A shared vision is not an idea…it is rather, a force in people’s hearts…at its simplest level, a shared vision is the answer to the question ‘What do we want to create?’
—Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline 
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Solution Management is the function responsible for defining desirable, viable, feasible, and sustainable large solutions that meet customer needs and for supporting development across the solution life cycle.
The Solution Management role is key to successful enterprise solution delivery. Defining the solution Vision, aligning the Solution Train and its stakeholders to the vision, and coordinating development progress across multiple ARTs and Suppliers is a challenging and critical task for every enterprise. But as is the case with Product Management, the role of Solution Management for a Solution Train is typically fulfilled by multiple people, each guiding different aspects of the solution.
Creating a successful solution requires collaboration across the different roles and groups involved in development. Solution Management leads the interactions with the following participants (Figure 1):
The most critical interactions appear in the following areas:
Steer the Solution Train – Three key roles guide the progress of solution development. Solution Management determines the direction of the solution. Solution Architects provide the design that supports the business direction. Solution Train Engineers (STEs) facilitate the development and delivery. The interactions among these three roles occur at PI boundaries and during the PI execution.
Align on outcomes – A live solution has to perform its intended function for the Customer while fulfilling the business goal for the organization. Solution Management works directly with the customer to ensure solution efficacy in solving the customer’s need. Additionally, Solution Management remains aligned with Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) and other stakeholders to ensure that the solution achieves the enterprise’s business objectives.
Advance the solution – To define and elaborate solution Capabilities and Features, Solution Management works side-by-side with Product Management and Suppliers. This ongoing collaboration culminates at every PI boundary where Solution Management leads Product Management and suppliers as they prepare work content for the new PI.
Solution Management’s responsibilities fall into five main areas, as shown in Figure 2.
This article further describes each of these areas.
Connecting with the Customer
Large solutions often serve multiple user personas and account for various use-case scenarios. Understanding the customer’s need is essential to building a viable solution. In this regard, Solution Management does the following:
Determine customer needs and personas – Solution Management determines what user personas the solution will benefit and which tasks it will enable. This process frequently relies on continual research that feeds into the definition of new Solution Train Backlog items. Often, Design Thinking facilitates exploring personas and uncovering their specific solution needs.
Understand solution context – Solution Management determines which aspects of Solution Context are critical to solution development. To thoroughly understand the solution context, Solution Management works with architects and other technology subject-matter experts to navigate the complexities of the solution deployment and execution environment. To understand the operational context, Solution Management also interacts with the participants of the Operational Value Streams that the solution is serving. For solutions in active development, the solution context may often change as new capabilities are introduced, new user personas must be supported, or new infrastructure parameters are developed.
Measure solution usage – Solution Management relies on facts to determine the course of action for the solution. Important data points come from solution telemetry that reveals user actions as a part of use-case scenarios realized in the solution. To generate this data, Solution Management proactively collaborates with Product Management of ARTs to define and instrument the necessary measures.
Defining the Large Solution
Defining the solution is a multilayered process that elaborates the vision with the detail needed to clarify what solution builders will create and deliver to the customer. As the Solution Train navigates the unknowns in the process, this detail is progressively elaborated.
Define and evolve the Solution Intent – Solution Management leads the effort in defining and maintaining the Solution Intent. This work involves multiple roles, including Product Management, architects, and other subject-matter experts from ARTs and suppliers.
Manage solution hypotheses, MVP, and leading indicators – In SAFe, large solution development leverages accelerated learning. This involves building a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) for exploration and experimentation to realize a business hypothesis. Solution Management defines measurement criteria to support the hypothesis and—depending on the experiment’s outcome—exercises the decision to pivot or persevere. During solution development, multiple MVPs may validate different assumptions at different times.
Define solution epics and capabilities – A recurring task of Solution Management is to define the upcoming work for the Solution Train. The definition process is realized via the Solution Train Backlog and involves multiple steps that support additional elaboration. However, not all the work content for a Solution Train is defined by Solution Management. ARTs can also leverage decentralized decision-making and specify work based on their direct knowledge of the customer context.
