Agile Release Train - Agile Framework at Scale (2023)

The more alignment you have, the more autonomy you can grant. One enables the other.

—Stephen Bungay, author and strategy consultant

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The Agile Release Train (ART) is a long-standing set of agile teams that incrementally develop, deliver, and generally operate one or more solutions in a value stream.

ARTs are teams ofagile Teamsaligned to a common business and technology mission. Each is a virtual organization (typically 50-125 people) that plans, defines, develops and implements together. ARTs are organized around the significantvalue streams of developmentand exist only to deliver on the promise of that value by building and deliveringsolutionsthat benefits himClient.

ARTs are multifunctional and have all the necessary resources to define, build, validate, release and, if necessary, operate solutions.

These features allow ART to: acontinuous flow of values, as shown in Figure 1.

Agile Release Train - Agile Framework at Scale (1)

Merchandise of ARTs

Organized in a value-oriented manner

As virtual organizations, ARTs have all the people needed to define, deploy, and operate the solution, eliminating any functional silos that may exist, as shown in Figure 2.

Agile Release Train - Agile Framework at Scale (2)

In a "functional" organization, developers collaborate with developers; Testers collaborate with other testers; System architects and engineers work together, and operations work alone. While there are reasons why organizations have evolved this way, the structure slows down the value stream as it has to cross all silos. Daily manager involvement is required to move work across silos. As a result, progress is slow and transfers and delays dominate the day.

Instead, ART applies systems thinking (SAFePrinciple #2) and is organized around value (SAFePrinciple #10) to build a streamlined cross-functional organization. This facilitates the value stream from conception through deployment to release to operations, as shown in Figure 3.

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Agile Release Train - Agile Framework at Scale (3)

Together, this fully cross-functional organization—whether physical (direct organizational reporting) or virtual (reporting pipeline remains unchanged)—has anyone and everything it needs to define, deploy, and operate solutions. It is self-organized and self-managed. This creates a much leaner organization that eliminates the need for traditional day-to-day tasks and project management. Value flows faster and with less overhead.

To facilitate the search for the optimal structure of ARTs within the organization and agile teams within ARTs, SAFe recommends team topologies as described in the bookTeam topologies[1]. SAFe recommends four ways to organize teams (Figure 4).

  • Teams aligned by the riverare end-customer oriented and able to take all necessary steps to create end-to-end value for the customer.
  • Complicated subsystem teamsare organized around subsystems of critical solutions. They focus on areas of high technical expertise, which limits the cognitive load on all teams.
  • platform teamsProviding application services and APIs for flow-oriented teams to consume common platform services.
  • Activate teamsmakes tools, services and experience available to other teams at short notice.
Agile Release Train - Agile Framework at Scale (4)

For more guidance on organizing agile teams, see the advanced guidance articleOrganizing Agile Teams and ARTs: Team Topologies at Scale.

Agile teams are pushing the train

ARTs include the agile teams that define, build, and test features, as well as those that deploy, release, and operate the solution. SAFe Agile teams applysafe crowdorKanban the SAFe teamor hybrids that fit your specific context. Each agile team typically has ten or fewer dedicated individual contributors covering all the functions required to create quality value propositions. Teams can be technology-centric - providing software, hardware, or any combination - business-centric or a combination of both. Every agile team has two specific roles thatScrum Master / Team Coachit is atproduct owner. And of course, the agile teams are cross-functional within ART itself, as shown in Figure 5.

Agile Release Train - Agile Framework at Scale (5)

Aligned to a common cadence

ARTs also address one of the most common problems with traditional Agile development: teams working on the same solution work independently and asynchronously. This makes it extremely difficult to routinely integrate the entire system. In other words, “Teams iterate, but the system doesn't.” This increases the risk of late discovery of problems, as shown in Figure 6.

Agile Release Train - Agile Framework at Scale (6)

Instead, ART applies cadence and timing to ensure that the system as a whole iterates (Figure 7).

Agile Release Train - Agile Framework at Scale (7)

Cadence and timing ensure that the focus is on developing and objectively evaluating the overall system rather than its elements. Osystem demo, which occurs at the end of eachRepetition, provides objective evidence that the system iterates. As Figure 7 shows, aSystemteamis often formed as a support group to help with infrastructure development and full system integration and validation. However, over time many of the centralized services provided by the systems team can be automated or taken over by the teams themselves.

