The more detailed we made our plans, the longer our cycle times became.

—Don Reinertsen


Create the Implementation Plan

This is article six in the SAFe® Implementation Roadmap series. Click here to view the entire roadmap.

The previous five articles in this series described the first five steps of the SAFe Implementation Roadmap:

This article addresses the next ‘critical move’: create the implementation plan.

It’s a big deal to implement an organizational change of this magnitude, and time devoted to strategizing and planning will be needed. But Reinertsen’s quote reminds us not to overthink the problem. As he notes, “The more detailed we made our plans, the longer our cycle times became.” It’s far better to plan a bit, execute a bit, and learn a bit. Then repeat. In other words, take an Agile, incremental approach to implementation just as is recommended with solution development.

It starts with picking one value stream and one ART to serve as the vehicles for the journey.


The last article, Identify Value Streams and ARTs, described a process typically executed in one or more workshops, where the key enterprise development stakeholders gather to identify the flow of value through the organization. These stakeholders include SAFe Program Consultants (SPCs), members of the LACE, newly trained Lean-Agile Leaders, and other essential team members.

Applying their new knowledge from training, the Lean-Agile Mindset, and Principles, enterprise stakeholders start to identify strategies for implementing this new way of working. Which leads to the next step, creating the implementation plan. This is where the rubber meets the road in a SAFe implementation.

Up until now, the focus has been on conceptualizing the change. The next move, however, requires real and tangible changes to individual and organizational behavior. Specifically, creating the plan involves three activities:

  • Pick the first value stream
  • Select the first ART
  • Create a preliminary plan for additional ARTs and value streams

Pick the First Value Stream

Each of the development value streams identified in the prior step is a candidate for the new way of working. A large enterprise offers a lot of opportunities for improvement, and while there’s no one right way to begin, for many companies the next smart move is to just pick one initial target. After all, it’s likely this significant change is untested in this business’s environment. Picking one target allows the newly trained SPCs and leaders to focus their full attention and resources on a specific starting point for SAFe implementation.

Once a value stream is selected, some additional analysis is required to further define the development value stream boundaries, people, deliverables, potential ARTs, and other parameters. To assist, stakeholders can use the Value Stream Canvas in Figure 1 to capture their emerging understanding [1].

Figure 1. A Development Value Stream Canvas

Filling in the fields typically requires some homework. It calls for an understanding of how things work now, as well as how they’re intended to work in the future. Note—as highlighted in the bottom section of Figure 1 (also described in the previous article, Identify Value Streams and ARTs), some additional analysis may be needed in large environments to define prospective ARTs and governance in a Solution Train (multi-ART value stream).

Development Value Streams Cross Boundaries

As the value streams are identified, it becomes obvious that development value streams often cross many boundaries, as illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Value flows across functional, organizational, and geographic boundaries

This means that many of the development value streams—and, as a result, the ARTs—will be geographically distributed rather than collocated. While that might complicate things, it’s a reality, and it doesn’t change the basic operating model. ARTs have a variety of techniques they use to mitigate this challenge, including multi-location face-to-face Program Increment (PI) Planning and the extensive use of live video connections between sites. Although a SAFe implementation provides opportunities to advance more geographically co-located development practices, companies simply have to start with their current situation.

Select the First ART in a Large Value Stream

Once organizations identify their first development value stream, it’s time to create the initial ‘short-term win’ by focusing on the first ART. That will yield institutional knowledge that can be applied to other ARTs. In some cases, the first value stream is also the first ART, and no other decisions are needed. In larger development value streams, however, the next step will require the active support of many more leaders and other stakeholders in that value stream. Many enterprises look for a first, ‘opportunistic’ ART, one that can be found at the intersection of the factors illustrated in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Finding an opportunistic ART

The target for the first ART is often one that best meets the following criteria:

  • Leadership support – Some senior leaders may have already been trained in SAFe and will be anxious to put their training to work. Moreover, it’s likely that many of these leaders have had previous experience with Agile development.
  • Clear products or solutions – SAFe is most easily applied to a clear and tangible solution, something the company sells directly or values highly.
  • Collaborating teams – Somewhere in the enterprise there are already teams collaborating on building a larger solution. Some may already be Agile, some not. But given the business’s current challenges, the teams may be ready to embrace this change.
  • Significant challenge or opportunity – Change is hard. The smart enterprise selects a subject that is truly worthy of its effort, ideally a large existing challenge or a new opportunity. Creating a short-term win in these areas of the organization will produce immediate benefits and facilitate faster and broader adoption.

Once this ART is selected, the enterprise is nearly ready to move forward.

Create a Preliminary Plan for Additional ARTs and Value Streams

Before moving on to launching that first ART, note that it’s likely that a broader implementation plan may already be forming. Although it’s still early in the process, strategies for rolling out additional ARTs and for launching additional value streams may already be starting to take shape. In short, change is starting to happen, and the signs are everywhere:

  • The new vision is being communicated around the company
  • Principal stakeholders are aligning
  • Something big is in the air, and people are catching on

As described in Create a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence, the LACE and various SPCs and leaders typically guide the transformation using Agile and SAFe as their operating framework. Leveraging SAFe’s 10 critical success factors, the LACE holds internal PI Planning and invites other stakeholders, such as Business Owners, to help further define the implementation strategy. One natural output would be a PI Roadmap for the implementation, as illustrated in Figure 4.

Figure 4. An example PI Roadmap

The roadmap further details the plan and a PI cadence for implementation.

However, before committing to the roadmap, it’s probably a good time for stakeholders to reflect on the existing culture and the ‘how’ of the larger implementation strategy. Yes, it’s a committed change initiative, and that means it’s a largely centralized decision (see Principle #9 – Decentralize decision-making). The change is not optional, but how it is received depends on many factors. Oftentimes, mandated change can be uninspiring to those who are on the receiving end of the decision. Organizations with this concern may want to try the approach described in Yuval Yeret’s article, Invitation-based SAFe Implementation, which describes how to create a more collaborative organizational change effort.

Don’t be too concerned about getting the implementation strategy perfect right at the start. Any preliminary plan is only the current hypothesis and will be incrementally improved as the implementation evolves. The larger planning cycle will be revisited later in Launch More ARTs and Value Streams.

Moving Forward

In any case, with the first value stream selected and one or more initial ARTs defined, it’s time to move on to the practical matter of implementing the first ART. That is the subject of the next article in this series, Prepare for ART Launch.


Learn More

[1] Thanks to SPCT Mark Richards for contributing the Value Stream Canvas concept.

[2] Martin, Karen, and Mike Osterling. Value Stream Mapping. McGraw-Hill, 2014.

[3] Knaster, Richard, and Dean Leffingwell. SAFe 5.0 Distilled, Achieving Business Agility with the Scaled Agile Framework. Addison-Wesley, 2020.

Additional Resources

SPC_toolkit_thumbSPCs have access to a workshop toolkit designed specifically to help identify value streams, initially define ARTs, and create the implementation plan. Learn more about the toolkit.




Last update: 10 February 2021