Engineering is a great profession. There is the satisfaction of watching a figment of the imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper. Then it moves to realization in stone or metal or energy. Then it brings homes to men or women. Then it elevates the standard of living and adds to the comforts of life. This is the engineer’s high privilege.
System and Solution Architect/Engineering
The Solution Architect/Engineering role in SAFe defines a shared technical and architectural vision for the Solution under development. That includes describing the Solution Context and Solution Intent, analyzing technical trade-offs, determining the primary components and subsystems, identifying the interfaces and collaborations between them, defining higher-level functional Nonfunctional Requirements (NFRs), guiding Enablers through the Solution Kanban, and working with Customers and Suppliers to help ensure fitness for purpose.
System Architect/Engineering plays a critical role in aligning teams on the Agile Release Train (ART) and Solution Train to a shared technical direction and partners with those teams in elaborating the Solution and its interfaces, validating technology assumptions, evaluating implementation alternatives, and creating the Continuous Delivery Pipeline. In ARTs that are not part of a Solution Train, System Architects also perform many of the activities of Solution Architects.
This article describes the roles that System Architect/Engineering and Solution Architect/Engineering play in SAFe. While the roles are similar in most respects, they manage different levels of concern. In some cases, there is more than one System Architect for an Agile Release Train (ART) or Solution Architect for a Solution Train, thus these roles can be realized by an individual or a small team of people.
Architect/Engineering individuals and teams support solution development by providing, communicating and evolving the broader technology and architectural view of the solution.
Architect/Engineering teams occur at both the Program and Large Solution Levels. System Architect/Engineering operates mainly in the context of the ART, where they work with Agile Teams and provide technical enablement concerning subsystems and capability areas for an ART. Solution Architect/Engineering teams provide technical leadership for the evolving architectural capabilities of the entire solution.
Both involve close collaboration with business stakeholders, teams, customers, suppliers, and third-party stakeholders in defining the technology infrastructure, decomposition into components and subsystems, and definition of interfaces between subsystems and between the solution and solution context.
While providing a general view of solution architecture, Architect/Engineering enables those who implement value by empowering them to make local decisions, allowing a faster flow of work and better economics.
An Agile Approach to Designing and Building Systems
Serving in an Architect/Engineering role in a Lean Enterprise often requires adopting new mindsets and habits in how people approach their work. This approach changes how architects apply their technical expertise and a systems-thinking mindset. These new habits fall into four areas, described below. For a more complete view of designing system and solutions in an agile manner, see Agile Architecture.
- Decentralize Decision-Making – In a traditional approach, Architect/Engineers make critical design decisions relatively early in solution development, expecting teams working on different components to follow their designs. In the Agile approach, however, many technical details are left to evolve over time based on learning. with decisions finalized later in the lifecycle Set-Based Design. As a result, teams are trusted to make the local design decisions that adapt to changing needs without waiting for architects to produce new designs.
- Enable the Continuous Delivery Pipeline and DevOps – Making effective decisions in the face of changing or unknown needs requires Agile Teams receive fast feedback on the solution’s effectiveness. Architect/Engineering support this need by advocating for and steering the development and improvement of the Continuous Delivery Pipeline, as well as helping architects to enable Release on Demand.
- Embrace a Leadership Role – Architect/Engineering are Lean-Agile Leaders who tend to operate through more through influence than authority in a Lean Enterprise. They have the greatest impact by teaching, mentoring, and helping improve the effectiveness of the Agile Teams, rather than directly specifying the Solution designs. And they contribute to the Vision and Roadmap in order to chart a course for the Solution.
Act as Change Agents – Architect/Engineers also act more on the human system that creates the technology to create greater agility and effectiveness. As Lean-Agile Leaders, architect/engineers ensure the organization operates effectively by participating as members of the Lean Agile Center of Excellence (LACE). contributing to Value Stream Mapping workshops, and training and coaching engineers in achieving Technical Agility.
