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.

—Thomas Sowell, “Wake up, parents!” [1]

Business Owners

Business Owners (BOs) are key ART stakeholders who have the primary business and technical responsibility for return on investment (ROI), governance, and compliance.

Business Owners are critical stakeholders who evaluate fitness for use and actively participate in Agile Release Train (ART) events and solution development.


Self-managing, self-organizing Agile Teams and ARTs are essential to the success of SAFe. This Lean-Agile way of working represents a significant change in the traditional management mindset. Leaders and management no longer need to supervise work directly or assign tasks. Instead, they lead and provide intent by establishing a mission and Vision.

Business Owners may help teams with coaching and skills development but essentially decentralize execution authority to the ART. However, transformation to a Lean-Agile way of working does not relieve leaders and management of their ultimate responsibilities. They remain accountable for the organization’s growth and its people, operational excellence, and business outcomes. SAFe defines the role of BOs as the key leaders who guide ARTs to optimal business outcomes.

Questions to identify Business Owners include:

  • Who is ultimately responsible for business outcomes?
  • Who can steer this ART to develop the right solutions?
  • Who can speak to the technical competence of the solution now and in the 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 PI plans, knowing they will never satisfy everyone?
  • Who can help ARTs coordinate efforts with other departments and organizations, spanning organizational boundaries?

The answers to these questions will help identify the BOs who will play a vital role in the ART’s ability to deliver value. Also, consider the availability of these leaders and their personal traits. Will they be an excellent Lean-Agile leader? Are they interested in fulfilling this role?

It’s best to start with the smallest possible Business Owner team and then add members if it becomes clear that someone with the necessary accountability, skill, knowledge, or expertise is missing. Ensure a good mix of both business-oriented and technical people. It’s a reasonable expectation that membership in the BO team will change as needs dictate.


An effective Business Owner is active and involved, fulfilling their SAFe responsibilities daily, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Business Owner responsibilities
Figure 1. Business Owner responsibilities

While there is no precise guideline about who should be part of the Business Owner team, they often have the following roles or titles:

  • General or line of business manager
  • Product or Solution Managers
  • Enterprise Architects
  • C-level executives
  • Operations executives
  • Senior engineering leaders
  • Customers (for bespoke solutions)

The following sections describe the Business Owner’s duties, enabling them to fulfill their obligations while empowering Agile Teams and trains to do their best work.

Leading by Example

Business Owners are Lean-Agile Leaders who share accountability for the business value delivered by a specific ART. The most important and effective technique for driving the cultural change needed for the adoption of SAFe is for leaders to internalize and model the behaviors and mindsets of Business Agility. Such leaders inspire others to follow in their direction and to incorporate the leader’s example into their development journey. To accomplish this, Business Owners:

  • Serve as an example of the new behaviors – Live by the Lean-Agile principles and practices, modeling the new norms of expected behaviors for the ART and others to follow. They help address shortcomings in SAFe knowledge and experience.
  • Communicate the vision for SAFe adoption – Frequently communicate the business need, urgency, and vision for change. BOs participate in developing the SAFe implementation plan, prioritizing the transformation backlog, and establishing the metrics for tracking the change progress for one or more ARTs.
  • Actively engage with the Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE) – Address problems that teams cannot resolve. Such issues are often beyond the span of control of the LACE. For example, they may require facility changes, funding, hiring, and purchasing authority.
  • Address the concerns of people who resist the change – Exhibit empathy and compassion, address people’s fears and worries, and resolve problems quickly and effectively to help overcome the resistance that may block the change.
  • Act as change agents – Communicate passionately, sincerely believe, and illustrate their commitment to the future change vision. When people see leaders’ behaviors modeling those required by change, they become change advocates, aligning with the new behaviors more quickly. BOs do not tolerate unacceptable behavior and inspire those who resist or fear the change with mission and vision. BOs help people understand the new way of working and how it will benefit them, other ART members, and the organization. These leaders assure people by committing to adapting roles, practices, and processes for the overall good of the organization and ART.

