Click. Boom. Amazing!

—Steve Jobs



Each Value Stream produces one or more solutions, which are products, services, or systems delivered to the Customer, whether internal or external to the enterprise.

All the words, pages, roles, activities, and artifacts in SAFe exist for only one purpose: to help development teams continuously deliver solutions that provide value to their customer. That, in turn, enables customers to achieve their goals, which is the ultimate purpose of every solution development enterprise.

However, even when teams and trains apply SAFe guidance, and operate effectively within their disciplines, value isn’t guaranteed. After all, Customers do not buy Capabilities or Features. Rather, they buy whole product solutions that deliver desirable business outcomes. For that reason, a solution is one of the central concepts in SAFe, and requires taking a system view regarding value delivery.


Developing an effective Solution—one that is fit for its intended purpose—is the larger aim of SAFe. As described in the Value Streams article, a solution is either a final product delivered to the ultimate economic buyer or, alternately, a set of systems that enables an operational value stream within the organization. In either case, the work is largely the same: to determine the end user’s needs and to reliably, efficiently, and continuously produce a flow of value that meets those needs. That’s the process of solution development, and the essence of all the roles, activities, and artifacts in SAFe.

Overview of Solution Development in SAFe

Solution development is the subject of each Agile Release Train (ART) and value stream. In Essential and Portfolio SAFe configurations, each ART has the ability to deliver a largely independent solution to the customer.

SAFe’s Large Solution Level supports solutions that require multiple ARTs, and typically suppliers, to build them. At this level, solution development involves several core practices and elements of SAFe, as Figure 1 illustrates.

Figure 1. Overview of solution development

Large solutions are delivered by multiple Agile Release Trains operating together as a Solution Train. ARTs function simultaneously to build the solution in fully-integrated increments, measurable via a Solution Demo that occurs at least during every Program IncrementSolution Intent captures the goal. But it also permits exploring and defining fixed variable requirements and designs that are derived, in part, from the Solution Context.

The Customer interacts with the solution builder to clarify intent, validate assumptions, and review progress. Solution Management and Architects help drive development, make scope and priority decisions, and manage the flow of Features and Capabilities and Nonfunctional Requirements (NFRs).

Governance is provided, in part, by the Economic Framework, which establishes economic decision rules that govern the solution’s logic. Value stream Lean Budgets and Strategic Themes provide additional boundaries and input.

In other words, developing an economically viable solution requires a systems approach to defining, planning, implementing, and reviewing the solution, as further described below.

Effective Solution Development Requires Systems Thinking

Principle #2 – Apply Systems Thinking, guides the organization accordingly to institute scalable and forward-looking practices around value definition, architecture, development practices, and process improvement. Many elements of the framework facilitate this, as described in the sections below.

Solution Capabilities/Features, Enablers, and NFRs

Capabilities and features are the end-to-end solution services that help achieve user goals. Implemented via vertical, end-to-end slices of value, they enable incremental solution development. In SAFe, the distinction between capabilities and features is simply that features can be realized by a single ART, while capabilities cross multiple ARTs within a Solution Train. Both capabilities and features must be completed within a single PI. Enablers allow exploration of new capabilities, contribute to solution infrastructure and architecture, and enhance NFRs. This triggers early value delivery and helps build robust architecture.

Solution Intent

Solution Intent initiates and captures a holistic view of the solution. It also incorporates different aspects that govern value definition, including structural, behavioral, functional, and other views. Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) provides an effective way of reasoning about the solution and is an efficient tool to share knowledge. SAFe’s fixed-variable solution intent paradigm enables ARTs and Solution Trains to enhance solution intent based on the objective knowledge that emerges over the course of many learning cycles.

Customer and Solution Context

Taking a systems view ensures that the solution builder understands the Solution Context, e.g., the broader ecosystem in which the solution operates. It provides the additional pieces that determine operational requirements and constraints.

And of course, customers are part of the value stream. They participate in defining solution intent and solution context, and they help validate assumptions and fitness for use.

Building an Economically Viable Solution

Building a complex solution requires informed and effective decision-making. The trade-offs of the Economic Framework help guide solution development. In addition, a continuous exploration process that includes learning Milestones, Customer feedback loops, and Set-based Design informs and streamlines the learning process by validating good options and eliminating less practical ones.

Note: So far, we’ve described the constructs needed to build solutions large enough to require the large solution level, constructs such as solution intent, economic framework, etc. But these artifacts can also be applied to ARTs building independent solutions (those do not require the cooperation of other ARTs) as indicated in Essential or Portfolio SAFe configurations. That’s just part of the essential configurability of SAFe.

Integrating, Testing, Demonstrating and Releasing

Solution development is effective only when stakeholders and teams frequently evaluate integrated increments of the entire solution. While Solution Demonstration occurs on a fixed PI cadence, all of the activities in the Continuous Delivery Pipeline (Continuous Exploration, Continuous Integration, and Continuous Deployment) work to support the continuous creation of value and Release on Demand. To accomplish this objective, solution builders continuously enhance their DevOps capabilities as well as integration and testing practices, configuration management, automation, and virtualization.

Managing Multiple Solutions in the Portfolio

Each SAFe Portfolio contains multiple value streams. Many are largely independent, while others may have many cross-cutting concerns and dependencies, as is illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2. An example of cross-cutting solution concerns in a portfolio

Sometimes these cross-cutting concerns provide enhanced capabilities that allow strategy differentiation. Other times, they are just dependencies that must be addressed as part of the solution offering. When this is the case, Coordination across value streams is required.

Last update: 9 June, 2017