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Designing Shared-Services Teams in SAFe®️ with Service Trains

05th Sep, 2023
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Designing Shared-Services Teams in SAFe®️ with Service Trains

Shared services teams always pose peculiar challenges to successful Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®️) implementations. The nature of their work which is mostly determined by the requests from the other Agile teams on the framework often leads to priority mismanagement, political conflicts, and uncontrolled chaos in the system. One of the major issues organizations face is dealing with multiple shared services teams under one ART or a solution train.

In this article, we present an approach called “Service Train” to facilitate that scenario. Also, this article will help you in managing the shared service teams in SAFe®️ with service trains. Get to know more about SAFe core values.

What is a Shared Service Team?

 A shared service team is a group of cross-functional professionals who provide support services to multiple business units or departments. These services may include finance, HR, legal, IT, procurement, and other administrative functions. These are designed to increase efficiency and reduce costs by centralizing these services and eliminating duplication of efforts.  

How to Design Shared Services in SAFe®️ with Service Trains?

SAFe®️ aims to scale up the agility of multiple teams by aligning them to Agile Release Trains (ART), Solution Trains, and Portfolios. Multiple teams deliver in cadence, the results committed to, at various layers viz., Team, Program, Solution, and Portfolio.

Identify Common Services: The first step in designing a shared service team is to identify the common services that multiple departments require. It is done by thoroughly analyzing each department's needs and existing processes. 

Create a Service Catalog: Once the common services have been identified, create a service catalog that outlines the services offered, their cost, and how they are delivered. This catalog serves as a reference for departments when they require shared services. 

Assign Roles and Responsibilities: To assign roles and responsibilities to team members and establish clear lines of communication, follow these steps: 

  • Define the Scope of Work: Clearly define the team's mandate, objectives, and areas of responsibility. 

  • Assign Roles: Allocate specific tasks and responsibilities to each team member based on their skills, experience, and interests. 

  • Establish Communication Channels: Set up regular meetings, email updates, and a shared platform for team members to share progress and collaborate. 

  • Foster Collaboration: Encourage teamwork and open communication between team members. 

  • Monitor Progress: Regularly assess team performance, address any issues, and make changes as necessary to ensure team effectiveness. 

  • Encourage Feedback: Encourage open and honest feedback from stakeholders to ensure that the team meets their needs. 

By following these steps, you can ensure that the team has clear roles and responsibilities and effective lines of communication. 

Establish Performance Metrics: Establish performance metrics, such as response times, resolution rates, and customer satisfaction scores. These metrics are used to monitor and evaluate the team's performance. 
Integrate with SAFe Framework: Integrate it with the SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) framework, which provides a structured approach to scaling Agile practices. SAFe offers a collaborative and iterative approach that helps to ensure that shared services are delivered consistently. 

Scaled Agile Framework

Tips for Shared Services Teams in SAFe PI Planning 

Collaborate with Stakeholders: Collaborate with stakeholders, such as business unit leaders, to understand their needs and requirements for shared services. 

Plan for Scalability: Plan for scalability by considering how it will accommodate future growth and changes in demand. 

Consider Outsourcing: Consider outsourcing some services, such as IT or HR, if it makes more sense than building in-house services. 

Establish Clear Expectations: Establish clear expectations with the departments that will be utilizing the shared services. It includes expectations around response times, quality, and cost. 

Tips for Shared Services Design in SAFe®️ with Service Trains

Things get trickier when multiple Agile teams started using service trains in SAFe®️ at shared services and the Team requests the services from the shared services teams. SAFe®️ recommends the operation of the shared services of teams at the ART level but it gets difficult to facilitate them when those teams tend to grow big in numbers.

