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Characteristics and Responsibilities of the Agile Team

Understanding the characteristics and responsibilities of the agile team better, we're placed into a position of enabling our teams to achieve high performance. The responsibilities are informed through a SAFe® 6.0 lense.


Characteristics and Responsibilities of the Agile Team
A team enjoying the fruits of their labor. Courtesy Unsplash

Introduction to Characteristics and Responsibilities of the Agile Team

Nothing surpasses the power of a high performance Agile Team. An Agile Team is a cohesive and cross-functional group of around ten individuals, each possessing the necessary skills to define, build, test, and deliver value to their esteemed customers. Whether they focus on digitally-enabled solutions or business functions, these Agile Teams thrive on delivering work in small, incremental steps, aiming for rapid learning, customer feedback, and continuous improvement.


Agile Teams take ownership of their tasks and are accountable for delivering results that align with the needs and expectations of their customers and stakeholders. They play a pivotal role in fueling the Agile Release Train (ART) and the entire development portfolio. Collaboration with other teams is inherent in their approach to delivering ART solutions. Moreover, Agile Teams actively contribute to the Vision and Roadmap while actively participating in ART events. In addition, they build and maintain the Continuous Delivery Pipeline (CDP), which ensures the smooth flow of value and facilitates the ability to Release on Demand.


By embracing a cross-functional, long-term, and value-oriented approach, Agile Teams enable enterprises to move away from traditional, stop-start "project" models, thereby eliminating waste and delays in the process.


We firmly believe in empowering our Agile Teams with vision, guidance, and autonomy, essential for fostering high-performing teams. As a result, individual task assignments become obsolete, and the teams become self-directed, self-reliant, and autonomous, allowing for decentralized decision-making right down to the individual contributors. We've observed that Agile Teams, being more productive and engaged in their work, also find greater satisfaction in their job roles.


Agile Teams share several key characteristics

  1. Constituting the ART: Most of our Agile Teams are integral parts of Agile Release Trains, working collaboratively with other teams to deliver value within a common solution mission. While some teams can deliver value independently, they still benefit from Agile methods that establish a smooth flow of customer value.

  2. Cross-Functional: Our Agile Teams are composed of full-time team members, ensuring they possess all the necessary functions to deliver value seamlessly. This approach eliminates the need for individuals to multitask across teams, preventing handoffs and delays across functional silos.

  3. Organized Around Value: SAFe Principle #10 guides us to organize our Agile Teams and people around the continuous delivery of value to the customer. We recommend four primary ways of organizing our Agile Teams to optimize value delivery: Stream-aligned teams, Complicated subsystem teams, Platform teams, and Enabling teams.

  4. High-Performing: Great teams are more than just a collection of talented individuals; they rely on effective team composition and dynamics. High-performing teams share characteristics such as alignment on shared vision and goals, a safe environment for risk-taking, diversity of knowledge and skills, mutual trust, accountability, and a sense of purpose. Our Organizational Agility competency provides further insight into how we foster these characteristics to achieve better business outcomes.

  5. Enabled by Critical Roles: Our Agile Teams benefit from two specialty roles - the Product Owner and the Scrum Master/Team Coach. The Product Owner contributes to the Vision and roadmap, collaborates with the team to define Stories, and prioritizes their work. The Scrum Master/Team Coach facilitates Agile practices, optimizes team performance, and guides improvements for the entire ART.

  6. Establishing Flow with Scrum and Kanban: Agile Teams are responsible for establishing a fast, reliable flow of value to customers, which they achieve through SAFe Scrum or SAFe Team Kanban operating models. They follow SAFe Flow Accelerators to maximize value delivery, including working in small batches, keeping work-in-process under control, addressing bottlenecks, and regularly conducting retrospectives.

  7. Responsibilities: Agile Teams fulfill six primary areas of responsibility - Connecting with the Customer, Planning the Work, Delivering Value, Getting Feedback, and Improving Relentlessly. They work closely with customers, plan their work collaboratively, ensure smooth value delivery, seek and act on feedback, and consistently pursue continuous improvement.

The Agile Team Responsibilities Further Unpacked

1. Connecting with the Customer:

  • Understanding Customer Needs: Agile Teams are responsible for thoroughly understanding the needs and requirements of the customers they serve. They use techniques like Customer Centricity and Design Thinking to gain empathy with the customer's perspective and build a clear understanding of their pain points, desires, and preferences.

  • Participating in Product Definition: Agile Teams collaborate with Product Owners and Product Management to define user stories and acceptance criteria that fulfill the solution's vision and align with customer needs. They actively contribute to shaping the product roadmap and feature definitions.

  • Designing and Executing Experiments: To validate assumptions and gather rapid feedback, Agile Teams design and conduct experiments. These may include research spikes, low-fidelity models, and prototypes that help in understanding the effectiveness and usability of potential solutions.

2. Planning the Work:

  • ART Planning: Agile Teams participate in Program Increment (PI) Planning events where they align with other teams in the Agile Release Train (ART). They contribute to creating a backlog for the upcoming PI, set PI Objectives, and outline their planned progression of work.

  • Team Planning: During the PI, Agile Teams engage in shorter-term planning, refining their backlog based on new learnings and feedback. They continuously update and prioritize the work required to deliver value effectively.


3. Delivering Value:

  • Value Delivery: The primary responsibility of Agile Teams is to deliver value to the customer. They define, build, and test user stories to create working increments of the solution. Depending on their capability, some teams may directly deploy new functionality into production or release it to customers.

  • Frequent Integration and Testing: Agile Teams follow a fast rhythm of development, which requires frequent integration and testing. This helps identify and address technology and implementation issues early in the development process.

  • Regular Synchronization: Agile Teams regularly synchronize with the rest of the ART, participating in ART Sync events that include Coaches Sync and Product Owner Sync. These events enable visibility into progress and facilitate timely adjustments.

  • Building the Continuous Delivery Pipeline: Agile Teams contribute to building and maintaining an effective Continuous Delivery Pipeline that enables continuous exploration, continuous integration, and continuous deployment.


4. Getting Feedback:

  • Customer Feedback: Agile Teams actively seek feedback from customers to validate the value and usability of the delivered solutions. They establish pathways to customers through Product Owners and other means to gather direct feedback.

  • Technical Feedback: Agile Teams continually validate the technical aspects of their solutions through frequent integration, testing, and deployment. Research spikes and prototypes are used to explore technical strategies effectively.


5. Improving Relentlessly:

  • Routine Improvement Events: Agile Teams conduct regular team-level retrospectives during iterations to identify areas for improvement. Additionally, all ART teams participate in joint Inspect & Adapt events, where they collaborate with leaders to implement necessary corrective actions.

  • Immediate Issue Resolution: Agile Teams proactively address issues as they arise without waiting for improvement events. This proactive approach fosters a culture of continuous improvement.


By taking ownership of these responsibilities, Agile Teams empower themselves to deliver high-quality products and solutions, meet customer needs effectively, and continuously enhance their performance through iterative feedback and improvement processes.


What's Next?

  • Join our Leading SAFe course if you're a leader and need to understand SAFe better.

  • Attend our SAFe for Teams (Practitioner) course to learn more about the Agile Team.

  • Contact us to chat about anything.

  • Show some love by liking this article (click the heart icon) if you enjoyed reading it. We appreciate it :)

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