New Advanced Topic Article – Organizing Teams and ARTs: Team Topologies at Scale

SAFe Updates

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’.

  1. Stream-aligned team – organized around the flow of work and can deliver value directly to the customer or end user.
  2. Complicated subsystem team – organized around specific subsystems that require deep specialty skills and expertise.
  3. Platform team – organized around the development and support of platforms that provide services to other teams.
  4. 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.

Stay SAFe,

—Andy

Authors

Author Info

Andrew Sales

comment (14)

  1. Avatar

    Nagi Kodali

    15 Nov 2020 - 10:17 pm

    I see SAFe ARTs cover “development value streams”. Wondering who would care for “operational value streams”. Can we have one ART to assure operational stream (ETE)? Ultimately that ETE, cross ART flow need to keep working for business to function? Appreciate your suggestions

    • Avatar

      Andrew Sales

      17 Nov 2020 - 2:37 am

      Hi Nagi, great questions. Operational value streams are an active area of development in the framework as we look to provide more guidance for Agile business teams. How best to organize those teams that are part of the operational value streams is central to this. Expect to see more guidance in the future.

  2. Avatar

    Sam Blanchard

    15 Nov 2020 - 10:53 am

    I appreciate your insightful discussion at the summit and the generalized framework changes presented here- grounded in theory & experience. Balancing a full stack team with enabler team support can provide an evolving balance and hopefully dampen the cost of talent turnover. As we discussed briefly, aligning agile business teams, and technical leaders/specialists into enabling teams may also reduce the tendency to crush-left the flexibility of development teams.

    • Avatar

      Andrew Sales

      17 Nov 2020 - 2:41 am

      Thanks for you comments Sam, and it was a pleasure to exchange ideas at the SAFe Summit. You mention Agile business teams – another area that we will explore in the future is how these team topologies translate to this domain, such as the example of the enabling team that you mention.

  3. Avatar

    Billy Blackerby

    10 Nov 2020 - 7:12 am

    We launched our first PI in July after I received my SPC and had read Team Topologies cover-to-cover twice. Our model ended up being very similar to this, but definitely a couple of tweaks to make based upon this article. Thanks for publishing!

    • Avatar

      Andrew Sales

      12 Nov 2020 - 3:30 am

      Thanks for your comment Billy. Congrats on launching your first ART. Great to hear that the article was useful.

  4. Avatar

    Semeho Edorh

    10 Nov 2020 - 4:16 am

    Thanks a lot for this article. It’s timely what I am looking for to re-design an ART.

    • Avatar

      Andrew Sales

      12 Nov 2020 - 3:31 am

      Thanks for your comment Semeho. Glad to hear that the article was useful.

  5. Avatar

    Vijay Singh

    05 Nov 2020 - 7:39 am

    Very informative. There is always confusion around component teams. Basic assumption is that component team are not long lived and do we really need to have it. Any more detail regarding component team will help.

    • Avatar

      Andrew Sales

      05 Nov 2020 - 11:25 am

      Hi Vijay, very glad you found the article useful. We will be publishing additional articles on this topic. One of them will focus on the challenge from an architectural point of view, and provide more details regarding when you may want to organize a team around a specific component.

  6. Avatar

    Vijay Singh

    05 Nov 2020 - 7:23 am

    Very informative. There is always doubts while creating components team(s). Customer do not see it as long lived team and they not sure if we need a separate team for component.
    Also, any simplification around very stream mapping helps a lot.

    • Avatar

      Andrew Sales

      05 Nov 2020 - 11:27 am

      Thanks for your feedback Vijay. I agree. These patterns are a great help when thinking about how to organize around value. They certainly help to simplify and provide focus to some of these organizational challenges.

  7. Avatar

    Ahamed Beig

    04 Nov 2020 - 7:33 pm

    Very interesting, informative and valuable. Has wide exposure on collaboration. Enabling the setup would be challenging, very much needed in complex environment. Thank you for sharing.

    • Avatar

      Andrew Sales

      05 Nov 2020 - 11:20 am

      Thank you for your feedback Ahamed. Glad the article has proved useful.

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