The simple idea of having all of them at the SAFe program level leads to chaos and confusion at times. For example- imagine a team of 30 people trying to help the other teams out. Moreover, when the members of those teams are not generalists, then organizing them by skills would get problematic too.

shared services Design in SAFe®️ with service trains
One workable solution to this problem is to organize all the shared-services teams into a “Service Train” which is similar to the ART but acts as a service pipeline to one or more ARTs. It spreads across multiple ARTs and Solution Trains providing requested services. The teams on this service train may be Scrum or Kanban teams adhering to the SAFe®️ principles and implementing its practices.
Service Delivery of ARTs
While implementing shared service teams in SAFe®️ with service trains, the service teams run their usual cadences (recommended to sync with the ART cadences) and they deliver services to the ARTs continuously on demand. The ART delivery pipelines tie up these deliverables to their own during the continuous integration activities and deliver solutions to the Stakeholders.
The Service Train differs from an ART

  1. PI's on the service trains are optional. The teams may opt for sprint-to-sprint ( Or cadence cadence ) planning on the Service train. In such cases, all the teams plan the sprints/cadences together.
  2. There may not be a dedicated “Train Engineer”. The role could be rotated or replaced by a team of facilitators.
  3. The backlogs of the service teams are generated by the requests of the teams on the ART.
  4. The metrics on the train are in the context of the metrics of corresponding ARTs.
  5. Their program board may be linked to one or more program boards of the Arts.

The Service Trains come in as Valuable Constructs

  1. They eliminate the chaos-generating of having too many service team members at the program level
  2. Cross-functional teams may be formed around dedicated service areas, so the Agile teams know where to place the requests
  3. The trains can deliver services to multiple ARTs at the same time - in other words, they are not constrained by the ARTs (Or the Solution trains)

However, there are a few things to watch out for:

1. Some traditional leaders may use this as an opportunity to impose the “Matrix Structure” on the teams and misuse this design as a way to break cross-functional teams.
2. There is a scope of the service teams getting siloed, resulting in poor collaboration
3. The service train may become a bottleneck to the ARTs if it doesn’t run slightly ahead of their schedules.

Skills needed for Shared services

Skills needed for Shared services
The team members of Shared services need to grasp the following type of specialized skills:

  • Agile and Software/Systems Engineering Coaches
  • Application/web portal management
  • Configuration management
  • Data modeling, data engineering, and database support
  • Desktop support
  • End-user training
  • Enterprise architecture
  • Information Architecture
  • Infrastructure and tools management
  • Internationalization and localization support
  • IT Service Management and deployment operations
  • Security specialist (InfoSec)
  • System QA and exploratory testing
  • Technical Writers

Composition and Working of Shared Services Unit 

The composition of a shared service team may vary depending on the specific services offered, but it typically includes a team leader, managers, and cross-functional professionals. The leader is responsible for overall team management, ensuring that it aligns with the organizational goals and objectives. On the other hand, the managers are responsible for overseeing the delivery of specific services within the team, ensuring that the quality of the services offered is maintained. 
Cross-functional professionals, including developers, engineers, and business analysts, are responsible for delivering the services offered by the team. They interact with departments within the organization to understand their requirements and ensure that the services offered to meet the customers' needs. 

The shared service team structure is based on the principles of Lean and Agile methodologies. SAFe provides a framework that enables them to operate in an efficient and streamlined manner, delivering services in a fast, flexible, and scalable manner. By using DevOps practices, they can automate and streamline processes, freeing up time to focus on delivering high-quality services to the customer. 

Shared service model examples include: 

  • HR Shared Services: Centralized HR support for multiple departments or business units. 

  • IT Shared Services: Centralized IT support and technology infrastructure for an organization. 

  • Finance Shared Services: Centralized financial support and services for an organization. 

  • Procurement Shared Services: Centralized procurement support and services for an organization. 

  • Customer Service Shared Services: Centralized customer service support for multiple products or business units. 

Shared services center examples include: 

  • HR Services - Payroll processing, benefits administration, recruitment, and talent management. 

  • Finance Services - Accounts payable, accounts receivable, general ledger, and financial reporting. 

  • IT Services - Help desk support, software maintenance, and network management. 

  • Procurement Services - Supplier management, purchase order processing, and contract management. 

  • Legal Services - Contract review, legal research, and dispute resolution. 

 Shared Service Centers can offer a range of services depending on the needs of the organization. The key benefit of having a SSC is that it enables organizations to centralize the delivery of support and services, standardize processes, and achieve cost savings through economies of scale. 

