Consolidate gains and produce more change.

—John Kotter

Launch More ARTs and Value Streams

This is article eleven in the SAFe® Implementation Roadmap series. Click here to view the entire roadmap.

The previous articles in the Implementation Roadmap series described the first ten ‘critical moves’ of the Implementation Roadmap. They are as follows:

This next step in the Implementation Roadmap is critical to realizing the full benefits of SAFe. Confidence earned with the first ART opens a significant business opportunity to launch more ARTs and value streams throughout the organization to serve customer needs and attain market objectives.


As the Implementation Roadmap picture illustrates and experience has shown, the first PI Planning event, ART launch, and PI deliverables provide initial, measurable, and substantial business benefits. Within this first ART, business and development are now aligned to a shared vision and mission; everyone has agreed to a new way of working and has adopted a standard method, language, cadence, and synchronized events; new roles and responsibilities are established; a new level of employee engagement arises as teams take responsibility for planning their future. And most importantly, the first PI deliverables have illustrated the effectiveness of adopting SAFe.

In addition, the change leaders have the practical knowledge and experience they need to launch more ARTs. In this next critical move, the enterprise can realize an even greater return on its investment: faster time-to-market, higher quality, higher productivity, and increased employee engagement. Broad and effective implementation of scaled Lean-Agile practices is required to deliver these desired benefits of business agility.

Launch More ARTs within a Value Stream

Building on the success of the first ART, SPCs and the LACE follow the same steps to launch more ARTs:

Launching these subsequent ARTs requires the same attention and care as the first ART. Doing so provides each new set of people the same high-quality opportunity to learn and plants Lean-Agile practices and mindset into the organization’s culture.

Apply Large Solutions Trains, Roles, and Practices as Needed

As described in Organize Around Value, some value streams can be realized by a single ART. They already have the people, resources, and cross-functional skills needed to Release on Demand without additional coordination, integration with other ARTs, or added governance. However, more significant value streams require hundreds or thousands of practitioners and may be subject to significant regulatory and compliance constraints. These large solutions require developing the organization’s Enterprise Solution Delivery competency. Some or all of the additional roles, events, and artifacts of the Large Solution SAFe will be required (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. SAFe Large Solution Configuration
Figure 1. SAFe Large Solution Configuration

Examples of circumstances where the enterprise solution delivery configuration applies include:

  • Large consumer solutions that host complex user journeys and experiences across multiple products and lines of business
  • Cyber-physical systems that require a broad range of engineering disciplines and utilize hardware and other long lead-time items
  • High assurance systems of any scope that are subject to significant safety and compliance requirements

In other words, the activities that are illustrated at the Larger Solution level may be applied to any system where the cost of failure is unacceptable. These systems demand more rigorous practices for continuous alignment around the Solution Vision and assured safety and efficacy of end-user usage.

In these cases, the next stage of the rollout will need to establish these additional practices and roles. Because these responsibilities, artifacts, and activities are new to the enterprise, leadership, SPCs, and the LACE will again play an active role. This additional alignment and scale may include the following:

  • Establishing roles – Fill the three large solution roles—Solution Train Engineer (STE), Solution Management, and Solution Architects, creating leadership and alignment across ARTs and critical stakeholders.
  • Establishing Solution Intent – Determine the responsibilities, process, and tools to define and maintain Solution Intent, considering creating the right level of variability.
  • Establishing a large solution Vision, Roadmap, and Metrics – Many elements of the spanning palette may be required for large value streams. These include vision, roadmap, metrics, Shared Services, System Team, DevOps strategies, Lean User Experience (UX), AI-enabled solutions, and OKRs.
  • Introducing the Solution Train Backlog – Larger value streams benefit from using the capabilities backlog item, in which case the Solution Train Kanban must also be established.
  • Implementing large solution events – These events are required to prepare for individual ART PI planning, coordinate Solution Train PI Objective delivery and dependencies, align on the combined architectural runway, and demonstrate the whole solution to stakeholders. Activities that create cross-ART alignment opportunities include Solution Demos, Pre-plan activities, large solution Inspect & Adapt, and Architect Syncs.
  • Integrating suppliers – Large value streams typically have internal and external strategic Suppliers. Whether they embrace and practice SAFe principles and a Lean-Agile mindset, they must coordinate to deliver the solution’s potential. Whatever the case, the suppliers must at least integrate into SAFe events at the large solution level.

