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Navigating The Roadmap To Agility: Crash Course In Value Streams

It’s all well and good to say that you are committing to an agile transformation, but actually setting the ball rolling can be rather daunting. Of course, a great weight on making your organisation agile is changing the perspective of your colleagues, allowing them to see the need for change, and embrace the new. But even then, that’s easier said than done.

In SAFe Distilled 5.0: Achieving Business Agility With Scaled Agile Framework, authors Richard Knaster and Dean Leffingwell, provide the reader with a suggested plan as to how to go from square one toward the end goal. Of course, agile has never been a one size fits all approach, but in creating a roadmap, there is a path a company can choose to follow. Below is the suggested implementation order from the text:

1. Reach the tipping point.

2. Train Lean-Agile change agents.

3. Train executives, managers, and leaders.

4. Create a Lean-Agile centre of excellence.

5. Identify value streams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs).

6. Create the implementation plan.

7. Prepare for the ART launch.

8. Train teams and launch the ART.

9. Coach ART execution

10. Launch more ARTs and value streams.

11. Extend to the portfolio

12. Accelerate

Even with this guide, it requires breaking down, making this approach easier to digest. Value Stream Mapping, in particular, is an aspect of the agile approach that proves confusing and daunting for many. Therefore, we have sought to explain this further.

As value streams and ARTs make up the organizational backbone of SAFe, the next step is to pick a value stream and organize the first ART. An effective way to begin this process is to identify the operational value streams first and then determine what development value streams are needed to support it.

1. Identify an Operational Value Stream

2. Identify the Systems that Support the Operational Value Stream

3. Identify the People Who Develop and Maintain the Systems

4. Define the Development Value Streams

5. Add the People Needed to Build the Full Business Solution

6. Defining the ARTs That Realize the Development Value Stream

As we have said, agile practice is not a one-size-fits all approach, for some companies, it may be easier to commit to the roadmap, and tackle tasks. Perhaps some of the above instructions prove familiar enough due to an unconscious leaning toward the world of agile in the past. But, since, this could be a completely new pasture for many, it is important to have clarity. For some, the idea of identifying a value stream may be easy. For example, in a one-man small jewellery business operating out of someone’s bedroom, you would be able to identify a value stream in a much more straightforward way than in a large company such as Amazon.

For the sake of the example, let us begin by assuming this small business is being operated by a young person during summer vacation. The small business’ value stream may be simple in the form of:

Post online listing for made to order jewellery with samples on the platform of choice, such as Depop. - > Receive order for a red beaded necklace with a large heart charm as the centrepiece.

Measure length of cord. -> Thread beads -> Tie off ends. -> Package order in organza bag. -> Package order for the post office -> Post order with tracked shipping

Royal Mail delivers parcel within five working days. -> Customer receives order.

This would be summarised in a briefer form of the following value stream:

Order received -> Product creation -> Product packaging -> Delivery -> Order delivered to customer.

Since there is only one person working on the product before it is sent off for delivery, the individual is responsible for the rate in which the value flows within the process. This may result in inconsistent timings between orders being made and shipped, but, equally, it removes the obstacle of internal wait times where a product is sat on a pile of WIPs in another department. This only happens once, when the product is placed in transit, passed over to the post office.

As Knaster and Leffingwell explain in their book, “value flows through various applications, systems, and services—across many parts of the distributed organization to both internal and external customers. The below are some suggested questions to help you identify the value streams.”

Assuming that your workplace is not the same as the young person operating from their bedroom, and there are multiple people working under you, there is a need to identify the value flowing from Point A to Point B, and a good way to do this is through engaging people within the organisation with questions:

General questions to ask could be along the lines of “What solutions does your organisation produce in order to solve consumer problems in the market?”

From there you can establish how the consumer perceives the flow of value that they receive from placing their order, or putting in a request for a service, until it has been delivered to them. Following on, you can establish a general value stream, that after exploring the inner workings of your organisation, you ought to have a clearer picture of the actual flow of value from an order being placed to it being delivered.

Then you can turn your attention to individual departments, and enquire how they perceive the value being sent through the organisation, and create an in-depth analysis of the product’s journey.

When this stage has been completed, you must look to break apart the Value Stream and highlight the areas from where support takes place. For example, in a larger corporate setting you may acknowledge that a product manufacturing team and a team of designers support the value stream through their respective roles of creating a product for release.

Following this, as Knaster and Leffingwell explain, “the next activity is to estimate the number and locations of the people that build and maintain those systems”. This means that you have to indicate how many individuals make up each team. There may be eight people on the design team, but only six in the manufacturing team. Once you indicate this you may be able to use this information to indicate whether you have to hire more manpower.

More importantly, having found the numbers of physical employees in each of the areas of the value stream, you can move onto the next stage; where you include the individuals that are essential in the development and delivery of value to the customer in development value streams.

A value stream that includes these features, will likely appear in a more confusing state; with offshoots jutting off to indicate a development value stream being involved. This is because these value streams are shown to be the driving force to implement new ideas and features to a product. Therefore, there is potential for constant improvement in value through the creation of enhanced versions of the products.

The next step is to identify these additional individuals and teams that are part of the development value streams; this is where you may find marketing, accounts or legal departments, the value stream getting wider, more offshoots appearing, and giving a more cohesive look at the organisation.

The last stage, is to define the Agile Release Trains which deliver the value to the consumer. This idea is in place in order to encourage organisations to focus on prioritising product delivery that delivers value to the consumer.

Based in London, U.K., and founded in 2016 by Arvind Mishra, The Agile Works (, is an up-and-coming recruitment and Agile consulting company. Arvind is a Certified SAFe SPC and regularly delivers both private and public SAFe certification workshops.

He is a design thinking expert, Sr. enterprise, portfolio Agile Coach with over a decade of experience working as an Agile coach in diverse industries such as banking, pharma, retail, auto, oil, gas, consulting and government.

The Agile Works; a small team of three strive to help shape the leadership's mind-set and values in readiness for their business transformation journey challenges. With Arvind at the helm, we strive to provide you with the agility tools to make your company that can thrive, and not just survive.

To book a consultation, or for any enquiries, you can contact Arvind via the following email address:

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