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Who's On First? Architecture Roles and Responsibilities in SAFe

Posted By Cari Brose, Thursday, March 9, 2017
Updated: Thursday, March 9, 2017

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is a framework for delivering solutions that deliver business value, scales Agile, and incorporates lean principles and practices into the enterprise. While business architecture is not directly referenced in the latest version SAFe (v4.0), enterprise architecture, solution architecture, and application architecture are referenced. (To get more information about SAFe, see the SAFe Big Picture at and click on the icons to get details about terms). Business architecture also needs to be integrated into the Portfolio-level activities to ensure strategic alignment, prioritization, architecture, and deliver the right solutions.


The reason that the Portfolio is the most logical place to start is that business architecture gives us a solid foundation for defining the right work based on strategy. By employing stages within the Business Architecture value stream (see figure 1) as part of Portfolio management, we can analyze our business to discover and articulate where we should be focusing our solution efforts. The business architecture value stream’s Assess and Refine Business Strategy value stream stage overlaps with the Strategic Themes development process in SAFe. The Establish Initiative Plans value stream stage and the SAFe Portfolio Kanban process also overlap, since the Kanban exists to capture, analyze, approve, and track epics. In SAFe, the epics are put into the Portfolio funnel of the Kanban for processing. The goal of both is to define and prioritize the enabler and business epics. Currently in the SAFe Portfolio, however, there are no interim activities or deliverables indicated between the Strategy and the Kanban. Strategic Themes are used as decision-making filters for Epics in the Kanban. The core business architecture domains of value streams, capabilities, information, and organization gives us a rich palette for better understanding where to focus our efforts to deliver the strategy. The integration of business architecture would also facilitate the Review and Analysis activities that take place in the Kanban.


 Figure 1: The Business Architecture value stream[i]


By starting with the business strategy (equivalent to starting with strategic themes in SAFe), the business knows where to focus its efforts in order to achieve its goals. Since business architecture is intended to implement strategy, business architecture engagement starts with the Establish / Refine Business Strategy value stream stage. This requires a partnership with the Program Portfolio Management (PPM) team, including the enterprise (technical) architect to ensure the strategy is analyzed, understood, and articulated as objectives that are bound by the various business architecture mappings, particularly value streams and capabilities. This architecture binding helps focus on the intention of the objectives and value received, and further, on what changes are needed to move the business forward as well as architect transformational solutions. If an epic is presented that is not tied to an objective associated with one or more value streams, the Business Architect should facilitate discussions with the PPM team and business leaders to drive out strategy and update the epic accordingly, or recommend rejecting the epic. There are many tools available to help with this, such as the business model canvas.


Business Architects can start to engage prior to the Portfolio Kanban process by translating the strategic themes into epics. Business architecture then becomes the crank that turns the implementation machinery of SAFe to provide more value to the business. It does this by identifying and resolving the gaps and inefficiencies discovered through the analysis of the business capabilities, value streams, information needs, and organizational structure. Figure 2 shows how the initial stages of the business architecture value stream could integrate with SAFe.


Figure 2: Integrating the business architecture value stream with SAFe


The business architect’s role is distinct and separate from the other SAFe architecture roles, but complements those roles by providing a baseline understanding of the business and context for the solution. The enterprise architect’s role in SAFe is to provide architectural governance, technical direction, collaboration, and holistic solution deployment strategy across SAFe value streams at the Portfolio level, creating enabler epics to foster technical change. The solution architect then starts to lay the architectural runway for the SAFe value stream by creating the architecture design with a systems view, based on the direction given by the enterprise architect. Part of this entails creating a future or end state for the architecture, then developing a transition plan to move the company from its current state to that end state. In order to do this, the enterprise architect and the solution architect need to understand the business needs as well as adaptive design practices. The business architect is the one who provides that understanding of the business through various mappings and analysis. Without that business context and understanding, the architects are designing components based on limited knowledge, which can lead to incomplete solutions that fail to meet the business needs.


The analysis done by the business architects also facilitates the epic owner’s work. When an epic is approved to go from the Funnel to Review, then on to Analysis in the Portfolio Kanban, the Epic Owner has responsibility for creating the Lightweight Business Case. This requires taking a deeper dive to analyze the size, impact, and the benefits of the epic. By using the information that the business architect provides, the epic owner has a far better understanding of the scope of the epic as well as the benefits it will deliver by closing gaps. This should reduce the amount of analysis needed to shepherd the epic to the next phase. The epic owner can use the business architect as a resource to identify the actions needed for the epic to realize the objectives. This consulting role for the business architect continues into the Value Stream and Program levels within SAFe, working with the solution manager and the product manager roles, respectively.


SAFe is still maturing and business architecture should be part of that maturity process. Business architecture can be an integral part of making the agile framework, i.e. SAFe, work smoothly and effectively. By engaging business architects to perform analysis at the Portfolio level, the business can identify the right approach to solve a business problem. Business architects should work hand in hand with other SAFe Portfolio level roles to provide business context and develop epics that can then be prioritized and developed to realize strategy. In this way, business value will be more readily achieved and everyone benefits. By integrating a value stream for business architecture analysis into the Portfolio to feed the Kanban, we can have an intentional method for communicating and aligning with SAFe and consistently implementing the role of the business architect.   


[i] Business Architecture Guild, A Guide to the Business Architecture Body of Knowledge®, v 5.5 (BIZBOK® Guide), 2017. Part 1 and Appendix B.1

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Tags:  Business Requirements Team  SAFe 

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