Operating Value Streams for Large Solution Development

Note: This article is part of Extended SAFe Guidance and represents official SAFe content that cannot be accessed directly from the Big Picture.

The ‘Organizing Around Value’ step of the SAFe implementation roadmap describes a clear set of activities for identifying the development value streams, Agile Release Trains (ARTs), and Solution Trains that provide the backbone of a new organizational model. One that optimizes the flow of customer value across functional silos, departments, and organizational boundaries.

Although organizing around value is a critical step, successful execution also relies on effectively operating these value streams. While SAFe guidance applies to most organizations, very large solution development often presents additional challenges. This article offers new strategies for operating value streams at this large scale.


Since development value streams build the solutions that provide much of the enterprise’s value to its customers, their efficient operation is critical to success. In an ideal situation, development value streams are relatively independent, with all the people and activities required to build and deliver an entire solution. However, at least two additional scenarios exist, recognizing situations when multiple value streams need to collaborate (nested value streams) or maintain strong alignment (networked value streams) to operate successfully. All three of these possibilities are shown in Figure 1 and defined below:

Figure 1. Three different scenarios for operating development value streams
  1. Independent value stream – a single development value stream that can deliver a solution with minimal dependencies on other development value streams
  2. Nested value streams – multiple development value streams that must collaborate to deliver a single integrated solution
  3. Networked value streams – multiple development value streams that must maintain alignment to deliver various related solutions

The scale and type of solutions an organization develops will determine which of the three scenarios applies. Each requires specific operational considerations described in more detail below, alongside several examples.

1) Independent Development Value Streams

This scenario recognizes the situation where it is possible to operate development value streams fairly independently. While an independent development value stream may use components, platforms, and services provided by other development value streams, it has few, if any, dependencies regarding the new solutions it builds and delivers.

Considerations for Operating Independent Development Value Streams

SAFe provides extensive guidance for operating development value streams of this nature. A critical decision is how to realize these value streams in terms of Agile Release Trains, Solution Trains, Suppliers, or a combination of these. The size of each development value stream will drive the decision. Whichever approach is taken (ART, Solution Train, or Supplier), there are always three key leadership roles represented:

All those working in these independent development value streams are aligned by a shared vision and roadmap to deliver one or more solutions to a customer. They coordinate through events including PI Planning, ART Syncs, regular System Demos, and Inspect and Adapt. They apply continuous delivery pipeline workflows, activities, and automation to deliver value quickly and reliably to their customers (Figure 2).

Figure 2. SAFe describes roles, artifacts, and events for operating independent development value streams

One of the most significant benefits of organizing in this manner is that it allows each development value stream to deliver value quickly without relying on other development value streams. This reduces the cross-value stream coordination required. It is also the most straightforward approach, and those who work within these independent development value streams can quickly develop a strong connection with the customers they serve.

2) Nested Development Value Streams

Some organizations build large solutions requiring multiple development value streams to create a single integrated solution. This scenario can be modeled as a set of nested development value streams, each of which belongs to a parent development value stream, where the solutions each nested value stream builds primarily support the overall integrated solution.

Consider the following Automotive example in Figure 3. Separate development value streams build the integrated solution’s capabilities, including hardware, software, and cyber-physical components.

Figure 3. An automotive nested value stream example

Supporting and enabling development value streams often provide services at this scale. The same example shows an Engineering Tools development value stream providing an integrated digital engineering environment across mechanical, electrical, software, modeling and simulation, and other disciplines. It also shows a Vehicle Integration development value stream that provides a ‘System Team’ function since development value streams at this scale may require more effort to integrate, test end-to-end, and support regulatory compliance frequently.

Considerations for Operating Nested Development Value Streams

The three leadership functions scale to large, nested development value streams—a content authority, technical authority, and value delivery function lead development value streams at all levels. A parent value stream may fill those roles with specific leaders from within the nested development value streams or through additional individuals who carry out those responsibilities purely within the parent value stream.

Figure 4 shows that the SAFe artifacts and events also scale to nested value streams. All nested development value streams operate under a common cadence, serve a common customer, and are driven by a shared vision, solution intent, and roadmap. The distinction in this scenario is that the integrated solution’s vision and intent primarily drive those same artifacts in the nested value streams, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Operating nested value steams

SAFe’s existing pre-plan and coordinate and deliver activities and events also apply to ensure alignment across PI planning events and execution on an even larger scale. The following activities specifically assist with the collaboration needed for the successful operation of nested value streams:

  • Pre-plan – Understand which value streams (and ideally the Solution Trains, ARTs, and teams within them) must collaborate to deliver shared work and which value streams have dependencies on each other
  • Integrate Frequently – A System Team (or sometimes an entire ART, as shown in the previous example) builds infrastructure and supports frequent integration across all levels of the nested value stream
  • Routine Synchronization – Scale up value stream synchronization events (RTE Sync, PM Sync, Arch Sync) to the parent value streams
  • Release Governance – Maintain alignment on release dates and dependencies to enable frequent and independent releases by the nested value streams
  • Inspect and Adapt – Scale System Demos and Inspect and Adapt events to optimize the entire nested value stream

Figure 5 shows how roadmaps provide continuous alignment across all nested value streams. The top-level development value stream’s solution roadmap communicates the epics, milestones, and releases that drive roadmaps at all levels. The child development value streams define PI roadmaps to support the parent. While SAFe’s PI roadmap guidance forecasts 2-3 PIs, it can also be useful to forecast work up to the next major milestone or release.

