To be in hell is to drift; to be in heaven is to steer.
—George Bernard Shaw
Epic Owners are responsible for coordinating portfolio Epics through the Portfolio Kanban system. They collaboratively define the epic, its Minimum Viable Product (MVP), and Lean business case, and when approved, facilitate implementation.
If an epic is accepted, the Epic Owner works directly with the Agile Release Train (ART) and Solution Train stakeholders to define the Features and Capabilities that realize the value. They may also have some responsibility for supporting the initiative as it moves downstream through the Continuous Delivery Pipeline to Release on Demand.
In SAFe, epics drive a significant amount of the economic value for the Enterprise. Epic Owners are responsible for formulating and elaborating on the epic and analyzing its cost and impact by collaborating closely with other groups in the portfolio (Figure 1).
Summary Role Description
The Epic Owner is responsible for guiding individual epics through the portfolio Kanban system from identification through LPM approval. After the epic is approved, the Epic Owner works with Agile Teams to initiate the development activities necessary to realize the epic’s business outcome hypothesis. After the initiation, the Epic Owner may have some ongoing responsibilities for stewardship and follow-up. As the features and capabilities that define the epics are incorporated into the Solution, the Epic Owner returns to other duties or takes responsibility for other emerging epics. After development is safely underway, the ARTs have the responsibility for implementing the new epic into the solution.
Typically, an Epic Owner works with the one or two epics at a time that falls within their area of expertise and current business mission.
The Epic Owner in SAFe is a role assumed by an individual; it is not a job title. The Epic Owner assumes the duties outlined in the paragraphs below.
Preparing the Epic
The Epic Owner’s responsibilities begin early in the epic’s life cycle. They include:
- Working with stakeholders and subject matter experts to define an epic using the ‘epic hypothesis statement’
- Working with development teams to size the epic and provide input for economic prioritization based on Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF), the Lean business case, and other relevant factors
- Shepherding epics through the portfolio Kanban system and creating the Lean business case 
- Preparing to present the Lean business case to LPM for a go/no-go decision
Presenting the Epic
The Epic Owner has the primary responsibility for introducing the merits of the epic to LPM. Approval, however, is not a rubber stamp, as enterprises typically have ideas and opportunities that far exceed capacity. That’s one of the many arguments that favor Lean business cases; they should not create too high an emotional investment for the people analyzing them. Specific potential epics can and should be rejected for more favorable opportunities .
If the epic is approved, then the following implementation activities begin:
- Work collaboratively with Product and Solution Management and System Architect/Engineering to split the epic into features and capabilities. Epic owners help prioritize these backlog items in their respective program and solution backlogs.
- Provide the context for the epic’s target features.
- Participate in Program Increment (PI) Planning, System Demo, and Solution Demo, whenever there is critical activity related to the epic.
- Work with Agile Teams that perform research spikes, create proofs of concept, mock-ups, etc.
- Coordinate and synchronize epic-related activities with sales, marketing, and other business units.
- Understand and report on the progress of the epic’s MVP with key stakeholders.
Finally, to assess the outcomes against the hypothesis, the Epic Owner may follow the epic downstream through the continuous delivery pipeline and release on demand.
The Collaborative Nature of the Epic Owner Role
An Epic Owner can only be effective by collaborating closely with other groups. They help fill in the gaps that often occur when high-level initiatives descend from the top of the organization for implementation. Key collaborators are highlighted in Figure 1.
By working closely with these key stakeholders, Epic Owners can create a realistic and compelling vision, appropriate economic priorities, and a consistent set of features and capabilities.
Learn More Leffingwell, Dean. Agile Software Requirements: Lean Requirements Practices for Teams, Programs, and the Enterprise. Addison-Wesley, 2011.
Last update: 30 September 2019