Business Owners

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

Business Owners Abstract

Business Owners are a role in SAFe played by a critical group of three to five (3 – 5) stakeholders who have shared fiduciary, governance, efficacy, and ROI responsibility for the value delivered by a specific Agile Release Train. For each train, the role is fulfilled by the people best suited to these responsibilities. Ultimately, business owners can be identified by answering the following question: “What key leaders can steer this train in the right direction; participate in planning; help eliminate impediments; speak on behalf of development, the business, and the customer; and, ultimately, approve—and where necessary defend—a set of PI plans, while knowing full well that they will never satisfy everyone?”

The answer to that question will identify the Business Owners for a train; they play a key and active role in helping the train deliver value. Among other duties, they have a specific responsibility during PI Planning, where they participate in mission-setting, planning, drafting plan reviews, and management review and problem-solving. They assign business value to PI Objectives and, finally, approve the PI plan. But they don’t disappear after planning. Active and continuous involvement by the Business Owners is a determining factor in the success of each train.


Summary Role Description

Self-managing, self-organizing Agile Teams and Agile Release Trains are essential to the success of SAFe. This represents a significant change in management mind-set. No longer do responsible managers directly manage development by assigning tasks and activities. Instead, they provide leadership via mission and vision, help the teams with coaching and skills development, but largely decentralize execution authority to the members of the ART. However, a transformation to a Lean-Agile way of working does not relieve management of their ultimate responsibilities. They remain accountable for the growth of the organization and its people, operational excellence, and business outcomes. In order to navigate to this place, SAFe defines the role of Business Owners, the role key managers play in guiding the ART to the appropriate outcomes. The specific roles and activities for Business Owners in SAFe enable them to fulfill their obligations to the enterprise while also empowering the teams to do their best work. Business Owners are Lean-Agile Leaders who share ultimate responsibility for the value delivered by a specific Agile Release Train. They are responsible for understanding the Strategic Themes that influence the train. They have knowledge of the current Enterprise and Value Stream context, and they are involved in driving or reviewing the program Vision and Roadmap.


Effective execution of the authority vested in Business Owners requires active, ongoing participation and fulfillment of their responsibilities. As execution centers around incremental development via Program Increments (PIs), the following sections describe the responsibilities primarily from that perspective.

Prior to PI Planning

The time prior to PI Planning is a busy time for Business Owners, as they will:

During PI Planning

The importance of their role during PI planning cannot be overstated. Business Owners:

  • Deliver relevant elements of the business context in the defined PI planning agenda timebox.
  • Are ready and available to participate in certain key ceremonies, including presentation of vision, draft plan review, assigning final business value to PI Objectives, and approving final plans.
  • Play a primary role in the draft plan review, understanding the bigger picture and how these plans, taken together, do or do not fulfill the current business objectives. Watch for significant external commitments and dependencies.
  • Actively circulate during planning, communicate business priorities to the teams, and maintain agreement and alignment among the stakeholders as to the key objectives of the train.
  • Participate in the management review and problem-solving meeting. Review and adjust scope, compromise as necessary.

Assigning Business Value

The assignment of business value during planning provides an important face-to-face dialogue between the team and their most important stakeholders, the Business Owners. It is an opportunity to develop a personal relationship between the Agile Teams and the Business Owners, to gain an understanding upon which a mutual commitment can be based, and to better understand the real business objectives and their relative value. An example is provided in Figure 1.

Figure 1. An example of a team’s PI Objectives ranked by business value
Figure 1. An example of a team’s PI objectives ranked by business value

During the assignment of business value, the user-facing features will typically be ranked highest by the Business Owners. But mature Business Owners know that architectural and other concerns will also increase the velocity of the team in producing future business value, so placing business value on Enablers helps drive ultimate velocity and shows support for the team’s legitimate technical challenges. In addition, because the road after PI planning takes its inevitable twists and turns, having objectives ranked by business value gives the teams guidance in making trade-offs and minor scope adjustments in a manner that allows them to deliver the maximum possible business benefits. Finally, these numbers also serve later in determining the PI Predictability Measure, a key indicator of program performance and reliability.

At Inspect and Adapt

The Inspect and Adapt workshop is the larger, cadence-based opportunity whereby the ART comes together to reflect and to address the larger, systemic impediments that they are facing—many of which cannot be addressed without the active involvement of Business Owners. During the workshop, Business Owners help assess actual business value achieved vs. plan, and they participate in the problem-solving that follows.

During PI Execution

The Business Owners’ job is not complete when PI planning is done; they have an ongoing role in helping to assume the success of the PI. They:

  • Participate in Release Management, with focus on scope management, quality, deployment options, release, and market considerations
  • Actively participate in ongoing agreements to maintain business and development alignment as priorities and scope are inevitably changed
  • Attend the System Demo to view progress and provide feedback
  • Attend occasional and Agile Team Iteration Planning and Iteration Retrospective meetings, as appropriate

Other Responsibilities

Business Owners may have additional duties beyond those described above, including:

It cannot be emphasized enough: Active participation of Business Owners is a critical success factor for the train.  


Last update 7 September 2015