Launch Additional Value Streams

Launching the first full development value stream is a significant milestone in the transformation. The culture is evolving; employee happiness is increased. However, the job is far from done in large enterprises. The other development value streams may serve entirely different businesses, operating units, or subsidiaries. They may be located in different countries, offer markedly different solutions and services, and have other chains of command that may only converge at the highest corporate level.

As a result, even the spread of good news to other development value streams may not evoke an automatic embrace of SAFe across the enterprise. Many may think, ‘What worked there may not work here.’ So, in a sense, each new development value stream represents the same challenge and opportunity to incorporate all the change management steps described so far.

Each new value stream must go through the same steps that got you to this point, as illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Each Value Stream executes a portion of the Implementation Roadmap
Figure 2. Each Value Stream executes a portion of the Implementation Roadmap

Lessons Learned and Guidance for Large-Scale SAFe Transformations

When launching ARTs, large solutions, and value streams, it is helpful to consider the many lessons learned from other large-scale transformations in the SAFe community. The remainder of this article will summarize critical learnings that support the successful launch of more ARTs and value streams.

Northwestern Mutual Case Study –An Early and Effective Model

As illustrated in a case study, Northwestern Mutual was one of the first large-scale SAFe transformations. The insights they gained by applying SAFe principles and practices to orchestrating the transformation itself are interesting and compelling. It has served as an exemplar for many other organizations, particularly in visualizing and communicating progress, focusing leadership on resolving impediments, and building sustainability into the transformation.

Top among Northwestern Mutual’s innovations is the huge (approx 8 x 15 ft) Big Visible Information Radiator (BVIR) shown in Figure 3 which was used to visualize the flow of ARTs from identification to formation to launch and sustainment. Sarah Scott, a member of the technical transformation team at Northwestern Mutual, presented this work at a SAFe Summit.

Reproduced with permission of Northwestern Mutual

Figure 3. Northwestern Mutual’s SAFe Transformation BVIR

Based on the success of the rollout and the interesting train metaphors Northwestern Mutual applied, we captured the essence of this model in the form of the ‘SAFe Implementation Railway’, shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. The SAFe Implementation Railway
Figure 4. The SAFe Implementation Railway

The railway is a Kanban system containing four major states and one state with sub-states, each with a column on the board. Each state has defined entry and exit criteria based on Northwestern Mutual’s learnings on essential conditions that help ARTs succeed. The four major states are:

  • Funnel – this state allows stakeholders to volunteer their value streams for transformation. There are no WIP limits for this state. Value streams are pulled to the next state, the Transformation Backlog when they have completed all preparation required to be ready for a successful launch. The funnel state also captures any questions, issues, or concerns expressed by anyone affected by the transformation.
  • Transformation Backlog – this is the ready-to-do state. Value streams in this state are continually prioritized for transformation based on support and readiness. When there is capacity in the next state, the top priority value stream that satisfies the criteria for launch is pulled onto a Track. (Note the implied limitation, there is room on the board for only four value streams to be in progress at any one time).
  • The Tracks – Within this state, multiple stations, or substates, represent the work to identify, prepare, launch, operate, and transition the new ARTs to the new way of working. Each track represents a single value stream and is limited in the number of ARTs that may be in progress simultaneously. The number of tracks and trains allowed on each track limits the number of ARTs to the supporting capacity of the transformation team.
  • Sustain and Improve – After an ART completes its journey on the track, including several successful PIs and evidence of successful Inspect and Adapt sessions, it is moved to the sustain and improve state and is no longer an active WIP for the transformation team. This is not the journey’s end for that ART, but where their relentless improvement begins—which is now the responsibility of the ART itself.  The final article in this series “Accelerate,” shares additional guidance and tools for established ARTs to increase the flow of value and mature their lean-agile mindset.

