SAFe® Epic + Capabilities Board An example of a physical SAFe® Epic + Capabilities Board

SAFe® Epics and Capabilities mapped out in priority order. Copyright 2017

My client has been working hard to implement the Lean Portfolio Management functions of the Scaled Agile Framework. Part of that process is to identify value streams flowing through the organization and begin the process of identifying the work that is on the streams. The value streams were identified well over a year ago. The process of researching, analyzing and identifying all of the work has been challenging, but very fruitful.

SAFe® uses a work decomposition structure very similar (the same as) to Scrum / XP with Epics being the largest expression of work, decomposed/sliced into Capabilities, which are decomposed into Features, which are then decomposed into User Stories.

To get to the point you see in the picture above was a big commitment of time and hard conversations. And we aren’t done yet! This is probably 90% of the Epics/Capabilities in the flow. The Epics are on the white paper half sheets and the Capabilities are on the gold sheets. We created a custom template for Epics, Capabilities, Features, and Stories along with a handy MS Word mail merge so we can import from Excel and print the entire stack in one click as our RTE that owns the process describes. The WSJF params and overall prioritization are on the templates too in addition to typical forms like hypothesis statement, description, acceptance criteria.

Also note that my client identified dependencies between epics and visualized them clearly with string connecting the Epics physically for all to see. Very powerful. So, just like an ART uses a Program Dependency Board to map out significant dependencies, we can also use a Portfolio Dependency Board for the same purpose, only a different level of abstraction and flow.

We only just started the process of performing WSJF prioritization on the capabilities in preparation for the remaining prioritization stages (political, technical, dependency).

The Epics are prioritized against the SAFe® Portfolio through number 12 on the top half of the board. Remember, that the true value of prioritization comes from the conversations. The process in this case has created enormous value in addition to making things visible.

Now, below is a teaching board that I created to map out the vision for the end game on all of this. It is essentially an abstraction of story points used for forecasting, roadmapping, estimation, and capacity planning for the ARTs. I use this to teach the continuous and multi-staged process of estimating features, planning, and capacity management.

In the process of breaking down toxic culture we have to provide new ways to satisfy the business while allowing for culture change with goals of learning, relentless improvement, and innovation. The enterprise still has to operate during transition on existing mechanisms. There must also be a bridge to the innovation state.

Since the use of story points is an abstraction that allows teams to still behave in a Lean-Agile manner, and truly adopt the value system into their ethos, we can create additive systems that support the concepts. This way, as Kent Beck desired in 1996, we can heal the rift between the business and the developers of the products and services while still serving the enterprise’s needs. Both sides of the equation still need to change to a new state wrapped in innovation as part of the Agile End Game.

SAFe® and Scaled Agile Framework® are registered trademarks of Scaled Agile Inc.
SAFe® and Scaled Agile Framework® are registered trademarks of Scaled Agile Inc.


SAFe® and Scaled Agile Framework® are registered trademarks of Scaled Agile Inc.


Published by Marshall Guillory -

Information Technology professional, transformation leader, agile evangelist & coach, change agent, scrum master, servant leader and more...

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