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Business & Technology
Business and Technology describes the patterns that may be applied to realize Business Agility by applying SAFe principles and practices across the enterprise.
Business and Technology describes the patterns that may be applied to realize Business Agility by applying SAFe principles and practices across the enterprise.
A successful Agile and SAFe adoption affects not just development but every part of the organization, including marketing, operations, support, finance, legal, HR, security, compliance, and enterprise leadership. It’s also clear that all business and technology domains can benefit by adopting a SAFe Lean-Agile mindset, Core Values, and principles and practices. Each area can use these foundations to discover how this new Agile way of working (see Organizational Agility for more detail) can improve outcomes in every business area.
A Lean-Agile transformation will affect every part of the enterprise. As one area accelerates, it reveals bottlenecks in the others. In addition, every area of the business can benefit from agility. Thus, achieving full Business Agility requires applying the Lean-Agile Mindset, Values, and Principles to all aspects of the business:
- A Lean-Agile Mindset – The Lean-Agile Mindset forms the cornerstone of a new way of working and an enhanced company culture that enables Business Agility. It provides leaders and change agents with the tools needed to drive a successful SAFe transformation, helping individuals and enterprises achieve their goals.
- Living the SAFe Core Values – The four Core Values of alignment, transparency, respect for people, and relentless improvement represent the foundational beliefs that are key to SAFe’s effectiveness. These tenets help guide the behaviors and actions of everyone participating in a SAFe portfolio. Those in positions of responsibility and authority can help the rest of the organization embrace these ideals by exemplifying them in their words and actions.
- Applying SAFe Lean-Agile Principles – SAFe is based on ten fundamental concepts that have evolved from Agile principles and methods, Lean product development, systems thinking, and observation of successful enterprises. Each is described in detail in an article by that principle’s name. In addition, the embodiment of the principles appears throughout the Framework.
Agile Crosses the Chasm from Technology to Business
Our deep customer relationships, high-quality patient interactions, resilient supply chain, and agile operating model, all contributed to the strong quarterly performance.
—Karen Lynch, CEO CVS Health – CVS Q2 2022 Earnings Result Transcript 
Twenty-five years ago, development bottlenecks started putting enormous business pressure on enterprises that depended on software. Typically, solutions were delivered late and over budget, often with unacceptable levels of quality. Traditional, stage-gated, waterfall development methods were unfit for the challenge. So, software practitioners began applying new, more Agile practices like Scrum and Extreme Programming, as well as approaches based on Lean principles. This inspired the Agile Manifesto , ushering in a new age of increased team empowerment, experimentation, and faster feedback.
Over the past two decades, Agile software development ‘crossed the chasm ,’ as those early adopters invented the new practices and created demand for a broad ecosystem of products and services that support modern Agile software development. At the same time, software development remains on the critical path for most enterprises. Thus, the new Agile way of working has become the predominant method for enterprises facing the challenges of an increasingly digital age. But a new chasm and opportunity have emerged. Other technology and business domains now find themselves in the same position the software industry was in 20 years ago. Around the world, C-suite and shareholder discussions have identified agility as a strategic advantage to sustaining competitiveness in the digital age.
In short, Agile is here to stay for technology and business.
Patterns of Agile Business and Technology
SAFe transformations around the world are fostering emerging patterns that enable entire businesses to better learn, adapt and react to change. Figure 1 summarizes five patterns and trends for business and technology domains gathered from the experiences of practitioners leading the way.
“If you look right now in a team, you couldn’t distinguish what is a person from R&D, what is an IT guy, or from sales or marketing. They work together. This is really important to have this collaboration and to have the customer in the middle.” CIO of Porsche AG and CEO of Porsche Digital 
A Business-Enabled ART is an Agile Release Train that includes the technical and business people needed to ensure the solution is aware of the business in which it operates and that it addresses the relevant concerns for the technology, business, and customer.
Agile Release Trains are purpose-built to develop and maintain the tech-enabled solutions the enterprise needs to thrive in the digital age. Naturally, most people on the ART are technologists who design, develop and integrate the software, systems, and physical components needed for state-of-the-art digitally-enabled solutions. Generally, ARTs take on one of three forms: stream-aligned, complicated subsystem, or platform ARTs, each with a specific set of responsibilities (see Organizing Agile Teams and ARTs: Team Topologies at Scale).
