Agile Release Trains – ART – Organisation and Roles

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Agile Release Trains are the heart of Essential SAFe in the similar way Essential SAFe configuration is the heart of the Framework. It is the simplest starting point for implementation. In this blog, we are going to talk about Agile Release Trains (ART). We will see how Agile Release Trains in itself is an organisation and also see important roles within ART. It describes the most critical elements needed to accomplish the majority of the Framework’s benefits.

We discussed about roles and critical elements of Essential SAFe configuration in my previous blogs SAFe Birds Eye View and Essential SAFe – “Implementation Starting Point”

What is ART – Agile Release Train:

The Agile Release Train (ART) is a combination of multiple Agile Teams which in conjunction with other stakeholders work on developing solutions incrementally by working on fixed-length iterations (sprints) within a Program Increment i.e PI.  It is a virtual organisation that consists of all the cross-functional roles and skills required for product development. The one goal each ART works towards is to achieve and maximise the value defined. This cross-functional ART have all the capabilities of developers, testers, UI, UX, architects, and DevOps. 


Principles in ART –

The end goal for each ART is achieving the value from a common Program Backlog. Each ART has a set of common principles such as:

  • Fixed Schedule – Typically 12 weeks i.e three months or 6 Sprints of 2 weeks each. It follows the same PI length of three months. Demo within ART happens on the same day. Start dates and End Dates of sprints are same within ART.
  • Major advantage of ART concept is that one can predict and estimate the features an ART team can deliver in a particular PI.
  • Members of ART are dedicated full time on the train
  • Work in ART is planned through face to face event called PI Planning
  • Each ART has dedicated time for Innovation and Planning. It keeps specific time buffer for Training, continuous learning, and Innovation. 
  • Inspect and Adapt sessions – Like retrospective in Scrum,  I&A sessions are conducted within ART at the end of every PI sessions. The current state is demonstrated to Stakeholders and feedback is taken to keep the train on track.
  • ART leverages DevOps to deliver value with automated continuous delivery pipeline. ART uses Lean UX to get timely feedback
  • Develop on Cadence and Release on Demand – ART works on scheduled cadence which helps different ART teams in synchronisation. The release is separated from Development cadence. We can release a solution anytime based on demand and release criteria.

Traditionally, organisation used to work in silos. There were major challenges in the flow of value and handoffs. This resulted in delay, communication gaps and late feedback which lead to dissatisfied customers and often missing the deadlines. 

ART as a virtual organisation consists of all the people with the required skill sets to deliver the value. It breaks down the functional silos and each member from the different functions are part of the ART team.

Agile teams within each ART are in themselves cross functional teams:

Each Agile team is equipped with the skills and people required in different domains such as UX, Developers, Testers, etc. so that it can effectively deliver the value and have minimum dependencies. It has everything it requires to deliver the value.

Roles in ART:

Three important key players in ART are:

  • Release Train Engineer (RTE) – The RTE is a servant leader and the chief Scrum Master for the ART. The person filling this role helps improve the flow of value in the program.
  • Product Management –  Product Management bridges the gap between customers  and internal stakeholders. They work with Product Owners and Customers to define features. They are the ones responsible for Program level backlog and prioritisation of the same. 
  • System Architect/Engineer – This is the one role that applies systems thinking and therefore, system architects are the members who define the overall architecture of the system. They help identify new nonfunctional requirements (NFRs) and help determine the critical components and subsystems.

Apart from the above three, following roles also play an integral part of ART:

Additional Roles that support ART

  • Business Owners –  Business Owners are a group of stakeholders who have the responsibility of ROI. They are key stakeholders who must actively participate in certain ART events.
  • Customer – Customers are the ultimate deciders of value and are an integral part of the Lean-Agile development process and value stream. They have specific responsibilities in SAFe.
  • A System Team i.e DevOps assists in creating and stabilizing the development environment. It extends support in continuous integration, test automation, and continuous deployment. They help integrate deliverables from Agile teams, often perform end-to-end solution testing, and assist with deployment and release.
  • Shared Services are the SME’s or specialists who cannot devote themselves full-time to a single train. Few of the examples of the shared services are data security professionals, information architects, database administrators, and technical writers.

As stated above, ART is a combination of Agile Teams. Thereby meaning it consists of multiple Agile Teams which have dedicated individuals with the required skill sets who works towards achieving the goal or value in iterations known as Sprints. Each Agile team estimate their own work, determine the technical design, Implement, test and deploy.

Each Agile team within ART have three critical Roles of Scrum. Those are Scrum Master, Product Owner and the Dev Team.

References: SAFe Distilled 4.5 and Scaled Agile Framework

Written by 

Neeraj is Masters In Information Technology from Symbiosis Pune and a seasoned PMI certified Project Management Professional (PMP)®, Certified Scrum Master (CSM)® and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO)® with 16+ yrs of exp in Project Management/Agile/Business Analysis and Quality Assurance across diverse organizational domains.