to the user as quickly as possible. Value Stream Mapping and Value Streams is all about the activities and information flows that contribute to the value of a product or service that customers are willing to buy.

And finally, SAFe is a concept focused on modeling an organizational framework that helps you scale your delivery pipeline in the most effective way possible by putting value streams as the center-point of your development strategy. No one aspect is completely dependent on the other, but all of these moving pieces function much better when they are used to complement each other.

As your organization moves down the path of Agile and DevOps, starting with a thorough Value Stream Mapping exercise can help not only save you time and cost by eliminating unnecessary or bloated processes or tools, but help bring the concept of delivering maximum value to the center of your development strategy. This will help set up your organization to take advantage of all the benefits of a Scaled Agile Framework.

Learn More

In Lean enterprises, successful Value Stream Mapping depends on its collective teams’ ability to deliver solutions that reliably meet a customer’s needs with high quality. The ability to have visibility of work flowing from idea to business value delivery is vital for Lean enterprises to transform themselves into a value-driven organization. 

You can take a deeper dive into this topic with i4 and CollabNet VersionOne by watching this recently recorded webinar:

Accelerate SAFe Value Stream Mapping and Deliver Value Using VersionOne

Check out the on-demand webinar I did with Charles Charles Maddox, Principal and Founder at i4 Group recently.

Scaled Agile Framework and SAFe are trademarks of Scaled Agile, Inc.


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