SAFe Implementation Roadmap Part 9: Extend to the Portfolio

In this blog series, we are taking a quick look at each of the 12 steps in the SAFe Implementation Roadmap. Previously, we discussed Launching More ARTs and Value Streams. Today we will discuss how to extend SAFe to the portfolio.

At this point, you have implemented SAFe across all or most of your value streams. Your teams, leaders, and stakeholders are all well trained in agile principles. You have started to see very measurable benefits in your solution delivery. Time to market, quality, productivity, and employee engagement have all improved. Because of these benefits, the executive team may begin to feel significant pressure to overhaul their working processes as well. The SAFE website outlines a multitude of reasons that could cause this. We’ve hand selected a few of our favorites below:

  • Perpetual overload of demand vs capacity
  • No understanding of how to apply capitalization in Agile
  • Overly detailed business cases based on speculative, lagging ROI projections
  • Traditional supplier management and coordination - focus on lowest cost rather than highest lifecycle value
  • Phase gate approval processes that don’t mitigate risk and encourage incremental delivery

Some of the above challenges have been with the business for quite some time. The below chart from the Scaled Agile website highlights the significant changes that we need to make.

Now is the time to extend the approaches we learned in the previous nine steps to the Portfolio level. Mastering one of the last competencies, Lean Portfolio Management.

Lead the Change

A lot of the old habits listed above can contribute to a failure to implement SAFe completely. As we have described in previous articles, it’s important for Lean-Agile leaders and SPCs to lead by example. This means they need to fully embrace the lean-agile mindset and way of working so that everyone, including members managing the portfolio, can see the benefits of SAFe.

It might make sense to establish another team that will be in charge of demonstrating and improving agile practices in your organization. This team can help lead the transition at the portfolio level. The Scaled Agile website calls this group the “Agile Program Management Office”, but you can call it whatever you like. According to Scaled Agile, some other responsibilities of this group could be:

  • Lead the change and foster relentless improvement
  • Align development value streams to enterprise strategy
  • Establish enterprise value flow
  • Implement Lean financial management budgeting
  • Align portfolio demand to implementation capacity and agile forecasting
  • Evolve leaner and more objective governance practices
  • Foster a leaner approach to contracts and supplier relationships

Let’s take a quick look at each in the following sections:

Lead the Change and Foster Relentless Improvement

The leaders, whether they are in an “Agile Program Management Office” or not will also be members of the Lean Agile Center of Excellence (LACE). They are also likely SPCs and therefore they are involved in most large SAFe events. Here they can lead by example, coach, and assist in any way possible, therefore fostering relentless improvement.

Align Development Value Streams to Enterprise Strategy

The leaders also need to help ensure the various value streams throughout the organization align with the strategy of the whole organization. The members within the value stream should know how their work helps the overall company strategy and why that work is important. This is where a tool like Jira Align could help.

Establish Enterprise Value Flow

How do the large items of work make their way to the value streams and then to the individual agile teams who do the work? It might have required significant work from one individual while stakeholders provided feedback in a waterfall loop. With the new SAFe leaders established, they can define a flow where large pieces of work defined by executives move along a Kanban board. Product managers  and program managers alike can then define epics. Architects can work on epics that have a major technological effect on the solutions of the organization. This is enabled by agile leaders at every stage.

Implement Lean Financial Management Budgeting

Traditionally, large organizations fund projects that often have an end date. When these projects end, the budgets disappear.

With the new way of working, we need to move to a more consistent way of funding and working. We must keep our overhead low, give people a bigger sense of purpose, and foster institutional knowledge management and growth. For the funding, the financial teams should follow Lean-Budget practices. If the organization sticks to Lean Budgets, then the value streams and ARTs will have little problem making decisions while staying within the organization’s financial parameters

Align Portfolio Demand to Implementation Capacity and Agile Forecasting

The leaders need to be consistent with their approach to using velocity. This consistency needs to span across the team, value stream, and ART levels. The newly anointed SAFe enterprise should then use agile approaches of estimation and prioritization in their portfolio roadmap. This will enable improved capacity planning so the organization eliminates an overload of work.

Evolve Leaner and More Objective Governance Practices

Before SAFe implementation, it’s likely that most of the organization’s governance practices looked similar to the image we showed above. The agile leaders should now be helping the executives to move towards more objective governance practices that focus on measuring the success of each program increment (PI).

Foster a Leaner Approach to Contracts and Supplier Relationships

Leaders also need to help the teams that manage suppliers and customers. By establishing long lasting relationships with suppliers, these teams can lower overall costs and help enable the rest of the enterprise agility.

In addition to this, agile and SAFe practices involve the customers throughout the value stream. Obtaining constant feedback from customers is imperative in the various program and team increments that will drive the business’s solutions.

In conclusion, SAFe does not stop at the value stream and ART level. Agile leaders within the organization must extend the concepts and framework to the portfolio level in order to evolve to essential SAFe.


Don't miss out on the previous parts of the SAFe Implementation Roadmap series!


The best journeys are taken together. Let us accompany you on your SAFe journey every step of the way.

We know that a SAFe implementation can seem daunting, but it doesn't have to be with the right tools and the right partner. So whether you're about to take your first steps or ready to scale up, we will be there to help you evaluate and guide you through the process. Together with Germany's leading SAFe partner, Kegon, we will use our expertise in Agile Hive, Jira, and Jira Align to help you find the right methods and tools to fit your needs wherever you are on your SAFe journey.

Get in touch with us today to help get you started the best way possible for your organization.


Further Reading

Agile Hive Implementation Project
Scaled Agile: SAFe 5.0 changes and how Agile Hive maps them
SAFe with Atlassian tools: Agile Hive is a Scaled Agile Platform Partner
SAFe resources to get you started right
Agile Hive: What is SAFe®?

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