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Topics: Agile, Scrum
Employer Adopting SAFe 4.0 with Overlapping Duties

Hi all,

My current employer (been here 1.5 months) is beginning to transition to SAFe 4.0. It's a decent-sized office with about 80 software developers in a matrix environment where the team leads operate as functional managers for their integrated teams, and my role is basically as PM.

I don't believe anyone has been to a SAFe class, yet. I scheduled myself for the POPM class three weeks from now. The differences I see are that our team leads are doing the SAFe roles for both Product Owner (PO) and SM. My position is playing the SAFe roles of both Product Manager (PM) and RTE. Has anyone experienced this, and was it successful?
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George -

I have some deep seated philosophical concerns with the SM and PO role being played by the same individual as I feel there could be a conflict of interest given the nature of both roles. Product Manager and RTE are perhaps less subject to this, but then it becomes a question of capacity and whether you can capably handle both.

I'd say there are some big risks of proceeding this way - I'd prefer to start with the roles played by separate individuals and then over time optimize rather than going the other way.

Remember that introducing scaled agile will itself be a productivity hit for folks so do you really want to add the risks of combined roles to that change impact?



That's my worry (or one of them). I'd like to sit down with upper management and explain it, but they're so busy hiring and expanding while handling duties to be taken over by new hires that I can't get 5 minutes of their time, even over a working lunch. It's going to be a challenge for me to help guide them.

Does this look like an accurate listing of the team-level activities? I'm trying to justify doubling head count by splitting our team leads into 2 people: PO and SM.

1) The Product Owner (PO) runs the Kanban of user stories for the team.
2) The Scrum Master (SM) is a member of the team (does some of the work) who makes sure the team and meetings run smoothly according to the proper processes.
3) The PO and team meet to decide which user stories on the Kanban will be developed in the next two-week iteration (sprint), this is called Iteration Planning (IP).
4) The team has daily meetings, facilitated by the SM, to discuss progress (scrums).
5) At the end of the iteration, the team demonstrates the product to the PO and receives feedback.
6) The team and PO then hold an iteration retrospective.

I can see where the mentioned conflict of interest could happen in the demo in step 5. It doesn't look like the PO has much to do between steps 1 and 5, which is the super majority of the time. Am I missing something that the PO does? My first thought was being PO for multiple teams, but if everyone's on the same 2-week sprint schedule I doubt that would work.

George, there's a lot the PO can do, like continually liaise with stakeholders to add, delete, refine their requirements and translate these into stories with the team. Also refining the backlog (depending on the size) could take some time and should be done with the team once or twice per Sprint or week. Also the PO monitors external issues such as is the product or service still relevant in the market, that means research, evaluation and reporting. Finally (but not completely) the PO should be sitting with the team EVERY DAY for at least a couple of hours, preferably at the same time so that the team come to expect the PO will be around to answer their questions. this is absolutely crucial as a missing PO is one of the major complaints from Scrum teams.

I would recommend against combining RTE with the Product Manager role or combining any roles for that matter. Each role has significant importance and combining them would dilute their outputs. Implementing SAFe as a 'we'll figure it out' approach won't be helpful in the long run. Sure, the transition is a journey, and all involved will mature over time, but the core foundation of the framework is best instilled at the beginning, inclusive of the roles.

The PO is responsible for the team's backlog, while the SM is responsible for facilitating, engaging other teams if need be, remove impediments, coaching and supporting SAFe practices, etc. Through exercises to determine value prioritization, stories are groomed to READY state and moved into a given iteration by the PO.The system demo should be given by the PO to business, program leadership, customers, etc.

With 80 developers, the goal is approximately 30 teams? That is a significant amount of responsibility for both the Product Manager and Release Train Engineer. What is the time frame of spawning up all the teams?

Thinking out loud; 30 teams, each with -
1 SM
1 PO
1-2 QA

Is there a SAFe coach available within the organization?

Good advice from Kiron and Andrew. Andrew is SAFe certified so he knows a thing or three about the subject :-)

Great posts from all three of you, thank you.

I just got out of a 2-hour meeting where the Director tried explain to everyone the new roles. For the smaller projects, he's having me and my cohort play the roles of both PO and SM. Our description lines up perfectly with PM, focusing on requirements, product backlogs, etc. We're not SMEs that can be effective SMs, because many of us don't have the full range of technical experience and can't spend significant time with the team (won't be in the trenches with them carrying a rifle). Each of us has 2-6 projects, too, so no way we can dedicate enough time to one team (most of us will need to fill 2x PO roles and 2x SM roles).

There's no SAFe coach or anyone who's taken a class. I'm scheduled for the POPM class in 3 weekends, so I'm the SME (sad).

I'm going to make a Roles and Responsibilities slide to show the Director and others, including some of your comments above as to the PO and SM duties (unless you object). I'm hoping that'll scare him and/or my coworkers.

I'd double-down on Andrew's advice to find a seasoned coach who has experience in introducing SAFe in a variety of different sized and maturity-level organizations as he/she will be able to provide external credibility on the risks of combining roles.


A good scare now and again keeps the blood flowing.

I certainly do not object, though, I'd highly recommend navigating through the Scaled Agile Framework site -

Question - Why SAFe? What is the current approach?

Keep us posted.
1 reply by George Monnat
May 01, 2018 2:47 PM
George Monnat
Andrew, upper management looked for a framework which allowed for us to continue developing software in an agile environment within the greater waterfall program driven by the customer. I've been here less than two months, but apparently the work being done according to agile methodology while the customer only understands waterfall has caused problems. I don't know any reasons beyond those. Also, the company grew from 2-3 simultaneous projects/programs a few years ago to more than 2 dozen simultaneous projects/programs now with rapid hiring and a lot of scrambling and growing pains.
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