Two captains sink the ship.

– Turkish Proverb


Value Stream Coordination

Value Stream Coordination provides guidance for managing dependencies across value streams in a portfolio.

Value Streams are the most fundamental construct in SAFe. They establish the focus that allows a Lean-Agile Enterprise to comprehend the flow of value from concept to delivery. As an enterprise better understands its flow, it can organize its attention and resources around them, further optimizing them by reducing waste, unnecessary steps, and delays. In this way, the shortest sustainable lead time can be achieved and continuously reduced.

Although it’s sensible for value streams to be organized to be as independent as possible, some coordination of dependencies among value streams is typically necessary. More importantly, effective coordination can create a differentiated and unmatchable Solution offering. To this end, Lean-Agile leaders understand the challenge and opportunity their value streams provide. They make them as independent as possible, while simultaneously interconnect and coordinate them with the larger enterprise purpose.

Done well, this allows the enterprise to provide decentralized and autonomous value streams. This results in fast, independent, and free-flowing value delivery, substantially enhanced by exploiting opportunities that exist only in the interconnections.



Often the value streams are largely independent. For example, a systems or software company may sell a number of products and services, largely decoupled from each other in technology. More likely, however, is that 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, this additional value is often unique and differentiated. Indeed, an enterprise may offer a set of Solutions via those very dependencies that cannot be matched by companies that do not provide an equivalent set, or the mastery in surfacing the unique and emerging capabilities only these coordinated value streams can provide. Achieving this requires a deeper look at coordinating value streams within a portfolio, as illustrated in Figure 1, and described in the sections below.

Figure 1. Cross-value stream coordination details troika

Cadence and Synchronization

To start, Figure 1 illustrates how the principles of cadence and synchronization apply as well to the portfolio level as they do to large solutions 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 the mandate for the portfolio-level solution (via business epics) to move forward in sync with assured planning and integration points. Each provides the occasion 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 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 (PI), the Solution Trains and Agile Release Trains (ARTs) 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 substantial interruptions, task switching, realignment, and movement of resources to the new objectives. Since teams obviously can’t meet prior commitments and mix in unplanned work, the portfolio cadence provides a reliable metronome for introducing new portfolio work. It helps the programs achieve the predictability the enterprise depends on.

This portfolio cadence also establishes regular mechanisms for Epic Owners and others managing epics through the Portfolio Kanban system. Any epic that is not ready for PI planning must wait for next one, even though resources may otherwise have been available. The timeboxing that the cadence provides also tends to limit work-in-process (WIP) for the new and substantial work that is going to be injected into the system.

Guidance, Content Management, and Enterprise Architecture

To support 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 Large Solution Levels.

Figure 2. Guidance, content management, and architecture troika

To help ensure successful execution of portfolio initiatives, this “troika” provides three essential functions:

  • Portfolio Train Engineer. LPM governance is the highest level within the framework. So it’s logical that a program manager, or someone with the skill and experience in helping teams-of-teams-of-teams-of-teams, reliably executes the strategic intent. This directly parallels the Solution Train Engineer (STE) and Release Train Engineer (RTE) roles that appear at the large solution and program levels.
  • Solution Portfolio Management. Someone must also steer the integrated portfolio solution set toward the larger content goals. These responsibilities are assigned to a solution portfolio manager role. This also directly parallels the Solution Management and Product Management roles, which occur at the large solution and program levels.
  • Enterprise Architect. The Enterprise Architect may also play a role similar to those at the large solution and program levels. In this case, they help to ensure common technical underpinnings, define cross-value stream use cases, and 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. To communicate the larger picture to the enterprise stakeholders, this higher-level roadmap also provides the opportunity to integrate aspects of the lower-level roadmaps, and their associated Milestones, into a more comprehensive view.

Deployment and Release

Due to the nature of the value streams and dependencies, deployment of integrated value may also depend on effective DevOps capabilities at this portfolio level. Although the DevOps function is primarily illustrated at the program and large solution levels, often those capabilities may be all that’s needed. In other cases, however, additional portfolio considerations require special treatment. There may be dedicated or Shared Services and Systems Teams that help integrate the solution into a portfolio-level Release.

Also, release might need coordination, as the marketing impact of releasing things together might be important. The “troika” will need to coordinate the Release Management of the different value streams to identify dark and canary releases that can be made early to validate the solution, while still having the impact of a coordinated release across the value streams.

Last update: 19 June, 2017