All it takes to play baseball is a strong arm, good speed, and coordination to hit the ball. That’s it.

—Ryne Sandberg

Value Stream Coordination

Value Stream Coordination describes how to manage dependencies between value streams and exploit the opportunities that exist in the interconnections.


Value Streams are long-lived and generally independent of each other. For example, a systems or software company may sell many products and services, mainly decoupled from each other in technology. More likely, however, is that value streams have dependencies between them. Although we typically think of dependencies negatively, Principle #2 – Systems Thinking informs us that value flows through these dependencies. Yes, there are challenges to be addressed, but there are also valuable opportunities to exploit.

Most importantly, this additional value is often unique and differentiated, allowing an enterprise to offer solutions via dependencies that competitors cannot match. Or perhaps the competitor has not developed mastery in surfacing the emerging capabilities that these coordinated value streams can provide.

Exploiting opportunities from the interconnections between value streams requires the ability to coordinate value streams within a portfolio, as illustrated in Figure 1 and described in the sections below.

Figure 1. Cross-Value Stream coordination
Figure 1. Cross-Value Stream coordination

1. Coordination Roles

SAFe is anchored by people in three primary roles (or triads), representing a repeating pattern of the level below it.

  • What gets built: Product Owner > Product Management > Solution Management
  • How to build it: Agile Team > System Architect > Solution Architect
  • Servant leadership: Scrum Master/Team Coach > Release Train Engineer (RTE) > Solution Train Engineer (STE)

So, it isn’t surprising to see similar roles and responsibilities appear in large portfolios whenever a significant degree of coordination is required, as shown in Figure 2 and described below:

Figure 2. Cross-value stream coordination roles
Figure 2. Cross-value stream coordination roles
  • Enterprise Architect provides technical guidance for the long-term evolution of the technologies and platforms and the more significant Nonfunctional Requirements (e.g., security, Compliance, performance) for the portfolio’s solutions.
  • Solution Portfolio Management is a function responsible for guiding a set of integrated solutions for a portfolio. One or more senior executives accountable for a solution set fulfills this function.
  • Value Management Office (VMO) and RTEs and STEs are typically responsible for supporting decentralized, efficient ART execution.

2. Apply Cadence and Synchronization

Figure 3 illustrates  Principle #7- Apply cadence and synchronization at the Portfolio level to implement Business or Enabler Epics across development value streams.

Applying cadence and synchronization enables multiple value streams to collaborate to deliver portfolio-level initiatives (via Epics). This collaboration generally requires following a shared schedule for PI planning, integrated demos, and Inspect & Adapt events. Each demo enables the objective evaluation of the solution under development and supports large-scale continuous integration with internal and external suppliers.

Ideally, all value streams in a portfolio are aligned to a shared cadence, making routine things happen predictably. Since this cadence lowers the transaction costs associated with change, internal and external Suppliers should also be part of this shared cadence.

Figure 3. Apply cadence and synchronization across dependent value streams
Figure 3. Apply cadence and synchronization across dependent value streams

3. Introducing New Portfolio Level Work

Figure 4 illustrates another vital concept. The portfolio cadence determines the rate and timing for adding new portfolio-level work. This cadence provides a reliable rhythm for introducing new portfolio work at PI boundaries since teams often cannot meet existing commitments and mix in significant unplanned work. It helps the Agile Release Trains (ARTs) achieve the enterprise predictability needs.

This cadence also establishes ways for Epic OwnersEnterprise Architects, and others to manage epics through the Portfolio Kanban system. Any epic not ready for PI Planning must wait for the following PI, even though capacity may have been available. Timeboxing the cadence also limits Work in Process (WIP) for the new and substantial work that will be introduced.

ARTs and Solution Trains focus on the committed PI Objectives during each PI. Any new work added to the system in the interim causes substantial interruptions, task switching, realignment, and movement of people to new objectives.

Figure 4. Introducing new portfolio-level work
Figure 4. Introducing new portfolio-level work

4. Ensured Integration Points

Integrating solutions across value streams is challenging. It may not be possible to do full integration in every iteration (Figure 5.)  Therefore, it’s imperative to do partial integration throughout the PI when full integration is not yet possible. These cadence-based integration points are the only objective measure of portfolio velocity—the more frequent the integration, the faster the learning.

Figure 5. Ensured integration points
Figure 5. Ensured integration points

It’s essential to consider the following economic trade-offs when determining the cadence of integration and deployment:

  • Benefits of faster learning, which often translates into higher quality and better products
  • Cost of deferred learning and possible rework
  • Cost and benefits of DevOps automation
  • Depth of integration required
  • Fidelity of feedback needed
  • The level of customer satisfaction needed

Deployments are often subject to unpredictable surprises. Our natural inclination as humans is to delay tasks believed to be risky. Unfortunately, delaying deployments and creating large batches doesn’t merely delay the risk. It increases the risk. If any given feature has a 1% chance of containing a defect that requires a production fix, then waiting to release a batch of 10 changes means you have nearly a 10% chance of needing a fix or rollback.

Moreover, letting small changes sit idle adds to the ‘holding’ cost of the batch. Excess inventory is a form of waste. Instead, find a way to integrate these minor changes with others. A better choice is to lower the transaction cost of deployment by improving DevOps practices and, for example, adopting test and deployment automation, security and compliance automation, and using models to support end-to-end integration—demonstrating complete or partial system-level functionality.

5. Portfolio Roadmap

Figure 6 illustrates that the portfolio Roadmap is derived from and contributes to Solution roadmaps. This higher-level view allows the integration of relevant aspects of the solution roadmaps and their associated milestones into a more comprehensive view. This aggregated view communicates the larger picture to the enterprise and portfolio stakeholders.

Figure 6. Portfolio Roadmap
Figure 6. Portfolio Roadmap

6. Release on Demand

Deploying and releasing integrated value depends on effective DevOps and Continuous Delivery Pipeline capabilities due to the nature of value streams and dependencies. In some cases, ARTs provide all the DevOps capability that’s needed. In others, there are additional considerations (Figure 7). These may even require dedicated or Shared Services and System Teams for individual ARTs and across value streams that help integrate the solution into a portfolio-level release.

Figure 7. Deploying and releasing work across value streams
Figure 7. Deploying and releasing work across value streams


Learn More

[1] Knaster, Richard, and Dean Leffingwell. SAFe 5.0 Distilled: Achieving Business Agility with the Scaled Agile Framework. Addison-Wesley, 2020.


Last update: 22 November 2022