At the Portfolio Level, there are really no significant impacts for SVS pattern organizations. We still use Kanban systems to manage the business epic and architecture epic pipelines that flow into each of the Agile Release Trains (ART’s). In SVS pattern organizations, we still have high value in utilizing Investment Themes to drive operating budgets across all the ART’s. Additionally, because an SVS organization is operating at scale, we need to have an Enterprise Architect to drive technology direction across all programs / ART’s.
When considering the Program Level of SAFe applied to Small Value Streams (SVS's - see the first article in the series for an introduction to SVS's), I will describe SAFe elements that "work out of the box" and those challenges that SAFe brings and solves for SVS's.
One of the great parts of the SAFe framework is the emphasis on usage of industry standard practices like Scrum and XP (Continuous Integration, Pair Programming, Test-Driven Development, and Acceptance Test Driven Development) at this level. Scrum provides the light framework for teams to deliver “done” software at a regular cadence and XP provides many of the disciplined technical practices that make it possible for teams to be hyper-productive.
To get grounded on what the Small Value Stream (SVS) pattern looks like, I will describe what SVS’s (1 – 4 teams, roughly 7 – 35 team members) look like.
Last year, I got inspired to read Dean Leffingwell’s “Agile Software Requirements” book. As I read Dean’s concepts (better known as the Scaled Agile Framework™ - or SAFe for short), it was obvious to me that we had independently arrived at similar framework-level solutions to scale agile and move towards release oriented delivery (see my Scrum Alliance article – The Big Lever). My experience that is most relevant to SAFe occurred during my tenure at a medium-sized financial services company where we transitioned from waterfall to agile and then grew to execute monthly releases with solutions contributed from 30+ scrum teams. The principal difference in our frameworks was that ours was developed around the fact that we had many small business value streams mostly disconnected from each other regarding business intent but connected by a mostly shared technology stack that provided the solutions to every value stream. Each small value stream only required (or could only afford based on our budgets) between 1 to 4 teams worth of capacity.
Small Value Stream (SVS) pattern organizations have the largest portion of their product development flow starting locally with intent generated from within each SVS. Therefore, we can optimize the planning within any SVS by using the Vision, Roadmap, and Program Backlog elements of SAFe by localizing these concepts to each SVS. However, there are rarer, but important, program-wide epics that require coordinated flow and planning across multiple SVS’s and their associated teams. I first introduced the following picture in the second article in this series. It depicts the business intent flow between the Program and SVS Levels in an SVS organization.