Challenges in SAFe Shared Services

Managing Change: One of the biggest challenges in implementing SAFe shared services is managing change. It includes changes to processes, technology, and personnel. Managing these changes effectively requires clear communication, training, and a focus on continuous improvement. 

Maintaining Quality: Maintaining quality in the delivery of shared services can be challenging, especially as the demand for services grows. There must be a balance between the need for speed and efficiency with the need to deliver high-quality services. 

Ensuring Consistency: Ensuring consistency in the delivery of shared services can also be challenging, especially as the team grows and expands. To overcome this challenge, they must establish and maintain clear service processes and standards. 

Lack of Ownership: The team may face a lack of ownership from the departments they serve, leading to difficulties in gaining support for changes or improvements. The team should work closely with departments to understand their needs and engage with them to build trust and ownership. 

Balancing Resources: Balancing resources effectively between different services and departments can also be challenging. The team should prioritize its services based on the needs of the departments and the organization as a whole to ensure that resources are used effectively. 

Benefits of SAFe Shared Services

Increased Efficiency: Shared services can increase efficiency by centralizing support functions and eliminating duplication of efforts. It can standardize processes and procedures, resulting in a more streamlined and consistent approach to delivering services. 

Reduced Costs: By centralizing services, shared services can help to reduce costs by reducing the need for duplicated resources. They can also leverage economies of scale, resulting in lower costs for the organization as a whole. 

Improved Collaboration: Improved collaboration between departments and the shared service team can lead to better communication and stronger relationships. They can work closely with departments to understand their needs and engage with them to build trust and ownership. 

Greater Specialization: By centralizing support functions, it can build greater expertise in specific areas, which can result in improved quality and more specialized support for departments. 

Standardized Services: Shared services help to standardize processes and procedures, resulting in a more consistent approach to delivering services. It can improve quality and a more consistent user experience for departments. 

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Roles and Responsibilities in Shared Services

The shared services employees handle the following roles and responsibilities:

  • Participates more actively in Program Increment (PI) planning and pre- and post-PI planning as well.
  • Managing the requirements wherever needed, adding to the backlog, and taking ownership of that particular task.
  • Collaborating with the Agile teams to achieve the Program Increment execution dependencies.
  • Actively taking part in the Inspect and Adapt(I&A) workshops, System demos, and Solution demos when any improvement backlog items show challenges with the availability of specialized skills and dependencies on the team.  

Generally, the team members of Shared services choose to work as a single team. In such case, the team members iterate on the same cadence because the Agile Release Train (ARTs) work like any other Agile team.


Agile teams need the support of either sustained or transitional specialty expertise. The staff of Shared services might become a part of an Agile team for a shorter duration. During this period, the staff of Shared services not only experience the Agile dynamic but also understands the speed of the development and the quality of the product. It also allows a knowledge transfer decreasing a dependency on specialized skills.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1What is a shared service team?

It is a cross-functional team that provides common services to multiple business units within an organization. Its aim is to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and ensure consistency by centralizing the delivery of specific services. It allows business units to focus on their core competencies and delivers value to the customer more efficiently. 

2What type of teams are recommended in SAFe?

SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) recommends cross-functional teams composed of individuals with diverse skills and perspectives. These teams are designed to work together to deliver common services to multiple business units, fostering collaboration and continuous improvement to deliver value to the customer efficiently. 

3What are the core competencies of SAFe?

The core competencies of SAFe include Lean-Agile principles, product development flow, and DevOps. SAFe also emphasizes the importance of collaboration and continuous improvement to ensure teams can efficiently deliver common services to multiple business units. By providing a framework for coordinating and collaborating across multiple teams, SAFe helps organizations implement Agile methodologies and practices at scale while focusing on delivering value to the customer. 


Bhardwaj Tim Lakshmi

Agile Transformation Leaders & Coaches

Bhardwaj is an agile enabler, transformation leader and coach, specializing in organizational & business transformations at scale and innovation methodologies. Tim is an agile transformation specialist focusing on coaching, training and managing organizational agile transformations, maturation and change management. Lakshmi is a transformation agent and a program manager focused on cultivating new ways of improving customer value through lean and agile approaches in product management.

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