But it is the stream-aligned ARTs that have the potential to be more fully enabled to deliver business outcomes. Embedding the critical business functions from research, marketing, business processes enablement, contracts, technical support, legal, audit, and more enables the ART to provide a ‘whole product solution’ to the customer (Figure 2).
Many businesses have shown the value of this approach. Enterprises utilizing business-enabled ARTs achieve faster time to market, improved employee engagement, higher productivity, and better business outcomes.
The following considerations apply to establishing a Business-Enabled ART:
- Ensure Critical Business Functions are contained within the ART – Embed the right people and skills needed to build the whole business solution in the ART. As an aid, the Value Stream Identification Workshop is critical to understanding what business functions are needed. A worked example can be found within the Organize Around Value step of the Implementation Roadmap.
- Amplify Customer Centricity and product thinking – Business-Enabled ARTs deliver value directly to the customer. That requires technical and business competence. In addition, the core competency of Agile Product Delivery and the disciplines defined in Customer-Centricity and Design Thinking are even more critical.
- Focus on the intended business outcomes – Identifying the desired results for the user and the business helps provide the objectives and focus for the ART. This pattern is best built with the people who already have frequent contact with the customer or, in some cases, are the customer. Utilizing this shared knowledge amplifies the effectiveness of OKRs, KPIs, and PI Objectives.
Example: A Data-Informed Decisioning Business-Enabled ART
An existing ART is developing a set of data-informed digital care plans for patients with critical illnesses. After a year of applying SAFe, they identified a consistent set of dependencies with data analysts and a group of internal physicians. They work with the LACE team to re-run the Value Stream Identification Workshop alongside the leaders of those business areas. As a result, the ART added the people they interact with the most. The data analysts join the existing Agile teams, while an existing physician joins the ART Product Management team. A few PIs later, they realized accelerated flow in every flow metric and their OKRs, including an increase in employee NPS. The Business-Enabled ART demos their improvements at all hands, resulting in more ARTs in the organization moving to the Business-Enabled pattern.
Agile Business Train
An Agile Business Train (Figure 3) is a further step towards Business Agility. An Agile Business Train contains one or more SAFe Operational Value Streams and all the ARTs needed to define, build, deploy, operate, and commercialize a complete business solution. An Agile Business Train could include multiple ARTs and Solution Trains, all aligned to a shared mission, vision, and cadence. Participants plan, commit, ideate, deliver, and continually optimize the business solution together.
Building these partnerships across hierarchical functions with cross-functional Agile teams enables the right business processes and business solutions to flex, grow and flow with the combined expertise of the workers involved.
Here are a few tips for designing an Agile Business Train:
- Understand both Value Stream flows – Mapping how new solutions get developed and the operational value flow, including all the people involved, is critical for an Agile Business Train. Organize Agile teams around the ability to operate, commercialize, and support existing users, as well as how to identify and build new solutions.
- Application of the Core Competencies – The core competencies of Team and Technical Agility, Agile Product Delivery, Continuous Learning Culture, Organizational Agility, and Lean-Agile Leadership all apply. While technical practices differ by function (a nurse’s technical practice is different from a hardware engineer’s practice is different from a retail store worker’s practice), all practices require focus and improvement through a relentless improvement mindset.
- Cadence-based planning and PDCA – Aligning on a cadence with operation and development teams enables operational improvements to scale alongside systematic technology improvements.
Example: Home Health Business Train
An Agile Business Train comprises case managers, home nurses, data scientists, developers, regulatory specialists, physicians, medical device technicians, and researchers within a mid-sized healthcare organization. The operational value stream they combined to deliver was home hemodialysis care for a particular geographical region of patients across multiple care facilities and patient homes. Each team was cross-functional, enabling every team to utilize SAFe Team Kanban methods and PDCA learning cycles to provide the best patient care. If a home medical device indicated errors, device technicians would immediately respond and help the patient or the nurse work through the issue. The blended train utilized PI cadences and demos to continually update their procedures and care plans. They learned together from the data gathered across the teams, keeping more patients healthier and increasing the satisfaction of the patients and practitioners.
In some instances, due to significant coupling between Development and Operational Value Streams, it is helpful to manage those value streams in one portfolio. A Combined Portfolio is a type of SAFe portfolio that includes both Development and Operational Value Streams. It leverages knowledge of the operational costs, the performance of the operational and development value streams, revenue, and market research to support strategic decision-making. The Combined Portfolio takes the concept of Systems Thinking beyond just value streams and enables a more global optimization.
