What is the role of a SAFe® Product Manager?

Several global companies, including some fortune 500 companies as well as large corporations have chosen to set up operations in Bangalore. Companies such as IBM, Apple, Amazon, Visa, Alibaba, and Uber are now present and running operations in the 19th most high-tech city in the world, Bangalore. This is according to Fortune. Companies like IBM have successfully adopted the SAFe framework for their operations and are tapping on the already thriving tech talent in the city to implement the framework. Being that the city is not short of talent, seasoned professionals have gone a step ahead to acquire the SAFe Agilist certification Bangalore also hosts top training institutions which brings together all it takes for a professional to pursue their dream career in these innovative companies.

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Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe):

Just as the name suggests, the Scaled Agile Framework has been used by large organizations for close to a decade to scale the Agile (and most specifically SCRUM) methodology. SAFe refers to the principles, practices, and methodologies that help large organizations overcome legacy systems, processes, and organizational challenges that they are bound to face when implementing agile methodologies. SAFe integrates Agile, Lean, and DevOps principles.

This framework is the most adopted framework for large organizations with a large number of agile teams and operations across various geographical areas.

SAFe helps organizations to

  • Achieve business strategy within a predictable timeline
  • Achieve collaboration among agile teams
  • Increase the organization’s productivity
  • Increase value to customers
  • Reduce lead time
  • Increase employee and management engagement in SAFe implementation
  • Increased transparency
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What is product management?

Product management is the business structure that supports the development of products that meet customer needs while also facilitating the realization of business strategies. Product management is involved with managing all the activities concerned with developing the product throughout its lifecycle and getting it to the end-users. The main goal of product management is delivering customer value sustainably while at the same time realizing business goals.

Within SAFe, product management is almost similar except that the specific guideline, roles, and responsibilities of the product manager are defined in the framework. The product management team operates under the leadership of the product manager. oftentimes in SAFe, the product manager assumes the role of the product owner. This is not always the case, especially in larger organizations.

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Product management in SAFe:

The SAFe framework is structured in four levels to enable the effective and efficient development of solutions. Within each level are clearly defined roles, workflows, activities, timelines, and deliverables to facilitate collaboration and coordination between everyone who is involved.

Here is a summary of what happens at each level of SAFe.

  • Team – Includes cross-functional agile teams with 5-11 individuals who develop, test, and release product features on-demand under the guidance of the ScrumMaster. The team is the basic unit of the SAFe framework.
  • Program – The second level in the structure, the program operates more like a team but on a higher scale. At the program level, agile teams are organized into Agile Release Trains (ART) to deliver value (fully functional system software) in program increments within 8-12-weeks timelines. Each train consists of up to 12 teams.
  • Large solution – SAFe at this level provides the guidelines used to implement solutions that will deliver continuous value to customers. This level is focused on the governance and coordination of multiple ARTs to deliver the best and most economical value to the customer. Additionally, value streams for developing new products requiring multiple ARTs are established at this level. This level is optional and some organizations prefer to omit it.
  • Portfolio. The SAFe portfolio consists of established value streams that facilitate building and delivering business solutions. At the portfolio level business strategies are formed which include the vision, strategy themes, budgets, and the backlog of the portfolio.
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SAFe Roles at different levels:

The SAFe framework includes defined roles at each level as outlined below.

Level

Roles

Description

Team

Product owner

Incharge of the team backlog, prioritize and defines features, timelines, and deliverables

ScrumMaster

Guides, coaches, and educates the development team on implementing agile principles during development

Development team

Develops and delivers features of single units of a product in an iterative and incremental manner

Program

Product manager

Prioritize program features and ensure they are communicated and understood within ARTs

Release train engineer

Offers technical direction to facilitate value delivery by the Agile Release Trains (ARTs)

Business owner

Responsible for business outcome and return on investment

Customers

Consumers of the value developed by the ARTs. Usually internal or external customers

System architect

Provides vision, designs and develops architecture for the ARTs

Large Solution

Solution manager

In charge of the solutions backlog and prioritize features for implementation by the ARTs

Solution architect

Designs and develops architecture for multiple ARTs

Solution train engineer

Provides technical directions to the ARTs to deliver solutions as required

Portfolio

Lean Portfolio manager

Overall decision-makers and financial managers of a SAFe portfolio

Epic Owner

Provides definitions, benefits, and implementation process of epics in a portfolio

Enterprise Architect

Delivers technical solutions for driving portfolio outcomes

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SAFe Product Manager Responsibility:

As we have seen from the table above, the role of the product manager lies within the program level in the SAFe framework. The overall responsibility of the product manager is to ensure that product features are prioritized and communicated to the agile release trains who then develop, test, and deliver them as per the requirements in the program backlog.

Key roles:

  1. Understands business needs and customer value. The program level is the business strategy level and the role of the product manager is to ensure that business strategies are well aligned with product development goals. This involves developing an ROI model that focuses on delivering customer value. The product manager will mostly use market research and continuous exploration to establish customer needs.
  2. Defines the program vision. He is responsible for defining a program vision that aligns business strategy with customer value. Vision can be long-term for the entire business and short-term for each ART. The vision should be clear, realistic, motivating, and well communicated to the agile teams. Through the vision, agile teams should see both the value of their input in the program vision and the value of the product being built to the end-user.
  3. Roadmap planning. The product manager develops a roadmap and guides the teams through the development and release of features while working closely with the system architect and release train engineer for architectural and technical facilitation. The roadmap should outline how all features in the backlog will be implemented along with their timings. The manager also manages changes in the roadmap.
  4. Program backlog management. The product manager is in charge of the contents of the program backlog which include program features, deliverables, iteration timelines, and other details. Backlog features will be derived from the epics defined at the portfolio level, prioritized, and broken down into user stories to allow the agile teams to build the most valuable features first. This requires communication and coordination between the product manager, the agile teams, and both the internal and external customers.
  5. Demonstration and validation. The product manager is part of the demos. This allows the stakeholders to give feedback about the feature against program increment goals and acceptance criteria. Once the feature is satisfactory, he approves its release.
  6. User support. It is common particularly for complex solutions, for the product manager to define user support policies for delivered products. Policies should outline the ‘how’ and ‘how long’ aspects of support and also address the end-of-life of the product.
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Overall, the role of the product manager in a SAFe environment is to ensure that agile release trains (ARTs) develop and deliver the most value to both the customer and the business. SAFe has made it possible for large companies to develop better software but this could not have been possible without well trained, certified, and experienced agile professionals.

Nirmal Sarkar is an M.Tech Engineering Student from the city of Joy, Kolkata. He is the founder of this blog and covers a wide range of topics from Gadgets to Software to Latest Offers. He is also active on the Blogosphere community on Facebook. You can get in touch with him via nirmal@hitricks.com

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