It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.
Business Owners are a small group of stakeholders who have the primary business and technical responsibility for governance, compliance, and return on investment (ROI) for a Solution developed by an Agile Release Train (ART). They are key stakeholders on the ART who must evaluate fitness for use and actively participate in certain ART events.
Business Owners can be identified by asking the following questions:
- Who is ultimately responsible for business outcomes?
- Who can steer this ART to develop the right solution?
- Who can speak to the technical competence of the solution now and into the near future?
- Who should participate in planning, help eliminate impediments, and speak on behalf of development, the business, and the customer?
- Who can approve and defend a set of Program Increment (PI) plans, knowing full well that they will never satisfy everyone?
- Who can help coordinate the efforts with other departments and organizations within the enterprise?
The answers to these questions will identify the Business Owners, who will play a key role in helping the ART deliver value. Among other duties, they have specific responsibilities during PI Planning, where they participate in mission setting, planning, draft plan reviews, conducting management reviews, and problem-solving. They assign business value to Program PI Objectives and approve the PI plan. But they don’t just disappear after planning. Active and continuous involvement throughout each PI by Business Owners is a determining factor in the success of each train.
Self-managing, self-organizing Agile Teams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs) are essential to the success of SAFe. This represents a significant change in the traditional management mindset. Managers no longer need to directly supervise development by assigning tasks and activities. Instead, they lead by establishing mission and Vision. They help the teams with coaching and skill development, but largely decentralize execution authority to the members of the ART. However, transformation to a Lean-Agile way of working does not relieve management of their ultimate responsibilities. They remain accountable for the growth of the organization and its people, operational excellence, and business outcomes.
To facilitate this goal, SAFe defines the responsibilities of Business Owners, the key managers who guide the ART to the appropriate outcomes. The recommended activities for Business Owners in SAFe enable them to fulfill their obligations to the enterprise while empowering the teams to do their best work. Business Owners are Lean-Agile Leaders who share accountability for the value delivered by a specific ART. They are responsible for understanding the Strategic Themes that influence the train. They have knowledge of the current Enterprise, Portfolio, and Value Stream context, and they’re involved in driving or reviewing the program vision and Roadmap. The continuous involvement of the Business Owners throughout the PI serves as an important Guardrail to the budgetary spend of the ART.
An effective Business Owner is an active and involved Business Owner, fulfilling SAFe responsibilities daily. The following sections describe their tasks from the perspective of incremental development and execution through Program Increments (PIs).
Prior to PI Planning
The time before PI planning is a busy period for Business Owners, as they will:
- Provide input to backlog refinement activities
- Participate in Pre-PI Planning as needed
- Understand and help ensure that business objectives are comprehended and agreed to by key stakeholders of the train, including the Release Train Engineer (RTE), Product Management, and System Architects
- Prepare to communicate the business context, including Milestones and significant external dependencies, such as those of Suppliers
During PI Planning
The importance of the Business Owner’s role during PI planning cannot be overstated. They:
- Provide relevant elements of the business context in the defined PI planning agenda timebox
- Are ready and available to participate in key activities, including the presentation of vision, draft plan review, assigning business value to program PI objectives, and approving final plans
- Play a primary role in the draft plan review, understanding the bigger picture and how these plans, when taken together, do or do not fulfill the current business objectives
- Watch for significant external commitments and dependencies
- Actively circulate during planning, communicating business priorities to the teams, and maintaining agreement and alignment among the stakeholders regarding the key objectives of the train
- Participate in the management review and problem-solving meeting to review and adjust scope, and compromise as necessary
Assigning Business Value
Assigning business value during planning provides an essential face-to-face dialogue between the team and their most important stakeholders, the Business Owners. This is an opportunity to develop personal relationships between Agile teams and Business Owners, identify common concerns around which to gain mutual commitment, and better understand business objectives and their value. An example is provided in Figure 1.
When assigning business value, Business Owners will typically rank the user-facing Features highest. But they also should seek the advice of technical experts who know that architectural and other concerns will increase the team’s velocity in producing future business value. So placing business value on Enablers helps drive velocity and shows support for the team’s legitimate technical challenges.
Because the road after PI planning takes its inevitable twists and turns, ranking objectives by business value guides the teams in making trade-offs and minor scope adjustments. It allows them to deliver the maximum possible business benefit. These numbers also later inform the Program Predictability Measure, a key indicator of program performance and reliability.
At Inspect and Adapt
The Inspect and Adapt (I&A) workshop is the larger, cadence-based opportunity for the ART to come together to address the systemic impediments they’re facing—many of which cannot be addressed without the involvement of Business Owners. During the workshop, Business Owners help assess actual value achieved versus plan, and they participate in the problem-solving workshop that follows.
During PI Execution
The Business Owners’ job is not complete when PI planning is done; they have an ongoing role to help assure the success of the PI. Business Owners:
- Actively participate in ongoing agreements to maintain business and development alignment as priorities and scope inevitably change
- Help validate the definition of Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) for Program Epics and guide the pivot-or-persevere decision based on delivery of the MVP
- Attend the System Demo to view progress and provide feedback
- Attend Agile team Iteration Planning and Iteration Retrospective meetings, as appropriate
- Participate in Release Management, focusing on scope, quality, deployment options, release, and market considerations
Business Owners may have additional duties beyond those described above, including:
- Participate and provide feedback from the Solution Demo regarding the capabilities and subsystem being built by the ART
- Actively address impediments—especially those that escalate beyond the authority of the key stakeholders on the train
- Participate in Pre- and Post-PI Planning for the Solution Train and assist in adjusting the ART’s PI plans as needed
- Participate, in some cases, in Lean Portfolio Management (LPM), Product Management, and System Architecture, and serve as an Epic Owner, where appropriate
- Help drive investment in the Continuous Delivery Pipeline to improve the responsiveness and quality of the ART
- Help break silos to align development and operations to create a DevOps culture of shared responsibilities
- Serve as Epic Owners to guide major enterprise initiatives
It cannot be emphasized enough: Active participation of Business Owners is critical to the success of the train.
Last update: 26 September 2019