The  SAFe Implementation Railway Kanban provides a time-proven model for reliably launching ARTs at scale, communicating overall transformation progress, highlighting blockers requiring action, and making visible Value Stream and ARTs that are not yet transforming. This use case and many other large-scale transformation leaders have continued sharing the practical applications they have learned from utilizing SAFe to transform how they do business, enabling others to learn from their wins and challenges.

Practical Considerations for Large-Scale Transformations

‘Launching additional ARTs and Value Streams’ may seem straightforward by following the same practices and patterns as the first. However, with more ARTs, the count of people working in the Lean-Agile way climbs from hundreds to thousands. As large organizations navigated the expansion of SAFe, common practical considerations emerged, as highlighted below.

  • Balance Change Capacity – Demand for SAFe transformation grows with successful ART launches. It is possible that the number of positive responses to the invitation to “Go SAFe” will exceed the capacity for change. Successfully pacing change requires balancing many factors, such as business priorities, risk, customer needs, and practical constraints described below. Involving stakeholders in a consistent intake practice can manage expectations regarding the order of ART launches. Though tradeoffs are difficult, this engagement ensures the rationale is transparent and understood.
  • Engage the Guiding Coalition – The guiding coalition is vital in maintaining momentum. The launch of the first ART deserves celebration, but it is too soon to declare victory. More than ever, this coalition of leaders ensures that the vision is clear and communicated often. They keep the organization focused on the benefits of the change, resisting the declaration of success too soon and preventing the transformation’s dilution by other priorities. They continue to set short-term goals, celebrate success, and serve as role models for change. Local representatives might need to join the guiding coalition if new ARTs are in a new geography or profit center.
  • Create Additional Lean-Agile Change Agents – Each new ART in the transformation Kanban requires SPCs to prepare, train, launch, and coach the ART. Once an ART is launched, shifting SPCs to the next one immediately can be tempting. However, maturing and sustaining SAFe requires a gradual transition to anchor the new behaviors and cultivate a Continuous Learning Culture. Expect SPC change agents to devote a large amount of time to individual ARTs as long as they are in transformation WIP (on the tracks). Additionally, the long-term vitality of the organization’s agility will rely on continual coaching for relentless improvement and acceleration. To grow capacity and to broaden transformation knowledge, train additional SPCs to support this need (see Train Lean-Agile Change Agents).
  • Plan for Operational Activities – Additional ARTs and value streams require training, logistics, and communications. The Lean-Agile leadership, LACE, and SPCs have critical work to drive the change. It’s essential to prevent these change leaders from being so consumed by operational needs such as rostering learners, printing books, and event coordination that they cannot focus on achieving the change outcomes. Many organizations find having an operations and events coordinator partner with the LACE helpful. This person often comes from an existing enterprise learning organization.
  • Remediate Legacy Processes – Balancing the expansion of Lean-Agile with the need for changing legacy processes is also crucial to sustained change. Early ARTs may benefit from special treatment to validate the case for SAFe. As SAFe expands, work must be done to adapt these special case accommodations to become standard practices and to remediate legacy practices (as further described in Principle #6 – Make value flow without interruptions). A benefit of this shift to remediate legacy processes is collective ownership of SAFe practices in areas like talent, contracting, or customer engagement. In this way, the Lean-Agile way of working is incorporated into the culture and becomes the standard operating model for the organization!

Moving Forward

This portion of the roadmap clearly represents the largest amount of work in the initial times of a successful SAFe implementation. It requires leadership, urgency, persistence, and actively removing impediments. Patience is also essential as the culture shifts to new values and norms.

With value streams and trains running effectively, it’s time to move on to the next critical move in the SAFe Implementation Roadmap: Enhance the Portfolio.

This article serves as a launching pad to explore these steps in detail and understand how to apply them to specific implementations.

Last update: 28 February 2023