A lack of psychological safety at work can have significant business consequences. When people don’t feel comfortable talking about things that aren’t working, the organization is not equipped to prevent failure. After all, no one can fix a secret. This fear often leads to disengaged employees and the opportunity cost to leverage the strengths of all its talent. People need to feel comfortable speaking up, asking naive questions, experimenting and failing with new ways of working, and disagreeing with changes to create and implement ideas that make a real difference.

In contrast, when employees are engaged, they adopt the organization’s vision, values, and purpose. They become passionate contributors, innovating problem solvers, and dependable colleagues.

Engaging with LPM

While Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) is operated by executives responsible for business outcomes, Business Owners are often critically engaged in the process. Some Business Owners may serve as LPM executives, but most are involved to some extent in activities such as:

  • Strategy and Investment Funding – Help ensure the portfolio and individual value streams are aligned and funded to create and maintain the solutions needed to meet business targets.
  • Agile Portfolio Operations – Business owners are responsible for helping value streams and ARTs’ get the right thing out the door’ to their customers. They may also directly or indirectly support the LACE and foster Communities of Practice (CoPs) within their domain of concern.
  • Lean Governance – Business Owners are directly engaged in ART backlog prioritization and value stream economics. They also help provide oversight and decision-making of spending, audit, compliance, forecasting expenses, and measurement for their value streams.
  • Occasionally serve as Epic Owners – On occasion, Business Owners may serve as initial Epic owners for initiatives that benefit from their domain knowledge, experience, and authority.
  • Participatory Budgeting – Business Owners actively assist LPM in allocating the total portfolio budget to its value streams.

Aligning Priorities and PI Planning

Business Owners are responsible for understanding and refining the Strategic Themes that influence ARTs. They have knowledge of the current EnterprisePortfolio, and Value Stream context, and they’re involved in driving or reviewing the solution vision and Roadmap. The continuous involvement of BOs during the PI serves as a critical Guardrail for the ART’s budgetary spending. Aligning priorities and PI planning usually involve the following activities:

The time before PI planning is a busy period for Business Owners. Responsibilities include:

  • Provide input to backlog refinement – Participate in activities to align the backlog with the portfolio’s strategic themes
  • Ensure that business objectives are understood – Ensure that the business objectives are agreed to by key stakeholders of the train, including the Release Train Engineer (RTE)Product ManagementSystem Architects, and other BOs
  • Prepare to communicate the business context – Prepare to describe the business’s current state, the Portfolio Vision, and their perspective on how effectively existing solutions address current customer needs

The importance of the Business Owner’s role during PI planning cannot be overstated. Activities include:

  • Present the business context and Vision – Share the business context during the defined PI planning agenda timebox. This context may include the state of the business, market rhythms, milestones, and significant external dependencies, such as those of Suppliers.
  • Actively engage during critical ART PI planning activities – Participate in draft plan reviews, assign business value to team PI objectives, and approve final plans.
  • Review draft and final plans – Understand the bigger picture and determine if the team’s objectives fulfill the current business objectives when taken together. They ask powerful questions and ensure alignment on solution intent.
  • Watch for significant external commitments and dependencies – Foster the management of dependencies and support their reduction or elimination.
  • Actively circulate during planning – Communicate business priorities to the teams and maintain agreement and alignment among the stakeholders regarding the key objectives of the train.
  • Participate in the management review and problem-solving – Business Owners are critical stakeholders in this problem-solving meeting. They review and adjust the scope, resolve problems, and compromise as necessary.
  • Participate in Solution Train planning – If applicable, BOs participate in Pre-Planning, helping ARTs adjust their plans and providing support during the Coordinate and Deliver activities.

Moreover, when Business Owners assign planned business value during PI planning, it offers an essential face-to-face dialogue between teams and their most important stakeholders, the BOs. This activity is an opportunity to develop personal relationships between Agile Teams and BOs, identify common concerns that require mutual commitment, and better understand the business objectives and their value. Figure 2 provides an example of one team’s PI objectives and the Business Value (BV) assigned by BOs.

