To be in hell is to drift; to be in heaven is to steer.
– George Bernard Shaw
Epic Owner Abstract
In SAFe, Business and Architecture epics drive much of the economic value for the enterprise. As such, whether the enterprise is agile or not, the analysis of cost, impact, opportunity and formulation of a business case for a new development initiative is a serious matter. In addition, as many epics are cross cutting, crossing release trains and sometimes even business units (Ref ), implementing them is no small feat either, as they must be parsed into smaller pieces (sub-epics or features) and make their way into the program backlogs of each affected release train. To address this, we describe the role of the Epic Owner, someone who has the responsibility of shepherding the epic through the kanban system, developing the business case, and when approved, working directly with the key stakeholders on the affected trains to help realize the implementation.
Summary Role Description
The Epic Owner is responsible for driving individual Epics from identification, through the analysis process and kanban systems, to the go/no go decision making process of Program Portfolio Management, and when accepted for implementation, working with the Release Train development teams and Product Management to initiate the development activities necessary to realize the business benefits of the epic. Once successfully initiated, the epic owner may have some ongoing responsibilities for stewardship and follow-on. Perhaps more likely, as the Features that define the epics are eventually incorporated into Program Backlogs for routine incorporation into the solution (refer to Business and Architecture Epics for discussion of splitting epics), the epic owner can return to other duties, or take responsibility for additional emerging epics. Thereafter, implementation can be safely assumed, as the program has the full responsibility for solution delivery, including the new elements.
The Epic Owner role in SAFe, is just that— a responsibility assumed by an individual—not a job title. The role may be assumed by a program manager, product manager, project manager, Enterprise Architect, System Architect, business analyst, or other any program stakeholder suited to the responsibility. Typically, an epic owner works with one or two epics at a time, which fall within their area of expertise and current business mission.
The epic owner has the responsibilities outlined in the paragraphs below.
Prior to Approval: Preparing the Epic
The Epic Owner’s responsibilities begin early in the lifecycle of the epic:
- Work with stakeholders and subject matter experts to define the epic, its potential benefits, and establish the cost of delay; identify business sponsors
- Work with development teams to size the epic and provide input for economic prioritization based on WSJF
- Define epic success criteria
- Shepherd the epics through the (Business or Architectural) kanban system, and create the lightweight business case (Ref )
- Prepare to present the business case to Portfolio Management for a Go/No Go decision
Presenting the Epic
The epic owner has the primary responsibility for presenting the merits of the epic to Program Portfolio Management. However, approval should NOT be assured, as most every software enterprise has opportunities far exceeding capacity, so an effective winnowing process may well determine the marketplace winners and losers. That is one of the many reasons the business cases are lightweight, so as to not create too great an emotional investment on the part of those responsible for analysis. Specific, potential epics can and should be rejected in lieu of more favorable opportunities. (See Ref ).
After Approval: Implementation
If the epic is approved, then the implementation work begins:
- Work with Product Management to split the epic into features and prioritize them in the product backlogs
- Provide guidance to the release train on the epic context of the target features
- Participate in PSI/Release Planning, PSI demo, and System Demos, whenever there is critical activity related to the epic
- Work with agile teams that perform research spikes, create proof of concepts, mockups, etc.
- Coordinate and synchronize epic-related activities with functions in sales, marketing, other business units
- Understand and report on progress of the epic with key stakeholders
The Collaborative Nature of the Epic Owner Role
An epic owner can only be effective through close collaboration with other groups in the agile enterprise. Thereby, they help “fill in the gaps” that often occur in organizations when the high-level initiatives ‘descend’ from the top of the organization to implementation. Key participants in the collaboration are highlighted in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Role collaboration is the basis of effective epic ownership
Ensuring the holistic vision, appropriate economic prioritization and consistency of epic-driven features is achievable only via close work with these key stakeholders.
 Leffingwell, Dean. Agile Software Requirements: Lean Requirements Practices for Teams, Programs, and the Enterprise. Addison-Wesley, 2011.
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