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Lean Value Stream Mapping and Value Streams, e.g., as used in Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

Last post 04:41 pm December 31, 2019 by Thomas Owens
1 reply
01:53 pm December 31, 2019

Driven by a need to understand the differences between available scaled agile frameworks, I recently began reading about SAFe at The article on Value Streams (.../value-streams) starts off with this quote:

Shortest sustainable lead time with the best possible quality and value to people and society. —House of Lean

Dean Leffingwell describes SAFe as a

"knowledge base of proven, integrated principles, practices, and competencies for Lean, Agile, and DevOps."1

so the aforementioned quote made sense. I assumed that 'value streams' is a Lean concept.

However, after reading the SAFE articles .../value-streams and .../identify-value-streams-and-arts, I was left wanting more clarity, so I searched for Lean + value streams and encountered Lean value-stream mapping, which is a

"lean-management method for analyzing the current state and designing a future state for the series of events that take a product or service from the beginning of the specific process until it reaches the customer."2

This confused me because the SAFe articles make no mention of current and future state.

Additional searches led me to  and After reading these, I arrived at the following conclusions:

  1. Lean Value Stream Mapping is as stated above ("lean-management method for analyzing the current state....), but it is not the activity described in the SAFe articles
  2. The activity described in the SAFe articles is an organizational view Business Architecture topic: "The Value Stream view defines the end-to-end set of activities that deliver value to external and internal stakeholders"3

Articles like state it explicitly:

"Business Value Streams are NOT the same as LEAN’s value stream mapping" 

For me, realizing the SAFe value streams have their roots in this Business Architecture concept help me to better understand SAFe



04:41 pm December 31, 2019

I'm not so sure that the concept of value streams from business architecture and the concept of value stream mapping from lean are that different.

In business architecture, a value stream is the collection of activities that create a result for a downstream customer or stakeholder. The Wikipedia article says that it is a collection of "value-adding activities", but I don't agree with this. There may be activities in the value stream that don't add value to the stakeholder. The lean concept of value stream mapping comes in as a tool to visualize the value stream, showing all of the activities and any delays and wait times between activities.

There are common notations and symbols used in value stream mapping, and by using these symbols, your value stream map is easily readable by anyone else familiar with value stream mapping without the need to communicate not only your value stream, but the symbology used to visualize it. By visualizing your value stream, you can start to see all of the activities and determine how to improve the creation of results for stakeholders - opportunities to remove activities that do not add value, decrease the wait time between two activities, parallelize certain activities to shorten the overall time from start to end.

In various lean methodologies, the current state value stream map may be created as part of a Kaizen or Kaikaku event. The event can identify various opportunities for improvement. Consider the roots of lean in manufacturing where changing a value stream may be a high cost, high effort project that may involve reconfiguring a factory floor, purchasing new equipment and decomissioning old equipment, and retraining staff. The event would produce a desired state value stream map, based on analysis of the impact of performing the changes. After implementation, value stream maps may be created to compare to the old and desired states to be able to visualize if the implemented changes had the desired effects. In software, it's often much easier to change the activities in a value stream, so these steps may not be necessary and the desired outcome is simply a visualization of the current state of the value stream that is maintained as the teams and organization change (and hopefully improve) their development processes.

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