Responsibilities of System/Architect Engineering
Architect/Engineering teams are Lean-Agile Leaders who typically have the following responsibilities:
- Participate in planning, definition, and high-level design of the solution and explore solution alternatives
- Enable the Continuous Delivery Pipeline through appropriate design guidelines and investment advocacy
- Actively participate in the Continuous Exploration process as part of the Continuous Delivery Pipeline, especially with enabler Epics
- Define subsystems and their interfaces, allocate responsibilities to subsystems, understand solution deployment, and communicate requirements for interactions with solution context
- Work with customers, stakeholders, and suppliers to establish high-level Solution Intent, and the solution intent information models and documentation requirements
- Establish critical NFRs at the solution level, participate in the definition of others
- Operate within the Economic Framework to validate the economic impact of design decisions
- Work with portfolio stakeholders, notably the Enterprise Architect, to develop, analyze, split, and realize the implementation of enabler epics
- Participate in Program Increment (PI) Planning and Pre- and Post-PI Planning, System and Solution Demos, and Inspect and Adapt events
- Define, explore, and support the implementation of ART and Solution Train Enablers to evolve solution intent, working directly with Agile teams to implement them
- Plan and develop the Architectural Runway in support of new business Features and Capabilities
- Work with Product and Solution Management to determine the capacity allocation for enablement work
- Support technology/engineering aspects of Program and Solution Kanbans
- Provide oversight and foster Built-In Quality and Team and Technical Agility
System Architect/Engineering’s Participation in Large Value Streams
The above section highlights the role of System Architect/Engineering in the context of the ART. For large solutions that require multiple ARTs, System Architect/Engineering gains additional responsibilities for alignment across multiple ARTs including:
- Collaborate with Solution Architect/Engineering – System Architect/Engineering collaborate with Solution Architect/Engineering to understand how their solution(s) fit into and support the larger capabilities and direction of the overall Solution. This involves participation in solution backlog refinement and prioritization, defining capability Enablers and NFRs, and assigning architectural responsibilities to the various components and subsystems.
- Participate in Pre- and Post-PI Planning – System Architect/Engineering participates in the Pre-PI planning meeting, working with the Solution Train stakeholders to define the architectural approach, capability roadmap, and high-level objectives for the upcoming PI planning session. In the Post-PI planning session, System Architect/Engineering helps summarize findings into an agreed-to set of solution PI objectives and validates alignment of the various ART technical directions.
- Participate in Architecture Sync – System Architect/Engineering participates in the Architecture Sync to ensure consistency in how emerging designs and tradeoffs are managed across the Solution Train, allowing frequent opportunities to steer implementation approaches without becoming a source of delays.
- Participate in the Solution Demo – System Architect/Engineering participates in the solution demo, often demonstrating the capabilities that their ART has contributed and reviewing the contributions of the other ARTs, taking a systems view with an eye toward fitness for purpose.
- Collaborate with Release Management – In larger-scale systems, release management also plays a significant role. System Architect/Engineer collaborates with Product Management and key stakeholders on progress, budget, release strategy, and releasability of elements of the solution.
- Aligning technology approaches across ARTs – System Architect/Engineering works actively with the Agile Teams to ensure that emergent design choices are made with an understanding of the overall Solution and minimize technology complexity and avoid unnecessary duplication of capabilities.
Responsibilities of Solution Architect/Engineering
Solution Architect/Engineering plays a similar role to System Architect/Engineering, but at the large solution level, and are focused on creating technical alignment for the full Solution rather than concerns for specific components. Responsibilities include working with portfolio stakeholders, customers, suppliers, ARTs and Solution Trains to align the architectural direction with the Solution Intent. They have similar responsibilities for solution vision, solution roadmap, solution Kanban, Non-Functional Requirements, Enabler Capabilities and solution demo activities as well.
Solution Architect/Engineering has a crucial role in pre- and post-PI planning, as well as large solution level I&A workshops. They also work with Suppliers, making sure the technical characteristics for supplier-delivered capabilities are understood and assisting with the architectural integration of these concerns.
Solution Architect/Engineering works alongside Solution Management and the Solution Train Engineer as part of a trio that shares much of the responsibility for the success of a Solution Train.
Learn More International Council on Systems Engineering. “What Is Systems Engineering?” https://www.incose.org/systems-engineering.  Leffingwell, Dean. Agile Software Requirements: Lean Requirements Practices for Teams, Programs, and the Enterprise. Addison-Wesley, 2011.  Kim, Gene and Jez Humble, Patrick Debois, John Willis. The DevOps Handbook: How to Create World-Class Agility, Reliability, and Security in Technology Organizations. IT Revolution Press. Kindle Edition.
Last update: 9 October 2018