A Combined Portfolio enables an organization’s executives to communicate and execute the complete strategy. It is then easier to align new development opportunities with how operational work is produced, through funding, strategy, and the flow of epics through the Portfolio Backlog (Figure 5).
The following considerations apply when establishing a Combined Portfolio:
- Funding – The funding for the two types of value streams gains value in budgeting discussions and horizon allocations. In either case, funding must be aligned on both ‘sides’ of the portfolio to ensure the ability to deliver value together. Digital technologies may provide opportunities to move workers into a digital role supporting the same end customers or require combined funding of value streams that enable innovations on the operational side to scale the business fully.
- Strategic Themes and Portfolio Vision must reflect both – A combined portfolio may naturally have a significant portion of strategic work cut across both development and operational value streams. Strategic themes keep the portfolio aligned with the needs of the enterprise and maintain connections across portfolios. The combined portfolio utilizes OKRs to align the outcomes across development and operational value streams with the themes.
- Work from a common Portfolio Backlog – Combined portfolios utilize a single Portfolio Kanban system to help steer the flow of their high-profile work, supported by stakeholders from operational and development value streams. Prioritization is done in concert, optimizing for funding solutions in concert with the operational value stream(s).
Example: Retail Business Combined Portfolio
An organization utilizing digital experiences to drive users towards a convenient, brick-and-mortar retail store presence applied the Business-Enabled ART and Business Train patterns within an Operational Value Stream. The resultant Combined Portfolio includes Platform ARTs, Business Trains comprised of store employees, and regional managers. In addition, it includes Business-Enabled ARTs comprised of cross-functional teams of marketing specialists, data scientists, regional compliance specialists, communications strategists, and behavioral scientists. Portfolio Syncs and participatory budgeting events consider leading indicators on the operational and development value stream side. For instance, a new Omnichannel communication platform MVP is tested within a region of retail stores. Retail associates provide feedback directly to the development value streams on new behaviors of in-store customers. The retail associates know about the latest release from their store managers, and the regional store managers bring customer reactions to the next Portfolio Sync. One discovery was that 15% of customers felt that the new location messaging was overly invasive. And yet 85% appreciated the immediate savings. Therefore the related epic continues, now emphasizing less intrusive and more welcoming messaging.
Agile Business Function
Agile Business Functions apply Lean-Agile methods and SAFe principles to streamline business operations and create transparency in value delivery. This pattern can be applied in all functional areas of the enterprise. This pattern helps improve the flow of value throughout the organization, increases workers’ motivation and engagement, and provides transparency for the operational leadership. Agile teams in these functions may operate within the functional area or department or provide shared services to ART and other functions, as illustrated in Figure 6. And as with all things Lean and Agile, Lean-Agile Leaders provide the foundation needed to establish, operate and sustain the new way of working.
The following considerations apply when building effective Agile Business Functions:
- Agile Teams – People within the function are organized into Agile Teams, which are cross-functional by design. Even though the department accomplishes one primary function, multiple areas of expertise contribute to the function. Agile Teams include those different skills and follow an appropriate team process, whether SAFe Scrum, SAFe Team Kanban, or a hybrid.
- Interaction with the rest of the organization – As noted, business function Agile teams may be embedded in a cross-department Agile Release Train or operate entirely within the functional department. In the former case, the team may be more loosely coupled with its functional department and operate more under the auspices of the train’s process. In the latter case, the department establishes mission-appropriate interaction protocols with other parties and manages service capacity allocations to prioritize and address demand.
Example: Agile Data Science and Analytics
Data science is often organized into a department separate from IT. Due to exponentially increasing demands for data, data analytics, and the scarcity and specialty skills involved, it may be impractical to embed these functions fully into the various ARTs. In one enterprise, leadership transformed the department into Agile Teams to increase support for these critical workers. They established a functional-wide backlog and Kanban fed from ARTs, teams, and other organizational functions. They proactively allocated time for team members to spread their skills to other engineers and architects. The data scientists can also easily share their insights and be available for help, eliminating redundant hires in other areas of the organization. At times, an existing ART may require more fully embedded analysts (for example: a Behavior Change ART utilizing daily data feeds to create motivational messaging and gamification within an existing application). In that case, the department staffs a full-time Agile team dedicated to that ART while maintaining its departmental structure and the ability to gather insights from the larger pool of people and data.
Agile Executive Team
The C-suite teams dominating the Forbes lists prove that consistent shareholder and revenue growth is tied to the passionate and constant pursuit of a clear mission that aligns the organization and stakeholders in strategy and execution. The Agile Executive Team is a construct for aligning senior leadership in the form of Agile team that exhibits the mindset, values, principles, and practices of agility.
