To be in hell is to drift; to be in heaven is to steer.
—George Bernard Shaw
Epic Owners are responsible for coordinating portfolio Epics through the Portfolio Kanban system. They define the epic, its Minimum Viable Product (MVP), and Lean business case, and when approved, facilitate implementation.
If an epic is approved, the Epic Owner works directly with Solution Train and Agile Release Train (ART) stakeholders to define the Capabilities and Features that realize the value. They may also have some responsibility for supporting the initiative as it moves downstream through the Continuous Delivery Pipeline to Release on Demand.
In SAFe, epics drive much of the economic value for the enterprise. Epic Owners are responsible for formulating and elaborating the epic, and analyzing cost and impact. They define an MVP where applicable and secure financial approval (or rejection) for the epic. These tasks typically fall to a business analyst, architect, program manager, manager, or executive who understands both the business and technical impact of a large initiative.
Summary Role Description
The Epic Owner is responsible for driving individual epics from identification through the portfolio Kanban system analysis process and on to the go/no-go decisions of Lean Portfolio Management (LPM). When the epic is accepted for implementation, the Epic Owner works with the solution train and ART teams to initiate the development activities necessary to realize the epic’s business benefits. After the initiation, the Epic Owner may have some ongoing responsibilities for stewardship and follow-up. As the features and capabilities that define the epics are eventually incorporated into the Solution, the Epic Owner returns to other duties or takes responsibility for other emerging epics. After that, implementation is safely under way, as the ARTs have the responsibility for implementing the new epic into the solution.
Typically, an Epic Owner works with the one or two epics at a time that fall within their area of expertise and current business mission.
The Epic Owner role in SAFe is just that—a responsibility assumed by an individual—not a job title. A Program Manager, Product Manager, project manager, Enterprise Architect, architect or engineer at the Large Solution or Program Levels, business analyst, or any other program stakeholder may be suited for the responsibility. The Epic Owner assumes the responsibilities outlined in the paragraphs below.
Preparing the Epic
The Epic Owner’s responsibilities begin early in the epic’s life cycle. They include:
- Working with stakeholders and subject matter experts to define the epic value statement, the potential business benefits, a specific outcome hypothesis, the MVP, the cost of delay (CoD), and business sponsors
- Working with development teams to size the epic and provide input for economic prioritization based on Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF), the Lean business case, and the Economic Framework
- Shepherding epics through the portfolio Kanban system and creating the Lean business case 
- Preparing to present the business case to LPM for a go/no-go decision
Presenting the Epic
The Epic Owner has the primary responsibility for presenting the merits of the epic to LPM. Approval, however, is not a rubber stamp, as enterprises typically have ideas and opportunities that far exceed capacity. An effective winnowing process may well determine the marketplace winners and losers. That’s one of the many arguments that favor Lean business cases; they should not create too great an emotional investment for the people analyzing them. Specific potential epics can and should be rejected for more favorable opportunities .
If the epic is approved, then the following implementation activities begin:
- Work with product management and Solution Management to split the epic into large solution and/or ART epics and features. Help prioritize them in the relevant backlogs.
- Provide guidance to the release train on the epic context of the target features.
- Participate in Program Increment Planning, System Demo, and Solution Demo, whenever there is critical activity related to the epic.
- Work with Agile Teams that perform research Spikes, create proofs of concept, mock-ups, etc.
- Coordinate and synchronize epic-related activities with sales, marketing, and other business units.
- Understand and report on the progress of the epic with key stakeholders.
Finally, in order to assess the outcomes against the hypothesis, the Epic Owner may follow the epic downstream through the continuous delivery pipeline and release on demand.
The Collaborative Nature of the Epic Owner Role
An Epic Owner can only be effective by collaborating closely with other groups in the enterprise. They help fill in the gaps that often occur when high-level initiatives descend from the top of the organization for implementation. Key collaborators are highlighted in Figure 1.
By working closely with these key stakeholders, Epic Owners can create a realistic and compelling vision, appropriate economic priorities, and consistent set of features and capabilities.
Learn More Leffingwell, Dean. Agile Software Requirements: Lean Requirements Practices for Teams, Programs, and the Enterprise. Addison-Wesley, 2011.
Last update: 16 October, 2017