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Activated by critical functions

In addition to agile teams, the following roles support the successful execution of the ART:

  • Liberation Train Engineer (RTE)is a servant leader facilitating execution of the ART, removal of impediments, management of risk and dependencies, and continuous improvement.
  • product managementis largely responsible for what is built, as defined byVision,road map, it's newCharacteristicsNOART delay. You will work with customers, teams and product owners to understand and communicate their needs and participate in solution validation.
  • System Architectis an individual or team that defines the overall architecture of the system. They work at a level of abstraction above teams and components and typically defineNon-Functional Requirements (NFRs), main system elements, subsystems and interfaces.
  • business peopleare the key stakeholders of ART and bear ultimate responsibility for the business results of the train.
  • Customers are the economic end users or value users of the solution.

In addition to these critical roles of the ART, the following functions play an essential role in the success of the ART:

  • Systems teams often help create and maintain development, continuous integration, and testing environments.
  • shared servicesthey are specialists necessary for the success of an ART but cannot be dedicated to any particular training. This often includes data security, information architects, site reliability engineering (SRE), database administrators (DBAs), and more.

The main functions of the ART are supported by the teams. For example, RTE relies on Scrum Master/Team Coaches for help with aspects of ART operation and improvements. Product management relies on product owners to turn their product vision into reality. Architects work in teams with technology experts to create viable architectures.

TYPE responsibilities

The ultimate goal of any ART is to deliver effective solutions to the customer. Essentially, ARTs are created for the sole purpose of establishing a rapid flow of solution resources. To achieve this, a train develops the solution iteratively, constantly collaborating with the customer and adapting the approach to an optimal solution.

Figure 8 shows the critical areas of responsibility for an ART that help achieve this goal:

Agile Release Train - Agile Framework at Scale (8)

customer retention

Agile Release Train - Agile Framework at Scale (9)Customers are the ultimate beneficiaries of the business solutions that ARTs creates and manages. But connecting with the client requires conscious effort and a clear understanding of how to apply Lean and Agile practices in a unique ART context.

  • Apply customer focus– An ART routinely focuses on the needs of the customer and the opportunities to benefit the customer.non-customer orientationIt is a necessary mindset for ART and its constituent teams. ART works to increase and maintain customer empathy and continually seeks the best ways to resolve customer issues.
  • Use design thinking– A recurring process of understanding the problem and designing the right solution –Design thinking— enables an ART to create desirable, workable and sustainable solutions. Paying close attention to user personas, journey mapping, and customer value analysis helps an ART discover new and valuable product features. Using lightweight prototypes quickly validates customer value hypotheses and keeps ART on track.

planning the work

Agile Release Train - Agile Framework at Scale (10)Planning key activities for an ART allows alignment between teams and stakeholders on what to build and how in the near future. Alignment is one ofcore valuesSAFe and ARTs, as building blocks of a SAFe organization, have built-in means to achieve and maintain alignment.

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  • Align ART priorities with portfolio strategy– Each ART operates in a broader portfolio context and must align with the overall portfolio strategy.Strategic IssuesAlign the ARTs within a portfolio towards a common goal. However, achieving alignment also requires an established process that includes: 1) regularly engaging with portfolio stakeholders at the ART level, and 2) involving ART representatives in portfolio interactions. The organization of this communication and interaction is easiest around the cadence of the PI.epic ownersoften serve as an important link between portfolio strategy and ART execution.
  • Prepare for PI planning– Stakeholders and teams need to prepare carefullyPI planning. Product management and business owners develop the vision and agree on priorities for the next IP: The teams take stock of their remaining work, their achievable capacity and any new efforts that may arise in the local context.
  • Plan the IP– PI planning generates alignment within the ART. Create and agree on teamsIP targetswhich guides you through the entire PI run. Business owners have the opportunity to share business and customer context with their teams, and in turn learn how current technology and delivery capabilities can be leveraged to create optimal business value for the organization.

Delivering Value

Agile Release Train - Agile Framework at Scale (11)ARTs develop solving skills by applying a cadence that includes key activities to keep the train on track. At certain points, an ART releases the newly created value to the customer.