The Agile Executive Team construct creates structure and process that helps the organization’s top leaders dedicate sufficient time to critical alignment, impediment removal, and effective management of strategic WIP implemented by the portfolios.
The Agile Executive Team resembles a SAFe Agile Team in many ways:
- Sized like a typical Agile team (10 or less)
- Has a ScrumMaster/Team Coach (SM/TC) and a Product Owner (PO)
- Maintains a single backlog
- Frequently synchronizes within the team and with the rest of the organization.
Here are some aspects of the Agile Executive Team that are critical to its successful operation:
- Exemplar behaviors and practices – This team exemplifies alignment, transparency, respect for people, and relentless improvement. They speak as a Lean-Agile leadership team even when speaking as individuals. They mitigate silo-based thinking and create an environment that encourages celebrating customer outcomes and learning. They encourage organizing their direct reports into Agile Teams. This practice allows C and VP levels to model practices and behaviors for the thousands of people reporting to them.
- PO and Team Coach role – Someone assumes the role of a PO and maintains the backlog. In this case, however, prioritization and decision-making are the collective responsibility of the entire team. An SM/TC facilitates a productive, collaborative process, allowing the team to express multiple opinions and converge on an agreed-upon priority list and effective decision-making.
- Planning and Synchronization – The Agile Executive Team may have a daily sync or perhaps meet two to three times a week on an established schedule. The syncs include aligning each executive’s interactions with their direct reports and others in their respective areas of responsibility. Every week or two, the team holds a more detailed planning session.
- Periodic Strategic Alignment – This team has the ultimate responsibility for strategy and execution, and they must allocate the time to evolve a strategy continuously. They may also meet periodically to address systemic impediments that require direct leadership support.
- Interaction with Portfolios – The team regularly communicates the enterprise’s strategic intent and provides direction to solution portfolios. They actively receive feedback on the systemic impediments to enterprise flow and assist in removing them.
Example: Medical Device Organization
An Agile Executive Team is formed within a medical device organization focused on penetrating existing markets in more innovative, data-empowered ways. The CEO, VP of Regulatory, Chief Product Officer, VP of Engineering, and CFO meet together after their personal tipping point. They’ve recognized that the company’s employees are acting in silos, and they must visibly show up as a team to meet their strategic goals of utilizing new Agile methods to increase delivery in their highly regulated environment. The CEO shares openly that they will need good facilitation to help keep their conversations on track. The VP of Engineering recommends utilizing the same model they expect of their teams. They pull in a trusted SM/TC to maintain confidentiality when needed and keep them focused. Within three months, the organization’s employees follow their example and break down old barriers. As a nice side effect, the Agile Executive Team is now meeting once a month with their direct reports, also forming as Agile Teams, to open communication and take action about blockers to the organizational flow. This has already resulted in a value-focused, cross-functional assessment of their entire set of regulatory policies and procedures, eliminating significant areas of waste and increasing employee engagement.
Building the Agile Enterprise
Agile Teams and Trains work together to deliver valuable business solutions regardless of whom they contain. The patterns above, alongside SAFe’s principles and values, unleash the potential of Enterprise-wide Business Agility. Utilizing these patterns, powerful outcomes are accelerated, which include:
- An accelerated flow of Business Solutions through the organizational systems.
- Removal of barriers to decision-making and action.
- Improved alignment, focus, and transparency across the enterprise. Everyone ‘sees, knows, and acts together’ in the business and customer’s interest.
- Alignment in execution, removing any historic technology vs. business mindset. All teams advance the business.
- Elimination of redundant roles and waste in the system.
- Increased empowerment, authority, and accountability throughout the business.
Welcome to the new age of the Agile business.
Learn More Ahmed, Wāqas. “The Mind of Leonardo da Vinci.” Philosophy Now, Issue 134, October/November 2019.  CVS Health. “Q2.2022 Earnings Results Transcript.” Retrieved November 2, 2022, from https://investors.cvshealth.com/investors/events-and-presentations/default.aspx  Manifesto for Agile Software Development. http://AgileManifesto.org/  Moore, Geoffrey A. Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers. Harper Business, 2014.  Scaled Agile, Inc. “Designing the Digital Future with Porsche.” Retrieved November 3, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjM8vZNuJCc
Last Updated: 24 September 2023