What Is An Agile Release Train?

Agile Release Train

Three things increase every day- population, demand, and competition. All these factors play an essential role in a growing business, making it a do-or-die situation for you to be agile in how your enterprise functions.

The agile release train is one such team that makes you stay ahead of the curve. Endorsed by the SAFe, the agile release train principles are systematic and scalable for your products.

SAFe itself is a popular set of principles to guide your business with agility. However, learning about SAFe is not enough, and it is essential to understand how it works to utilize it well.

Understanding and implementing a functional agile release train is one of the best ways to get started. 

In this article, let’s understand what an agile release train is and how you can launch one for yourself!

What Is an Agile Release Train?

In the beginning, an agile way of functioning includes having respective teams assigned for specific tasks. However, as you scale your business, it demands cross-functional teams.

Here’s where the agile release train comes in.

An agile release train is a ‘team of teams.’ It includes different agile teams for cross-functional management.

The agile release train (ART) comes with all teams needed to implement, execute, test, iterate and release the feature, product, and software.

When we say an agile release train is cross-functional, we also mean that they have the expertise for software, hardware, firmware, and other needs.

A team of 50-125 individuals makes up an ART, who work together toward delivering the value or value stream that scales the business.

Now, an agile release train or ART is a self-organizing team. However, for this, it needs to have high-performing agile teams.

Their characteristics are as follows:

  • Cross-functional

Successful agile teams are usually cross-functional teams. They can align their teams towards a particular goal and work collaboratively.

  • Stable

Stability is an essential characteristic of agile teams. 

They provide members with the opportunity to grow at every stage, and they don’t constantly change their members.

  • Independent

Agile teams are autonomous bodies that constantly work to deliver value-based improvements and increments.

Let’s sum it up for you, shall we?

So, What Are SAFe Agile Release Train Teams?

An Agile release train (ART) is a cluster of Agile teams working together to achieve a common goal. 

We cannot emphasize the significance of ARTs in providing value at the business level enough. It includes all groups required to implement, test, and deploy software and other deliverables. 

Agile release trains ensure that Agile teams perform effectively together and adhere to SAFe principles when completing major development projects.

ARTs must have extensive experience working as an autonomous unit that coordinates work development, implementation, and deployment.

To ensure a high-functioning team of teams, we must have some principles in place. Hence, we have the agile release train principles in place.

Let’s look at them.

Agile Release Train Principles

The agile release train principles guide the self-organizing, cross-functional team of experts to deliver value in the right direction.

It ensures that the right decisions are made, at the right time, in the proper manner, and the right place.

In addition, the systems thinking approach is the essence of Agile.

Let’s imagine the agile release train as an actual ‘train.’ This will help us understand better.

Following are the are core agile release train principles

  1. Fixed Schedule
  2. System increments on a bi-weekly basis
  3. Synchronized Time Length
  4. Known velocity
  5. Dedicated people
  6. PI Planning
  7. Agile Teams
  8. Innovation and Planning (IP)
  9. Inspect and Adapt
  10. Develop on Cadence, Release on Demand

Fixed Schedule

Agile release trains follow a fixed schedule. The train departs features at a specified time decided by the program increment (PI) cadence. If a feature misses the schedule, it must catch the next one but not delay the current train.

The PI lies typically between 8-12 weeks,

System increments on a bi-weekly basis

Every agile release train delivers a new system increment every two weeks. To make it simple, just like Scrum functions in ‘sprints‘, ART functions on a bi-weekly basis. 

Synchronized Time Length

The PI length is the same for all teams and keeps them synchronized. They have a standard Iteration start and end dates and duration.

Known Velocity

An agile release train trusts historical data. Each ART must estimate how much work can be delivered in a given duration and plan accordingly.

Dedicated People

All ART members are dedicated players who focus on the train full-time irrespective of their functional hierarchy.

PI Planning

Release trains usually plan their program increment face-to-face, at periodic events. PI planning, too, has taken an online avenue with the recent virtual shift.

Agile Teams

Agile teams adopt the ‘Agile Manifesto‘ and engage in core agile principles. They ensure the use of a Kanban Board, Scrum, XP, and other quality agile practices.

Innovation and Planning (IP)

Not to be confused with PI, IP plays a different role. IP Iterations occur at the end of each PI. They serve as an estimation buffer. They devote time to PI development, innovation, ongoing training, and infrastructure investment.

Inspect and Adapt (I&A)

The end of every PI follows an inspect and adapt session. Here, we demonstrate and evaluate current solutions. 

Teams then identify possible backlogs and engage in structured problem-solving.

Develop on Cadence, Release on Demand

ARTs use cadence and synchronization to help tackle the innate variability of research and development.