Business Owners use a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest) and will typically assign the highest values to the customer-facing objectives. However, they should also seek the advice of technical experts who know that architecture and other concerns will increase the team’s velocity in producing future business value. So placing suitable business value on Enablers helps drive velocity and demonstrates their commitment to addressing the team’s legitimate technical challenges.

Figure 2. An example of a team’s PI objectives with assigned business value
Figure 2. An example of a team’s PI objectives with assigned business value

SAFe customers often ask, why doesn’t the BV use Fibonacci numbers? The answer is simple: the 10 to 1 scale is a range of numbers everyone understands, reducing friction and miscommunication between business-oriented BOs, technical members, and ART stakeholders. The simplest way to start is to assign a 10 to the highest individual objectives, typically ‘fixed’ commitments or must-have items, and then scale down from there. Giving many PI objectives a 10 (for one team) indicates a lack of objective prioritization. It effectively abrogates prioritization to the team without the benefit of the BO’s knowledge and experience.

Realizing Business Outcomes

The Business Owner’s job is not complete when PI planning is done. They have an ongoing role in helping ensure the success of solution delivery. Business Owners typically:

  • Maintain alignment – Actively maintain alignment between the business and development as priorities and scope inevitably change.
  • Help validate the definition of MVPs – Guide pivot-or-persevere decisions for ART or Solution Epics based on the delivery of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
  • Attend the System and Solution Demos – Actively engage in the system and solution demos to understand progress and provide feedback.
  • Attend Agile team events – Attend team events such as Iteration Planning, Review, and Retrospectives as needs dictate.
  • Actively address impediments – Help resolve impediments that escalate beyond the authority of the train’s leaders and stakeholders.
  • Participate in release management – Serve as critical stakeholders in release governance (described in Release on Demand) and determine when the solutions are released. Specifically, they focus on scope, quality, deployment options, release, and market considerations.

Sponsoring Relentless Improvement

The Inspect and Adapt (I&A) event is a cadence-based opportunity for the whole ART to reflect on progress and identify the systemic impediments they’re facing—many of which require the BO’s involvement. During the event, BOs assess the actual value achieved versus the plan and participate in the I&A’s problem-solving workshop. Moreover, Business Owners are Lean-Agile Leaders who:

  • Continually focus on eliminating waste and delays – Foster the adoption of Principle #6, Make value flow without interruption, including Value Stream Management, the eight flow accelerators, and the six flow measurements (flow distribution, velocity, time, load, efficiency, and predictability).
  • Eliminate demotivating policies and procedures – Actively participate in the I&A’s problem-solving workshop to identify and eliminate systemic issues, policies, and processes that are not aligned with the Lean-Agile Mindset and are not within the scope of the ART’s control.
  • Inspire and motivate others – Effectively communicate (frequently) why change is needed and do so in ways that inspire, motivate, and engage people to buy into the change with a sense of urgency.
  • Create a generative culture that highly values relentless improvement – Model the right behaviors to help transform the culture from pathological (negative, power-oriented) and bureaucratic (negative, rule-oriented) to a positive, performance-oriented culture, which is required for the Lean-Agile mindset to flourish.
  • Provide the time and space for teams to innovate – Foster the use of IP iterations to provide a regular, cadence-based opportunity for teams to work on innovation, improvement activities, and learning that are often difficult to fit into a continuous, incremental value delivery pattern.
  • Help drive investment in the continuous delivery pipeline – Supports process and infrastructure enhancements to the Continuous Delivery Pipeline to improve the responsiveness of the ART and the quality of its solutions.

It cannot be emphasized enough: Active participation of Business Owners is critical to the SAFe enterprise.  


Learn More

[1] Sowell, Thomas. “Wake up, parents!” Jewish World Review, August 18, 2000.


Last update: 3 July 2023