Elaborate solution definition with ARTs and suppliers – Solution Intent and solution capabilities get further elaborated with ARTs and suppliers, accounting for more detail in the systems’ behavior, architecture, and implementation constraints. This elaboration is usually performed leading up to PI planning.
Planning and Managing the Solution Roadmap
Solution Management sets the direction for the solution. This helps the Solution Train and its stakeholders understand where solution development is headed and its progress over time. The path is continually adjusted to leverage new learnings and capitalize on new opportunities to deliver business value. The following activities are essential:
Align with portfolio stakeholders – Solution Management ensures that the solution vision reflects the portfolio strategy and accommodates the portfolio initiatives that affect the Solution Train. Besides directly involving stakeholders in the activities that lead to the Solution Train’s PI planning, Solution Management usually participates in sessions supporting the Portfolio Backlog and Kanban system.
Build and maintain solution roadmap – To align ARTs, suppliers, and stakeholders to the desired solution progression over time, Solution Management creates and maintains the solution Roadmap. The roadmap provides sufficient specificity in the near term to guide the development effort. However, specificity decreases for more distant future capabilities on the roadmap. This allows Solution Management to preserve options and leverage opportunities as they present themselves. At a minimum, the roadmap is updated at every PI boundary and presented to the Solution Train as a part of PI planning.
Manage Value Stream KPIs – The ultimate purpose of any solution is to achieve desired outcomes for the customer and the business. Collaborating with portfolio stakeholders, Solution Management defines the Value Stream KPIs that are used to measure the business outcomes.
Managing and Prioritizing the Solution Train Backlog
The flow of customer value requires clear priorities: the Solution Train’s ARTs and suppliers need a definitive idea of the next set of capabilities they will be building. Knowing the priorities is crucial to understanding what needs to be built next. It also permits tradeoffs as capacity, technology, and other constraints reveal themselves.
Continually prioritize the Solution Train backlog – At every PI boundary, Solution Management makes critical decisions regarding work priorities for the Solution Train. Prioritization and elaboration work happens continually as new work items emerge or new facts are revealed.
Participate in Pre- and PI Planning – Solution Management leads the preparation of work content for the Solution Train to perform a productive Pre-Planning and PI-Planning. Solution Management presents the vision and roadmap to the train and participates in the planning, guiding as necessary on different aspects of the solution definition.
Define and manage capacity allocations – Solution Management determines capacity allocations for the Solution Train, typically including capacity for developing new business capabilities, architectural enablers, or performing maintenance work. Additionally, they help determine how much capacity ARTs should dedicate to Solution Train backlog items versus work that emerges locally.
Working with ARTs and Suppliers to Deliver Value
Large solution development relies on effectively coordinating solution development across many ARTs and suppliers. A big part of this coordination is defining and refining what to build. Inherently, this process involves adjustment and adaptation based on an ongoing, objective evaluation of the working solution.
Participate in release governance – Solution Management plays a vital role in approving releases and influencing their timing and scope. It’s actively involved in planning releases and making adjustments as needed. Additionally, they participate in defining the release-level definition of done.
Regularly review integrated solution increments – With Agile, development progress is based on working systems. Solution Management regularly reviews integrated increments of value and makes necessary adjustments to development plans.
Coordinate value delivery across ARTs and suppliers – As multiple ARTs and suppliers are involved, a significant part of the Solution Management effort is ensuring that each participant in the development process is moving toward a common goal. Solution Management leads the Product Management sync multiple times per PI. A Solution Train Planning Board (see Coordinate and Deliver) is used to track the progress of business capabilities across suppliers and ARTs.
Participate in I&A with ARTs and suppliers – Solution Management participates in the Solution Train Inspect and Adapt (I&A) to review and act on opportunities for improvement. This allows Solution Management to hear firsthand the challenges that the Solution Train experiences along with the ideas on how to address them.