If you don’t scale the mountain, you can’t view the plain.

– Chinese Proverb

Portfolio Level Abstract

The highest level of the Big Picture Framework is the Portfolio Level, where programs are aligned to the enterprise business strategy and investment intent.  In the larger enterprise, there may be multiple program portfolios, one for each instance of SAFe.


The Portfolio Level has a number of key constructs:

  • Portfolio Vision (which in turn contains:)
  •     Value Streams
  •     Investment Themes
  •     Epics
  •     Portfolio Backlog
  •     Kanban Systems
  • Lean thinking paradigm
  • Program Portfolio Management
  • Metrics

each of which is described in the sections below.

Portfolio Vision

The Portfolio Vision represents the highest level of solution definition and governance in an instance of SAFe in the enterprise. The decisions that are made here drive the overall economics for the portfolio, and therefore managing the portfolio in an effectively Lean and Agile fashion is a critical concern. The Portfolio Vision is captured in a number of additional SAFe constructs, as defined in the sections below.

Value Streams

Value Streams are long-lived series of system definition, development and deployment steps used to build and deploy systems that provide a continuous flow of value to the business or customer. The set of  Value Streams for an enterprise, or business unit within an enterprise, establishes the relative investment objectives for products and services of that type.  Each value stream has stable funding for a short, but sustainable period (recommended twice annual updates), so that as value moves, funding for development moves with it.  If it takes a large number of teams (>10) to build and deliver value in a value stream, then multiple Agile Release Trains are formed for each Investment Theme. Value Streams lend themselves to systematic analysis and improvement by the lean tool of Value Stream Mapping.

Investment Themes

Investment Themes represent the set of initiatives within a value stream that drive the enterprise’s investment in systems, products, applications, and services. Investment themes represent key product or service value propositions that provide marketplace differentiation and competitive advantage. All but one theme has a one for one correlation to an Agile Release Train, so an easier way to think about Investment Themes is that they represent budgets for a train. Each “partition” in the pie-shaped graphic represents a specific ART and an associated budget. Within the partition (budget allocation), managers are empowered to develop the initiative in whatever way makes the most economic and business sense for the enterprise. However, they generally may not exceed the budget or borrow resources from other themes without agreement from those stakeholders. With this process, the enterprise exercises its fiduciary responsibility by driving investment to the agreed-to business priorities. In most organizations, these decisions happen at the business unit level based on annual or twice-annual budgeting process.

One special theme, the Program Portfolio Investment Theme represents a capacity  allocation, and/or budget reserve, for epics in the Portfolio Backlog.


There are two types of Epics: Business Epics, which are functional or user-experience epics, and Architectural Epics, which are used to implement the technological changes that must be made to significant elements of the portfolio.

Portfolio Backlog

The Portfolio Backlog is the highest-level backlog in the framework, and serves as a holding stage for Epics that make it through the Kanban systems and await implementation. It contains the prioritized set of Business and Architectural Epics necessary to achieve market differentiation, operational efficiencies, or competitive solutions.

Kanban Systems

The Framework applies two slightly different kanban systems to manage to manage the portfolio backlogs; one kanban for business epics, and another kanban for architectural epics. These systems:

  • Visualize the flow of epic-level value through analysis and into implementation
  • Limit work in progress to assure flow
  • Drive an effective collaboration with the development teams
  • Provide a quantitative basis for economic decision making
  • Make policies with respect to capacity allocations explicit

Each system employs four queues (funnel, backlog, analysis, and implementation) to manage the workflow.


Lean thinking is a set of principles and practices that maximize customer value while minimizing waste and reducing time to market. The goal of Lean is sustainably shortest lead time, with best value to people and society. Lean thinking incorporates five major elements: the goalkaizen (continuous improvement), product development flowrespect for people and lean-thinking leader/manager/teachers. Lean Thinking is essential to scaling agile practices to the enterprise level, and is therefore foundational to SAFe.

Program Portfolio Management

Program Portfolio Management (PPM) represents the highest-level fiduciary (investment and return) and content authority (what gets built) in the framework. There, the responsibilities for Strategy and Investment Funding, Program Management, and Governance rest with those business managers and executives who understand the enterprise business strategy, technology, and financial constraints, and define and implement the portfolio product/solution strategy.  They are typically assisted in these duties by a Program Management Office (PMO), which shares responsibility for guiding program execution and governance.


Agile processes, practices, and work products are inherently measurable., and there are many Metrics that can be used to assess and improve Team, Program, Portfolio and enterprise progress. SAFe provides eight such Metrics sets.

Learn More

[1] Leffingwell, Dean.  Agile Software Requirements: Lean Requirements Practices for Teams, Programs, and the Portfolio. Addison-Wesley, 2011.

Last update: 03 February, 2014

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