SAFe principle #10, Organize Around Value describes how traditional organizational structures and hierarchies make it difficult to deliver value to customers. This principle shows how reinstating a more flexible, network operating system organizes development around value streams. Each value stream is dedicated to delivering a continuous flow of value via specific solutions to specific customers. This new structure gives the enterprise the ability to respond to new market opportunities more quickly with innovative technical and business solutions.
Identifying these development value streams is the first step in achieving this. Determining how those who work in these value streams are organized into Agile Teams and ARTs is the other critical activity. Get this wrong, and the potential benefits of organizing around value are not realized, as teams struggle to manage multiple dependencies and coordinate the work across many teams. The importance of making appropriate design choices for your Agile Teams and ARTs cannot be understated.
Up until now, the general guidance within, and outside, of SAFe has been to organize by ‘Feature and Component’. However, this approach is not without challenges. The defining characteristics of a ‘feature’ team are often unclear and do not always imply end-to-end value delivery. Additionally, the motivations for creating ‘component’ teams are varied and often results in too many teams aligned to specializations and technology, which increases dependencies and inhibits flow.
We know from speaking to SAFe Enterprises, and our Partner Community, that a better approach is needed. In their book Team Topologies, Mathew Skelton and Manuel Pais [IT Revolution Press, 2019] provide new guidance. From their experience and research the authors recognize four fundamental team types that provide a ‘powerful template for effective organization design’.
- Stream-aligned team – organized around the flow of work and can deliver value directly to the customer or end user.
- Complicated subsystem team – organized around specific subsystems that require deep specialty skills and expertise.
- Platform team – organized around the development and support of platforms that provide services to other teams.
- Enabling team – organized to assist other teams with specialized capabilities and help them become proficient in new technologies.
Given the clear and immediate need in SAFe, we are incredibly pleased to present a new Advanced Topic article, Organizing Teams and ARTs: Team Topologies at Scale.
In this article we apply, and adapt, the guidance from Skelton and Pais to organizing Agile Teams within the context of SAFe (see figure below)
The article describes the responsibilities and behaviors for each team type and the criteria for choosing the right mix of team topologies when organizing your Agile Release Trains.
The article also includes an extension of this body of knowledge, by applying team topologies to ART design, providing new and enhanced scaling patterns for organizations developing even the largest and most complex software and cyber-physical systems.
Although presented as an Advanced Topic article, this content is now our recommended approach for team and ART design. The guidelines contained in the article will, over time, be incorporated into the relevant Framework articles, toolkits, and courseware. Additionally, two further articles are planned. The first will demonstrate how to apply these topologies end to end. Another article will describe how to use these patterns in the architecture of large systems.
We hope this guidance proves to be useful as you consider how best to organize your Agile teams and ARTs to enhance flow – a key step on the journey towards Business Agility.