Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence—only in constant improvement and constant change.
Accelerate Business Agility
Article thirteen is the final article in the SAFe® Implementation Roadmap series. Click here to view the entire roadmap.
The previous articles in the SAFe Implementation Roadmap series described the first twelve critical moves:
- Reaching the Tipping Point
- Train Lean-Agile Change Agents
- Create a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE)
- Train Executives, Managers, and Leaders
- Lead in the Digital Age
- Organize Around Value
- Create the Implementation Plan
- Prepare for ART Launch
- Train Teams and Launch the ART
- Coach ART Execution
- Launch More ARTs and Value Streams
- Enhance the Portfolio
One of the most common questions asked by enterprise leaders from organizations that have been on their SAFe journey for several years is, “what’s next?” From their perspective, all the previously described steps in the Implementation Roadmap have been completed. While they may agree that there is always room for improvement, they still sense that there is more to be done and more significant benefits to achieve on the path to true business agility.
For these organizations, there is a need to shift the focus from a series of steps for the initial adoption of SAFe to actions specific to their enterprise that can accelerate business agility. In most instances, the best way forward is to return to where the SAFe journey began, with a renewed focus on how to accelerate the flow of value through the enterprise’s value streams.
To accelerate and optimize business agility across the enterprise, we return to the foundations of the business agility value stream and how it enables the organization to get innovations to market more quickly. In SAFe, Value Stream Management and the principles of Lean thinking are the keys to accelerating value delivery to customers. They frame everything the organization does to become an adaptive, resilient market leader.
This final article of the implementation roadmap series uses the framing of the Lean thinking principles to present recommended strategies for accelerating the SAFe transformation to achieve better business results. Those principles are:
- Precisely specify value by specific product
- Identify the value stream for each product
- Make value flow without interruptions
- Let the customer pull value from the producer
- Relentless improvement (pursue perfection)
Each is described below with additional thoughts on how organizations can accelerate the flow of value. The article concludes with guidance for extending the benefits of business agility across the entire business and how to anchor the new ways of working permanently in the organization’s culture.
Precisely Specify Value by Specific Product
Value stream thinking and practice are at the heart of SAFe. The first principle of Lean thinking requires organizations to clearly specify the value they deliver to their customers. SAFe defines strategy as understanding what products and services enterprises sell and to whom. That seems simple, but it can sometimes be challenging to identify what is and isn’t a product. A crisp understanding of what products are at the end of each value stream and the associated KPIs will clarify the entire portfolio’s purpose.
Of course, by this step in the roadmap, most organizations have a basic understanding of the products they deliver because ARTs and Solution Trains have been operating for some time. But there’s even deeper and more specific guidance for making desirable, feasible, viable, and sustainable products. It requires maturity around product line thinking, which is what enterprises must strive for to accelerate. Is the guidance for market research, empathy mapping, whole product thinking, and customer engagement found in Customer Centricity being followed? Are the practices of Design Thinking that promote exploring the problem and solution space, developing personas, and creating journey maps being applied consistently? If not, in addition to following the guidance in these articles, enterprise product leaders can experience advanced training in these techniques through Scaled Agile’s Agile Product Management course.
Identify the Value Stream for Each Product
Once the value by product has been revisited and refined, it is time to take a closer look at the value streams that build and maintain those products. Some value streams may need very few changes, while others may need to be significantly refreshed. Entirely new value streams may need to be formed. Is the current organizational model serving its purpose? Have products and markets evolved, making it necessary to reorganize around value? Have the topologies been properly applied to implement each value stream? Is each value stream the right value stream? The guidance in this section will help answer these questions and describe the actions to optimize each value stream.
Revisit and Refresh Value Streams
Too often, organizations treat value stream identification as a one-time event. In reality, the dynamics of today’s operating environment create a state of constant change that can reduce the effectiveness of value streams over time as they gradually become misaligned with the optimal flow of value. Therefore, leaders should regularly ask the following:
- Are we organized around value?
