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What would an enterprise architect be responsible for in SAFe?

In these new agile organizations, the role of enterprise architects is instrumental to provide strategic guidance, reference architectures, and technology standards to the Dev teams so that they work in a standardized manner. This can help avoid reworks due to potential misalignments with company standards and break down silos.

It is therefore essential to better understand the key elements of SAFe. More and more large organizations are adopting this framework, including the notions of architectural runway, intentional architecture, and emergent design. Let’s see how the role of enterprise architects change to better interact with development teams, and how the EA practice and enterprise architecture frameworks might evolve in these new Agile organizations.


1. SAFe and the Architectural Runway

One of the key components of the SAFe framework is the architectural runway. In the SAFe framework, developments are broken down into program increments, that last from 8 to 12 weeks. To extend the Architectural Runway, enablers are used to support the activities needed to provide future business functionalities. Enablers include infrastructure, compliance, and architecture developments. Enablers are built for the next program increment. They ensure that business features developed in the next increment will land safely. Hence the term “runway” like a plane landing on a runway.

The architectural runway is “consumed” by teams as developments happen. Because business needs evolve and technologies become quickly outdated, the architectural runway evolves.

The architectural runway in SAFe.png

The architectural runway in SAFe


2. Intentional Architecture vs Emergent Design

On the one hand, developments are moving fast, and agile teams are empowered to design the architecture they need based on the eleventh principle of the Agile Manifesto: “The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams”. This is the emergent design, as called in the SAFe framework.

The emergent design corresponds to Architecture and Technical solutions made on the fly. It is guided by Principles, tradeoffs, patterns, and often refactored.

On the other hand, enterprise architects design intentional architecture. The intentional architecture is plan-based, high level, to align cross teams. It is a Foundational Enabler.

At some point, the intentional architecture should be reconciled with the emergent design to follow the changes that happened during the developments.


Reconcile Emergent design with intentional architecture.png

 Reconcile Emergent design with intentional architecture


However, organizations encounter these shortcomings in most Agile at Scale environments:

  • Too much focus is given on emergent design to the expense of the strategic vision brought by enterprise architecture
  • Too much emphasis is brought on programs rather than portfolios leading to a misalignment with strategic goals

That’s why, balancing emergent design and intentional architecture is key: Emergent design is for small, tactical projects. Intentional architecture is to bring the bigger picture.


3. The Evolving role of Enterprise Architects: determine the best way to interact with dev teams

In Agile environments, enterprise architects need to be a business partner and bring the strategic vision, while integrating regulatory constraints, policies to programs. They build the intentional architecture that supports agile developments and work closely within dev teams to break down silos. Overall, they facilitate agile practice adoption and determine when to favor emergent design or intentional architecture.

If Enterprise Architects provide architectural guardrails to development teams, they need to determine the best way to interact with them.

Depending on the level of interaction of enterprise architects with development teams, it can lead to an architecture too fragmented or an architecture disconnected from reality as described in the chart below.

Balance interactions between enterprise architects and dev teams.png

Balance interactions between enterprise architects and dev teams 


Thus, it is essential that enterprise architects determine the best way to interact with dev teams, and therefore properly balance intentional architecture and emergent design.


4. Evolution of the EA practice in Agile environments: give more power to local teams

In the “The five trademarks of agile organizations” article by McKinsey, the roots of transition from a traditional top-down organization to an Agile organization can be found in the gap between the objectives of the management team and the Agile team.

Indeed, in traditional organizations, managers identify what needs to be done and tell employees what to do using a top-down approach. In Agile organizations, the goal is to delight the customer. The work is done in self-organizing teams, with iterative work cycles and direct feedback from customers. The predominant values are transparency and continuous improvement.

In this new context, Enterprise Architecture will move from a top-down approach to a decentralized management approach and give more power to local teams. In this new model, local teams work on solution architecture managed at a local level. At the corporate level, the enterprise governance team provides strategic guidance for the whole organization.

They work on business architecture, capture business objectives and regulatory constraints, and assess business opportunities, in particular with emerging technologies, and plan future business capabilities. They define technology standards and patterns leading to increased security and economy of scale.


Decentralized Enterprise Architecture in Agile organizations.png


Decentralized Enterprise Architecture in Agile organizations


Enterprise architecture is a key component of the SAFe framework because it provides strategic guidance to the dev teams, including reference architecture models, technology standards, and regulatory constraints.

In these new Agile organizations, enterprise architects might also need to find the right way to work with development teams and properly balance the emergent design vs the intentional architecture.

As SAFe becomes an established framework within the organization, some of the governance may move outside of the EA team to let local teams design their own architecture based on the defined strategic objectives.


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