‘Ba’—we, the work, and the knowledge are all one.
Teams are the foundation of SAFe and the Lean enterprise, as they perform the clear majority of the work that delivers customer value. SAFe’s Team Level describes how to create high-performing teams that create high-quality components and solutions, supporting both team agility and technical agility.
While depicted somewhat separately in the ‘Big Picture,’ the SAFe team level is a vital part of the Program Level. All SAFe teams are part of an ART—the primary construct of the program level.
The team level describes how Agile teams power the train, as seen in Figure 1.
The ART roles and functions, including the Release Train Engineer (RTE), Product Management, System Architect/Engineering, System Team, Shared Services support all the teams on the train. As a result, agile teams are fully capable of defining, developing, testing, and (where applicable) deploying some element of Solution value each iteration.
Each agile team is responsible for defining, building, and testing Stories from their Team Backlog. Using common Iteration cadence and synchronization, the teams align to a series of fixed-length Iterations to make sure the entire system is iterating. Teams use ScrumXP or Kanban to deliver high-quality systems, routinely producing a System Demo every two weeks. This ensures that all teams in the ART create an integrated and tested system that stakeholders can evaluate and respond to with fast feedback.
Each team has five to nine members and includes all the roles necessary to build a quality increment of value in each iteration. ScrumXP roles include the Scrum Master, Product Owner (PO), dedicated individual contributors, and any subject matter experts the team needs to deliver value. Team Kanban roles are less strictly defined, though many SAFe Kanban teams implement the ScrumXP roles as well.
Agile teams produce high-quality technical solutions by building quality in. They apply test-first thinking by using Behavior-Driven-Development to create quality stories and implement them with good design quality and Test-Driven-Development (TDD).
Below are the highlights of the team level:
- Iterations – Are fixed-length timeboxes that provide the development cadence for Agile teams building Features and components. Each iteration delivers a valuable increment of new functionality.
- Program Increments (PIs) – Establishes common cadence for all teams on an ART to share start/stop dates and durations at both the iteration boundary and the PI boundary. This permits them to synchronize and integrate with other teams on the ART.
- Develop on Cadence – Uses the PI timebox to combine larger, system-wide functionality into valuable and measurable program increments. Programs should develop on cadence and Release on Demand.
- ScrumXP – Is a lightweight process for self-organizing and self-managing cross-functional teams of five to nine people. To continuously deliver value, ScrumXP uses the Scrum framework for project management and XP-derived software engineering practices.
- Team Kanban – Is a Lean method that helps teams facilitate the flow of value by visualizing workflow, establishing Work in Process (WIP) limits, measuring throughput, and continuously improving their processes. SAFe teams can choose to operate as ScrumXP or Kanban teams, or in a hybrid model.
- Built-In Quality – Ensures the teams’ software, firmware, and hardware solution increments are high in quality and can readily adapt to change.
The team level roles help coordinate and synchronize team level events, through which the Agile teams build and deliver value in the context of the Agile Release Train:
- Agile Team – A cross-functional ScrumXP or Kanban team which consists of the Dev Team as well as Scrum Master and Product Owner. This group of 5 to 11 people has the ability and authority to define, build, and test an element (story or Enabler) of solution value within an iteration.
- Development Team (Dev Team) – A small, cross-functional team of developers, testers, and other specialists that work collaboratively to deliver a vertical slice of functionality. The Dev Team is a subset of the Agile team.
- Product Owner – The PO has content authority for the team backlog. They are responsible for defining stories and prioritizing the backlog. The PO is the only team member empowered to accept stories as done.
- Scrum Master – A member of the Agile team, the Scrum Master is a servant leader and Agile team coach. The Scrum Master helps the team to remove impediments, facilitates team events, and fosters an environment for high-performing teams.
The team level uses several events to synchronize and coordinate activities among teams within the ART:
- Iteration Planning – Is an event in which an Agile team determines the Iteration Goals and how much of the team backlog they can commit to during an upcoming iteration. Team capacity determines the number of stories and enablers that are selected.
- Iteration Review – Is a cadence-based event in which the team inspects the increment at the end of the iteration and adjusts the team backlog based on feedback. All work done during the iteration is demoed during the iteration review.
- Iteration Execution – Is how the Agile team develops an increment of an effective, high-quality, working, tested system within the timebox. Each day during execution, an Agile team holds a 15-minute timeboxed meeting called a Daily Stand-up (DSU) meeting. The goal of the DSU is to synchronize team members, review progress, and identify issues.
- Iteration Retrospective – Is an event held at the end of the iteration for the Agile team to review its practices and identify ways to improve. The retrospective is based on the qualitative and quantitative information presented during the iteration review.
- Backlog refinement – Is an event held once or twice during the iteration to refine, review, and estimate stories and enablers in the team backlog.
- Innovation and Planning (IP) Iteration – Provides the teams with an opportunity for exploration and innovation, dedicated time for planning, and learning through informal and formal channels. In the case where a release is on the PI boundary, teams perform final system verification, validation, and documentation.
The following team level artifacts help describe the business and technical value delivered by the teams during each iteration and PI:
- Story – Is the vehicle that carries Customer requirements through the Value Stream into implementation. The teams use stories to deliver value within an iteration, and the Product Owner has content authority over their creation and acceptance.
- Enabler stories – Must fit within an iteration, like any story. Although enablers may not require the user voice format, their acceptance criteria clarify the requirements and support testing.
- Iteration goals – Are an output of the iteration planning event. They are a high-level summary of the business and technical goals that the Agile team agrees to accomplish in an iteration. They help ensure alignment with the PI Objectives.
- Team backlog – Consists of user and enabler stories; most are identified during PI planning and backlog refinement meetings.
- Team PI objectives – Are a summarized description of the specific business and technical goals that an Agile team intends to achieve in the upcoming PI.
Learn More Leffingwell, Dean. Agile Software Requirements: Lean Requirements Practices for Teams, Programs, and the Enterprise. Addison-Wesley, 2011.
Last update: 18 October 2018