Typically, however, releasing is not tied to the development cycle. Subject to requirements, ARTs can release a solution at any time.

These were the common ART principles. We can now grasp the steps of an agile release train by understanding them.

Do you want one? You can have one!

What Are the Basic Agile Release Train Steps?

The agile release train is a scaled agile framework that allows for the orderly and predictable delivery of functionality to customers. It is a core part of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe).

There are five steps in the agile release train:

  1. Train the Teams
  2. Identify Value Streams
  3. Plan your PI
  4. Implement the Increment
  5. Release, Retreat, Repeat.

Let’s decode this.

Train the Teams

Don’t cut corners on this one. You most certainly began your agile journey with some training and must do the same thing here.

Suppose you don’t have a firm understanding of the fundamentals. In that case, no amount of strenuous effort or good intentions will help you.

You’ll want to coach your senior leadership and executives in addition to your teams. You’ll want to ensure buy-in and understand how agile release trains work and the responsibilities required to support them.

Beginning with a solid base is the best way to scale up!

Identify Value Streams

Operational and development value streams are the two types of value streams in SAFe.

An operational value stream is responsible for delivering the value provided by the development value stream to end-users. Processing an order from a website is one example.

A development value stream focuses on creating a business solution, such as a website.

Before selecting individuals and teams to work on the value stream and filling the additional roles required for the ART, it’s critical to identify your value streams. 

You can begin planning once the players have been chosen.

Plan your PI

Now is the moment to polish your program backlog and prepare for PI (program increment) planning.

Face-to-face meetings are ideal for planning and refining. But this isn’t always achievable in huge businesses. 

If you have a distributed team, a decent backlog tool like Jira can assist you in organizing virtual meetings.

Plan your initial release and write your user stories to fit in a two-week timeframe at the program level. Allow some leeway in the iteration until your teams have established a known velocity.

Implement the increment

And here you go, get to work! Here’s your main play area. Use product management tools like Scrum and Kanban boards to keep you at pace.

You’ve got your sprint set to go; do it vigorously. You can add your team’s contribution to the release train at the end of the sprint or two weeks.

Release, Retreat, Repeat

Agile release trains are a method for delivering software in a continuous, iterative manner. Your teams will develop, release, learn, and build again, just as in traditional Scrum.

Remember to schedule an innovation and planning event to offer the team a break from the train. This gives members time to develop their systems or team.

You’ve now understood the agile train release steps, and it’s a sure winner’s recipe!

However, to fully capture how the agile release train functions, it is essential to know the different roles.

Let’s have a look at them, shall we?

What Are the Different Agile Release Train Roles?

There are many different agile release train roles. Your role on the train will depend on your company’s specific agile methodology2.

The most common agile roles are

  1. Product Owner
  2. Scrum Master
  3. Release Train Engineer
  4. Product Manager
  5. Systems Architect
  6. Team Member

Product Owner

The Product Owner is responsible for the overall product vision and ensuring that the team works on the right features.

Scrum Master

The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring that the team follows the agile methodology and is productive and efficient.

Release train engineer (RTE)

Release train engineers are servant leaders that help the agile release train follow ART principles and best practices. Like Scrum Masters help their teams follow Scrum principles.

RTEs aid in the correct execution of program increments, risk management, and team collaboration.

Release train engineers often report to an Agile Management Office. They may report to the portfolio management team in the case of Lean.

Product manager

Product managers and product owners are rarely used together in traditional Scrum teams. Both positions are required in ARTs since SAFe operates on a large scale.

The product manager is in charge of the strategy, roadmap, and feature backlog. The product owner works with the team to define the PI objective and implement the features.

A PM might use various product manager tools to ensure efficiency. Here’s a free product roadmap software in case you were looking for one!

System architect

As mentioned earlier, the systems thinking approach lies at the heart of Agile.

A system architect is essential to design the high-level structure of the whole system due to the size at which SAFe teams operate.

They determine how each jigsaw piece fits together and establish stable integration points. This integrates data and processes into a single ERP system.

Team member

Team Members are responsible for actually developing the product features.

And with that, you know it all! You’re all set to launch your first SAFe agile release train.

Because you’re important to us, we want to make sure you leave with a gist of everything. So here it is.

To Summarize

Agile software development is becoming increasingly popular and for good reason.

It allows teams to be more responsive to change, which is incredibly valuable in fast-paced environments.

The agile release train is a great way to get your software out quickly and efficiently. Using a release train reduces the time it takes to get a product to market.

The agile release train is a method to organize and manage the work of a team of developers. ART allows for more flexibility and faster delivery of software.

This article provides an overview of the agile release train, a framework for managing agile software development.

Three words that summarize agile release trains are: cross-functional, stable, and independent.

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