  • Integrate and test frequently– A rapid pace of development requires frequent integration and testing. This helps identify technology and implementation issues early and gives teams ample time to act on the findings. Without integration and repetitive testing, an ART operates with excessive uncertainty and variability.Integrated qualityeTeam and technical agilityProvide guidance on these practices.
  • Build in small increments- An ART implements the PI as a series of small increments, each representing a small batch of built-in, tested, detectable value. ART's iteration cadence provides a natural rhythm for creating these increments. Each helps the ART learn about potential implementation challenges, gather customer feedback, and agree on a decision point with possible course corrections for the rest of the PI.
  • Sync regularly and make adjustments– When running PI, an ART has multiple checkpoints in the form of an ART sync that includes a Coaches sync and a PO sync (see thePIarticle for further description). These events increase visibility of progress toward current PI targets and help the ART make timely adjustments.
  • Build a continuous delivery pipeline– An effective Agile development process provides the means for continuous exploration and integration of work. Additionally, teams need to establish an ongoing delivery process by creating aContinuous-Delivery-Pipeline(CDP). This requires a value stream mapping to identify sources of excessive delays and volatility. As part of the CDPContinuous Deliveryit is typically an intentional system design that encourages a loose coupling of resources, allowing teams to independently deliver value.
  • Set up the release governance process- Each ART establishes a governance process appropriate to its release cycle. The governance process includes ways to plan and execute releases. This includes several activities including:
    • Align product launches with strategic goals
    • Validate Releasable Increments
    • Ensuring compliance with rules and regulations
    • Customer Impact Assessment
    • Retain support assets and activities to share
  • Release frequently and continuously optimize the process- Frequent releases help reduce time to market. In addition, establishing successful governance and continuous delivery processes is only possible if releases are frequent and reliable. Over time, solution assets, architectures, and infrastructures evolve and accumulate technical debt that can unexpectedly interrupt the release process. Regular rinsing helps detect, mitigate, or even prevent these problems before they cause damage.

get feedback

Agile Release Train - Agile Framework at Scale (12)Getting quick feedback is a key component to the high speed of developing an ART: speed comes from learning and adapting quickly, not from “working harder”. Technology feedback results from integration and testing as well as running technical peaks. Product value feedback comes from the customer and company stakeholders. ARTs routinely:

  • Involve the customer in the development process– There is no substitute for direct customer input. Inclusion in a routine development process helps an ART move much faster to avoid the costly mistake of creating features the customer doesn't need or can't use. Preparation for PI planning, PI planning itself, and system demos provide places for customer interaction.
  • Measure business outcomes and usage– The use of solutions by the client can reveal problems and opportunities that would otherwise remain invisible to ART. However, building data collection and analytics capabilities requires investment in train capacity, a proactive approach, and the use ofarchitectural walkway. Additionally, an ART must measure whether the solutions provided enable the desired business outcomes—the ultimate goal of the ART effort.
  • Run routine A/B tests– Developing successful solutions depends on an ART's ability to navigate the unknown and make effective decisions. A/B testing enables effective decision making and improves the development speed of an ART. Rather than committing to specific features, ART creates two or more options and validates them with users to get a real sense of which alternative works better.
  • Test the user experience– The user experience (UX) is crucial to fully exploit the potential of the solution. But to deliver a productive UX, there must be an explicit and thorough UX design and testing strategy. As part of this process, hypotheses are formulated and then Minimum Marketable Resources (MMF) are constructed and evaluated by observing, researching or analyzing the user in action. The safeLean UXThe article covers additional topics to enable effective UX.

continuously improved

Agile Release Train - Agile Framework at Scale (13)An ART seeks to continually improve productivity by delivering customer value. Of course, the process requires measuring various aspects of ART operations and identifying areas for improvement:

  • Measure competency, flow and results– Each ART should regularly assess applicable core competencies. ARTs should also measure routinelyART flowand applyflow acceleratorto start the momentum for a continuous flow improvement. In addition, ARTs use theirValue Stream KPIsto measure outcomes that support desired customer and business value.
  • Check and adjust at regular intervals- At each PI threshold, an ART has the opportunity to look at the latest PI, identify problems and take corrective action along the way(I&A). This is the perfect time to identify significant systemic improvement opportunities.
  • Make small improvements in real time- Every ART routinely discovers small, local and tactical improvement opportunities. In most cases, it's best to treat them as they arise and without waiting for the next I&A. This ensures quick wins and saves I&A for issues that need more attention and high-level stakeholder involvement.
  • Leverage innovation and planning iterations- ÖIP-Iterationoffers the opportunity to reserve uninterrupted time for innovation and learning. This helps ART to further advance its solution, technical infrastructure and various processes.

Learn more

[1] Skelton, Mathew, and Manuel Pais.Team topologies.IT Revolution Press, 2019.

Last updated: October 24, 2022

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