To be in hell is to drift; to be in heaven is to steer.

—George Bernard Shaw

Epic Owners Abstract

In SAFe, Epics drive much of the economic value for the enterprise. Epics are containers for significant initiatives, initiatives that are large, and typically cross cutting, crossing multiple Value Streams and ARTs.  They are investment intensive and far ranging in impact. To this end, the formulation, and analysis of cost, impact, and opportunity, of an epic is a serious matter. To this end Epics require a lightweight business case and financial approval before implementation.

Due to their scope, implementing them is no small feat either, as they must be parsed into smaller chunks (e.g., Value Stream, Program epics, or capabilities, features, etc.) and make their way into the backlogs of each affected release train.

To address this, we describe the role of the Epic Owner, which is a role, not a title. It falls to those who take the responsibility of shepherding a portfolio epic through the Portfolio Kanban System, developing the business case, and when the epic is approved, working directly with the key stakeholders on the affected Value Streams to help realize the implementation.


Summary Role Description

The Epic Owner is responsible for driving individual Epics from identification through the analysis process of the Portfolio Kanban system and on to the go/no-go decision-making process of Program Portfolio Management. When the epic is accepted for implementation, the epic owner works with the Agile Release Train development teams and Product Management to initiate the development activities necessary to realize the business benefits of the epic. Once successfully initiated, the epic owner may have some ongoing responsibilities for stewardship and follow-up. Perhaps more likely, as the Features and Capabilities that define the epics are eventually incorporated into Program Backlogs for routine incorporation into the Solution (refer to Business Epics and Enabler Epics for discussion of splitting epics), the epic owner can return to other duties or take responsibility for additional emerging epics. Thereafter, implementation can be safely assumed, as the ARTs have the full responsibility for solution delivery, including the new elements.

The epic owner role in SAFe is just that—a responsibility assumed by an individual—not a job title. The role may be assumed by a Program Manager, Product Manager, project manager, Enterprise Architect, architect or engineer at the Value Stream or even Program Levels, business analyst, or any other program stakeholder suited to the responsibility. Typically, an epic owner works with one or two epics at a time, which fall within their area of expertise and current business mission.


The epic owner has the responsibilities outlined in the paragraphs below.

Prior to Approval: Preparing the Epic

The epic owner’s responsibilities begin early in the life cycle of the epic:

  • Work with stakeholders and subject matter experts to define the epic and its potential benefits, establish the cost of delay, and identify business sponsors
  • Work with development teams to size the epic and provide input for economic prioritization based on WSJF
  • Define epic success criteria
  • Shepherd the epics through the Portfolio Kanban system and create the lightweight business case [1]
  • Prepare to present the business case to Program Portfolio Management for a go/no-go decision

Presenting the Epic

The epic owner has the primary responsibility for presenting the merits of the epic to program portfolio management. However, approval should not be assured, as most every software enterprise has opportunities far exceeding capacity. An effective winnowing process may well determine the marketplace winners and losers. That is one of the many reasons the business cases are lightweight, so as to not create too great an emotional investment on the part of those responsible for analysis. Specific potential epics can and should be rejected in lieu of more favorable opportunities. [1]

After Approval: Implementation

If the epic is approved, then the implementation work begins:

  • Work with product management and Solution Management to split the epic into Value Stream and/or program epics and features and prioritize them in the backlogs
  • Provide guidance to the release train on the epic context of the target features
  • Participate in PI planning, System Demo, and Solution Demo whenever there is critical activity related to the epic
  • Work with Agile Teams that perform research spikes, create proof of concepts, mock-ups, etc.
  • Coordinate and synchronize epic-related activities with functions in sales, marketing, and other business units
  • Understand and report on progress of the epic with key stakeholders

The Collaborative Nature of the Epic Owner Role

An Epic Owner can only be effective through close collaboration with other groups in the enterprise. They help fill in the gaps that often occur in organizations when high-level initiatives descend from the top of the organization to implementation. Key participants in the collaboration are highlighted in Figure 1.

Figure 1. The collaborative nature of the Epic Owner role
Figure 1. The collaborative nature of the Epic Owner role

Ensuring the holistic vision, appropriate economic prioritization, and consistency of epic-driven features is achievable only through close work with these key stakeholders.

Learn More

[1] Leffingwell, Dean. Agile Software Requirements: Lean Requirements Practices for Teams, Programs, and the Enterprise. Addison-Wesley, 2011.

Last update: 20 October 2015