A system is never the sum of its parts; it’s the product of their interaction.

—Russell Ackoff, Paraphrased from “Towards a System of Systems Concepts” [1]

Solution Train Engineer

The Solution Train Engineer (STE) is a servant leader and coach who facilitates Solution Train events and processes, coordinates the work of ARTs and Suppliers, and supports ARTs in delivering value.

To succeed in the digital age, many organizations must efficiently build and evolve Large Solutions that fulfill their customers’ most critical business needs. Building such solutions can involve hundreds—sometimes thousands—of people on Solution Trains organized around complex value streams. These value streams require a  dedicated role to lead associated Agile Release Trains (ARTs) and Suppliers through the efficient execution of their shared solution strategy. That is the role of the Solution Train Engineer (STE).


Leading Solution Trains through the delivery of large solutions requires significant coordination of the end-to-end value stream. This is challenging because a Solution Train involves multiple ARTs and Suppliers that must operate in unison across distinct product lines and organizational boundaries. The STE is one of a trio of roles (Figure 1) that aligns people and teams to a shared solution strategy.

Figure 1. The Solution Train ‘triad’
Figure 1. The Solution Train ‘triad’

The roles reinforce one another. Solution Management and Solution Architects define the solution, while the STE coordinates efficient development and delivery. Together, they steer the Solution Train through the multiple plan-do-check-adjust cycles (see PI and Iterations) required to deliver large solutions in the shortest sustainable lead time.

The STE also works in close collaboration with the Agile Release Train (ARTs) and Release Train Engineers (RTEs), each of whom is responsible for coordinating the delivery of a critical aspect of the solution. Together, the STE and RTEs comprise a coordination and facilitation network that guides all teams on the Solution Train through the effective execution of the solution strategy.


STE responsibilities fall into the five areas shown in Figure 2. Each is further elaborated in the sections below.

Figure 2. STE areas of responsibility
Figure 2. STE areas of responsibility

Facilitating Solution Train PI Planning

ARTs on a Solution Train plan their activities through a series of common, cadence-based PI Planning events. Aggregating those events results in a PI Plan for the large solution. The ART planning events may be conducted as a single ‘Solution Train PI Planning’ event, or ARTs may plan in a more distributed fashion. In either case, Solution Train PI Planning is a critical synchronization point across all the ARTs and suppliers. It requires careful preparation and execution. It leverages many input sources, generates many outputs, and includes a variety of business and technical stakeholders. The STE ensures that PI Planning is steered by high-quality information and that strategic alignment among stakeholders is achieved.

Several weeks before reaching the PI planning boundary, the STE begins to prepare for PI Planning by performing the following activities, which contribute to the Solution Train’s broader Pre-Plan strategy:

  • Update the solution vision and roadmap – The solution Vision and Roadmap provide essential context for PI Planning. STEs collaborate with Solution Management, Solution Architects, and others as necessary to ensure they represent an accurate summary of the overall solution strategy. This strategy must also be reflected in the Solution Train Backlog as prioritized Capabilities and guided by well-balanced capacity allocation.
  • Gather feedback and metrics – To fuel relentless improvement, the STE collects evidence of the Solution Train’s recent performance toward target outcomes, competency, and flow. The STE works with Solution Management and Solution Architects to obtain quantitative and qualitative insights from customers and systems.
  • Assist with PI Planning logistics – As a matter of final preparation, the STE works with RTEs, stakeholders, and other ART representatives as necessary to schedule PI planning events, invite key participants, and communicate the agenda. If needed, the STE facilitates a Pre-Plan workshop immediately before PI planning to achieve alignment among Solution Train leaders and stakeholders.

During PI planning, the STE focuses on the following to ensure productive outcomes are achieved:

  • Synchronize with ARTs – STEs maintain reliable communication with RTEs to sense and address impediments across ARTs quickly. This often entails facilitating several RTE syncs utilizing a solution planning board as the primary information radiator.
  • Address uncertainty – Unforeseen dependencies and information gaps often arise during PI planning. To dampen the effects of these surprises, the STE connects teams with the information sources needed to resolve them quickly.
  • Define Solution Train PI objectives – Solution Train PI planning aims for all participating ARTs and suppliers to commit confidently to a joint plan. The STE creates Solution Train PI Objectives—often as an aggregation of ART PI objectives—to represent this plan.

Coordinating Large Solution Delivery

Cadence-based delivery is the core of Solution Train operations. Successful delivery of large solutions requires a series of learning cycles throughout PI execution. The STE is instrumental in coordinating these learning cycles, which maintains alignment among all Solution Train participants and enables the rapid, continuous delivery of value to customers.

During PI execution, the STE prioritizes the following activities, which are described in detail in the Coordinate and Deliver article:

  • Facilitate synchronization events – Regular syncs keep the Solution Train on track. STEs are key members and facilitators of RTE Syncs and Solution Train Syncs. See the Coordinate and Deliver article for more information on these events.
  • Ensure frequent solution integration – Frequently integrating the solution’s parts reduces risk and supports steady development progress. The STE ensures that the Solution Train values frequent integration and helps ARTs and System Teams succeed.
  • Facilitate solution demo – Solution Trains do not typically produce an end-to-end Solution Demo at every iteration. However, the STE frequently helps the Solution Train showcase the integrated—or partially integrated—solution throughout the PI.
  • Coordinate release activities – STEs work with RTEs, Solution Management, and Product Management to oversee release activities for the Solution Train. Significant events on the solution roadmap and the solution planning board guide release timing.

