How to create and prioritize capabilities for the SAFe framework - Part One

By Andy Sio
February 20, 2017

Learn how to communicate with executives about enterprise Agile transformation with the help of business architecture framework.


After years of doing organization transformation work, a common pain point that I see in many organizational transformation effort is the gap between strategic and tactical plan where the two plans do not align. This gap has resulted in major roadblocks in the journey of Agile transformation as executives still label Agile as just an IT practice. To get the buy-in from executives, we need to speak to the business leaders language and articulate how Agile would help them. In SAFe 4.0, the introduction of value streams and capabilities are powerful abstracts to product management and product teams to better understand the intended products and solutions to customers.

Nevertheless, based on my observations and break-out sessions in the SAFe Summit and interactions with other SAFe practitioners, development of capabilities and value streams appeared to be difficult to grasp.

This article is intended to help enterprise Agile coaches to close the gap and make them aware of the language used by enterprise business leaders. In fact, value streams and capabilities are common industry-standard terms used by business architects in their strategy development.

I will give you a quick overview of the language and tool used by business architects, and I will describe how to use these tools and tie it to the SAFe framework. Because of the length of the material, I will break up this article into different parts.

Business architecture 101

What’s business architecture?

Business architecture is defined as “a blueprint of the enterprise that provides a common understanding of the organization and is used to align strategic objectives and tactical demands. The core of the business architecture is comprised of business capability, organization, information, and value streams.

What’s business capability?

A business capability is what a company needs to be able to do to execute its business strategy. Another way to think about capabilities is as a collection of people, process, and technology gathered for a specific purpose. Capability management uses the organization’s customer value proposition to establish performance goals for capabilities based on value.

Capability vs. process

A capability focuses on the what, whereas a process focuses on the how. A process is how the capability is executed. Much of the reengineering revolution, or business process reengineering, focused on how to redesign business processes.

Business capability modeling

Often, organizations struggle to comprehend what their underlying business units do and how to contribute to bring values to customers. Companies’ strategies and visions are lost as they trickle down from top-down approach. In the article published by the Cutter Business Technology Journal, it discussed how to use business capabilities to tie business strategy, enterprise change, and project portfolio prioritization together.

Businesses can use value mapping framework to model their business capabilities to understand how to derive business value.

The following diagram is an example how a capability is mapped to value stream.


What do I do with business capability and how does it relate to SAFe?

As an enterprise Agile coach, it’s very important to understand the business context. SAFe framework is designed to bridge the gaps between front-line Agile teams and tie them all the way to the high level enterprise strategic themes executives care about.

With the introduction of the strategic themes, value streams, and capability, we are able to communicate, align, and help to drive prioritization of Epics and even product backlogs that matter to your enterprise executives.

What’s next?

In the next part of the article, I will discuss more about how to develop business capability models and assessments. This is a great tool for product management team to assess and prioritize their high level Epics in addition to the WSJF provided by SAFe.

[1]Source: Ulrich, William & Jim, “Business Architecture: The real Tie that Binds”

[2]BIZBOK, Part 1

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