Lean into SAFe and Value Stream Management

September 10, 2019 Eric Robertson

Take a moment to imagine the vast amount of software that runs our lives and the world today. Think of the fact that there is ever more software in use across organizations and it is constantly being updated, improved, changed, or replaced. The benefits of software are obvious, but managing the complexity of software in the business and understanding its relationship to strategy is still a challenge.

As more organizations work to tie the value of software development back to strategy, they inevitably face the issues of scale. One challenge with “scale” is keeping all software aligned so it consistently supports strategy and objectives.

Another challenge is keeping development efforts, IT operations, and resources optimally deployed and aligned.

See figure 1 below for a clear example of how SAFe and Value Stream Management (VSM) address these two common challenges. Most companies don’t have these types of dashboards that align development and costs directly to strategic themes, such as customer satisfaction and revenue growth as shown. Below we’ll look at how you too can have these types of views.

Figure 1. Value Stream Management in a SAFe framework allows you to see and measure how your development aligns to strategic objectives such as Customer Satisfaction metrics. Use customer feedback on user experience to prioritize development, making CI/CD more precise and easier to prioritize.

A third major challenge facing software organizations is supporting dev and ops teams, so they have focus and context by understanding well in advance what’s needed. See figure 2 for the effects of unlimited intake due to an inability to prioritize by value.

Figure 2. Unlimited work intake creates bottlenecks and slows delivery. You want to manage demand effectively.

To surmount those and other obstacles at scale, you need to think in terms of Lean and implement effective processes to support enterprise-wide Agile.

These issues are common and typify where organizations struggle. We hope the information in this blog, and the webinar that goes deeper into this topic, will put your mind more at ease as you begin to see how scaling Agile with SAFe is feasible, achievable and cost-effective.

If you think and execute in terms of Lean and Agile at scale, you will begin to see the value of your software and development efforts, and the effect it has on strategy and business outcomes. Once you achieve that, you can make faster and better decisions about software. Actions such as prioritization, allocating resources, selecting tools/services/vendors, and delivery timelines will be easier and faster to make.

I recommend everyone interested in Agile at scale takes a deep look at the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) for Lean Enterprise. It was created to help organizations scale Lean and Agile across the enterprise while continuously delivering value and creating alignment.

One of the key competencies for achieving success with SAFe for Lean Enterprise is Lean Portfolio Management. With an aim to align strategy and execution through Lean and systems thinking approaches, this is where the focus shifts to portfolio strategy. For many organizations, especially those limited by a traditional siloed portfolio strategy, the approach cultivates an entirely new way to deliver value and maximize investments, strategic alignment and execution.

By combining SAFe for Lean Portfolio Management and the emerging practice of Value Stream Management (VSM), your organization can align bigger-picture strategies and business value with better workflows and end-to-end visibility.

Here’s a look at two important practices that can help you elevate software development and delivery within your organization.

Lean Portfolio Management in Action

There are three core elements to Lean Portfolio Management: strategy and investment funding, Agile portfolio operations and Lean governance.

Let’s look at how it impacts strategy and investment.

First, it is important to understand that Lean Portfolio Management helps drive strategic alignment and aims to connect the enterprise to the portfolio strategy by creating budget and investment guardrails.

There are four key ways that Lean Portfolio Management creates strategic alignment:

  1. Connects the portfolio to the enterprise strategy with strategic themes
  2. Maintains a portfolio vision with portfolio canvases
  3. Funds value streams through investment and budget guardrails, and governance
  4. Establishes flow with the portfolio Kanban

To master the Lean Portfolio management competency, SAFe recommends organizing in value streams because they are formulated to continuously deliver value.

This is Where Value Stream Management Becomes Essential

Value Stream Management (VSM) has risen as an approach that looks at software as essential to the success and strategy of the business. With VSM, organizations are better able to reduce waste, while focusing on value and providing visibility.

To realize VSM’s full potential, organizations need to overcome limitations with technology and process by investing in an end-to-end solution, and they also need to think differently about software. They need to realize how important software is to the success of their business today, and how value streams can provide structure in how teams deliver on work -- from concept to cash.

According to Flint Brenton, our CEO here at CollabNet VersionOne, “Value Stream Management offers a unique view of the software delivery lifecycle through the customer experience lens, to better align with business objectives and scale Agile and DevOps transformations.”

With value streams in place, SAFe Lean Portfolios are better organized to deliver value. Naturally, the approach shifts from managing projects to managing products and services. This helps the business focus on value-based outcomes and better decision-making when it comes to portfolio management.

Ultimately, SAFe Lean Portfolio Management with end-to-end Value Stream Management allows the organization to connect enterprise software to the portfolio strategy, manage portfolio operations and provide Lean governance across value streams.

Want to learn more about aligning strategy with SAFe Lean Portfolio Management? Check out this recent webinar:

About the Author

Eric Robertson

Eric Robertson is responsible for product management and marketing at CollabNet VersionOne. Prior to CollabNet, Eric served as Director of services and portfolio management for enterprise solutions at Unisys. Eric joined Cisco through a company acquisition, where he led product management for Cisco's cloud automation and SAP ALM extension offerings. Eric has successfully held product development, services and management roles with enterprises and start-ups and has provided consulting services to Fortune 500 companies. Eric holds a patent in the area of virtualization and a Master's Degree in Electrical and Software Engineering from University of Texas in Austin and continues to further his research in domain- specific languages, and intelligent automation.

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