- Do we have the right value streams?
- When was the last time we mapped the value streams and how work flows, identified delays, and synced value streams back to our products?
- Is value flowing consistently at a rate that meets our business objectives?
Inevitably, the value stream configurations that once served the organization well need to be revisited, refreshed, or reconstructed. The guidance in the Organize Around Value step of the implementation roadmap and the Value Stream and ART Identification Workshop remain the best tools for guiding this process and creating updated value streams that optimize the flow of value in the current environment.
Review and Update Value Stream Maps
Value streams continuously evolve to adapt to emerging business needs and opportunities quickly. As the value stream context shifts, new impediments to flow can emerge. Effective Kanban systems feeding essential data into the flow metrics will make identifying where flow impediments occur easier. While this information is an excellent first step, it doesn’t provide the granularity to explain why this is happening and, most importantly, how to resolve the issue. As value streams evolve, their corresponding value stream maps must also be updated.
Value stream mapping is one of the most effective tools to diagnose challenges to flow. Value stream mapping is a collaborative process in which a cross-functional group of stakeholders produces a visualization of a value stream’s significant steps, handoffs, and delays. Instrumenting value streams with tooling can reduce the effort required for value stream mapping by providing relevant data about each value stream’s configuration and health. Figure 1 illustrates the basic process for mapping value streams.
The SAFe Value Stream Mapping Workshop is a facilitated, collaborative event that helps organizations measure the health of the value stream, identify the biggest impediments to flow, and create an actionable plan to optimize the value stream. Further training on mapping value streams is also available in the SAFe DevOps course.
Make Value Flow Without Interruptions
Along the path to accelerating business agility, the organization has reviewed and updated the specific value each product delivers and to what customers. The value stream configurations that produce each product have been reviewed and revised as needed. The next step is ensuring value flows through those value streams without interruption (Principle #6). As the following sections describe, this requires understanding where impediments to flow are occurring and then building a plan for reducing or removing those barriers to flow using the flow accelerators.
Measure the Flow of Value
It is easier to know where improvements to flow need to be applied with a data-driven understanding of where the impediments to flow are occurring. The best way to detect these impediments is to use SAFe’s Flow Metrics . Once the current flow metrics are captured and analyzed, the connection can be made to the kinds of problems each metric can help diagnose. More importantly, there are many patterns for which flow accelerators are best for improving each metric. Figure 2 provides a few examples of flow accelerators that can be applied to address problems with each flow metric.
The examples in this table provide a simple starting point for identifying where to invest time and resources into efforts to improve flow. The following section describes how the team, ART, solution train, and portfolio flow articles provide level-specific ‘how to’ guidance for implementing each flow accelerator.
Apply the Flow Accelerators Specific to Each Level of SAFe
While the eight flow accelerators described in Principle #6 apply broadly to any flow-based system, there are different techniques for addressing, optimizing, and debugging issues to achieve continuous flow at each level of SAFe. Accordingly, every level of the Framework includes a dedicated article on the specific techniques that can be used to optimize each of the eight accelerators at that level. For example, resolving bottlenecks for an Agile team may include practices such as swarming, pairing, and strengthening T-shaped skills to provide increased capacity at the bottleneck. By contrast, bottlenecks at the portfolio level may require developing additional epic owners, analyzing the capacity of ARTs in the portfolio’s value streams, or improving the quality of Lean Business Cases for proposed epics. An effective acceleration technique is to use the flow metrics to identify where the most significant impediments to flow are occurring and use the improvement tips in the flow articles at the appropriate levels to formulate an actionable improvement plan.
Implement and Improve Your Kanban Systems
To maximize the flow guidance in SAFe 6.0, sound Kanban practices are essential at every level. This requires focused training and coaching on creating, refining, and consistently using Kanban practices in teams, trains, and portfolios (basic guidance can be found in the Applying Kanban in SAFe article). The data produced by an active Kanban system feeds the flow metrics critical to understanding how effectively the organization is achieving flow. In most cases, this requires the implementation of software-based Kanban tools. The good news is that virtually every Agile Lifecycle Management (ALM) tool on the market includes robust Kanban features.
