A value stream is a set of activities that are intended to create and deliver a consistent set of deliverables that are of value to customers. Using the train metaphor, value is the cargo the train delivers.

A value stream is a set of activities that are intended to create and deliver a consistent set of deliverables that are of value to customers. Using the train metaphor, value is the cargo the train delivers.

The Agile Release Train (ART) in SAFe is the primary high-level tool used to organize activity to deliver value. Other frameworks (Agile and classic) use projects and programs to organize around the delivery of value and value’s alter ego, funding. ARTs are used to deliver, enhance and support the functionality needed for business facing value streams to exist within an organization.

A value stream is a set of activities that are intended to create and deliver a consistent set of deliverables that are of value to customers. Using the train metaphor, value is the cargo the train delivers. The term consistent in the definition is important to delineate an ART from a typical project or program. The Project Management Institute defines a project as a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service or result. A project or program might initiate or support a value stream in a non-scaled Agile organization, however the focus is on a temporary endeavor rather than on support an ongoing or consistent endeavor. The long-term focus makes it significantly easier to embrace Agile principles.

Value streams reflect a business orientation that integrate strategic themes and needs into how an organization delivers value. The products and services of most organizations tend to be long lived, therefore value streams have the same long-term orientation. SAFe ARTs organize activity around value streams. In practice a value stream in an organization can be large enough to support multiple ARTs. A value stream is a requirement for an ART whether the ART develops a new value stream, enhances or supports an existing value stream, without access to business value it hard to generate strategic alignment within the organization. When ARTs (or any significant part of an organization) are out of strategic alignment, support in terms of budget, people and resources will be difficult to acquire. This will lead to disillusionment with the ART. Using our train metaphor, the engines, train cars and crew will be dispersed to other trains. Without strategic alignment an organization will not be able to support the structure of an ART and stable teams that are needed.

Value streams present the whole path an organization takes to deliver value. The phrase “concept to cash” is often used describe the breadth of vision that a value stream must have. Value stream taking the big picture takes a on a whole business context rather than purely a software development project or programs. To adjust to the breadth of vision ARTs need to incorporate the needs of business process, architecture, systems as well as application software. Agile release chains make sense as long as they serve a real value chain.

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