Figure 5. Roadmaps maintain alignment across all levels of nested development value streams

Value stream leaders (content, architect, value delivery) collaborate frequently across all levels to maintain alignment. Product, business, technology, and other discoveries will require adjustments that propagate up and back down the nested structure to maximize the value the entire system delivers.

Solution intent and context are critical in operating large, nested development value streams. The intent communicates the current and intended solution behavior and design. The intent often spans subsystems, as shown in Figure 6. For example, the Vehicle’s intent defines the vehicle’s range and charging times, which guides the specifications for Powertrain and Battery Management. To ensure the integrated solution operates properly in its environment, constraints in the solution content also wrap to constrain subsystems. For example, the specified operating temperature ranges for the Vehicle will constrain the design and implementation of Powertrain and Battery Management to ensure they meet the range and charging time specifications.

Figure 6. Solution intent and context in nested development value streams

3) Networked Development Value Streams

Networked development value streams, often called a value stream network, is an organizational structure where multiple development value streams connect to deliver customer value. Unlike nested development value streams, value streams in a network are more loosely coupled and operate more independently with their own mission and purpose and their own vision, solution intent, and roadmap. Development value streams in a network usually have independent funding since their solutions provide direct value in support of the enterprise strategy. They also have opportunities to deliver additional value through aligning their work.

The example in Figure 7 shows the previous vehicle development value stream’s connection to several additional development value streams across the enterprise. For example, the Vehicle development value stream interfaces with Vehicle Operations for autonomous driving, traffic, routing, and other services. Vehicle Operations, in turn, utilize technology provided by Platform Services, which is also used by many other development value streams across the enterprise. Other relationships exist within and outside the organization (e.g., an external supplier providing payment processing). In this manner, a complex value stream network emerges, which must be managed and operated effectively.

Figure 7. Development value streams may form a value stream network

Considerations for Operating Value Stream Networks

A value stream network creates a series of customer-provider relationships since each development value stream provides solutions used by one or more other development value streams to build their solution(s). Figure 8 shows one portion of the customer-supplier relationship from the previous example.

Figure 8. Operating a subset of the customer-provider relationship in the previous network

The Vehicle Operations development value stream uses infrastructure provided by Platform Services and provides services to the Vehicle and Service Management development value streams. Each provider applies customer-centricity to understand their customers’ needs and deliver value that can be easily consumed and integrated into their customers’ solutions. Several other customer-provider relationships exist in the example shown in Figure 7.

The critical point is that many of the development value streams in this scenario are also customers within the network. Providers leverage design thinking practices like personas and journey maps to empathize and connect with their customers and create an optimal experience for all those consuming their solutions.

Lean Portfolio Management, specifically the Value Management Officee (VMO), is often best placed to provide the necessary alignment across content, architecture, and value delivery for all the development value streams in a network. Development value streams realized by suppliers (internal or external) ideally operate the same way, with the multiple VMO functions creating alignment between the dependent organizations.

Roadmaps are also critical to aligning value stream networks (Figure 9). The portfolio roadmap defines key milestones and releases that help all development value streams align to a common delivery timeline. Each value stream also maintains separate roadmaps that communicate its anticipated milestones and releases to other dependent value streams in the network. When one development value stream slips, the entire system adjusts, ensuring transparency and alignment across the network.

Figure 9. Roadmaps maintain alignment across a value stream network

While each development value stream in the network can deliver some value independently, they collectively strive to maximize value for the enterprise. Therefore, leaders within each development value stream must balance multiple customers’ needs when allocating capacity and determining priorities. Weighted shortest job first (WSJF) and participatory budgeting practices help to balance local and global needs across all stakeholders. Once prioritized, cross-value stream work can be introduced by Epic Owners, who take a systems view and manage the flow of value with a Kanban system at the portfolio or enterprise level.

Additionally, LPM provides critical activities that maintain alignment and coordination across the network. The Strategic Portfolio Review and Portfolio Sync events offer opportunities to review and adjust the roadmaps and discuss progress on dependent work. They also allow for discussion on future work progressing through the Kanban system.


The development value stream organization continuously evolves to support changes in strategy, incorporate new technologies, or optimize the flow of customer value. Therefore, understanding and defining the relationships between development value streams is critical for success in large enterprises. The three development value stream scenarios presented here – independent, nested, and networked – recognize the need to scale necessary collaboration and coordination activities to maximize the benefits of this new way of working.

Last Update: 8 April 2024