It is also essential to understand that setting up a Kanban is not a one-time activity. Kanbans should continuously evolve and adapt to provide the best results. Improvements over time might include adding or removing Kanban states, fine-tuning the criteria to move from one state to the next, adjusting WIP limits, adding lanes for different service levels, and more.
Let the Customer Pull Value from the Producer
The fourth area of focus for accelerating business agility is to ensure that each value stream is delivering the right value to customers at the right time by providing solutions that customers pull into the market based on their actual business needs. In the context of innovative technology-based solutions, this principle of Lean thinking takes different forms, as described below.
Customers Pull Value from the Producer
Producers must recognize when customers need additional value from their products. This comes from a close connection with customers using the customer centricity, design thinking, and whole product practices described at the beginning of this article. They enable customers to pull value from continuous value streams by creating releases that meet their needs at the right time. This is facilitated by providing new value in small batches through the continuous delivery pipeline.
Producers Push Innovations that Delight Customers
Occasionally producers create new innovations that customers might not think to ask for but that create incredible value once they are delivered to the market. As Steve Jobs said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”  A more recent example is the explosion of generative AI tools such as ChatGPT . Even in these cases, small batches, MVPs, and fast feedback can help producers understand which innovations to pursue based on validated learning. They then deliver these innovations in increments the customer can absorb.
Relentless Improvement (Pursue Perfection)
The final way to accelerate business agility is to relentlessly improve, as recommended by the Continuous Learning Culture (CLC) article. While the Lean manufacturing goal of perfection in the context of technology-enabled solutions may be unattainable, it’s the striving for perfection that leads to continuous improvements to products and services. Relentless improvement is not just an important element of accelerating; it is essential to the survival of an organization and should be given priority, visibility, and resources. The guidance that follows provides practical actions for building a relentless improvement culture.
Measure and Improve
On the journey through the implementation roadmap, the organization may have used some of the recommendations in the Measure and Grow guidance, such as the business agility assessment or the flow metrics. Accelerating value delivery requires a comprehensive strategy for relentless improvement across all three measurement domains, as shown in Figure 3.
Flow – Previous sections of this article described how to accelerate by measuring and improving value flow using flow metrics. Gaining an understanding of flow and getting the physics of the flow properties to work is vital to sustaining continuous value delivery.
Competencies – SAFe provides comprehensive assessments for each individual competency that goes deeper than the business agility assessment. Mastery of all seven competencies is the key to strengthening the new ways of working in teams, trains, and portfolios.
Outcomes – Better business results through improved outcomes are measured with key performance indicators (KPIs) as described in the KPI article. OKRs help organizations connect insights from KPIs back into strategies to improve and evolve solutions.
Relentless improvement goes beyond minor adjustments to existing processes. It also includes innovation activities that lead to significant leaps forward in products and the evolution of Lean-Agile practices. One of the most powerful ways to support innovation is to have consistent, well-planned IP iterations. These iterations provide a predictable place on the calendar where innovation activities such as hackathons can be planned. Other activities, such as retrospectives and the problem-solving workshop during Inspect & Adapt, can also provide much-needed focus time for innovation work.
Assure Adequate Training
Providing training in the new ways of working is one tangible way to demonstrate SAFe’s core value of Respect for People. Adopting SAFe can significantly alter the roles and job descriptions of many in the organization. Lack of adequate training impacts the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers and creates barriers to achieving better business results, which motivated the move to SAFe in the first place. Intentional processes should be implemented to track who needs training in their assigned role and ensure that new hires are also trained when they join the organization.
Enhance the Key Roles
Scrum Masters/Team Coaches and Release Train Engineers are vital in guiding the organization through relentless improvement in each SAFe core competency. As shown in Figure 4, each of these roles has explicit responsibilities to coach teams and trains toward better performance through effective SAFe practices.
