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What is Agile Release Train? Everything You Need to Know

 / March 31, 2022

The Agile Release Train (ART) is among the focal concepts you must understand when learning about the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). So what is this term? And how important is it for business agility? Let’s find the answers to these questions in this article with Designveloper.

What is the Agile Release Train (ART)?

What is the Agile Release Train (ART)?

In SAFe, an ART is a self-managing, long-term team that consists of multiple agile teams. A typical ART includes 5 to 12 cross-functional teams, equivalent to 50 to 125 workers. Besides, its main aim is to align those teams to a shared goal and mission. Further, agile teams wherein are navigated to regularly define, build, validate and release working solutions to end-users. 

There are two other concepts relative to the ART you should learn about to better understand the train. They particularly include Value Streams and Program Increments.

FURTHER READING:
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2. 6 Agile Project Management Tools That You Should Know in 2022
3. Pros and Cons of Agile Methodology: Which Team Should Apply This Model
4. 12 Agile Principles and How It Looks in Practice
5. The Agile Mindset: What do you need to focus on?
6. Agile Sprint Planning: Definition and Generic Guides in 2022
7. Agile Sprint Cycle: Definition, Execution, and Steps Explained
8. Story Points in Agile and How to Estimate Them Effectively
Agile methodology topic

Agile Release Trains and Value Streams 

Value Streams are a set of essential activities to turn business ideas into pragmatic solutions and then provide end-users with such deliverables. Which projects are conducted, Agile Release Trains need to be organized around such value streams.

Accordingly, as multidisciplinary units, ARTs must have long-term experience and versatile capacity to develop solutions that deliver perpetual value flow. Without operating around value, ART members struggle to monitor multiple dependencies and connections between teams. 

Further, there are four basic team topologies on a single ART, according to the SAFe:

four basic team topologies on a single ART
  • A stream-aligned team operates around workflow and can deliver value directly to end-users.
  • A platform team develops and supports platforms that offer other teams’ services.
  • A complicated subsystem team operates around subsystems that require specific expertise and specialty skills.
  • An enabling team helps other teams to use new technologies proficiently and improve specialized abilities. 

Agile Release Trains and Program Increments (PI)

The concept of Program Increments (PIs) is mentioned throughout the ART’s principles, hence playing an important role in grasping ARTs. In general, a Program Increment is a timeboxed phase through which an ART delivers incremental values of working solutions. A typical PI often includes four development iterations and one following phase known as Innovation and Planning. 

In each PI, the ART will use synchronization and cadence to:

  • plan the next increments;
  • minimize work amounts in the process; 
  • collect values for feedback; 
  • ensure consistent retrospectives. 

Who Takes Part in Agile Release Trains?

Who Gets Involved in Agile Release Trains?

The Agile Release Train fails to operate successfully without the presence of the following important roles:

  • Agile Teams

Agile teams are the core feature of a single ART. Particularly, each team needs a team lead, a product owner and development members. But they all must understand and apply the immutable values and tenets of the Agile Manifesto and SAFe to work towards common goals. Further, ARTs can be launched in traditional agile, Scrum, Kanban, or Extreme Programming (XP) settings. 

  • Release Train Engineer (RTE)

A release train engineer acts as a servant leader. Accordingly, he/she supports members to implement projects, remove obstacles, manage risks, and making continuous releases. 

  • Product Manager

A product manager has a shared mission, vision, roadmap, and product backlog across an ART. Besides, the manager communicates with the product owner and customers to understand and discuss their demands. 

  • System Architect or Engineer

A system architect or engineer is liable for designing the high-level architecture of a system and defining how parts fit well in the system. Also, the architect defines key system features, subsystems, non-functional requirements, and interfaces.

  • Product Owners

On behalf of a business, product owners are in charge of conveying business needs. They also need to ensure digital-enabled solutions meet their demands. 

  • End-Users

End-users are the ultimate customers of solutions. 

Why are Agile Release Trains Necessary?

In a small-scale project, an agile team plays a vital role in planning, committing, and carrying out the product development work. But when projects scale up or companies grow in size, a single team feels overwhelmed to take over increased workloads. It’s when the concept of the Agile Release Train (ART) is introduced to solve the problem.

Why are Agile Release Trains Necessary?

All agile teams of the ART generally work based on three main criteria, including:

  • Collaboration – Particularly, the train fosters the long-lived cooperation between cross-functional teams to plan, implement and deliver valuable products or services to end-users.
  • Stability – The Release Train requires special skills and expertise to provide deliverables with business agility, flexibility, and sustainability. 
  • Autonomy – The ART is a virtual organization that is capable of operating independently to build business values. 

For those applying the Scaled Agile Framework, launching an ART is a must. The first train helps develop a suitable, reliable pattern for other upcoming trains and also builds a blueprint to duplicate its achievements. 

Key Principles Behind ARTs

Key Principles Behind ARTs

Above all, the Agile Release Train works on a wealth of essential principles, as described on the official website of Scaled Agile Framework:

1. Fixed Schedule

The ART plans and deploys tasks on a sound, fixed schedule that is determined by the Program Increment cadence. In case a feature misses a slot in the current PI, it will be built in the following one.

2. A New System Increment Every Other Week

The ARTworks in a two-week iteration, known as system increments. Accordingly, the train will deliver a new increment every two weeks. Further, team members use the System Demo to objectively assess the progress of the working system. 

3. Synchronization 

All agile teams of the ART will be synchronized into the common PI duration and hence have consistent start/end dates for each iteration. 

4. Reliable Velocity

According to past data, the Agile Release Train can make sound estimates of how many new features can be built and deployed in a PI. Those estimates help members to make reasonable plans afterward. 

5. Dedicated Workers

ART members have to devote their full time to the train to maintain its sustainable performance and the solution’s ultimate quality. 

6. In-Person PI Planning

The Agile Release Train usually plans its work in an agile ceremony called PI Planning. In addition, members often organize the meeting around strategic priorities to prepare for the next PI. Although the face-to-face planning event is encouraged among members, its online counterpart proves effective at times.

7. Innovation and Planning (IP)

The IP session will be held at the end of each PI. This meeting offers a buffer (an estimating guard band) and dedicated time for other activities such as PI planning, continuous learning, or infrastructure work. 

8. Inspect and Adapt (I&A)

Like IP, the Inspect and Adapt event also takes place at the end of a PI. During the session, the ART demonstrates and assesses a deliverable’s current state. Moreover, a structured workshop is organized as well to determine backlog items that need improvements. 

9. Development of Cadence and Release on Demands

The ART uses fixed cadence and synchronization to minimize the inherent variability that often arises during the development process. But the release is separated from the cadence. In other words, a product or any of its features will be deployed and published whenever possible. This helps the ART deliver values to customers faster and receive prompt feedback for later improvements. 

Conclusion

In short, there’s no denying that the Agile Release Train is among the key contributors to SAFe’s success. Through the article, Designveloper expects you to grasp how important ART is for scaling projects. Accordingly, you draw out effective strategies to build and launch a high-performing ART.

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