Practicing Agile Program Management effectively involves the work of many key roles, including product managers, system architects / engineers, Release Train Engineers (RTE), and business owners.
Product Management: “What should we do next?”
In Agile Program Management, product managers serve as an important intermediary between customers, internal stakeholders, and development teams. The primary objective of the product manager is to set and adapt the product roadmap: An outline of how a product or solution will develop over time. In other words, they work to answer the question, “What should we do next?”
Product managers are tasked with keeping the product roadmap focused on current market conditions and long-term goals: deciding what to build when, and how to sequence the development of various features to optimize development capacity and best meet customer demands.
To do their role well, much of product management involves asking thoughtful questions, synthesizing information, and communicating to ensure alignment between these various groups.
System Architect / Engineering: “How can we do it?”
System architects / engineers are responsible for defining the architectural vision for an Agile Release Train (ART). They are the technical leadership of the ART, working to ensure that the system or solution that is being developed is fit for its intended purpose and developed with respect to the broader technology and architectural capabilities of the system. If product management’s role is to answer, “What should we do next?”, system architect / engineering is responsible for: “How can we do it?”
In Agile Program Management, system architects / engineers play a vital role in aligning teams to a shared technical direction and vision. They work with Agile teams to:
- Describe the technical context and intent of each program
- Analyze technical trade-offs
- Determine the primary components and subsystems involved
- Define nonfunctional requirements (such as security, reliability, maintainability, scalability, etc.)
- Work with various internal and external groups to ensure fitness for purpose
Release Train Engineers (RTEs): “What’s the best way to get it done?”
Release Train Engineers, or RTEs, are the leaders and coaches of Agile teams. In Agile Program Management, they play the vital role of facilitating ART events and processes, like PI (Program Increment) planning, IP (Innovation & Planning) iterations, and I&A (Inspect & Adapt) events.
In organizations not using the SAFe approach to scaling Agile, the person in this role is likely called a Program Manager. RTEs / Program Managers are also responsible for making sure Agile teams deliver value as expected, which includes communicating with internal and external stakeholders, escalating impediments, encouraging continuous improvement, and helping to manage risk.
Business Owners: “What value are we trying to deliver?”
Business owners are the people responsible for the value delivery and return on investment of the Agile Release Train. Typically, they are responsible for the entity that the ART roles into, the value stream.
In Agile Program Management, business owners ensure that the ART(s) are delivering value that aligns to established strategic objectives and desired outcomes. By communicating changes and pivots in Lean Portfolio Management meetings or Delivery Steering meetings, the Business Owners keep priorities aligned to the most important business drivers.