To better equip the people who serve are essential to accelerating mastery of the SAFe competencies, two additional courses are available to deepen the skills required to coach the organization at this implementation stage.
SAFe® Advanced Scrum Master (SASM)
The SAFe® Advanced Scrum Master is a two-day course designed to help experienced Scrum Masters/Team Coaches improve their coaching and facilitation skills, avoid common missteps, and encourage relentless improvement. Participants will learn how to apply Lean, Kanban, DevOps, and SAFe principles to improve team and business outcomes.
SAFe® Release Train Engineer (RTE)
The SAFe® RTE course enhances the ability of experienced RTEs to execute SAFe and continuously improve PI Planning and other key SAFe events. Participants advance their abilities to coach leaders, teams, and Scrum Masters in new processes and mindsets. The course also provides the guidance and tools needed to work effectively in remote environments with distributed teams.
Implementing SAFe® with SAFe Practice Consultant (SPC) Certification
As the organization follows the recommendations in this article to accelerate business agility, more SPCs will be needed to coach and teach others to in the new ways of working. The Implementing SAFe with SAFe® Practice Consultant (SPC) certification used in the early stages of the implementation roadmap is the course that equips the change agents who lead the ongoing journey of relentless improvement toward better business outcomes.
Extend Agility Across the Business
It is common for the world’s largest organizations to have many portfolios across multiple business units. Success in one portfolio does not ensure success in other portfolios. As the initial portfolio adopting SAFe makes headway on its progress towards business agility, a great way to accelerate business agility for the entire enterprise is to leverage the learnings and successes of the pioneering organization to transform the remaining portfolios. The recommended pattern is to provide change agents from the initial portfolio with the opportunity to transplant into subsequent portfolios, bringing all the experience and insights of implementing SAFe.
Beyond additional portfolios, many SAFe organizations are adopting Lean-Agile ways of working in areas of the business outside of technology. A few of the more common patterns are illustrated in Figure 5.
The foundational guidance for this expansion of SAFe practice is in the Organizational Agility competency article. Other emerging patterns like the ones in Figure 7 can be found in the Business and Technology article and the SAFe Beyond IT series.
Anchor New Behaviors in the Culture
The work to implement SAFe and achieve mastery of the seven competencies will inevitably shift the organization’s culture. Leaders are the key to ensuring the gains from adopting SAFe are anchored permanently in the organization’s culture. They must do more than just ‘change the system.’ Leaders must also set an example. They must be curators, caretakers, and defenders of the new way of working. When the heat is on, and the pressure to return to old habits escalates, organizational leaders must proactively identify and correct any regression to past patterns. When leaders demonstrate that true change has occurred and going backward is not an option, no matter the circumstances, the changes become galvanized into the organization’s DNA. The new way of working will likely withstand similar future challenges because, as Kotter describes, the change is anchored in the new culture.  (Note: Accelerating Change Leadership, one of the Leading in the Digital Age series modules, is an excellent tool to help leaders improve their ability to guide successful and long-lasting change.)
While this is the end of the series of articles describing the SAFe Implementation Roadmap, it is not the end of your SAFe journey! It is just the beginning! Many challenges and exciting opportunities lie ahead for your organization. SAFe gives enterprises the tools to thrive, adapt quickly amid disruption, and succeed in the digital age.
 Kersten, Mik. Project to Product. IT Revolution Press, 2018.
 Reinhardt, Andy. There’s Sanity Returning. Business Week, May 12, 1998
 Agrawal, Ajay, Joshua Gans, and Avi Goldfarb. ChatGPT and How AI Disrupts Industries. Harvard Business Review, December 12, 2022
 Kotter, John. Change: How Organizations Achieve Hard-to-Imagine Results in Uncertain and Volatile Times. Wiley, 2021
Last Update: 13 March 2023