What is an agile release train?
An Agile Release Train (ART) is a feature of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). It is a long-term, dedicated cross-functional team that works toward a singular goal. The train is made up of multiple agile teams. They work on a fixed schedule and share the vision, product backlog, and roadmap defined by SAFe.
Principles of an agile release train
An Agile Release Train works with the SAFe principles and processes. Independent agile teams provide the structure and guidelines to align and collaborate effectively. Furthermore, effective teams embrace Agile best practices and use Scrum or Kanban project management methods.
ARTs organize deliverables based on a known schedule. The Program Increment (PI) cadence determines the schedule. Typically, the schedule lasts 12 weeks.
Similar to how Agile teams work in sprints, trains work in two-week cycles, called system increments.
The velocity, or how much work the train can deliver in a PI, is based on historical data. Moreover, teams break down projects into smaller chunks to prioritize features.
Develop on cadence, release on demand:
The development schedule remains fixed. Furthermore, the release date depends on when the project is complete. This allows teams to provide continuous value to customers.
Program increment planning is typically an in-person event where the ART’s agile teams come together to determine the strategic objectives for the upcoming PI.
Innovation and planning:
When a program increment ends, the train has an innovation and planning (IP) event to conduct program increment planning, continue education, and do infrastructure work.
Inspect and adapt:
There is also an inspect and adapt (IA) event at the end of each program increment. Furthermore, this is the time teams evaluate progress and identify improvement backlog items in a problem-solving workshop.
Agile Release Trains consist of five to 12 high-performing Agile teams (total of 50 to 150 people). It is made up of dedicated full-time team members, which provides stability for the train and growth opportunities for team members. Teams include scrum masters and product owners. Additional critical ART roles include:
Product managers own the product vision and strategy. Furthermore, they prioritize what features align with the organization’s overall product vision.
Release Train Engineer (RTE):
RTEs are similar to scrum masters. They oversee execution and align product teams around shared processes. They help make improvements, remove blockers, and manage risks and dependencies.
The System Architect is in charge of the system architecture across the entire agile release train.
These are the stakeholders who are responsible for the business outcome.
Agile release train in a nutshell
Agile Release Trains are designed to achieve better cross-functional collaboration and transparency and keep projects tightly aligned to the business goal. Lastly, this framework comes with additional processes and planning and requires a top-down approach that isn’t designed for start-ups and smaller teams.