Coaching Solution Train Stakeholders

The STE serves as a model of Lean-Agile Leadership to the Solution Train, reinforcing the Lean-Agile mindset, values, and principles. The STE coaches leaders directly but collaborates more informally with other roles to increase the organization’s Enterprise Solution Delivery (ESD) competency.

The STE focuses on the following activities to coach the Solution Train to sustained proficiency:

  • Lead by example – STEs lead change and gain earned authority by modeling Lean-Agile behaviors. STEs operate with a growth mindset and deep respect for transparency, people, alignment, and improvement. Additionally, they are guided by SAFe principles and the three domains of ESD.
  • Coach fellow Solution Train leaders – STEs help RTEs, Epic Owners, Business Owners, enterprise executives, supplier stakeholders, and other influential Solution Train members lead by example. They do this by holding leaders responsible for their actions, assisting with building Agile leadership teams, and coaching leaders away from traditional behaviors, such as siloed decision-making, adherence to fixed plans, cost-based accounting, and phase-gated delivery.
  • Foster a continuous delivery culture – STEs collaborate with Solution Management, Solution Architects, RTEs, Product Management, System Architects, and Business Owners to establish Lean Systems Engineering practices (see ESD), build Continuous Delivery Pipelines, and architect for flexibility across the Solution Train landscape.
  • Build influential relationships – Coordinating Agile delivery across a Solution Train is complex and can be impeded by politics, communication challenges, and philosophical debates. To maintain widespread alignment and shared purpose, STEs build authentic relationships with key influencers within and outside the Solution Train and serve them as trusted advisers.

Optimizing Flow

As described in Principle #6 – Make value flow without interruptions, SAFe is a flow-based system that understands and addresses eight immutable flow properties. Each of these properties—batches, handoffs, and policies, to name a few—influences the efficient movement of work through the system. Because Solution Trains tend to have complex value streams that span ARTs, suppliers, and product lines, flow can quickly break down if not carefully managed. In an ongoing effort to maximize Solution Train Flow, STEs perform the following activities:

  • Facilitate value stream mapping – The STE collaborates with RTEs, stakeholders, suppliers, and subject matter experts to visualize each value stream that pertains to the Solution Train. This clarifies the actual, end-to-end flow of activities across all teams, functions, and organizational boundaries and aligns leaders across the Solution Train on the health of the entire delivery system.
  • Measure Solution Train flow – As described in the Measure and Grow article, SAFe provides six flow metrics that gauge how effectively an organization delivers value. STEs apply them to large solution delivery, establishing a holistic view of flow time, distribution, velocity, load, efficiency, and predictability across the Solution Train. Baseline measurements are established during value stream mapping, then revisited iteratively to track improvements.
  • Apply flow accelerators – The combination of value stream mapping and flow measurements often reveals significant delays in the delivery process. These delays often stem from mistimed inter-ART handoffs, supply chain bottlenecks, large development batches, and legacy governance policies. The STE guides Solution Train stakeholders in applying SAFe’s flow accelerators to streamline efficiency across the entire delivery system.

Improving Relentlessly

Developing and delivering large solutions iteratively and reliably is crucial for Solution Trains. Developing this capability requires an ongoing commitment to learning and improving. Like any part of a SAFe organization, a Solution Train evaluates its effectiveness across the outcomes, flow, and competency measurement domains (Figure 3).

Figure 3. The three measurement domains of SAFe
Figure 3. The three measurement domains of SAFe

Appreciating that measurements are derived from a variety of sources, including customers, the STEs:

  • Identify meaningful metrics – Not all metrics are created equal, nor do they have the same relevance simultaneously. The STE is instrumental in identifying the metrics that apply best to the Solution Train at any given time and working with Solution Train stakeholders and peers to establish meaningful improvement targets. (Simply aggregating ART-level performance indicators does not paint a complete picture of Solution Train performance.)
  • Measure often – The collection and evaluation of measurements should coincide with a specific plan-do-check-adjust cycle to inform a crucial decision at the right time. The STE assists with gathering measurements at the appropriate intervals—per day, per iteration, per PI, or otherwise—to provide the most valuable feedback at the most valuable cadence.
  • Facilitate solution level I&A – Solution Trains Inspect & Adapt (I&A) to address impediments and problems that span ARTs and suppliers. STEs are crucial facilitators of this event, ensuring that discussions lead to global improvements rather than ones that locally optimize individual ARTs or teams.

In addition, the Enterprise Solution Delivery assessment reveals the current strengths and challenges of the Solution Train across several dimensions of competency. It is a logical starting point for identifying meaningful improvement activities.

Learn More

[1] Ackoff, Russell L. “Towards a System of Systems Concepts.” Management Science 17, no. 11, 1971. Retrieved October 12, 2023, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2629308

Last update: 12 October 2023